Kiwi Saffron: Proudly Growing In Southland

A single saffron flower in the paddock.

Kiwi Saffron’s Steve and Jo Daley are as down-to-earth as any couple you’re likely to meet. He’s originally from Te Puke – think Kiwifruit and beekeeping. She’s from pioneer Southern farming stock. With those backgrounds, as you can imagine, they’re not afraid of a bit of work.

And that’s just as well because as well as caring for cows on the farm, beekeeping and contract fencing, Steve and Jo are the hard-working duo behind this small, but increasingly successful, organic saffron company.

Infographic - What Is Saffron?

In The Beginning

Jo and Steve learned the saffron-growing-ropes by initially growing the flowers on contract. This allowed them to focus on learning the best growing and drying techniques without worrying about selling their small crop.

But, when they got the opportunity to buy the whole business, that’s when the learning challenge really took off. After all, it’s one thing to grow a crop but marketing was a whole new world.

So when the Daleys took over Kiwi Saffron, Jo plunged headlong into the business world of websites, customer service, compliance, supermarkets etc. Steve, meanwhile, concentrated on growing the very best saffron in the world.

Right from the outset, the Daleys knew they wanted to grow organic saffron. So respect is a value they apply to every aspect of their business. It means they care for their soil, saffron, workers and their customers.

A row of saffron flowers.
Organic saffron flowers blooming in Te Anau.

Going Organic

To build up the saffron paddock they began by working tonnes of compost into the soil. This became a dark, luscious plot teaming with worms and microbes. Just the sort of healthy bed that saffron corms thrive in.

Steve and Jo hand-planted their 40,000 corms and waited. Weeds grew. The saffron stayed dormant. They weeded the plot (still by hand) — and waited.

More weeds grew. And more! This was becoming a bit much.

They had to weed the planted rows by hand to avoid disturbing the precious corms. But surely there was an easier way to weed between them?

Spraying was out of the question, and there was no money to buy fancy, new machinery.

What’s more, re-using is an integral part of the Enviro concept. Was there a DIY solution? Yes, there was.

Steve Invents The Saffron Scuffler

The first time I met Steve was when we sold him an old potato scuffler. Saffron corms are not potatoes, of course, but Steve’s inventive mind was filled with possibilities.

Hours of tinkering later he had a great little tool to tow between the saffron rows. Now he could remove the weeds without spraying or compacting the soil.

But, it is a tight fit for the scuffler between the rows.

That can cause a few problems, because for much of the year the saffron is dormant. That means you can’t see it in the paddock. Weeds, however, grow all year round.

To solve that problem, there are white markers up and down the rows so Steve can see where they are. But the scuffler’s such a tight fit that he has to concentrate on always keeping a perfect line. It’s amazing how well he manages – most of the time.

“I always know when Steve has gone off course with the scuffler and dug up the corms instead of the weeds. I can see the look on his face a mile away,” Jo says.

So out they go, to replant the row by hand. Luckily, the corms are forgiving things and aren’t usually worried about the disturbance. Neither is Jo. She knows these things happen.

Steve and Jo Daley picking saffron in Garston.
Steve and Jo Daley. Picking saffron is a twice-daily job at this time of year. They tell me that some years so many flowers come up at once you can sit in one spot to fill your bucket. But this year, the flowers have been shy and sporadic so you have to walk up and down the rows from flower to flower. It makes for a long harvesting season when they bloom so slowly.

Kiwi Saffron — Proudly BioGro Certified

In 2015 they took a huge step forward by applying to be organically certified. It’s one thing to say you’re organic, but certification is a whole ‘nother level.  But as Jo and Steve don’t see any other certified organic saffron in the NZ market at this point it’s worth it to go that extra mile.

We took the plunge to go organic in 2015 and approached BioGro. That process would normally take four years, but of course, we’d been growing organically right from the start.

“We did all the soil tests and fulfilled all those requirements that they asked us to do for compliance. Then we got our first audit and because we could prove all our documentation for the previous two years they were able to credit us with those two years. So we had full certification in 2017.

