Pushing the Gardening Envelope

Last fall we decided to try to grow greens all winter. We had both successes and failures. Kale, spinach and daikon radishes did well. Kohlrabi, beets, broccoli rabe and arugula did not fair well. Most likely the veggies that did not thrive struggled because of sowing seeds too late. We did not sow seed until mid/late September. This year we decided to get an earlier start, late August, and added a new comer to the fall/winter garden — saffron. Yes, you are reading correctly, we decided to try to grow and harvest our own saffron — that wonderful spice of delicate red threads that adds flavor to breads, rice and so many other dishes.

Late last winter we came across an article about growing saffron that peaked our curiosity just a bit. We always believed that saffron grew in the hottest of climates in the Mediterranean. Here in Virginia we have a pretty hot, dry summer climate, but how would our cold winters affect the corms? All of the answers to our questions we found on the internet, and we simply had to choose a source. We settled on DutchGrown.com and placed our order in the early spring for an August shipment of bulbs. In the late summer we prepared two beds just outside of the vegetable garden. Crocus Sativus, (saffron crocus) does best in sun and in well-drained soil that is moderately rich in organic matter. For the soil requirements we needed to do a bit of amending to our Virginia clay! The corms like dry, hot summers. No problem meeting that requirement as we have plenty of those. These little beauties bloom in the fall and only need to be divided every 3 - 4 years. Best of all, the corms can stay in the ground year round.

August came and so did the box with 100 bulbs. This was the worst part — planting 100 bulbs in the August heat was quite a sweaty experience. The beds were bare with no sign of life until October, when tiny white tips poked through the ground. The white tips turned to thin green leaves by late October. We were excited just to see even those signs of life and thought that flowers would not appear until next year’s bloom. We were pleasantly surprised in early November, however, when we returned home from our trip and saw dozens of purple blooms! So bright and delicate and “happy”.  A burst of purple color amongst the ever increasing browns and grays of fall was like an oasis.

The saddest part of growing saffron is picking those pretty flowers in order to harvest the delicate threads. But harvest we are — even if just a couple of dozen threads.  Each day I look for newly opened flowers to gather.  I carefully remove the red threads and lay them out to dry.

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Those threads of saffron are now drying on my countertop, and I am happily gathering ingredients for the first two recipes I will make with my “homegrown” saffron: Winter Squash Risotto and Swedish Saffron Bread.


What are the connections to health in all of this? Here are just a few that pop into my mind: exercise via gardening, stress reduction via connection to nature, clean eating via fresh, organic produce. When you grow and prepare your own food, you truly find a different meaning to your meals. The deep appreciation you develop for the gifts from the earth that literally sustain you both body and soul is one of the best tools for helping you find your path to health and balance.

You do not need a big garden to become deeply involved in the sources of your nutrition. Begin by preparing a few meals a week with fresh, organic, unprocessed ingredients purchased in your favorite store. Try growing herbs on your windowsill. Grow containers of veggies on your porch. Purchase foods that have no ingredient labels.

By taking a few of these steps every day you will change your relationship with food, and you will grow healthier and more balanced one step at a time. Feel free to share your story about your relationship with food from the garden!

                                                                        In Health and Balance,


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