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How saffron is grown. Technology, soil, climate.

Saffron is a high-profit crop and the most expensive spice in the world. It’s a great option for those planning a family business. Despite yielding low harvests, it fetches a high price, requires minimal care, and doesn’t demand hefty investments.

Moreover, there’s now a lot of information and research available to make things easier for farmers in this field. The main challenge lies in marketing the finished product since the culture of consuming saffron is only just emerging in Ukraine.

Ukrainian consumers often prefer Iranian saffron over local saffron because it’s cheaper. However, lately, there’s been a growing demand for domestically produced spices, opening up new opportunities for farmers.

Saffron: Cultivation Specifics. Saffron, or saffron crocus, is a sterile plant with a reverse vegetative cycle. Its leaves appear in September, flowers in October, and by May or June of the next year, the crocus withers away.

The saffron crocus flower has 6 purple petals, 3 yellow stamens, and one red pistil. The stigma (threads) yield the world’s most expensive spice—saffron—after drying.

Selective breeding isn’t done with saffron crocus because it doesn’t reproduce and has a triploid nature. Saffron crocus is propagated vegetatively through corms.

Crocus can be cultivated in:

This plant is actively cultivated for sale in countries such as India, Iran, Spain, Italy, and Greece. The volume of global saffron production reaches about 205 tons per year. Iran produces and exports up to 137 tons, utilizing saffron over an area of ​​up to 47 thousand hectares.

The main drawback of saffron sales, especially when it comes to exports, lies in the “opaqueness” of the market. Saffron of different origins can have vastly different value and quality.

Financial Aspect The yield of saffron crocus per hectare averages between 6-10 kg of dry spice. The indicative wholesale price as of the end of 2021 is 1500-3000 euros per kg.


The climate and soil for cultivating saffron crocus should meet certain criteria?

As saffron is grown in various regions worldwide, the specifics of cultivation vary depending on climate, soil type, planting depth, and bulb spacing.

Each year, the planted saffron bulb dies off, leaving offspring that will later produce flowers – the harvest. It takes 2-3 years for small bulbs to produce their first bloom. The larger the planting material, the more spice can be harvested from the same area.

Saffron has advantages such as resistance to drought and heat, being able to survive extremely high temperatures. However, optimal conditions provide the most favorable climate. Unlike other crops, saffron does not thrive in warmth; its growth and vegetation start when the soil temperature drops below +20°C. The plant remains green almost throughout the winter.

Saffron crocus thrives best in loose soils rich in nutrients, such as sandy or loamy textures. Specifically, well-drained soils with a pH level between 5 and 8 are ideal.

Saffron crocus can grow well in all zones of Ukraine and various Ukrainian soils, as evidenced by the successful practices of many farms. Bulbs can even be grown in dry or semi-arid soils, provided there is the ability to irrigate the land promptly.

Cultivating saffron crocus in moist or semi-moist soils is also possible, but the soil must be well-drained. This prevents bulb infection and rot during rains.

According to scientists, saffron cultivation is optimal in regions with distinct climatic winters and summers, with temperatures ranging from -15 to 20°C and 35-40°C, respectively. Therefore, the best climate for this crop is dry and moderate. It is not adapted to tropical or polar climates.

Since the plant thrives best in October and November, favorable conditions for flowering are provided by an average temperature of 6-8°C at night and 15-20°C during the day.

Researchers note that clear climatological summers and winters with temperatures ranging from 35-40°C in summer to approximately -15-20°C in winter are necessary for saffron cultivation. This is why saffron can be grown in dry, moderate, and continental climates, but not in tropical or polar regions.

Note: The crop requires special attention in winter. During extreme winter temperatures, there is a risk of freezing the leaves. As a result, bulbs will develop more slowly, plants will flower less, and the harvest will be poor. Therefore, monitor the weather forecast in cold months, and before a sharp temperature drop, cover the plants with straw or fibrous cloth for protection.

How to Choose Saffron Bulbs for Planting?