The cost of certification is a lot and that puts people off. BioGro is proactive about helping people to spread that cost, which we appreciated.”

Placing saffron stigmas on the dehydrating trays.
All the stigmas are plucked out of their flowers and placed on dehydrator racks ready for drying. At this stage, you can use bare hands, but once the saffron is dry you have to wear gloves so that oil from your fingers doesn’t touch the delicate spice. As soon as it’s dry, Jo and her helpers will weigh the saffron and package it ready for sale.

Farm To Table — Proudly Local

When I asked Jo if Kiwi Saffron was part of the Farm to Table movement she answered “Absolutely!”

Farm to table is all about keeping things local. These growers concentrate on growing organically and minimising their impact on the environment.

How Kiwi Saffron Manages Minimal Impact

Infographic: Treading lightly on the land.

Their location is key, too. All their willing helpers (WWOOFers) are coming to Te Anau and Milford Sound anyway so there’s no extra travel involved.

Luckily, if you want to buy this gorgeous spice but you don’t live in Te Anau there’s no need to panic. Kiwi Saffron now features in selected supermarkets throughout New Zealand.

They also have you covered with a prompt mail order service which you can find on their website.

Saffron Comes To Garston

Naturally, Saffron corms multiply over the years, and eventually you have to dig them up. Steve has replanted many of them at Te Anau, and some are available for sale too, but this year he is looking further afield.

Early in January Steve planted a trial crop of saffron on our farm. We’ve loved seeing the process from beginning to end.

It’s a big bed but we didn’t have to plant by hand, thank goodness. Sticking with his DIY genes Steve adapted an onion planter and turned it into a saffron-sowing machine.

So the corms were planted, and then … nothing happened. We’re used to grass, barley, oats and even hops where you can see things growing. But saffron remains coyly hidden until the lowering air temperature gives it a nudge.

Then just before Easter, voila! Overnight the flowers appeared.

There won’t be much saffron from our patch this year —  the corms are too new for that — but there are advantages to that. Each corm gets to concentrate on growing just one flower, so the red stigmas on our flowers are thick, glossy and vibrantly red.

Of course, we’re not organic, so our saffron will be an extra drop in the bucket of Kiwi Saffron’s slightly cheaper, non-organic range which is supplied by contract growers. It has, however,  had the same care and attention as the Te Anau crop and we’ll be excited to see the test results when they eventually come back.

Spreading The Word

It’s exciting to grow your business but many people find publicity the hardest part to do.

The only thing that Jo hates more than having her photo taken is public speaking. But you’d never know that from the way she’s taken it in her stride, as you can see in Jubb Studio’s lovely Kiwi Saffron video.


Catch a fascinating glimpse into Steve and Jo’s world in “Kiwi Saffron Te Anau” from My Southland Story.

More Stories On The Blog

Saffron is the latest innovation on our farm, but it’s by no means the only one. You can read about our other ideas in:

And Southland has many people like Steve and Jo. Ordinary Kiwis who are following their dreams.

You Can’t Beat A Great Coffee Bomb

Is This Your First Visit To Time Of My Life?

Discover the Who, What and Why of TOML.

Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.

Party On: Harvest Festival At The Hops

A pile of hops waiting to be picked.

Take 30+ curious beer aficionados and a bumper crop of hops. Throw in a delicious barbeque and a keg of Altitude Brewing’s best thirst-quenching brew. Mix with a dollop of music and you have yourself a recipe for the Garston Hops 2019 Hop-Picking Party.

The Big Hops Harvest Problem:

200 hop vines on two farms —  all of them covered in ripe, cone-shaped flowers. A tiny window of time in which to pick them —  and only two busy farmers both trying to juggle multiple farm jobs. The big hop companies have this process all mechanised, but we’re a tiny outfit, just starting out.

What to do?

The Brilliant Solution:

James, as usual, had an idea.

“Let’s get a sponsor, a couple of experts and a whole lot of people who would love to know more about hops and throw a Picking Party,” he suggested.

