Hi All, Leslie in Las Vegas here.
I started to harvest my Saffron crocus, C. sativus, blossoms last week for the spice. Saffron loves growing in a climate with hot dry summers and cold winters and this makes it a perfect plant for my Las Vegas garden. The reason the spice is so expensive is that harvesting is very labor intensive; lots of bending and crawling around on hands and knees because they grow so close to the ground. 4,000 of the orange stigmas weigh only about 1 ounce. But the bulbs are cheap.
Last summer I relocated my saffron crocus bulbs to another bed. When I started digging to lift them I couldn’t find one bulb and I thought I must have killed them. So, I went into the house for some lunch, (comfort food), and cried on Bill’s shoulder and then I dragged myself back into the garden to put my tools away. I reached for my trowel and sitting right there where I tossed it was a big fat crocus bulb, the biggest one I’ve ever seen. It was an inch in diameter and so much bigger than the bulbs I bought mail-order that I had to inspect it to make sure it was saffron crocus. “Where did you come from?” As I began to dig down deeper I began to uncover more clumps of bulbs.
I originally planted the bulbs 2 – 3″ deep so I expected that this is where they would be. Not so. Those guys must have grown legs because they travelled down to at least 6″ deep. I needed my pointy shovel and not my hand trowel. As I dug I kept getting more and more clumps of bulbs; a huge amount more than I had planted (Oh Boy!). My 100 bulbs had increased to well over 1,000 and I had to quit counting. Hello Ebay.
Saffron crocus blooms in the fall and in my garden this is mid-October. The first part of the plant to break the surface of the soil is a tuft of chive-like foliage with the fragrant blossom following about a week later. The foliage continues to grow all winter and begins to go dormant when the weather warms.
Saffron crocus is crocus sativus and this is important to remember if you want to grow it for food flavoring. It is not the inedible fall crocus that are so popular and may be poisonous. A good way to tell them apart is this; the fall blooming crocus have 6 stamens and the crocus sativus have only 3, the stamens are yellow. If you live in a hot and dry climate with cold winters you can probably grow saffron crocus.
I harvest the blossoms in the morning by snipping them off to bring inside. In the kitchen I snip off the 3 orange threads, the stigmas; this is the spice. Sometimes I forget to turn off the ceiling fan and the threads will scatter, but today I remembered and was able to save every thread from the grip of the dust bunnies. Threads that we don’t use right away are dried and stored in a glass spice jar. We have never been able to fill up the jar.
We use about 3 threads per person to flavor a dish and the few threads we store don’t last us for very long. Last night Bill fixed Saffron Rice for dinner and tonight we will have Broiled Catfish with a Saffron Sauce. By the time you read this we will have eaten the saffron in the photo.