The Vermont saffron researchers are back for episode three, this time with a focus on saffron production in the field or high tunnel. Listen to Margaret Skinner, Brian Leven, Jon Pylpiv, and , Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani as they talk everything saffron.
Cutting Edge: In Search of New Crops For Wisconsin
Episode 22: Saffron Part 3
Recorded April 13, 2021
Jerry Clark, Margaret Skinner, Brian Leven, Jon Pylpiv, Evan Henthrone, JASON FISCHBACH, Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani
JASON FISCHBACH 00:00
This is a podcast about new crops, you’re gonna love it. Join us on the cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin.
Margaret Skinner 00:11
We were wrong. In fact, they did grow outside. And we’re still learning all the time. What how to make them grow better.
Jerry Clark 00:44
Welcome to the cutting edge a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. I’m your co host, Jerry Clark, I work with the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension serving as an agricultural agent. And my co host today is Evan Henthrone.
Evan Henthrone 01:01
Yes, thanks, Jerry. So I’m that agricultural educator in Adams County. So it’s, it’s great to connect with everybody again and be in a space that we can talk and continue to talk about saffron for our, what third session now Jerry, is that right?
Jerry Clark 01:15
Yeah, we’re on the on the episode three, as we could call it. So we’re kind of starting the trilogy here, if you’re, I guess, a Star Wars fan or anybody like that, but this will try to get the ratings that Star Wars does, but we got a ways to go. But yeah, today we have the Vermont gang back with us. For the most part, we’ve got Margaret Skinner and Arash from University of Vermont as researchers on saffron. And also we have Jon Pylpiv. John is one of our growers here in Wisconsin, at Bread Basket farm in Hortonville. And on the eastern side of the state. And new to our podcast team today is Brian Leven. He’s a saffron grower from Golden Thread Farm in Stowe, Vermont. And Margaret tells us he’s got a fantastic website that I just pulled up. And it does look great. So we can cover that as we go along. But Margaret was giving us a rough time for not checking that out earlier. But today, we’re going to kind of focus on the production side of things. If you’ve listened to our earlier podcasts, you know, we’ve kind of covered a brief kind of a high level overview of what saffron is, and then kind of dug into the marketing the last time. So Evan, today, I think we’re going to try to dig into kind of that market, or excuse me, the production side of it. And that’s where we have Brian and Jon, to kind of lead us along that path on their experiences, as well as what Margaret and Arash have experienced. From their growing standpoint. All right, so so Margaret, if you want to give us kind of that background, again, on maybe how you got started, why farmers are growing in Vermont and how with your project, you and Arash have expanded this project.
Margaret Skinner 02:49
Arash is from Iran, and Iran is the number one producer of saffron worldwide. And when he came to Vermont, he said, Why aren’t you growing saffron in Vermont? And I said, I don’t I don’t know. And we started looking into it. And obviously one of the well one of the reasons in my mind, I work with small farms throughout Vermont, most of which are growing vegetables or ornamentals, and they have a hard time making a living. And so for me, I thought, geez, if growers could also grow saffron in our area, that would be a great supplemental income for them. Because saffron sells for between $20 and now$50 a gram. So that is potentially a lot of money. And it’s produced at the tmost ntensive labor time of the year is in October, November. And that’s when most field crops are done. And so it seemed like an ideal fit, similar to maple syrup production, except in a totally different season. So, um, so you might ask, Well, what growers are coming to you to ask more about saffron. And there’s quite a wide range of different kinds of growers. Probably most commonly, we are targeting these small Vermont farms who need ,who have some land, maybe they don’t have too much land, but they have some land and some experience growing produce. A lot of them sell at farmer’s markets, which make an ideal way for marketing saffron. So that kind of was our initial target. However, we get calls from all sorts of different kinds of people. One of the common ones is people say, “Well, I’m a, I’m an educator right now. And I’m planning on retiring and I have some land in Vermont, some agricultural land that isn’t really being used right now. And I want to come back to Vermont, I want to reestablish the farm there. And I’d love to grow saffron.” Partly they are saying, you know, I know I don’t, I won’t make enough money on my social security. And so I want this as a supplemental income without having to go full tilt into a whole agricultural production system. So, um, yeah.
Jerry Clark 05:39
So so we’re talking about a small, you know, high intensive, like, from a labor standpoint, a little more intensive from that standpoint, smaller acreage. So that’s where it fits in with with obviously, small farms or, or individual. And I guess I’d lean on Brian and Jon, a little bit on this next question is, from a from a land standpoint, production, what do you call soil type, that kind of thing? Has that driven some of your decision making, as far as I’m gonna try this? Because it fits a certain production system? Go ahead Brian.
