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Cultivation of saffron

About 150,000 flowers for one kilogram of saffron

The saffron plant the crocus sativus is a short statured perennial herb with a spherical underground corm (or bulb) and six or more radially arranged narrow and elongated leaves. The violet-blue flowers grow singly and bear elongated pale yellow styles divided at the top into three-branched orange-red stigmas. These stigmas along with their styles are dried to form the most precious spice in the world.

The crop is grown on the same land for 6 - 9 years after which the calcareous earth needs to be recharged with nutrients. In Kashmir, the practice is to alternate with paddy cultivation, which fertilises the soil with organic material and makes it rich and healthy again.

Preparation of the fields begins in early July. The earth is tilled with the traditional hoe pulled by a bullock. The loosened earth is formed into ridges along which corms are planted. Aerated soil and good drainage are essential, because the bulbs are easily damaged by rain.

By October end the blossoms are in full bloom. The stigmas are bright orange-red and are clearly visible among the lilac flowers.

The harvesting is done rapidly once the blossoms reach maturity to get the stigmas in their prime. The flowers bloom only in the morning, making early picking necessary. Before sunrise the entire family including children and helpers fan out over the fields with baskets.

Traditionally, planting, harvesting, separation of the stigma from the flower, drying of the saffron is done by all generations of the farmer's family. It is a festive occasion, with kahwa or saffron tea being served as a refresher.

Timing of harvest and speedy processing is important, as there can be rapid loss of quality, particularly in the colouring and aromatic properties of the saffron. Simultaneously, while the crocus blooms are being collected, the stigmas are separated from the flowers. The stigmas are naturally and slowly dried, a process that shrinks the stigma to one fifth of its original size and enhances its bright red colour. Now the stigma is rigid, without wrinkles and ready to use.

About 150,000 fresh flowers yield just one kilogram of the precious crop.

The beautiful valley
Enriched cuisines

The Kashmiri's handicraft skills and finesse are truly on display at a saffron farm!

Working on saffron plantations is labour intensive and extremely tiring. Because the crop is so fine, delicate and precious, expertise is essential. Farmers will not enlist casual labour for the job.

The people of Kashmir have an extraordinary finesse and eye for detail which makes them exceptionally equipped for handling this type of work.

Painstakingly they remove stigma after stigma, as many as 150,000 to build up a single kilogram of produce!

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