By Nikki Honosky, WVSU Extension Associate
Spring is just around the corner and that means that soon everything will be ready to bloom again. This is normally the time of year where you begin to think about what type of gardening you will do this year. It is also a good time to think about investing in growing some of the more unique herbs and spices that are available.
One of the most notable and expensive spices that you could invest in is saffron crocus. Saffron itself is not terribly hard to grow. They’re planted as a bulb in the spring or summer that will be ready for harvest in the autumn. The climate in West Virginia is warm enough for saffron crocus to grow, but they do their best in drier climates. Some rain is fine and the soil should be well-drained because saffron crocus doesn’t fare well in heavy or wet soils. The plants will be blossoming around October and the flowers should be ready to be plucked. The filaments in the flowers are what you’ll be harvesting. The bulbs of the plants will divide over years of growing, which can be separated for replanting to increase your available plants.
While saffron is a very profitable spice, it can be very difficult to make a profit off of it due to the fact that it can be very labor intensive. The labor cost will be the deciding factor on whether you would be able to market a large amount of saffron. There isn’t an automatic method of harvesting the flowers, so pickers will be needed if you plan to have large fields planted. Also each flower has only three filaments each, which need be delicately removed. Then the filaments have to be dried. It takes about 150 blossoms to make a gram of saffron for the market. While it is expensive, it can be difficult to run a large commercial value of it. Using saffron as a primary crop is difficult, but it would probably fare better as just a section in any farming operation. This way you can experiment with it as a crop, while not solely depending on it. The other option is to grow enough that you can provide yourself a small supply of saffron to experiment with in your own cooking.
Another plant that you could try dealing with is ginger. Whether it is referred to as either as herb or a spice, ginger is something that can provide plenty of flavor in your cooking. Ginger is a tropical plant, but parts of the US, including West Virginia are warm enough to sustain it. During the colder portion of the year, you can start the plant indoors and transplant outdoors once temperatures at night are reliably above 50 degrees.
Ginger is easy to start at home and be done using store bought ginger, but make sure that it is the freshest that you can find. Cut up the ginger into one to two inch pieces, while making sure there is a pointy node portion that can serve as the root portion that grows into a leafstalk. Leave out the cut up pieces for a few days to dry out before planting them.
Once you plant them, you should be able to harvest some ginger in the early fall when the weather starts to cool off. If you want, ginger can be kept going year-round indoors if you put it in a large enough pot for it to grow in. If you do decide to grow ginger indoors, make sure to mist the leaves once a week at least in order to provide a humid environment for it to grow in.
These are just two examples of the types of spices and herbs available to grow. There are plenty more spices or herbs available for you to get invested in if you wish to. Do some research of your own if interested to see if any plant in particular interests you.
You can easily learn more about this by doing research on the Internet or by asking those that have experience with dealing with growing herbs and spices. If you have any questions, you can contact me at the WVSU Extension Office at the Welch Armory. I am available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Feel free to give me a call at (304) 320-5446.
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