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Cultivating Saffron

Planting Saffron

Saffron is propagated by dividing the corm offspring, or cormlets, and planting each individual cormlet. Corms are planted deeply; from 2.8 to 5.9 inches in loose, well-drained clay soil that is high in organic matter. Traditionally, organic matter is introduced through a rich layer of manure.

Climate, planting depth and spacing are all very important factors in determining yield. Each commercial growing region has tailored these figures specifically to its unique environment. Deeper planting depths create higher quality saffron.

Climate for Growing Saffron

Saffron crocuses thrive in semi-arid, hot and sunny conditions. While they can tolerate cold and even occasional snow, saffron crocuses do better in warm, dry environments. In the Northern Hemisphere, south-sloping hills are ideal, with plenty of wind and soil drainage. Saffron plants thrive in full sunlight and will perform poorly in low light or partial shade.

In the Kashmir region of South Asia, rainfall is adequate with about 45 inches average per year. In other regions, irrigation is necessary for the saffron crocus to do well. The timing of watering is critical to saffron plants: rain or water before flowering is ideal while much moisture after flowering can promote rot and disease, resulting in crop losses.

Saffron crocuses need to be able to dry out between watering or problems with rot, disease and low yields can result.

Growing Regions

Iran is the largest producer of saffron, accounting for about 94% of the world´s saffron production. In addition to Iran, the main producers of saffron are Spain, India, Greece, Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Italy.

There are smaller, highly-specific cultivars found in pockets of countries such as New Zealand, France, Switzerland, England, and in the United States, where Pennsylvania Dutch saffron has a dedicated, if small, following.

Cultivars are known by the region they are grown in, and saffron connoisseurs will pay a premium for saffron grown at these boutique farms. Italy, for example, has its own renowned cultivar known as "Aquila", grown in one small valley of the Abruzzo region.

In each of these growing regions, climate dictates the success and the potency of the saffron strains. Some are known for being mellow while others, like saffron grown in Iran, are known for being more potent.

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