Evolution and botany of saffron
Before discussing the process of growing and harvesting saffron, it is better to first have a brief description of the saffron plant. Saffron is one of the most valuable products whose cultivation has a long history in Iran. Although today this product is produced in countries such as India, Afghanistan, Spain and China, but many researchers have attributed the main origin of saffron to Iran because saffron production has long been common in Iran and is referred to as red gold. Is. And of course, it should be noted that the quality of Iranian saffron is much better than other saffrons.
Saffron is a type of perennial and herbaceous plant. Saffron has a tuberous underground stem called a Bone, which is called a saffron bulb. The saffron bulb is thick, spherical in shape and has a brown skin that is placed underground. Saffron flower is the highest part of this plant that comes out of the soil in mid-autumn. Each bulb has 1 to 3 purple flowers and each flower has 6 petals. The pistil is located in the center of the saffron flower and has a glandular ovary and a thin style has come out of the ovary. The yellow style is divided into a transparent red stigma with 3 branches. Three stigmas with style, which is about 5 cm, after drying, form the same commercial saffron.
Saffron life stages
Saffron, like many seasonal plants, has a hibernation period and an estivating period.
- Saffron estivating period: This period lasts about 7 to 7.5 months in all climates and the plant goes through two stages during this period:
- The highest amount of growth: This stage continues from the beginning of October to the end of February (about 5 months). At this stage, the roots grow with the first watering and the leaves begin to germinate. The important thing in this period is that the mother bulb shrinks after flowering and moves its body to the smaller bulb that is on top of it, and at the end of this period, there is no trace of the mother bulb, so fertilization is useless in this period.
- Stunting stage of saffron: The stage of stopping the growth of this plant has started from the beginning of March and lasts until the middle of May (about 2.5 months). During this period, the growth of leaves stops and the plant is ready to hibernation, but it should be noted that during this period, soil moisture is very important to maintain the large size of the smaller bulbs that have become mother bulbs.
- Saffron hibernation period: This period lasts about 4 to 4.5 months in all climates. The saffron hibernation period begins in mid-May and lasts until October. Saffron bulb goes through two stages of hibernation during this period:
- Real saffron sleep: This hibernation lasts from mid-May to mid-July (for 60 days). At this stage, there is no change in the bulb and the plant is completely hibernate. At this stage, if the saffron plant is moved, there will be no damage to its flowering process. So this is the best time to harvest bulbs and move them to a new farm.
- The outward sleep of saffron: This sleep lasts from the first half of July to the middle of September. At this stage, saffron apparently sleeps, but in the same period, some parts of the plant, including leaves and stems appear, so the outward hibernation period of saffron is by no means a good time to harvest saffron bulbs and build a new farm.
Stages of saffron production
This process includes three stages of planting, ripening and harvesting, which we will explain below.
- Saffron planting stage: If we consider a ten-year period, the planting year is done in the first year and in the following years there are stages and harvesting is done, so the planting stage is important and effective in the final quality of saffron. Saffron bulb after the first planting in the first year is able to produce up to about 7-10 years, but usually after the fifth or seventh year, we can not expect to harvest a high quality saffron from this bulb. In the planting stage important factors are involved:
- Soil: In this regard, it should be noted that the type of each saffron depends on the soil in which it is grown. And even in one specific climate, two adjacent agricultural lands may harvest two completely different types of saffron, and this is because the salts of each soil differ from one soil to another in terms of protection, care, and fertilization. That is why, for example, in Iran, before starting the planting process, the field soil is examined in the laboratory to ensure its quality for growing saffron. But in general, it should be noted that sandy and rocky soil is not suitable for growing saffron. Also, arable land for saffron should not have a lot of moisture and salt because it causes mold on saffron bulbs in the ground. The best soil for growing saffron is dry and warm land.
- Suitable climate: Saffron is a plant that grows in arid and subtropical regions. Saffron can withstand temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius in winter to 40 degrees in summer.
- Quality of saffron bulbs: Suitable bulb for planting should be the size of a walnut and free from any disease or contamination. To ensure this, they can be disinfected before planting onions. Saffron bulbs usually reach their highest quality in 4-5 year old lands. The proper weight of each bulb should be about 8 grams. If you take care of the smaller bulbs in the field and irrigate them properly, you will undoubtedly grow a high quality saffron.
- Saffron bulbs planting schedule: Another important factor that greatly affects the quality and growth of saffron is determining the appropriate planting time. As stated in the true sleep stage; That is, mid-May to early July is the best time to harvest onions and transfer them to new fields. In this regard, some studies have proven that the best time to plant and transfer saffron bulbs to new farms is June, while in Khorasan Iran, saffron is often grown in early August to early October. Moving onions at the wrong time damages the flowering process and as a result reduces the first year crop in saffron fields. Another important point is that after harvesting bulbs from the ground, they should not be stored for a long time, because in this case, their moisture may be lost.
