One pound of saffron can be sold for as much as $1500, making it the world’s most expensive spice. A household version of commercial saffron is currently selling for 17.92 per oz. For an herb, that’s a steep price. It is illegal to grow any other herb that achieves a price near that one.
The Saffron Plant
Saffron spice comes from the stigma of the Saffron corm flower. Saffron is grown from the corm, a rounded bulb that produces up to 3 flowers. Saffron comes from a tiny part of the flower, the stigma, which the plant produces in its flower. It will take up to 3 flowers to produce three strands of saffron.
Approximately one ounce of stigmas can be produced by an ounce of fresh flowers. During the drying process, the stigmas lose up to 80% of their mass and substantial weight, resulting in very little spice, explaining the exorbitant price. The herb has many uses, including culinary, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and industrial.
Although saffron is a tough crop to grow, it is not impossible. This makes hydroponically growing a lot easier than conventionally growing. Bulb or corm can be obtained easily. The quality and volume of a crop are determined by the bulb, the growing conditions, and nutrient values.
The plants are typically planted in the ground either in early summer or late summer in a natural outdoor setting. You can plant them continuously in indoor hydroponics since you control and manipulate their environment.
In roughly 45 days, the corms can be planted, flowered, and harvested. Upon completing each cycle, you will have to plant new corms or wait for the existing ones to go through their vegetative and dormant phases before the re-flowering stage.
Since the nonproductive vegetative and dormant stage lasts around nine months, planting new corms each cycle is the most cost-effective course of action. It is also possible to keep several sets of corms and their daughter corms so that while one set remains dormant, the others will produce. Dormant corms should be dry, stored, and planted out when the time comes.
The plants are cold-hardy, so they can be planted out into the fall and sprout again next spring. To produce enough energy for the following season’s crop, they must go through their vegetative stage. During the following season, a healthy parent corm should produce 5 – 10 daughter corms.
You may want to opt for pin trays that hold the Saffron bulbs in place if you plan on growing saffron or similar plants hydroponically. Their purpose was to force Tulip flower production in the Netherlands, but they are also effective at starting plants like Saffron Crocus. In essence, they are temporary chambers in which the roots of the plants grow and where the bulbs are anchored. In addition to supporting the roots during the rooting process, they are only temporary.
To prevent damage, you should move the bulb to a more flexible media once it develops roots.
You can also start bulbs in Oasis Cubes instead of pin trays before moving them to a more suitable media. It is necessary to anchor the plants about 2 inches deep with sterile and loose growing media such as Perlite, vermiculite-perlite blends, coco coir, Higromite, etc. A breathable media should allow for bulb and root expansion yet be sturdy enough to support a full-grown flowering plant.
It is best to space plants 4 1/2 inches apart, plus or minus a few nanometers. Saffron flowers form inside the womb of the corm during their dormancy phases and emerge after dormancy in the fall – yes, they emerge after the fall, but not during the spring. The onset of blooming occurs when the temperatures begin to decrease, and there is enough moisture available. It shouldn’t be a problem with a hydroponic gardener.
Hydroponic Saffron Maintenance and Propagation
It is the grower’s responsibility to control the temperature. Flowering is best when the nighttime temperature does not go below 53 F, with daytime temperatures between 60 and 65 F.
During extreme temperatures, the plants will not flower or have flower drop; during extreme cold, the plants will go dormant. In an indoor grow room, you should manipulate the warm, dry summer conditions to stimulate growth, followed by cool, damp conditions to induce flowering.
You should provide natural light between 14 and 16 hours each day to initiate flowering. You can use artificial lighting as a light source. As the plants grow flowers, the days are typically reduced to 12 to 14 hours. In general, flower bloom occurs within two to three weeks of planting under ideal conditions. Upon emerging, the flowers open fully in approximately three days – once they are open, they can be harvested.
Hydroponic Saffron Nutrient Requirements
Bulb and corm plants thrive best when they are provided with enough phosphorus and potassium to grow and flower. Only modest amounts of nitrogen are needed. In hydroponic propagation, nutrients do not have to be mixed to half strength, but you should provide them at a low concentration if you choose this route.
More adventurous growers may concoct their nutrient solutions by investigating plant chemistry. Suppose you are willing to experience some plant losses while experimenting and calculate all the variables that can lead to overnutrition or nutrient deficiency. In that case, it can work out just fine. In our opinion, hydroponic gardening has too many facets for me to devote all my mental energy to it.
Germination and flowering are all that matter with Saffron Crocus. A plant’s delicate stigmas cannot be harvested after it has flowered. The stigmas are harvested when the plant is in full bloom.
In such a scenario, you should choose a nutrient solution that promotes flowering and enhances the production of essential oils, which produce flavor. Professionals who formulate the solutions should handle all other variables such as pH balance, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients.
Nutrient solutions must contain all the necessary elements: phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium, but with a higher concentration of phosphorus and potassium than any other elements. Bloom formulas are based on this principle. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for dilution.
EC meters can measure nutrients periodically. A hydroponic nutrient solution potency is determined by electrical conductivity, along with TDS. Both measure the strength of the solution. Generally, nutrient ions [metals, salts, minerals] have a whole electrical charge, usually a positive or negative 1, 2, or 3. Electrochemical conductivity measures all particles in the solution that conduct electricity.
The meters do not indicate the amount of each element or the composition of your solution. There’s no way for them to tell you whether the elements in parts per million are helpful or harmful to your plants. All the mineral elements within a nutrient solution must balance the solution to perform its intended function.
How To Harvest Saffron
If you want to harvest flowers, pick them as soon as they open. The deep magenta-colored stigmas that are inside the flower buds will be harvested. Usually three, but sometimes you can find only two inside. When dried, it becomes Saffron Spice. The stigma is the red gold of the flower and should not be confused with other parts of the flower – the rest of the flower is useless for cooking.
If you inspect the stigmas closely, you will probably find that they are very fragile – they would flutter away with the slightest breeze, and they often do. Even using an electric dehydrator or even sun drying them does not do them justice and often disappoints. Allow them to dry naturally by allowing the air to blow on them. Suddenly your problem is gone. We like to dry them on a drying rack in a dry location away from fans or open windows. Once it has completely dried, you can store it in airtight containers. In storage conditions where moisture penetrates, mold and fungus may grow.