Organic Saffron Farming
Organic Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. In the saffron cultivation, saffron is collected from the blossoms of Crocus sativus, commonly known as saffron crocus or saffron bulbs. Saffron is propagated by bulbs called corms. Each corm forms new Saffron bulbs, and this is how the plant multiplies. Its flowers come out in autumn and are harvested for the red stigmas that we all know as saffron threads, from which the spice is derived. Each blossom yields 3 stigmas and is carefully picked by hand. It is the most expensive plant found in the world. Being so expensive, it is also called red gold. The cultivation of saffron is very easy and simple.
A Step by Step Guide to an Organic Saffron Farming (Kesar)
The saffron crop does not require much hard work. Also, its harvest period is 3 to 4 months and it can grow up to 15 to 20 cm in height. Its prices are also increasing day by day, through which farmers can earn good profit.
Organic Soil Preparation for Saffron Farming
The Saffron crocus grows in different soil types but thrives best in calcareous, humus-rich, and well-drained soil with a pH level between 6 and 8. Saffron corms can be grown in dry or semi-dry soil types. However, you need to keep in mind, that during periods of drought in autumn and spring, you need to be able to irrigate the land. If you plant the saffron corms in wet or semi-wet soil types you must be sure that land is well-drained to prevent corms from rotting or getting infected during periods of wet weather.
The plant Saffron thrives in the soil which is calcareous (rich in sodium carbohydrate) and is well-drained and rich in humus. It can also grow in dry or semi-dry soil provided it is well-drained. The pH value of the soil should be between 6 and 8.
Climate Requirements for Organic Saffron Farming
Saffron thrives well in temperate dry climates at altitudes ranging from 1500 to 2800 meters above mean sea level. Temperature is an important environmental factor controlling its growth and flowering. Area covered with snow during winter is particularly, suitable for flowering. However, unusually low temperatures and high humidity affect flower production, adversely. The optimum temperature for flowering as well as corm development is in the range of 23 to 27°C. Corms require a temperature of 17°C for flower emergence.
Land Preparation for Organic Saffron Farming
The land for saffron cultivation must be ploughed two to three times. It should be free of previous crop debris, stones, and soil clods. Repeated ploughing helps the soil loosen, the subsoil comes up to the surface and fertility also increases. Farmyard manure (FYM) and organic content are also mixed with the soil before cultivation. Saffron can be cultivated in both beds and pits. Pits are dug that maybe 12 to 15 cm deep with an inter-plant distance of 10 cm.
When to Plant Saffron Bulbs
Make sure to plant Saffron Crocus bulbs at a minimum of 6 weeks before the chance of frost. The bulbs (corms) don’t store well and should be planted soon after you receive them.
August is the best time to plant Saffron in colder locations. Saffron Crocus are not cold hardy, so you should plant the bulbs in a container that will be brought indoors before the chance of frost. September is best for planting in warmer locations. Saffron Crocus can be planting in containers or the ground in these warmer zones.
Spacing and Planting Depth in Organic Saffron Farming
Spacing effects both yield and corm production. A spacing of 20 X 10 cm is ideal for the production of large size corms. Plantation of 50 corms/m at this spacing level and planting depth of 10 to 12 cm is recommended for commercial size corm production.
The seed rate/corm rate/ha depends upon corm size/corm weight, crop duration, and spacing. About 40 to 50 q of saffron corms or about 5 lakh number of corms of the average diameter of 2.5 cm (average weight 10 g) are required for plantation in a 1-hectare area.
Conditions Required for Organic Saffron Farming
- Spring is usually the best time to start autumn-blooming bulbs such as saffron crocuses, although most commercially available bulbs must be planted in late summer as they become available. Once potted, place them within 1 to 2 feet of an unshaded west or south-facing window with at least 8 to 10 hours of direct light each day, preferably more.
- Temperatures above 21°C are best for growth. Avoid temperatures over 27°C because they encourage fast growth, which results in floppy, spindly foliage. Temperatures below 21°C will not send the corms into dormancy, which will prevent blooming in autumn. In cooler climates, it may be necessary to place the pot on a heating coil or to cover the pot with a glass cloche to hold in heat. Leave the cloche off for a few hours after watering to limit condensation inside. Fill the bottom half of the pot with a gritty, fast-draining soil mixture such as equal parts potting soil, coarse sand, and milled peat.