Brian Leven 06:17
Sure, thanks. You know, I grow mine in high tunnels, cold frame hoop houses. So, you know, it’s really contained entirely within the space of those two hoop houses. You know, I do have this plot of land where I started this farming operation. And it’s about 10 acres, most of which I’m not using yet. So if if I if I’m looking into the future, expanding production, I have room to put additional hoop houses out there. But again, it’s it’s a really condensed into a very small unit when it comes down to it.
Jon Pylpiv 06:55
Yeah, and for me, we have just under four acres of land. At our farm, we live in Kimberley and our farm is in Greenville, Hortonville area. So it takes up very little space. We we planted in the section about 25 by 50 foot section. And we use about a 30 inch bed system, which is very similar for other market, Market Garden type farms like we have, so it kind of fits in. And previously we planted garlic in that same bed. So it was just trying to standardize things and it doesn’t take up very much space for us. And we have about 210 by 800 feet foot property in a southern sloped facing direction from the top of our property to to the very bottom that drops about 50 feet very incrementally. So it just seems like it’s pretty good drainage and just a good amount of sun. Yeah, and the soil fertility. We have like a silty loam, very good topsoil, the area by where our farm is in Hortonville Greenville area is very rich soil. So we’re fortunate for that.
Evan Henthrone 07:59
Awesome. Brian, I kind of want to circle back to you. Because you mentioned something you mentioned that you were growing it within hoop houses. So first, can you just kind of say like, how did you get into this? Like, what’s the why that you started growing saffron? And then can you just kind of move into like, why are you growing it in a hoop house versus another method?
Brian Leven 08:19
Sure, well like I said, I had this piece of land and I did have an interest in doing something agricultural with it. It’s a it’s a great field, you know, big expansive field full of sunlight. And, you know, we had the room. It wasn’t until Arash and Margaret did their first studies in the reports came out from ubm that may be growing saffron in Vermont could be a nice little Well, it could be a successful way to farm the land. And for me, I mean, you know, I really appreciate in Vermont, we have a lot of farm to table restaurants, a lot of just great quality food products, beer, you know, all kinds of spirits. And it’s it’s kind of a fun industry to be involved in too. So for me, because I’m kind of a foodie, if I was going to produce something, I wanted to produce something that I liked. And I do love saffron. It’s It’s It’s a you know, it’s it’s certainly something that was very new and when I started and now you know, there’s there’s a bunch of small farms now in Vermont, or even some larger operations that are that are growing it.
Evan Henthrone 09:34
So Brian, you kind of you touched on it that this has inspired you to grow. And I feel confident saying that with growth, there always comes that the challenge or things that set you back. So can you just touch on like what were some parts of your production that set you back or things that you had to learn from, to do, to be able to grow to where you’re at now?
Brian Leven 09:56
You’re in and I think I can answer that in combination. With the other question you had about growing in a high tunnel. Because and reason, you know, when I first started, I actually did have one bed outdoors. But the recommendation from UVM was because of our a very cold climate, that throwing them into high tunnel was recommended. I also discovered that you can get a grant from the NRCS, the division of USDA that will fund a high tunnel and basically paid for all the materials. So I pursued that, at least for one of my high tunnels, and I actually just found out, there’s no limit on the number you can apply for. So I’ve already, I’ve already been in touch with the local office about getting another one going, because I’m going to have to transplant in a couple of years. And they’re going to take up a lot more room once I do the transplanting because there’s just going to be so many more corms. But as far as some of the setbacks, you know, growing in a high tunnel, you know, you do need to water in the winter. And unless you’re high tunnels warm enough, you know, I was shutting my water down for the coldest months, and then kind of being late to the game at the end of the winter. So some of my crop was starting to go go into its dormancy stage, just before, you know it was the optimal time to do that. So I’m working on keeping my greenhouses cooler in the winter now, which then so that hopefully they won’t dry out as quickly. But I’m also now I have some heating lines in my pipes. But I think if I had to do it again, I would work in some way to keep the the minimum temperature above freezing, whether, you know, implementing some sort of geothermal heating system or something, so that I could just keep the water on all winter and not have to worry about the pipes freezing, and being able to water and not compromising the crop when I do water, because it’s inevitably going to fall, you know, below zero for stretches of time. And but when it gets sunny, the next day, you know, these these greenhouses warm up to 70-80 degrees, even if the ambient air temperature outside is below zero, so that, you know, all kinds of challenges. And I’ll say, I found the outdoor bed I had, it proposed challenges because as soon as the snow melt as soon as it melts in the spring the deer, at least in my neighborhood, it’s you know, the only green thing out there and they just mow it down overnight. So I did manage to salvage that bed, but I moved it in indoors to the second hoop house I built.
