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Saffron is spicing up Arcadia

Saffron may have long been among the world’s most costly spices by weight, but Arcadia grower Lisa Menhenett said you’d have to have a lot of the flower’s vivid crimson stigmas and styles to get a commercial weight.

LAURA GRIFFIN April 29, 2014 3:07am

Lisa Menhenett with the Saffron crop which has started flowering.


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Saffron may have long been among the world’s most costly spices by weight, but Arcadia grower Lisa Menhenett said you’d have to have a lot of the flower’s vivid crimson stigmas and styles to get a commercial weight.

Mrs Menhenett started growing saffron about five or six years ago, after reading an article that sparked her interest and buying bulbs off the Stanley (near Beechworth) grower it featured.

She and husband Lee also bought bulbs from Tasmania and in their first season planted about 150 bulbs.

At the time, she was working from home and looking after children Teagan (now 12) and Reily (now 10).

It has been a case of trial and error for the family — for example, in the first year they planted bulbs in different soil types and found they like light, well-drained soils best and plenty of sunlight — and unfortunately last year, the harvest was too small to warrant having a stall at Echuca Farmers’ Market.

Mrs Menhenett said this year’s crop was also likely to be small.

‘‘This year, the flowers are very late and the plants were late growing,’’ she said.

‘‘Normally by now they would have flowered.’’

She doesn’t know whether they will flower late or very little.

The saffron bulbs (or more specifically crocus) grow similarly to garlic — all propagation is by vegetative multiplication via manual dividing of a starter clone.

Mrs Menhenett estimated they now have about 100000 bulbs.

The stigmas and styles from the purple flowers are picked by hand and dried.

The Menhenetts sell the fragrant spice on the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association online marketplace ‘Farmhouse Direct’, which she said was the most economical way of selling it given the small amount they produced.

The bulbs are then lifted from the ground, before they are planted again in early March (depending on the weather).

Mrs Menhenett thinks moisture is too blame for the lucklustre harvest.

‘‘Saffron doesn’t like getting wet because it can cause rot.’’

She said the saffron was a pet project and both she and her husband worked off-farm and had a 400ha dryland cropping enterprise.

Her dream of having a paddock full of the purple flowers and sweet aroma is still a way off, but she is determined to treat the bulbs with fungicide next season, rotate the planting bed and space the plantings more.

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