When Sylvia and Wayne Dering decided to move out of town and into the country in Oxford, North Canterbury, they planned to grow something that would bring in a small income so they could work part time and enjoy the time on the land and the lifestyle. Wayne, a qualified Horticulturist, had a look in the library where he worked to find a suitable crop for the local climate. Ginseng & saffron were unusual crops that Wayne and Sylvia did not know much about - so decided to try them.
“Our original plan was to have a few animals for the freezer as well,” said Sylvia, “but found that to have three sheep or three hundred you still need to do the same things for feed care etc. Looking back we would not have chosen to have animals, although having said that we did enjoy them all the same.
“We have grown saffron for four years now. It takes up little of our three-acre property.
Saffron likes a neutral pH soil and does not need much in the way of care. We have been trialing lots of different kinds of nutrients for the corms to see how the flowering period alters and have found out some interesting things. They really need to be planted in raised beds and kept weed free as possible (as with most organic gardeners.) It is harvested over the early Autumn period, so if you quite like going away for Easter to get in a spot of fishing or similar (as we love to) ...forget it! Saffron calls to be harvested. The harvesting period lasts about 6 weeks with 3-4 weeks being the busiest time. It is harvested reasonably early in the morning - before the sun opens out the petals of this fascinating crocus flower, and then it is lot slower to process the filaments for drying. The processing really needs to take place on the same day as picking - as tomorrow there will be more! We keep them in the fridge to keep the flowers closed until we are ready to process.
“We are currently selling to the domestic market but another couple we work with are exporting to Europe. There are a few small growers in this area and we all work together so in the future we hope to increase the profile of this exquisite spice and New Zealanders would appreciate the wonderful, not only colouring BUT flavouring this old spice has.
“We do work away from the property but only to carry out the horticultural work that Wayne is currently involved in. When we first started out we both worked full time in Christchurch and used to commute each day. After 28 years working in one place Wayne decided to work for himself and has done so for the last 3 years. We also have a consulting side of our operations as many people who decide to move out onto the land and want to do what we are doing don't really know where to start. For a very reasonable fee we set out the financial information as well as the theory bind it all together and give to the client. This has proved very popular as we have all the information in one binder for the client and they can use us for follow up as well. Our property is going to be opened to the public for viewing different species next year as we will use our place as a one stop educational centre giving out information on where to start when folk want to start out on a lifestyle block. We don't claim to know it all but it certainly a good start.
“Other herbs we grow are valerian, for the root; lemon balm for the seed; liquorice (trail); arnica (trial); black cohosh; blue cohosh; elephant garlic; we have access to a friends property close by where we are growing American chard for seed - for the American market. We have a few olives, pistachio trees going in this year for specimens and we also have a fruit orchard with grapes, various fruit trees etc and a few hazel nut trees.