Jerry Clark 12:55
So Jon, in kind of contrast to what Brian’s explaining how, what’s been your challenge, then, as far as you know, in the ground here in Wisconsin, versus in a high tunnel in Vermont?
Jon Pylpiv 13:06
Yeah, well, I mean, Vermont is just, it’s beautiful. So I guess if you’re if you can’t be enjoying the outdoor scenery, you might as well enjoy the warmth in a high tunnel. So I think I got a lot of inspiration from Vermont and University of Vermont, the work that Arash and Margaret are doing. And I initially did start at a little high tunnel, but in in crates, and then I also started a raised bed, this was on our home property. And then I realized the ones that did, for us, the ones that were outdoors, the performance was better, probably what you know, Brian alluded to like there is more maybe care and watering and other things and other factors that I just wasn’t able to commit to at that time. And I found that for me, like the raised bed type system works better, less maintenance for me in the offseason. And the deer pressure and animal pressure. Initially, I did notice some damage. So we put in a like a plastic fencing that we got from the DNR. There’s programs, if you have some crop damage, we had some other crops for our diversified vegetable farm, we had some damage. And that’s helped a lot. We haven’t had any damage I think in the last two years in our bed systems that we’ve had from deer. But we did have a little bit I think maybe some corm rot because there were some low spots in our beds. So moving forward, I think what we’re going to do is make sure that if there’s any sinking or any, you know, shifting, like we make the beds tall enough, and then ensure that there’s just good drainage all throughout. Because the beds that were a bit higher, there were no low spots. Those have performed well. And they come back every year. And you know, we had some weed pressure and things like that. But overall, we liked that functionality of using that space outdoors for now, but we’re looking to experiment and trial other ways. So maybe a high tunnel would be a good way to kind of diversify how we grow. So.
Jerry Clark 15:03
So, so Margaret and Arash, I guess from your research standpoint, looking at production? Is that something you’re looking at in addition to varieties or those kinds of things? Are you looking at production systems? I know it’s been a new research crop for the University of Vermont. How is the, what are you researching or looking at down the road here, or currently researching in terms of that production stuff that you know, Jon and Brian has been, have been addressing?
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 15:32
Yeah, actually, we are mostly thinking about different planting methods. And in some part, at some points, we are looking at a crop rotation for saffron plants, because as I told you, Saffron has a different life cycle, it grows into winter, fall and winter. And then in the field, when we have it in the field in the summer, we don’t have any green leaf. So, we are thinking these days to develop an intercropping system with saffron in the field. And saffron is a perennial crop. So we have to work on the fertility of the soil, we are doing research to find the optimum situation soil situation for saffron, because we keep it for a long time like three, four or five years in the ground, we have to keep the soil fertility over the time. So it’s another aspect that we are working these days on it. Saffron quality is another aspect of saffron production, and especially marketing that we are working on it, we have a cooperation with the chemistry department. Saffron does not produce seeds, it’s a triplet crop. And so we don’t have different variations, we don’t have different like is not like corn and maize. It’s like we have just one ‘Crocus sativus’, we have different genotypes, but they are almost like each other. One thing that I wanted to mention when Brian was talking about saffron in the high tunnel. And in the greenhouse, we have some other crops that have been grown in high tunnel and greenhouses for a long time, like tomato, it came to the greenhouse like many many years ago, and people have enough experience on that. But saffron, Saffron production in the high tunnel in the control chamber, or the area which is covered is like we don’t have enough experience on it. And like working with the growers and other people gives us this opportunity to find the problem and challenges that they face in those production systems. So maybe in the future, if we find a source of funding, we will design a trial to work on that aspect as well.