- Saffron plants require well-draining soil and lots of suns. If saffron crocus is planted in poor draining or swampy soil, it will rot. Other than needing good sun and soil, the saffron crocus is not picky. When planting your saffron crocus bulbs, place them in the ground at around 3 to 5 inches deep and at least 6 inches apart. Around 50 to 60 saffron flowers will produce about 1 tablespoon of saffron spice, therefore keep this in mind when figuring how many to plant. But, also keep in mind that saffron crocus multiply quickly, so in a few years you will have more than enough. After your saffron crocus bulbs are planted, they require very little care. You can water them if the rainfall in your area falls below 1.5 inches per week.
Planting Saffron Organically
When planting saffron corms for the first time, choose a virgin patch of land, that is, no other tubers or saffron corms have ever been planted there before, if possible (if not, at least none in the past ten years). Before planting, it is advisable to till the soil 20 to 50 centimeters deep to keep the planting beds loose and well-aired, incorporating organic fertilizer during the process. The type of soil in Spain needs this pre-planting preparation, especially.
For the organic saffron cultivation, planting corms on raised beds is ideal for ensuring irrigation and drainage. Irrigation should be minimal once the corms started growing leaves. Planting is done in July, August, and September either by hand or by machine, and harvesting comes at the end of October to mid-November, roughly eight weeks after planting. Saffron crocuses are sun-worshipping plants therefore they love to be planted in the dry open fields rather than in the shade.
Generally, corms are planted between 7 to 15 centimeters deep into the soil. The deeper they are planted, the lesser the corms multiply, the lesser the harvest but the higher the quality of the blossoms produced.
Planting Material for Organic Saffron Farming;
Saffron cultivation is done through corms that are underground compressed stems and there are three varieties of saffron cultivated in India, particularly in Kashmir and they are:-
- Aquilla Saffron
- Creme Saffron
- Lacha Saffron
Steps for Planting Saffron Organically
Step 1) Find a location where the soil drains well. If there are still water puddles 5 to 6 hours after a hard rain, scout out another site. Or amend the soil with the addition of organic material to raise the level 2 to 3 inches to improve the drainage. Compost, peat moss, ground bark or decomposed manure all work well and are widely available. Saffron Crocuses will not succeed in waterlogged soils.
Step 2) Site your bulbs where they will get very light shade or full-day sun. In the spring, saffron crocuses prefer average amounts of moisture but do best dry sites in the summer when they are dormant. If your region experiences wet summers the saffron crocuses can be planted under the eves for summer dryness and given supplemental moisture in the spring.
Step 3) Dig holes and plant the crocuses 3 to 4 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches apart. The bulbs are rounded and small, with slightly pointed tops – a plant with the points facing upwards. If you can’t tell which side should face up, plant the bulbs on their sides; root action will pull the bulbs into the right position.
Step 4) After planting, water crocuses well, gently soaking the soil and settling it around the bulbs. Roots will form in the autumn. In warm areas, some foliage may also develop in the fall. Buds and flowers are produced in the late summer and fall.
Step 5) When in bloom feel free to trim the colourful stamens for cooking and drying for later use. This will not hurt the plants.
Step 6) After blooming has over for the season leave the foliage in place; don’t cut it off. The leaves will gather sunlight, strengthen the bulbs for the future, and create food through photosynthesis. Water as needed in active growth periods; about 1inch of moisture per week is a good estimate.
Step 7) If, late during the season, the leaves yellow and die back, the foliage may be removed at this point. Your bulbs will rest for a few months before starting the next growing cycle. In the warmest areas, the foliage may stay green till mid-spring season when it will yellow and die back. When leaves are absent and the bulbs are dormant, withhold water.
Saffron Plant Care
Saffron crocuses require very little care throughout the year. Maintain the soil dry during the summer when they are dormant, then begin watering in late summer or early autumn when their first sprouts appear. Flood the soil and let it dry out completely before watering again.