So, that’s what we did.

Waiting For The Harvesters

The day dawned damply. River mist shrouded the paddocks, evaporating our plans for an early start to the hops harvest.

Just as well, really. We’d all been flat out preparing the woolshed —  aka the hops harvest zone — for the last two days. Rarely has a working woolshed looked cleaner.

Waiting for the sun enforced a last minute calm before the storm of activity set to come. That’s why, after the final job was done, we gathered for coffee at the Garston Hotel and waited for our workers guests to arrive.

And, suddenly, there they were:

  • Eliott the Altitude brewer, with his vanload from Queenstown
  • Richard – our expert from Nelson
  • Ian – courtesy of our sponsor, Ricoh
  • Andy – an unexpected American  
  • and a whole bunch of local family and friends.

The sun shone bright and warm. Finally, it was time to begin.

Gathering At The Hops

The convoy wound its way to the vines. For many, this was the first time they had seen hops growing and I must admit, even our small plantation makes for an impressive sight.

Hops will grow as high as you let them (in our case 4 – 5 metres) and produce copious amounts of flowers, all filled with a distinctive-smelling resin. This is the gold that flavours the beer.

At the top of the ladder, Eliott cuts the first hop vine.
Eliott mounted our specially-modified hop-picking ladder and ceremoniously cut the first vine. Nearby pickers held out their arms to catch the leafy giant as it slowly collapsed and carried it to the waiting trailer.

The party was underway.

Picking Off The Hops

It would be highly impractical to try to pick all the flowers off the vines while they’re still standing 5 metres tall. I’ve picked them off the top several times while getting samples for testing and, believe me, the novelty soon wears off.

A better idea is cutting the vines at the top and bottom and carting the whole vine to the processing room. That lets you lay them flat on a table and have multiple people plucking the flowers from each vine.

So that’s what we did on the tables set up in Hamish’s woolshed.

Picking the hop flowers at the woolshed.
With Mac’s favourite shearing music (60’s classics) booming in the background, conversation buzzed as we got to work on the 2019 hops harvest.

Garston Hotel Makes The Best Barbeque Lunch

It wasn’t long after the Garston Hotel cooks appeared before delicious smells filled the woolshed.

They had brought an incredible array of delicious rolls, salads and food to barbeque. And after several hours of steady picking, everyone was more than ready to gather outside in the sun for lunch. Eliott had provided a keg of light, delicious beer from his brewery and that went down a treat.

We All Learn More About Hops And Beer.

Richard Schneeberger was our invaluable expert who was taking a busman’s holiday from his day job as a hop adviser in Nelson. Up until now, we’ve been going on guesswork and advice from afar, so it was wonderful to have Richard right there to answer our questions.

After lunch, both Richard and Eliott spoke and gave highly interesting and informative glimpses into their hop-and-beer worlds.

But, hops won’t pick themselves, so we up-ended our beer glasses and went back to work.

Next Stage: Drying Begins

Between our plantation and Hamish’s we had four hop varieties to harvest and keep separate from each other. They were all destined to go straight to Altitude Brewing so Eliott could make his 2019 version of a Garston Green Hops beer.

Or so we thought.

But the truth soon dawned: somehow we had not fully computed just how many thousands of flowers we’d actually have. There was no way that Altitude could take them all as green hops. Some would have to be dried.

So we resurrected the drying racks that Aaron Abernethy built for us back in 2017 and Plan B swung into action.

Hops drying in their racks.
The drying process can be tricky to get right. In the days after the harvest party, Hamish and I had a crash course in deciding when the flowers were ready to bag. It was different from previous years because these hops were going to be pelletised. They had to be dry enough to keep – but not TOO dry or they’d disintegrate in the pelletiser. The pressure was on because once the flowers are ready, the heat and air they needed to dry then become their enemies. They must then be completely protected from light, air and heat or the flowers will begin to deteriorate.

Finally Finished And We Give Heartfelt Thanks

At the end of Day One we gathered at the Garston Hotel for a celebratory drink. It had been a wonderful, hard-working and satisfying day.