Margaret Skinner 17:53
Um, one other thing, people might, growers might get confused, because indeed, when we started out, we believed that we hypothesized that saffron would not survive outside, that we couldn’t get a decent crop, or they wouldn’t survive over multiple years. So that’s why we originally started growing them in high tunnels. We were wrong. Um, in fact, they, they did grow outside, and we’re still learning all the time. What, how to make them grow better. And what has happened now, which is exciting, but challenging, is it’s not just growers in Vermont, or in Wisconsin, who are interested in growing saffron. There are people in Rhode Island and Virginia and Texas and Arizona and California and their situation, each one of those different locations, offer challenges and opportunities. And so, um, it’s, it’s a there’s a big steep learning curve. And that’s where having growers involved in the research is really important because it will help us answer the questions faster.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 19:22
Now, one thing that they want to add is like, initially, we look at saffron very scientifically. And we came from stat to biology, we just calculated that when we cover Vermont estate with a layer of plastic with the temperature that we will have under that layer of plastic will be similar to arid and semi arid area that saffron came from. So then we decided, oh, if we can simulate this kind of situation, we can plant saffron. And when we were we were working on that. A guy came to us and say hey, I have saffron in the field. Why don’t you plant it in the field? And you can’t? So it’s okay. If you have it there. We should, we have to try it as well.
Evan Henthrone 20:11
So I can’t Okay, so in my mind, and maybe we kind of covered this, but like, what’s the coldest that saffron can, if it’s outside, what’s the coldest that it can tolerate before we, we start to see damage, I’m just kind of like thinking about Wisconsin, and we’re starting to get warmer here. But the month of April can always throw us a good curveball, and we can get a cold spell or we could get a ton of snow yet. So I’m just kind of wondering, like, if producers here started growing it this time of year, this early April, and then we get some cold weather, like, how are we going to be okay with like that little bit? Or should they be concerned? Or kind of, kind of talk about like that, or have we done research on that?
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 20:52
Margaret do you want to?
Margaret Skinner 20:56
Oh dear, I wish we knew, I wish it was black and white.
Evan Henthrone 21:04
Margaret Skinner 21:04
And the reason it’s not is because, like you said, sometimes you get snow in Vermont, and probably in Wisconsin, in early October. Um right when the flowers are coming out, um, a couple of years ago, we got, it got cold early, and it never, it never warmed up again. And in that particular year, we the, the flowering was very bad, harvest was very bad, kind of like the maple syrup season that we’ve had this year. Maple Syrup producers, they made 10% of what they usually made. And that was because we got this warm spell, go figure. Um, and so it’s really hard to say. Um, so my gut feeling not based on research, I’d have to say, if we had an open winter with no snow, the entire winter, I think the corms would suffer, I don’t know, the way saffron grows, is you put the corm in the ground in the fall, and we call it the mother corm or the original corm or whatever. Every year, the the baby corms that are produced by that Mother corm are on top of that original mother corn. So every year, that clump of corms, gets more abundant, but gets closer to the surface of the soil, which means they’re more susceptible to freeze damage. So, you know, it would be nice to say, Okay, we’ll take a corm. And we will just put it in the freezer, and see if it dies. But that’s not gonna tell us anything, because it doesn’t tell us the finer points about what’s happening underneath the ground. And a saffron corm in October, is probably less cold hardy, then that same corm in February or March, it’s kind of like, you know, if you have an early, cold spell, and your shrubs haven’t hardened off, they will suffer from that cold. So, so not to hem and haw about this, but there are lots of factors that make it very difficult to scientifically answer your question.
Evan Henthrone 23:37
Margaret Skinner 23:37
What is the cold temperature that you need to? to not get below? Because I don’t think we know.
Evan Henthrone 23:45
Sure. So there’s just there’s more, what I’m hearing is there’s more research or more information to be done on it, which is, which is good, which is good. Jonathan, what what have been your observations just kind of being a grower in Wisconsin? That same type of question.
Jon Pylpiv 23:58
Yeah, so I I initially when I started growing it I had thought well, maybe I could grow this very similar because I, the research from University of Vermont and on the internet, which generally in the internet, it was hard to find solid information except the University of Vermont on saffron. But it seemed like the spacing was really key. And then also for efficiency, like I think we went with spacing them out every six inches and planting about every six inches deep. And that that was a nice, we did five rows like that in a 30 inch system. And that was a pretty good system for us. And we found that the corms when we did that and made sure that that that’s if we didn’t cover them in the winter, they they’ve been generally surviving and part of that, I think, because some of that snow acts almost like an insulating blanket. And so it’s really kind of shocking like at some times you get a little warm up or maybe some of the snow melts and then you you see this green, beautiful foliage, it’s like this. That’s amazing. That plant is still alive. And I think part of that is the fertility underneath the soil and the root structure, the mycorrhizal fungi, how it adds and maybe adds value to that root and the development of those corms. So I think for us, we’ve had like this even late winter, early spring here, really cold temperatures windchills 20, 30, 40 below. And our corms. Look, they look beautiful. I haven’t dug any out this spring yet, but the foliage indicates that they’ve generally survived well, and including multiplied. Same thing with our garlic we had areas we didn’t insulate, normally, we put straw on it, we didn’t and those survived too so I, these are amazing plants. They’re really hardy, at least from my experience and growing in Wisconsin so far in our spot.
