Saffron: a cultivation that is becoming more and more popular in Italy, and in which more and more people are trying their hand.
Let's see how it is possible to take care of these plants.
The saffron seedlings come from the bulbs, which must be planted in the spring. In autumn it will be possible to proceed with the harvest.
Before planting the bulbs, we prepare the soil, at least three weeks before the scheduled date for planting: in this way, the earth will be able to take on the nutrients necessary for the growth of the seedlings.
For proper cultivation, the soil must be dug and fertilized with manure (the dig must be at least thirty centimeters deep). It is recommended to choose a draining soil, to avoid water stagnation, which could cause the planted bulbs to rot, thus eliminating any possibility of obtaining a satisfactory harvest. The same bulbs, at the time of purchase, must be carefully checked: choose bulbs that do not have lesions or wounds, which could be symptoms of a fungal or parasite attack. If even one bulb is diseased, it could make all the others sick. Towards the end of May, when the temperatures will be warmer, you can proceed with the planting of the purchased bulbs. First of all, it is necessary to dig holes about ten centimeters deep: the same distance must be left between one bulb and another and between the different rows. Insert the bulbs and cover them with soil: then proceed with a light watering. The bulbs can also be grown in pots. In this case, it is recommended to choose terracotta pots (which, compared to plastic, favors the oxygenation of the soil and roots) and to place pebbles on the bottom of the pot itself, to ensure water drainage.
Saffron does not need a lot of intermediate care: it is not afraid of cold temperatures or too hot. However, it is good to frequently clean the soil in which the bulbs have been planted, to prevent weeds from growing there that could steal nutrients from the saffron. This operation is called "weeding" and can be done either by hand (pulling the plants from the ground, taking care to remove the roots as well) or with a special rake. Be careful, in this case, not to damage the saffron sprouts. Pay attention to the use of chemicals: saffron is a delicate plant from this point of view, and it is good to avoid herbicides, pesticides and other non-organic products. As for watering, you need to proceed with caution, rarely watering the seedlings, only when the soil is dry. In fact, saffron does not want a lot of water, and care must be taken not to wet the leaves when watering, but only the roots. For this reason, if possible, for the cultivation of saffron it may be useful to prepare a drip irrigation system, so that each plant has exactly the amount of water necessary for growth.
If the soil has been prepared properly before planting the bulbs, the saffron seedlings do not need further fertilization: their growth occurs in a very natural way.
Harvesting and drying
The saffron plants are ready for harvesting when the characteristic purple flower with the red pistil has blossomed. The harvesting period runs from the end of September to late October in the hottest areas (it all depends on the temperature).
Harvesting is a rather simple operation: the flowers are in fact collected by hand, and a few hours later it is necessary to extract the pistil, which must be dried and then used in the food sector. It is recommended to harvest the flowers before sunrise: in this way, the opening of the flower will be anticipated, which will make the pistil take moisture, delaying or compromising the drying process. To dry the pistils (called "stigmas") it is sufficient to wrap them in a piece of cloth, and leave them exposed to sunlight. The burlap will prevent the sun from burning the spice, making it dry out easily. Once dried, the pistils must be stored in the appropriate glass containers (available for purchase in stores specialized in agricultural items) to be used in the food sector.
Saffron cultivation: Diseases
More and more people are starting saffron crops to get an economic return, guaranteed by the high selling price of this spice, which on the market is about eight euros per gram. It is therefore a profitable business: to carry it out successfully, however, it is necessary to have a lot of land available, and the time necessary to carry out all the operations in the best possible way. If the portion of land is large, it will be necessary to pay attention to mice and other rodents, true enemies of saffron bulbs. For this reason, the weeding operation will be particularly important, as the burrows of these animals are destroyed. But saffron is also affected by other diseases and parasites. Above all, some species of mushrooms cause the bulb to wither before the flower can be born: for this reason, it may be useful to treat the bulbs with special organic products before planting them.