Our new Queenstown friends, and our local friends and family headed home, happy with their new experience.

Eliott was already busy with plans to begin his green hop brew.

And we were making plans for the next day’s harvest.

In the end, it took four days to pick and process the flowers from our 200 vines. Many local friends and family came back again and again to help over those days and we are so grateful to them for their help.

To all those who came to the party, WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU.

Thank you, too, to RICOH, whose sponsorship of our event is truly appreciated.

We can truly recommend the Garston Hotel’s delicious barbecue lunches. Thanks, guys, for coming to the party – and for all the other meals we ate at your establishment.

And, finally, thanks to Dwane and Annie Herbert for lending us so many crates. They are invaluable and we needed every one of them.

Your Thoughts

Did you come to the hop picking party? Let us know how you enjoyed the experience in the comments below?

Does a hops harvest on this miniature scale sound like fun? Want to join in on next year’s party? You can comment below or send me a message.

You Might Also Love…

Our 2018 harvest was an exciting, but far smaller affair. You can read how our venture began in

Altitude Brewing is the Frankton Brewery which has so far taken all the hops we can produce.Enjoy reading about Eliott Menzies and Eddie Gapper of Altitude Brewing in

Aaron Abernethy is not only the valley’s go-to-engineer for all farm machinery needs, but he is also a talented metalwork sculptor. Read all about Aaron’s beautiful creations in

This year we enjoyed learning how to grow saffron when Steve Daley of Te Anau-based Kiwi Saffron planted a trial crop of these precious flowers on our farm.

Dwane and Annie Herbert are staunch supporters of Athol and Garston locals. Even though they’ve now moved their fishing business south they were still more than willing to lend us their new, clean crates.

Is This Your First Visit To Time Of My Life?

Discover the Who, What and Why of TOML.

Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.

Gathering In The Grain

Gathering In The Grain

A paddock of ripe barley, mountains in the background.
Ripe barley, waiting for the harvester.

The grain is ripe, gleaming gold in the sunlight. Paddocks ripple when a breeze rustles through the tall stems. We’ve been so thankful for our wet fortnight but now we pray the rain will stop. We need dry, windy weather to harvest the grain. Anticipation has been building for days. The combine harvester has been checked and cleaned and the transport truck is on standby. Once the moisture content of the barley kernels drops we’ll be good to go.

A Vital Crop.

Undoubtedly the most important crop to harvest on the farm is the grain. The barley and oats are vital winter feed for our animals.

In the winter it’s too cold for the grass to grow so we feed the sheep grain, hay and baleage (individually wrapped bales of fermented grass). Every spring we sow many acres of seed, and each autumn we harvest the grain to fill our silos and sell to local farmers.

Garston doesn’t have endless crop-filled plains like the US or Australia. In those countries, huge combines chug along day and night in a straight line, their drivers almost on autopilot. But our paddocks are small, bounded by wire fences and filled with bumps and hollows. The driver must be alert at all times. He has to watch out for dips or rises in the ground, not to mention the occasional rock. He must always keep the combine even and has to constantly make small adjustments. One of my many brothers-in-law is the driver. He likes to begin harvesting on the outside of the paddock and moves in ever-decreasing circuits until the last one is done in the middle.

Close-up photo of ripe barley kernels on a stalk.

Will the Combine Last the Distance?

Finally a nor’wester springs to life. In Garston, this is a hot, dry wind. During the summer drought, it sucked every bit of moisture out of the ground and we shook our fists at it; but now we’re smiling, because it will dry out the grain. (We can’t harvest wet grain because it will spoil in the silos.) So now we have but one, fervent wish: that the old combine will not break down.

Twenty years ago, she was a sparkling, brand new Massey Ferguson Harvester. Not the biggest, but perfect for our needs. I still remember the day she drove up, gleaming red and ready for action. Lenny, the proud salesman, followed hard on her heels; delighted to show her off and bask in our excitement. His Scottish accent broadened till we could hardly understand him, as he explained all her wonderful features. We christened her with cups of coffee and cake. Then she rumbled into the paddock and our first-ever trouble-free harvest began.