Jerry Clark 25:50
So I know, oh go ahead Margaret.
Margaret Skinner 25:52
One thing about high tunnels is it’s it’s investing a lot of money potentially, though the advantage in Vermont and other states is these days, you can get a lot of support from the from the government. But, so you have this very, not high tech, but a high quality uh area, and you’re growing saffron, and it has to stay there all year long, even though you’re only getting the value of a crop, potentially, at one time of the year. And a lot of people, vegetable growers, they don’t they don’t want to do that they want to use that space for tomatoes or other high value crops during the rest of the year, one of the things that we would really like to do is start investigating, are there other crops that could be grown on top of saffron, so that you could really make full use of that high tunnel. But ultimately, you got to move those corms out, they can’t stay in that same location, whether it’s in the high tunnel, or out in the field, you have to develop a whole rotation system, because just like all crops, they will, you know, it’ll start there will be disease and insect issues that you want to avoid. And so it is important to even at an early stage, when people are starting to decide how to grow their saffron, they need to come up with a rotation plan, recognizing that someday, I gotta move those saffron out of the high tunnel or out of that field that used to have garlic in it. And Brian’s gonna have to work on that too, um, that he’s going to need to develop some other cool crops that are of interest. Cool as in. Isn’t that cool, man.
Jerry Clark 27:56
We’re dating ourselves now.
Margaret Skinner 27:59
So, and Arash talked about that a little bit that we are trying to start thinking about how do you develop a rotation system that encourages, you know, good crop fertility as well as reducing disease pressure, etc, etc. So that’s a work in progress, but people need to be thinking about that as they’re going forward.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 28:25
But one thing that I want to mention is like when we are talking about cold situation, we have to think about soil texture as well, it’s really important if you have a clay soil or growers have clay soil. And they also in the area with the cold climate, they should be a little bit worried because especially in the January February, those kind of, because in the clay soil, we don’t have a good drainage system, technically the water will stay there and in the frozen or cold nights, the plant can be affected by that cold. So my recommendation is like, if you are in the cold climate, try to find a piece of land in your farm which has a lighter, like sandy soil texture. It helps you a lot.
Jerry Clark 29:14
So the way it sounds that when the mother, so you’ve mentioned Arash that it’s a perennial, but it’s kind of a short lived perennial, so maybe three to five years and then you need to move it or I know we’re kind of still at the early stages of this, but then you dig up the whole corm. Can you divide those those daughter corms off and propagate those or is, do you move that whole corm at into a new field or a new hoophouse at that same time?
Margaret Skinner 29:44
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 29:47
Yeah, sure. The mother Yes. Technically the mother corm that we planted, produce some baby corms for us each year and die after a year. We don’t have a mother corm after a year. So even after one lifecycle, you can dig up the corms and replant them somewhere else. But it’s not really usual, then you want to produce flowers, because usually people see more flowers in the second and third year.
Jerry Clark 30:15
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 30:16
After election, after like, three, four or five years, you can dig the corms up all of them and sell some of those if you have extra, because I said, each mother can produce some baby corms, that means the number of baby corms in under the ground get increased like exponentially. So you can sell some of the corms that you produce. And you don’t want that and keep some of those and replant them somewhere else. Don’t plant your baby corms at the same plot that you had from before. Keep the rotation.
Margaret Skinner 30:49
So Brian, Brian, maybe you can talk to that, when you dug up your corms that were outside. What did you find?
