Evaluating Weed Suppression for Saffron Production: Manual, Flame Weeding, Tarping, and Cover Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2022: $12,011.00
Projected End Date: 04/01/2024
Grant Recipient: Hobby Hill Farm
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Erica Walch
Hobby Hill Farm

Information Products

Weed Suppression in Saffron in Southern Vermont (Conference/Presentation Material)


  • Additional Plants: other


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, mulches - living, mulching - plastic, smother crops, weed ecology
  • Soil Management: green manures

    Proposal summary:

    The cultivation and production of saffron (crocus sativus, an emerging crop in the Northeast, requires intensive manual labor for harvesting and there's no way around that. The plant flowers in the fall and is about three inches tall, so farmers must get down low and pick the delicate flowers by hand, then separate the red stigmas which are then dried for sale as saffron. Once established, saffron beds continue to produce for 3-5 years before they need transplanting. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, selling for $40-50/gram, which makes the effort worthwhile. The leaves remain green all winter and continue to grow in the spring when next year’s corms form. By July the leaves die off and the new corms lie dormant until the growing season begins again in September. Weeds and grasses are a big problem for growers because they continue to grow in the saffron beds all year. For this study I will establish multiple beds of saffron to determine impacts of various weed suppression methods: (1) manual weeding (with flame weeder and by hand) with no cover crops or plastic barrier, (2) low-growing cover crop (clover), (3) plastic silage tarp for weed suppression, and (4) tall soil improver (buckwheat) cover crop. The same number of saffron corms will be planted in each bed and labor costs, production expenses, and yield (including loss due to pests/predators) will be measured over three seasons. Soil quality and saffron quality will be evaluated each year.


    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to compare weed mitigation techniques in new and established saffron fields, in order to quantify the amount of time (manpower hours per week) various techniques require as well as their impact on yield of crop. 

    I will compare a high-growing cover crop (buckwheat), a low-growing cover crop (red clover), putting silage tarps down at dormancy (in June or July) and doing manual weeding on saffron beds. Some beds were originally planted in 2020 and some will be planted at the start of this study. Comparisons will be made between the impacts of the weed mitigation strategies on new and on established beds. 

    This will help other farmers know how to mitigate weeds in their beds and make an accurate estimate of time needed for weeding their crop.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.