The MF replaced an ancient harvester which constantly broke down every season. No wonder we were so delighted with our new machine. In her first few years, harvesting happened without a hitch. But those days are long gone. Now the old girl is showing her age — as are the farmers. But we can’t afford to replace her, so we start the season, once again, with our fingers crossed.

What Exactly is a Combine Harvester?

A red Massey Ferguson Combine harvesting grain.
Our faithful M.F. Harvester.

A combine harvester combines the actions of cutting, threshing and winnowing the grain— which used to be done with separate implements — into one machine. It’s a complicated beast: full of cutters, wheels, cogs, chains and belts. There’s lots of potential for things to go wrong.

Close up of the front cutter and reel of a combine harvester
Image by Barescar90 on Pixabay

The front has a long blade which cuts the stalks close to the ground. A reel goes round and brings the grain-filled stalks to an augur which then drags it up into the machine. An auger is a metal tube with a giant screw inside. The screw turns and the spirals take the grain up the auger.

Inside it goes into a drum which knocks the grain kernels out. They fall through sieves, and onto an elevator which drops them into a big tank.

The straw, dust, and chaff (husks and smaller grains) then pass over a series of riddles which catch any further grain and send it to the elevator. The rest is blown out the back, to lie in neat rows. It’s a noisy, complicated, fascinating process.

Harvesting Begins.

So off we go on the harvest treadmill. Round goes the combine with the transporter truck waiting patiently in a corner of the paddock. When the combine’s tank is full of grain, an orange signal light begins to blink and the truck driver knows to drive alongside. A small auger winds out from the side and all the grain is pumped out into the truck’s enormous bin. This will happen over and over again until the bin is full. Then the truck will head to the silo where it will tip the grain into another auger, which will take it to a hole in the top of the silo. Down it pours, into the dark depths, and the truck trundles back to the paddock ready to receive the next load.

A few rows behind the combine, my nephew is driving his tractor and baler. He’s gathering the straw into big, round bales, which he will sell to a local dairy farmer who winters his cows inside big barns. The straw will make excellent bedding for the cows.

The transport truck waits near the combine harvester to receive its next load of grain.
The truck is ready and waiting for its next load of grain.

Round And Round We Go.

This cycle goes on and on, broken every now and then by my arrival with a meal. Morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner… even supper if the wind is still blowing and they are harvesting after dark. It’s a much-needed break for the drivers and they stretch their legs gratefully as they chat over coffee and food. But all too soon it’s back to the machines and the harvest grinds on.

And the combine breaks down. Again! This time it’s a tiny, innocuous button on the joystick that raises and lowers the front. Oh, so small — it’s been under the driver’s thumb every harvest toggling east, west, north, south, making small adjustments. I didn’t even know it existed until it broke, but apparently, it’s essential. And it’s difficult to replace —  not to mention expensive!

Farmers are resourceful people — the men repair the button with Blu Tack and Superglue, and carry on. The repair lasts for a few hours, but that blasted button continues to break down. They call in the local engineer… the mechanic… the whizz-kid from down the road… each one makes a temporary repair — and the grain harvest continues until…

Finally Finished.

The last grain topples into the silo. The engines switch off and peace descends over the farm. Harvest is done for another year. We’d celebrate — if we weren’t all so exhausted. The combine drives back into her shed. Now we’ve got a year to source and repair that pesky button before we start the process all over again next autumn.

Harvested paddock dotted with straw bales.
The harvest is finished. The round bales of straw wait patiently for the tractor to move them.

Did you enjoy reading about the grain harvest?  If so, you’ll probably like the other posts in this series:

Mushrooms Galore

Precious Pears

Hops in a Hurry

Autumn Or Fall?

I’d love to know what you think. Do you have experience of harvest time on a farm? Maybe you’re from the city and interested in other ways of life?

Let me know in the comments below.