Brian Leven 30:58
Yeah, and, and I have my questions too, on this, but I found corms of all different sizes. And I had my son help me. We even just, we didn’t want to miss any. So we would dig up an area and we’d screen the soil. I mean, and there’s got to be a better way. So I’m hoping you guys are working on this. But you know, this, this one outdoor bed I had was 60 feet long and four feet wide. And it probably had, you know, a few 1000 corms in it originally. And then theyI had corms of all sizes, there were some very mature ones. And I when I replanted them, I, I sort of replanted them according to size. So that you know I spaced out the largest ones at one end of the bed. And as I as I moved down this new bed I made, it’s actually almost two beds worth that I made, they get gradually smaller. So but what I’m wondering is what happens to those tiny little baby corms? Because my understanding is they really rely on the mother column for the nutrients. And if they’re separated out now, how well are they going to survive? And I guess this is a bit of an experiment that I’m doing here to see how well that that process plays out.
Margaret Skinner 32:24
Arash are you going to talk about that?
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 32:26
Yeah, sure. So those really tiny saffron corms, they are not able to produce flowers, for sure. But they are still have enough nutrition to produce some small leaves for us. And if you don’t plant them really deep, they will come up after you plant them. So they will be or they should be able to produce some big baby corms after a year. So you have to plant them, they are able to produce something for for us not from flowers, but definitely they are able to produce baby corms for us. But the key is like don’t plant them that deep. If you plant them, like six, seven inches deep, they will die. They don’t have enough nutrition to produce big leaves on the surface of the ground. But then you plant them like 2, 3, 4 inches deep, they should be able to produce something for you.
Margaret Skinner 33:29
The one of the one other thing, Brian, that’s important that Mother corm. At the end of the year, after everything goes dormant, that mother corm is finished. She’s dead. Sorry. She is not providing any food source or anything for those babies. So, um, so when you say, oh, should I separate them or keep them together? There’s no value in keeping them associated with the mother corm. In fact, I think the mother corm because it’s just raw dead material is could be a source of decay. But when you have a bunch of those little ones, you know, a Arash said don’t plant them too deep. You also can plant them much closer together. Because the reason you space them out more like Jon was talking about every six inches. Is that what you’re doing, Jon? Um, you don’t need to do that with the little ones, because they don’t need that much space.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 34:39
And Margaret, I think is not a bad idea. You share the thing that you saw in the hort farm with the small corms, do you remember we planted?
Margaret Skinner 34:46
Oh, yeah. So we had a bunch of small corms just like what Brian was talking about. And Arash said, oh, let’s just plan them out, you know, out in this area and it’ll they probably it was kind of like In the season, and I thought, Oh, what a waste of time, because there’s no way they’re going to grow. And sure enough, there was no sign of any green leaves this fall. I thought, okay, they’re gonna just die. Because they didn’t come up early enough. Oh my god, I came, the snow melted, and they’re there. Now, the leaves are maybe four or five inches tall, so darn it, I was wrong again.
Evan Henthrone 35:35
I was gonna say sometimes it’s not wrong to be bad. It’s not bad to be wrong. Like you said, right. You’re always learning about it.
Margaret Skinner 35:43
Evan Henthrone 35:43
So so Margaret, and Arash. Can you just touch on like, if I’m a brand new grower, or I’m a homeowner and I want to get into this, like, What? Where do I start? How do I jump into this? And then maybe, Jon and Brian, maybe you can follow up after them.
Margaret Skinner 35:59
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 36:00
Okay. But Margaret listed some items for him. Yeah. So for sure, you have to first of all, you have to get some information, read about saffron, get the information about the life cycle, pest and disease and these kind of things, then you have to find a place to plant the saffron corms. So if you have a farm, you go and find a place that you get more sunlight and you have a better or lighter soil texture, like sandy soil, then develop a business plan, which is really important because if you are producing something for selling, you have to find a market for it for sure. And having having the business plan is really important. It is complicated. It takes time, it’s not easy, I should say. Order the saffron corms. Right now is the time to order the saffron corms because some of the saffron corm sources are not in United States, we have to import from farms or they should export it to United States. So they get the orders right now and they process your order and if you do it right now, you will get the corms by August and September. Prepare the planting bed is very important. Job is not especially in the climate like New England climate and soil situation. We have to deal with weeds. So it’s better to be proactive, go to the field control the weeds with cover crops or tilling the soil, whatever you can. And that’s it, if sorry, if I forgot something else.
Margaret Skinner 37:46
You know, there’s one more thing, start small. You know what Jon did? And I think what Brian did, the first year they put, I don’t know, 1000 corms, less than 1000 corms? Jon, what did you start out with?
Jon Pylpiv 38:02
I started with 150 corms originally.
Margaret Skinner 38:06
Brian, what did you start out with?
Brian Leven 38:09
Alright, I was a little more aggressive. I started with the 10,000.