- Method of planting saffron: Cultivation can be by machine or by hand, in the form of plots or rows. The important point at this stage is that the rows and the distances between them should be parallel and equal to each other. Also, the terminal buds of the bulbs should be facing upwards.
- Density and depth of saffron planting: It is better that the distance between planting lines is 25 cm. The depth of each hole should be 15 to 20 cm to be safe from winter cold and summer heat. You can also put 3-5 bulbs in each hole. More than this amount is possible, but you should keep in mind that the more bulbs planted in each hole, the more your production will increase in a year, but in the long term, the usefulness of the product will decrease.
2. Saffron ripening stage: Saffron is a perennial plant and yields 7-10 consecutive years. Sometimes it will produce up to 15 years. The ripening stage is very important and depends on many factors.
- Irrigation of saffron: Due to the importance of irrigation in increasing the quantity and quality of the product, the necessary attention should be paid in this field. Irrigation time of saffron depends on the climatic conditions of the region, which varies from early October to mid-November. The first irrigation (after planting onions in the ground) is very important and sensitive because it stimulates the plant and wakes up the saffron and its germination begins. Early irrigation of saffron causes plant growth to stagnate, and conversely, late irrigation may cause the flowers to experience winter frosts. Saffron fields are irrigated 5 times a year. The first irrigation in early October after planting saffron, the second irrigation after harvesting saffron flowers is about 40 days after the first irrigation, the third irrigation in early March and after fertilizing the land, the fourth irrigation in late March and the fifth irrigation in April.
- Conservative tillage: After each irrigation in lands with low organic matter and heavy soil, the layer on the soil hardens and reduces the possibility of plant growth and development. Therefore, in small plots with hand sickles and in large plots with cultivation, the hard and surface crust of the soil is crushed and weeds are also eliminated. This is called conservative farming. The best time for tillage is after the spring rains and the preparation of the land. Breaking hardened soils makes it easier for flowers to come out of the soil and mix animal manure with topsoil. It should be noted that there should be no delay in tillage because if the flowers grow and reach the soil surface, this action will cause their death, so it should be done immediately after watering. About 5-7 cm from the soil surface is enough to break the hardened soil.
- Weed control and weeding: Weeds affect the uptake of water, nutrients and sunlight into the saffron plant, which reduces yields. If the land is not cleared of weeds, after a while it will cover the whole field and it will be difficult to destroy them at this stage. In the summer rest phase of saffron, weeding can be done with hand and machine tools. Heavy machinery should not be used in the field to remove weeds as they destroy the sensitive saffron bulbs. Weeding of saffron land should be done at least 4 times; The first weeding is done after harvesting the flowers and after the second irrigation, the second weeding is done one month after the first weeding and before the third irrigation, the third weeding is done after the yellowing of saffron leaves dries in spring and the fourth weeding is done when the plant is resting and dormant.
3. Saffron Harvesting stage: The most difficult and sensitive stage is the process of growing saffron. The stage of harvesting saffron includes picking flowers and separating the stigma from the flower. The life of saffron flowers is 3 to 4 days and if they are not harvested in time, they will wither and vanish. Also, if the flowers are exposed to hot weather, wind and sunlight for a long time, its quality will decrease and saffron will lose its quality. The best time to pick saffron flowers is early in the morning, when the flower buds have not yet opened. This process is done in three steps:
- Flower picking: The time of harvesting saffron flowers depends entirely on the climate. The flowering period of saffron land is 15 to 25 days and the maximum flowering is on the seventh to tenth day. Saffron stigmas should be removed from the petals immediately because the yellow pollen of the flag is placed on the stigmas, their separation causes damage to the stigmas and reduces the value and marketability of commercial saffron.
- Separating the stigmas: After picking the flowers, they should be transferred quickly from the ground to the workshop so that there is no interruption between the process of picking them and separating the petals from the stigmas. Because flowers rot quickly. This step must be observed carefully and with full observance of health issues.
- Drying saffron: The method of drying stigmas has a great impact on the quality and value of commercial saffron. In the industrial method, drying systems such as tunnel, conveyor and vacuum dryers and other industrial dryers are used.
And finally, saffron packaging
After the yellow stigmas are separated from the petals and dried, the saffron is packaged and prepared for marketing. Saffron can be packaged in glass containers, bags, polyethylene cans or laminated aluminum bags. After packing, to prevent compression, it should be placed in a carton and stored in wooden or metal boxes during transportation. Saffron storage place should be hygienic, with appropriate temperature and humidity and away from light. The best storage temperature for saffron is between 4 and 20 degrees Celsius. The lower the temperature and humidity of the storage place, the more color, taste and aroma of saffron and its higher quality. Saffron should not be stored in containers and plastic materials because its essential oil is reduced in a short time and its quality is reduced.
Finally, I must point out that fake saffron has become very common in the global market and it is very difficult to distinguish it from original saffron. For more information, please follow our next articles to teach you how to identify high quality saffron. Also, contact us to know the price of different types of saffron and to buy and send it all over the world.
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