Easy to Grow
An extremely easy to grow and very unconventional crop is Saffron. Saffron is a beautiful flower that is most known for being a culinary spice, but it also has medicinal qualities and is said to be the most expensive plant in the world. The United States is the biggest consumer of Saffron, but there is actually very little grown here. The majority of Saffron is grown near the Mediterranean. While it is an easy crop to grow, harvesting is quite time consuming, so it has mainly been grown where labor prices are cheaper. That does not mean that it still can’t be profitable. A pound of saffron spice goes for almost $10,000 in the U.S., which is twice the price of European countries.
There are three main revenue streams that you can yield from a saffron plant. The most profitable part of the plant is the stigma, which is the three small red-orange hairs in the center of the flower. The stigma is what the culinary spice is made from, and it is also the part that contains the most healing properties. When selling as a spice, the stigmas can go for around $20 per gram, and the price just goes up from there if you can find a good medicinal market. Even after the stigma has been removed, the flowers can still be profitable—they smell very good and can be sold for potpourri. The third revenue stream would be from the corm, which is basically a bulb, and is what the plant grows from. Saffron is a perennial flower, so these bulbs multiply every year. You can dig them up each summer, separate them, re-plant as many as you would like and sell the rest. In 2016, the University of Vermont said that you could make $4.03 per square foot growing Saffron compared to $3.51 off of tomatoes or $1.81 for winter greens. https://www.uvm.edu/~saffron/Resources/Presentations/ SaffronGoldOppNov72016.pdf
Saffron is a tough, hearty crop that has a reverse cycle. It sprouts and flowers in the fall and then the it keeps growing until late spring before going dormant throughout the summer. It is an extremely low maintenance flower. It likes dry, well-drained soil and only requires watering once every two weeks in dry climates. It also replicates extremely quickly, so once you make the initial investment in corms you will have an almost endless supply.
Unless you are planning on using a hoop house or green house, saffron is best suited for grow zones 6 and up and in climates that don’t get too much rain. Some saffron has been planted using hydroponics with some significant increases in the dry weight of the stigma. Since the plant is still growing through the winter it is only hardy down to about -10 or -15 degrees Fahrenheit, and will do best covered in a layer of mulch. Many growers opt to grow in raised beds that have been lined with hardware cloth, or milk crates that have been lined with weed fabric. This keeps out moles, voles, or any other nuisance that could get into your soil and damage the precious corms. Since they can be moved around, crates or more versatile. They could allow you to be able to grow in colder climates as you can move them into a warmer space when the temperatures dip. The crates are also great for hoop houses in rotation with a vegetable crop like tomatoes. You can set the crates to the side during the summer when the tomatoes are producing and around the time they begin to stop production the saffron should come out of its dormancy. This would allow you to grow two high profit crops in one hoop house. Harvesting the flowers would also give you something to do in late October and November, which is good since not a lot of other crops are producing then.
Since buying saffron corms only has to be a one-time investment, make sure that you source high quality. They are available each summer, but make sure that you order early, because suppliers do run out. Once you have your corms, plant them two and a half inches apart and four inches deep with the point facing up. Make sure you have well drained soil and place two inches compost on top after planting. After planting they are super low maintenance. No spraying is usually required as they are resistant to diseases and pest and they require little water. If you aren’t breaking up the corms to sell, you will have to break them up every four years or so to prevent overcrowding.
While saffron isn’t for most growers, it has the possibility to fit in with some niche farms. It is low maintenance until harvest, so maybe that works for your schedule; or maybe you have a cheap source of labor near you to help with harvest. There are not many North American growers, so you should not having a hard time selling a local product for a premium price. If you can find a way to tap into the medical market you have the potential to seriously improve the profits. There are growers working with laboratories to make this happen, so anything is possible for an ambitious individual. Even if you don’t want to grow them for profit, they are a beautiful flower to have around and a little bit of saffron spice goes a long way. Plus, there aren’t that many flowers that bloom in the fall instead of the spring, so they are a beautiful addition to any landscape