Margaret Skinner 38:12
Oh, my God, um generally speaking, um, we encourage if growers think this is this is the crop for them. Um, maybe start out with 1000 or 2000, just to see how it feels, to see whether this is the crop for you. Because you do have to bend over quite a bit, um, at certain times of the year, you need to make sure that your soil is the right place for it. And so better to start on a small scale. And I’d have to say back in 2017, growers were saying, oh, wow, I’m gonna make $100,000 an acre and I’m gonna, I’m gonna start with two acres. And we said, No, no, no, no. And luckily, except for Brian. People adhere to our recommendations, and most people started small, and some people have then expanded and gotten much bigger. And then other people have said, maybe this isn’t for me, and that’s fine. We don’t, to be honest. You know, growers got in Vermont, they got really excited about hemp, they were going to make so much money on hemp. And farmers started growing hemp on every darn piece of property they possibly could find. And they lost money. They invested a lot in those plants and it didn’t pay off. And Arash and I, and all of us at the center really don’t want that to happen to anybody. And so even though it’s not as good for us when we talk about the industry, the saffron industry, you know, it’s it’s more impressive when you have people growing 1000s of acres of stuff, but that’s not going to help the growers.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 40:14
Yeah. I’m glad that Jonathan has started, but with few corms, he actually listened to us. And Brian, however, he is started in a big, like, scale farm, but he’s doing great. Yeah. And he’s the only guy that I have seen the farm. And I saw that he made the raised beds, like, similar to a recommendation and the system that he’s producing saffron in it is awesome. It’s amazing.
Jon Pylpiv 40:45
Well, thanks. Thanks, Raj. I appreciate it. I it was, you know, originally, we’re like, Hey, this is a cool crop. It looks fun. And, you know, my, you know, as Arash said, there’s a list, you know, that Margaret made for us to kind of answer some questions. So, you know, we started growing that for a number of reasons. One of them was the therapeutic values. My wife has endometriosis. And we really wanted to find out, hey, maybe we can make some tea with this. If we can cook in our food to help alleviate some of the menstrual pain and suffering my wife and many other women have had. I think I saw an article in Atlantic that saffron used to be considered like the Prozac of the Middle Ages by middle medieval nuns as the article called the spice hooked medieval nuns anyway, really interesting stuff. But we wanted to kind of grow it and find out, can we grow this for that? But also, can we grow it with our diversified market farm. And that’s what we did. So we started, it adapted. And then the year after we bought 2500 corms. So at this point, there was a slight increase in investments. But had we done that initially, we probably would have lost more than half of the corms due to our ignorance. So following the recommendations have been really good. And the wealth of knowledge on the saffron.net is incredible. There’s some really gracious people experienced growers, I think the the knowledge that I learned wouldn’t come anywhere else, because you find so much you know, just information on the internet, that’s just not valuable. So I really, really encourage anyone to look first on saffron.net before you go and make purchases. Before you go to a hardware store and buy some corms, there’s different type of crocus’s that maybe you know, you’ll grow the wrong type, you want to get the crocus sativus that grows in the fall, and then go from there. But yeah, start small, keep learning. It’s a fun crop to grow. But if you just dump all your money into it, you’re gonna lose a lot of money. And real quick, it’s supposed to be fun growing food and cool things like this is fun. So that’s why we keep doing it. But also to complement our the rest of our veggies that were growing, and the value added products. We started doing some maple syrup, maple syrup, another inspiration from Vermont. And it’s really tasty. It’s just fun to do these things because it stores well, it complements other food and complements our farm.
Jerry Clark 43:19
Spoken like a true farmer Jon, you’re doing it for fun. That’s why.
Jon Pylpiv 43:23
You know, pay the bills too, but I’m working on that.
Brian Leven 43:28
I have one question. Can I ask a question?
Jerry Clark 43:29
Sure, go ahead Brian.
Brian Leven 43:31
Maybe this is for Jon, so so here in Vermont, cheddar cheese is like an off white color. But in Wisconsin, it’s a it’s an orange color. And so I’m wondering and so in saffron, I mean sorry. In Vermont saffron is is an orange color. I’m wondering maybe in Wisconsin, it’s it’s a different color?
Jon Pylpiv 43:52
Oh man Brian that’s funny you mentioned cheese we were we work with a co op with a local farmer or they they The Red Barn Family Farms. So I got that’s a conversation last time actually. Our saffron is it’s I’m looking at your pictures and your website and beautiful by the way. It’s it looks very similar. It’s like this richer dark and then we harvest more of the thread. So it’s got a little bit of that orange and some of that yellow too. So it’s, it looks good and delicious. Just like yours looks like too.
