Ask The Experts: Growing Saffron Hydroponically

Q:

This is Masoud Saleh from Iran. I am a MS holder of entrepreneurship in the field of tourism and I am interested in growing saffron hydroponically as a tourist attraction in a nice village in Qazvin province. Please guide me from the beginning how to start and continue.

I own 500 square meters of land next to a nice river. I already planted saffron corms into the soil and the result is good, so I decided to grow hydroponically.

I really appreciate your help in advance.

Regards,

Masoud Saleh

A:

Dear Masoud,

Growing saffron hydroponically is relatively straightforward; however, the type of system you set up depends on whether you simply want to use hydroponics to flower and harvest from the corms or if you want to also propagate and generate new corms as well. Below is an explanation of the different ways in which the corms may be grown hydroponically.

There are two ways of running a saffron system. First, the dormant corms can be purchased, usually towards the end of summer or in early autumn, planted, flowered, harvested, and discarded, all over a six-week period. Or, second, after the short flowering period, the bulbs can be grown on, producing vegetation and new daughter cormlets over a period of many months until they become dormant in mid-summer. In the first system, the corms are planted at a high density since they won’t be grown on and multiplied. The second system needs more space for the plants to fully develop and many months of caring for the corms after they flower, though the reward is a supply of new corms that could be sold or given away to others and a higher yield of flowers in the next year. Tying up a hydroponic system with vegetative saffron for nine to 10 months, however, may not be attractive to those with limited space (though trays of saffron plants are cold hardy and can be put outside for winter and spring if necessary).

Corms can be stored in a dry place and planted out when the hydroponic system is ready. The spacing should be approximately four to five inches apart and 1.5 to two inches deep, in a tray of sterile, free-draining growing media, such as coconut fiber with some perlite mixed in. The media needs to support the plants yet be friable enough for the young corms to form without deformities, so any substrate used for baby root crops would be suitable.

The flowers will have already been initiated in the corms during the summer dormancy period, and flowering will occur when moisture is provided and temperatures start to drop in the fall (flowering is triggered by environmental conditions such as temperate and moisture). The ideal conditions during flowering are a 16-hour day length with day temperatures of 63˚F and night temperatures of 54˚F. Growing in a greenhouse means the flowers are protected from rain, moisture, and wind, and the lack of weeds makes harvesting high-quality flowers much easier.

Flowering of the corms will typically occur quite quickly after planting; the first emerging flower buds should be seen within a few weeks. The flowers will fully open within three to five days and be ready for harvest. As each flower blooms, it should be plucked or snipped from the plant and taken away for processing. The easiest way of removing the saffron stigmas from the center of the flower is to pull back and remove all the petals and then snip the golden strands at the base. These will then need to be dried before storage.

Good luck with your saffron crops.

Kind regards,

Dr. Lynette Morgan

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Written by Lynette Morgan
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Dr. Lynette Morgan holds a B. Hort. Tech. degree and a PhD in hydroponic greenhouse production from Massey University, New Zealand. Lynette is a partner with Suntec International Hydroponic Consultants and has authored several hydroponic technical books. Visit suntec.co.nz for more information.  Full Bio