Saffron crocus for planting is sold in the form of bulbils by weight. One kilogram of planting material with bulbs weighing over 5 grams costs about 200 UAH, while those weighing less than 5 grams cost 180 UAH.

The higher cost of small bulbs per kilogram is due to the buyer receiving a larger quantity of these bulbs. Bulbils weighing between 5-7 grams or over 7 grams will contain around 130-150 pieces per kilogram, while those weighing less than 5 grams will contain 210-230 pieces per kilogram.

However, the difference between large and small saffron bulbs is not only in size. Planting large bulbs in August will result in flowers and harvest in October of the same year. Small bulbs usually flower the following year.

How to Plant Saffron?

The ideal plot for planting saffron crocus is land that has not had any other bulbs or bulbils planted for at least the past 10 years. Additionally, it’s important to check the soil pH, which should be between 5 and 8.

The plot should be prepared for saffron planting by cultivation or plowing to a depth of up to 20 centimeters. This ensures that the beds remain loose and well-aerated. Organic fertilizers such as manure or compost should be added to the soil before planting. Nitrogen fertilizers can be applied after planting.

Saffron can grow on the same plot for about 6-7 years. After this period, the bulbs need to be dug up and transplanted to a new “fresh” location.

Planting saffron crocus is done in July, August, and September either manually (in furrows) or by machine. Bulbs are best planted at a depth of 10-15 centimeters with a spacing of 10-15 centimeters between them. Harvesting usually takes place at the end of October or the beginning of November.

Scientists emphasize the importance of nutrients and fertilizers in saffron cultivation, noting that an NPK fertilizer dose of 45:60:60 kg/ha is best for higher flower yields and bulb growth.

Special Watering Requirements for Saffron

Plants require little water, but it’s important not to let the soil become completely dry and to maintain a certain level of moisture. In spring, when active leaf growth begins, saffron needs a minimum of 20-30 mm of water in March and April-May for optimal bulb reproduction.

Watering can be done using sprinklers or drip irrigation systems.

For proper bulb growth, irrigation should be carried out every 15 days at the end of September and the beginning of October. This will accelerate early flowering. Early autumn rains also increase flower formation.

Protecting Saffron from Diseases and Pests

It’s important to remove weeds from the area where saffron is planted, especially in the first few weeks after planting. However, the advantage is that saffron is resistant to mold, leaf fungus, and viruses. Therefore, there is no need to treat it with chemical agents, saving you time and money.

The threat to saffron harvest comes from voles and field mice, which particularly like saffron bulbs. Therefore, the farmer’s task is to reduce the number of these rodents on the property as much as possible, which can be done by placing traps.

Rabbits also enjoy saffron, consuming its flowers and leaves. Therefore, it’s worth fencing off the saffron plantation with a high fence. Weed control, especially after planting, should be closely monitored.

How to Harvest Saffron Flowers

Crocuses bloom for one month – in October. It is recommended to harvest them early in the morning while the flowers are still closed. This helps preserve their quality. Flowers are harvested exclusively by hand, as has been done for many centuries. Manual harvesting helps avoid damaging the flowers and preserves their aroma and all beneficial properties.

How to Dry the Spice

To ensure saffron is suitable for use as a spice, the threads should be thoroughly dried. They can be dried on a sieve in a well-ventilated room at a temperature of 40-60°C.

Saffron can also be dried in food dehydrators (for 15 minutes), in ovens with the doors slightly open, or in direct sunlight. After drying, the threads become very light and break easily.

Dried saffron should be stored in an airtight container in a dry and dark place that prevents direct sunlight. When stored properly, saffron can remain fresh and retain its taste and aromatic properties for many years.

Note: When performing all operations manually, producing 1 kg of spice requires approximately 250-350 person-hours, equivalent to 3-4 grams per hour.

In Conclusion

Saffron is a promising crop for cultivation. It requires relatively little care and has a high selling price. The plant is used as an ingredient in the food industry for coloring, in the food and perfume industries, for making oil extracts, in the pharmaceutical industry, and in the dairy industry.