Brian Leven 44:25
Yeah, right on. I figured as much when Arash was explaining earlier how there’s only one variety.
Jon Pylpiv 44:34
Right I do think that the maybe the nutritional value in the taste is it’s going to be different unique based on where you grow it. Like just like any vegetable if there it’s it’s void of nutrient nutritional value, or the the all the things that are in the earth, like it’s just gonna taste flat. So I think I think it tastes great and it grows well, so yeah.
Jerry Clark 44:56
Great. This is this has been a fantastic few minutes here to visit with you folks. I think I’ll just wrap it up with Margaret and Arash, any final comments, then we’ll get some from Brian and Jon. And if maybe down the road we can visit sometime during the growing season again, update on how things are going in Vermont, and here in Wisconsin. So, Margaret and Arash any final comments for today?
Margaret Skinner 45:21
Oh, well, Jon mentioned a saffron.net, which is an email listserv, and it’s free to subscribe. And there are about, oh, 780 people from all over the country and all over the world. And, um, ideally, people that are on it, have done their homework enough so that they know the basics of saffron. But when people contact me to ask if they can get on the list, I always send them, oh, six or seven different fact sheets that will give them the information about how to how to learn more about it. We also have a website, which is pretty comprehensive, it could be better, I’m sure. But at least it gives as much information as we have available at this time. And ultimately, learning from other growers is the key. We’re the first to recognize that, which is why it’s really important to have Brian and Jon part of this call.
Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani 46:27
And before we forget, thank you so much for letting us to talk in your great program. And don’t forget that it’s Easter, Happy Easter.
Jerry Clark 46:42
Thank you, Brian, any final comments?
Brian Leven 46:47
Well, you know, I’m very grateful to Margaret and Arash for starting this whole initiative in the beginning, and they’ve been great resources going forward. So I echo everything they said about the resources they do have, that are available and collaborating with other farmers. I think that growing saffron, if you are doing it as part of a larger scale, farming business is a great way to is a lot of fun is a lot of it is a good opportunity to supplement your income for somebody like me. I actually do other things that I don’t I don’t grow many other things but so there’s a there’s a few intense times of the year I mean mainly the harvest time and I try to schedule the rest of my life around those those few weeks of harvesting and processing and then it’s it’s it’s fairly light maintenance, weeding and watering, you know, other times, so I’m able to do a bunch of things and wear a bunch of hats so and continue this nice little business. Thank you. And thank you for including me in this.
Jerry Clark 47:51
Thank you Brian. Jonathan, any final words?
Jon Pylpiv 47:55
Yeah, once again, Brian had said as well thank you for Arash and Margaret and everyone that’s been helping, it’s it’s especially nice to be able to connect so far, you know, from Wisconsin to Vermont, and everyone all across the country in the world really. So it’s been really really tremendous. saffron is is a fun crop to grow. To me it’s like a crop of like optimism. It’s something you you know, plant in the fall. I mentioned the previous times like a lot of times other veggies maybe start you know dying off, you know you have things to clean and get ready for the next spring. And then the saffron is is growing and then you get the flower so it’s it’s a beautiful contrast of colors when everything else is already kind of dying and you see it cleaned up. And then it’s one of the first things you see in the spring garlic, you know, but then you also see the saffron foliage, it’s just beautiful. So it’s a fun crop to grow. So it’s a lot of work but if you would, you know moderately start off small it’s a really great addition to diversified market farm in my opinion. So thanks again everyone and happy growing.
Evan Henthrone 49:01
Yeah, and you know, before we log off here today, I just want to say thank you to to Margaret and Arash, Brian and Jon for being on. But I also want to say thank you to our listeners. I know, after I shared our first saffron podcast recording, I had a few great feedback with that. So I also want to give a shout out you know if if our listeners have any other type of crops that they are interested in hearing about or learning about more, please reach out to somebody on the cutting edge podcast team and we’d be more than happy to kind of dig in or try to get another another crop going. So please feel free to reach out have a conversation with your county educator and well. We’d be happy to try to work through that. So. (Music)
JASON FISCHBACH 50:05
Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension.
Vermont Saffron Demo Event at Calabash Gardens
Watch Video: https://streaming.uvm.edu/private/videos/RMgy792/