Saffron- you can grow that. No, really!

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world- the stigmas of the autumn crocus flower must be picked by hand, and each blossom has only three tiny strands. $1500 per pound was the quote I found on the internet, and the story said that often the spice is adulterated with the flavorless anthers of the flower- only the red strands have the classic flavor used in paella, and ummm… yeah, pretty much paella…
Confession, I planted saffron crocus several years ago, and then I dutifully harvested some, and then it sat in an envelope in my cabinet for a while. I think when I ordered the bulbs, I was like “Most expensive spice in the world? Challenge accepted.” (Actually, I probably bought the bulbs before the “Challenge accepted” meme started, and now here I am, using the meme well after its expiration date.)

Autumn crocus

Autumn crocus

I do have to say, it is very easy to grow, just like a regular crocus, plant the bulbs in fall- the biggest difference is that it sends up leaves in the spring, but only flowers in the fall. Then pick out the stigmas, place in an envelope, and forget about…oh, I mean, make paella.
Anybody have a good paella recipe?


You can grow that- locally!

All politics is local, they say, and gardening is the same way. I have driven myself crazy for years reading books about organic gardening in Pennsylvania, or Upstate New York, or Maine, or Wales. I have tried to apply my learning to the ground here- dry, clay, and alkaline. I have finally learned to read Western-based garden books, or to temper my fantasies to something that is sustainable with the soil here, and the amount of rainfall here.

Every winter I am inundated with seed and plant catalogs. I read them, and place sticky notes, and highlight the varieties I want to buy. It is similar to the garden book thing- catalogs from Maine, or Oregon, or Pennsylvania won’t necessarily have what I need here- drought tolerant in Massachusetts is different from drought tolerant in Colorado.  Full sun in Michigan is different from full sun here.

This year, rather than placing an order to have seeds shipped to me, I will bike downtown, and go into our local greenhouse, where they order seeds in bulk, and will sell me little envelopes of whatever I want to plant. Well, not “whatever” …last year they didn’t have leeks in bulk, so I got a pre-packaged envelope off the rack, but they have many popular varieties that do well here. They have bareroot strawberries and asparagus and seed potatoes and onion sets. They also have people working there who, if they are not experts, they are informed, about where things are located in the store, and when to plant most things.

Your homework- find a greenhouse or garden center that is local to you. Locally owned businesses will only stay alive as long as we support them, and often the guys in the *cough orange aprons cough* don’t know much about the plants they are selling. You don’t have to bike (and in fact, I might not, but I should) but find a place that is local, and support it.

The lonely pile of seed catalogs this year- I am forsaking you for a local business.

The lonely pile of seed catalogs this year- I am forsaking you for a local business.

C.L. Fornari, amazing garden writer, has founded “You can grow that!” where on the fourth of every month, garden bloggers write posts encouraging anyone to grow anything.  Check her out at

Shows how much you know, it’s only mostly dead!

it's alive!

A Northstar sour cherry tree was one of the first things I planted when we moved to this house, 11 years ago. It is what enabled me to call the mini fenced off garden area “the orchard” which I think still makes people wonder about me- um, rampant raspberries, a horizontal apple tree, some wayward herbs and a dead cherry tree? That’s an orchard?
Ha! The cherrry tree isn’t dead, I found out today- it actually has one major branch that is still alive, with buds breaking out and everything. The sprinkler is on it now, and it will get a scoop of compost, and as soon as everything that is going to leaf out does, I will go in with a pruning saw and take out dead wood. The major branch that is still alive will make a new leader, and we’ll see how well it does.

My hope is that the root system is still healthy enough that the one living limb can become the new leader.  I am guessing that lack of moisture is the problem with this tree.   The herbs and strawberries that are the understory of the orchard thrive without supplemental irrigation. What the lemon balm, chives and spring bulbs need, in terms of water, is much less than what the cherry needs. I need to solve that problem this summer. I have been building the soil with mulch and compost, and I’ll continue to do that. This could be a case of the tree solving its own problem- not enough water for a mid sized tree? Okay, kill off some branches, here’s enough water for a tiny tree.

I will ahve to decide, at some point, when to cut my losses, take out the tree and replace it- what do you think? One more year?