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Fertilizer is not typically essential for potted saffron crocuses because it can provide too much nitrogen, which will promote foliage growth over flowering. Just repot the corms into fresh soil the following spring after the flowers and foliage dieback and put them back in their original position. Discontinue watering after midsummer to let the corms go dormant.
Water Requirement in Organic Saffron Farming
The saffron crop requires little water. The soil must not be fully dry but just moist. Unlike other crops, it does not need very wet soil. The soil must be slightly moist for best growth. In the case of erratic rains, sprinkler irrigation is the most commonly followed practice. About 283 m3 per acre of water must be distributed throughout saffron cultivation. Irrigation is done on weekly basis. The agricultural Directorate of Jammu and Kashmir recommend weekly irrigation for ten weeks among which the first seven is the most crucial period. This is because it promotes vegetative growth and facilitates flowering. Pre-flowering irrigation must be done in the last week of August and continued up to mid-October. The last three irrigations are done in November to promote the vegetative growth of the Kesar plant.
Organic Pest Control in Saffron Framing
Saffron, like other crocus plants, is subject to various types of rot in overly wet soil conditions. It also has a few insect and animal pests to worry about.
Rhizopuses, Aspergillus, Penicillium Fusarium all-cause corm rot under the soil. Rhizoctonia Crocorum causes neck rot in the leaf parts of the saffron plant. Fumago is a form of smut that infects leaves and corms.
Solutions – All of these pathogens are most common when soil conditions are too wet, especially during summer. Good soil drainage, planting healthy corms, mulching after flowering, and removing diseased corms can minimize the risk for root rot. Where possible, covering beds and diverting water away during excessive rain periods can help reduce risk. In severe cases, using a fungicide can help. Burning any diseased plant material will minimize the risk of pathogen transmission.
Mites, thrips, and blister beetles are the most common insect pests for saffron. Unless you have severe infestations, these don’t tend to be too problematic.
Solutions – Mites enter through wounds in corms. Mite infested corms produce short yellowish leaves. Removing infested bulbs is necessary. For severe cases, use miticide to treat corms.
Thrips leave yellow and white spots on saffron leaves. They generally don’t do much damage to these fall-flowering corms. Spraying leaves with neem oil is usually sufficient for control.
Blister beetles can be manually controlled by hand-picking and drowning in soapy water. As the name implies, crushing these pests with your bare hands can result in blistering. Use gloves and caution when removing. Blister beetles also fall off and play dead when disturbed. Check your plants daily until you are sure these pests are gone.
Corm and leaf-eating rodents are by far the worst pest problem for saffron. Mice, voles, rats, and rabbits can damage or decimate saffron crops. Corms are most often eaten in the winter months. The leaves are often eaten right before or right after flowering.
Solutions – Using rodent-proof planting beds lined with hardware cloth can help. Putting corms in buried milk crates lined with a weed mat is another possible solution. Planting corms at 6 inches instead of 4 inches can also help reduce root eating, though it may delay flowering. In severe cases, using traps or poison may be necessary to control rodent populations.
When and How to Harvest Saffron
The saffron bloom occurs during October-November and the flowers should be plucked before the wilting of the petals. The plucking should always be done at dawn to extract the highest quality of saffron. Stigmas are borne in the centre of each purple and cup-shaped bloom. The perfect time to harvest the stigmas is mid-morning on a sunny day when the flowers have fully opened and are still fresh. Carefully pluck the stigmas from the flowers with your fingers, and then dry them in a warm place to preserve them for cooking. Store in a closed container. To use saffron, steep the threads in hot liquid (water, broth, or milk, based on the recipe) for about 20 minutes. Add both the threads and the steeping liquid early in the baking or cooking process, and the threads will continue to release their colour and flavour.
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A very important process as the leaves are dried and the saffron is extracted. The process is delicate as the temperature should be between 55 to 60C and the process aims to dry the threads but not to over-dry it. After the process, they change into dark orange colour and are stored in jars for over 25 days after which they are deemed fit to use.
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