Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on planting, growing, and harvesting saffron crocus. You also requested sources of bulbs (corms).
Sources of corms
Listed below are companies that have, in the past, been sources of corms of saffron (Crocus sativus). This is true saffron—not to be confused with “autumn crocus,” or “meadow saffron” (Colchicum spp.) when ordering corms. As the article by Daniel Smoley points out, both are fall-blooming. Colchicum appears on lists of poisonous plants.
Planting, growing, harvesting
The best source of information on growing saffron in the northern U.S. is Daniel Smoley’s reporting on his extensive saffron trials in Paola, Kansas, beginning in 1997. A retired engineer for a major U.S. company, Mr. Smoley invested considerable resources in his experimental plots.
You asked about how many crocus it takes to yield one pound of saffron.
A saffron corm may produce from 3 to 12 flowers. Bulbs for sale in the U.S. typically produce 3 flowers. Commercial saffron producers overseas may well have access to improved planting stock (which they guard jealously).
According to Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, about 35,000 saffron flowers are required to produce one pound of the spice. (However, Smoley says 70,000.)(p. 67)
According to data published by the French Ministry of Agriculture, Spanish commercial producers in 1988 harvested 5 kg. of dried product per hectare (ha) on regular fields and about 12 kg/ha from irrigated fields. This works out to roughly 1/3 lb. per acre and 7/8 lb. per acre, respectively. The international avoirdupois pound equals 0.45359237 kilograms. The hectare is equivalent to 2.471 acres. The French report did not specify how many corms were planted per ha by the Spanish producers, or how many flowers each corm produced.
Follette, Robin. 2006. Saffron crocus. Farm & Garden: Forum.
Hussain, Altaf. 2005. Saffron industry in deep distress. BBC News (International)
Smoley, Daniel J. 2001. Saffron crocus as a crop. Small Farm Today. Part 1, March/April. p. 54–59. Part 2, May/June. p. 66–67.
Suppliers of corms:
P.O. Box 22061
Louisville, KY 40252
Nichols Garden Nursery
1190 No. Pacific Hwy. NE
Albany, OR 97321
(through Amazon Marketplace)
Richter’s (www.richters.com) has bulbs, but cannot ship them outside of Canada.
Several companies no longer sell saffron corms.
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