Today I want to explain you about the vegetative cycle of saffron, or rather about how the plant is born, grows and reproduces. Since I started this work, many have asked me how the cultivation of saffron “works”, and almost everyone has marveled at the fact that saffron blooms only once a year, moreover for a short period of time.
The flowering phase, in fact, lasts just one month, approximately from mid-October to mid-November. The dates are indicative, depending on the area of residence and the climatic conditions, the start of flowering can be brought forward or postponed. Not all saffron bulbs produce flowers: the smaller ones use their energy to grow in size for the first year . The larger bulbs, on the other hand, can produce up to 5-6 flowers a year. To make 1 gram of dried saffron, you need approximately 150-180 fresh flowers, and this is one of the reasons that makes this spice so precious! Another reason is the fact that the harvesting and subsequent processing of saffron flowers is done entirely by hand, because there are no machines capable of replacing manual work in this sector.
After the flowering period, the vegetative growth period begins for the saffron, which lasts until spring. During this time, the bulbs grow in size and the leaves get longer. Saffron is a plant with a sterile flower, which is why there is no “spontaneous” saffron in nature: the plant only grows where it is grown. The bulbs reproduce by multiplication: from the mother bulbs shoots are born which draw the nutrients both from the mother and from the leaves through chlorophyll photosynthesis. Growth continues until April-May, when the bulbs reach its maturity. As the outside temperatures rise, the soil temperature also rises, and the saffron leaves start to dry and then fall off.
When the leaves have detached, the rest period begins for the plant, which corresponds to the hottest months. In this phase the bulbs remain “dormant”, therefore they can be explanted from the ground and then transplanted at the end of the summer.
Towards the end of summer, when the temperatures begin to drop, the bulbs resume activity and are ready to throw out the new shoots, which will contain the flowers and the leaves. The period from the last days of August to the beginning of September is the ideal frame of time for transplanting the bulbs: in this way they will have plenty of time to develop before the new flowering. Saffron is a plant that does not need irrigation and that fears stagnant water: to avoid its formation, it is advisable to make trunks in the ground on which to plant the rows of saffron. Saffron can be treated both as an annual crop, by explanting the bulbs during the rest period and then replanting them at the end of summer, or as a pluriannual crop, which is the cultivation method that I chose: I actually planted the saffron September 2020. In case you want to try an annual crop, in the video I leave you some tips to better preserve the bulbs while they are waiting to be replanted.
I hope I haven’t bored you too much with the explanation of the vegetative cycle of saffron…if you have any questions you can leave a comment below or send me an email.
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Born in Romagna, now living in Piacenza. I am the owner and co-founder with my husband of Zafferano Emiliano. Follow our site to get the latest news about our Saffron cultivation – and some recipes as well!