I kept growing them, supplementing my stock with the occasional purchase when i saw them for sale, planing them, removing them every spring to store the bulbs, replanting every autumn, getting more daughter bulbs, but I never got any bigger than about 15mm across, and no more flowers. Then a couple of years ago I posted on the Ozgrow forum, and one member had a source for good saffron - he was amazed that i had been paying $3 a bulb - he could get them wholesale for $1 each. I ordered a hundred, and got these huge 3 cm diameter bulbs - fantastic. So last year I dedicated a whole bed in the vege garden, and picked maybe a dozen flowers - 36 saffron threads, a king's ransom! But even better, from my 90 big fat bulbs ( I gave 10 away) I harvested about 70 big bulbs, the same number of 2 cm bulbs, and several hundred daughter bulbs. I started dreaming of a saffron farm....
Digging them up every year is problematic. They have no chance to establish big productive clumps, so the chances of a useful harvest are slim. But where to put a permanent bed? Sunny spots in the backyard are at a premium, and the house shades some of the beds in winter. A thin curving bed beside the clothes line had nothing in it, and probably gets enough sun. Done!
Planting depth is also critical for saffron flower production - deep planting gives less daughters, but more flowers. Some of the suggested planting depths in the literature are daunting - 25 cm, for a 3 cm diameter bulb sounds excessive. But saffron climbs through the soil over several years - I think daughter bulbs are produced above the mother, so over the space of 4 or 5 years the bulbs can become much shallower, reducing the flower crop.
So I undertook a trial - the bulbs have been planted in consecutive short rows - 3cm bulbs, 2 cm bulbs, 1 cm bulbs, at 3 different depths in each row - 20cm, 15 cm, 10 cm. I planted on the 18th of March, and picked the first flowers this morning, 14th of April. It will be interesting to see where the most blooms emerge.
You can see the filaments of saffron emerging from the flowers in these pictures. Now I need to figure out a way to dry them at optimum temperature. Recent research at the University of Tasmania indicates high humidity drying (?) at around 80C - 90C is optimum for preservation of flavours and aromas.