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Indigo Growth & Texas Temperatures

5 May

Short Summary for those of you up north planning to start your Indigofera Suffruticosa seeds – wait for warm sunny days or use a heat mat but don’t get cocky and plant outside too early. The Indigofera Suffruticosa is a southern hemisphere plant and demands those warmer growing conditions. It will reward you when those conditions are met. If after reading this you still want to buy some Indigofera Suffruticosa seeds pop over here for the shop link. SOLD OUT FOR 2018!

Folks are surely aware of the long winter up north this year. In Texas, we had an early March warm up to 80 degrees and then a temperature dive to mock us. Now, a “temperature dive” here in the Texas Hill Country means 50-60 degrees as opposed to the 70-80 degrees that are usually present in April and May as Mother Nature reeves her engine up in preparation for the 90-100 degrees in late May and June. Different perspective on heat for growing temperature depends on where you live.

During the March/April early warmth of 80 degrees on March 17th I tucked in my Japanese Indigo seeds into their seed trays and started prepping my garden beds.

On April 1st, tempted by the warm temperatures, I planted my Indigofera Suffruticosa into their seed trays.

Both species sprouted willingly in the early warmth and sun and then the temperatures “dived” down to the 50’s and 60’s again.

The weather flipped back to consistently cool and overcast. The Japanese Indigo shook it off and continued to grow. The Japanese Indigo seedlings have now gone on to live in Fort Indigo (secured from digging armadillos) and are to the next phase of cricket and hail survival in anticipation of Texas summer heat. One works for one’s indigo blue here in the Hill Country. Note the madder root attempting to breach Fort Indigo.

The Indigo Suffruticosa (IS) took a stand and just stopped growing, repeat…..just stopped. It did not die, it maintained its tiny height and lingered waiting longly for the sun’s warmth.

It is now May 5th and the Indigo Suffruticosa seedlings have begun to grudgingly grow again with daytime temps of 80 degrees and sunlight. In fact, a IS seedling tray, which was not in the sun, during the early heat never sprouted. Same dirt, same treatment, only difference was the sun/warmth effect.

I’ve also added more IS seeds which sprouted quickly to reward me and am now watching over both sets of seedlings until they reach a height of about 5 inches and then they will be hardened and transplanted out to my garden beds. I do look forward to all the intrepid folks reports from up north that are poised to plant their seeds and see if they can get them to grow. Repeat after me, sun…..heat…..warmth…..place those plants carefully.

I should mention that weld seeds planted in the trays at the same time had the same growth behavior. Sprout, grow, stop and hold. The weld will be planted out this week as weld dies back when our region hits the 90’s. Their life cycle is fairly quick due to the heat. Early Texas spring (whenever it may be) is the weld’s favorite season. I have about decided that with easy access to the Texas Persimmon (diospyros texana) for my dye yellow I will let go of trying to grow weld here.

I have mentioned several times that I have been on bud watch on my older Indigo Suffruticosa shrubs. They typically live two to three years here depending on our winter freezes and their age. I am very sad to report that the “Winter 2018”, which consisted of a couple of weeks in January/February with lows below 15 degrees, in the Hill Country took ALL of my bushes. It also took out some hibiscus that had survived since 2014. Our local Texas Hill Country Olive Company confirmed also that they had bad freeze damage that took out some of their trees this winter.

I especially mourn the tall Indigofera Suffruticosa that was “outside” the deer fence and was my marker for the “do the deer eat it” experiment. The deer left this volunteer plant outside the fence alone all year, not a nibble. I was looking forward to observing the spring’s impact on that bush because we are entering a drought period. This would have been a great temptation test for the deer or the bush, depending on your viewpoint. That test is not to happen, I will have to plant out some seedlings and defend them from the deer and digging possums. We’ll see who wins “outside the fence line”.

I do have one survivor sprouting against the wall “outside the fence”. See behind the dead shrub? This is a good time to show the difference between the Lindheimer’s Senna that grows wild here and the Indigofera Suffruticosa. They look very much alike in the teenage stage but there is a small appearance difference. The Senna has double leaves on the stem tip. The Suffruticosa has a single leaf. Subtle but significant when you are making a decision on what to pull and what to leave in place. And no, the senna does not yield blue.

So, this week will consist of pulling the dead IS shrubs with proper ceremony, leaving a few for the hummingbirds to use as perches (at least someone is taking joy in those dead branches) and prepping the ground for the Indigofera Suffruticosa seedlings that are still in protective custody in a screen area on my porch.

I love gardening and the life cycle, but it is times like this that one thinks of buying the indigo pigment and moving on with one’s color life!

Remembering last year’s suffruticosa leaves…..never take them for granted.

Footprint of Indigofera Suffruticosa in a home garden

25 Mar

One of my indigo friends asked me a very good question.  How much space does Indigo Suffruticosa take up?  So I went out and measured my bushes in my garden.  Understand that the info provided here is based on an experimental garden location in the Texas Hill country in an irrigated terrace area.  I could grow more but had to know if the plant would survive, provide indigo and seeds.  We are all learning.  I happen to be a couple of years ahead of you.  Keep in mind we are all in different growing regions.

In case you don’t have your seeds yet, they are available here. SOLD OUT FOR 2018!

Exposure I placed the plants in three different exposures, full west sun, morning sun with afternoon protection and limited sun with deer exposure.  All three exposures have worked.

Water My spacing is based on protected areas within reach of my irrigation line or spray locations.  Your garden may differ.  Bear in mind, your plant needs some water about 3 times a week, no matter how it is delivered to the plant.  I happen to use alkali well water for my irrigation.  Your plant will be grateful for any water delivered to it no matter what PH.

Spacing Individually, at full leaf bearing size an individual plant takes up a 2′ by 2′ space with heights ranging from 4′ to 8′.  I do trim my bushes to keep branches from breaking in our wind storms.  We are both happy at the enforced 5′ height.   I have let multiple bushes grow together at 2/3 per bunch.  One always becomes the dominant plant.  I let the others come along for the ride as long as they give me leaves, if they don’t play well with the main bush they are cut back.

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Bed Size  East Morning Sun Bed is 8′ (space limited) with 17 plants and West Sun bed is 9′ (limited due to west exposure/would they live – yes) with about 10 plants.  Both beds are 3 feet wide and the plants are staggered at 2 plants deep.  These photos are of the late winter beds so forgive the weeds and scraggly appearance.

Finally, I am on “bud watch” right now.  The plants are still dormant, the ground temps are not yet warm enough but we are very close to bud break on the plants that have survived.  In my area the bushes live about 3 years.  If we get a hard freeze I can loose all the plants.  We did have several days of 14-16 degree weather here so it is possible not all the bushes will come back.  I do start new plants, which do yield indigo in the first year and will plant them in once I see who has survived.  Typically I pull the dead plants, give everything a good feeding and put in the new plants for the season.

Closeup of the branches I am watching for the buds to break on new stems and leaves.

I understand fully why folks have cultural blessings for their plants for a good yield and growing season.  I have said a couple of those prayers or curses myself over the leaf cycle.  May your growing season be joyful and curses be few.

Sharing a Texas Winter Dye Garden

25 Feb

Today I hosted 3 UT Art Graduate students and showed them the winter dye garden. Even though all outside was frozen or dormant there was plenty of color in the studio to show them. It was a fun 3 hours of give and take and seeing the art world thru their eyes.

The indigo suffruticosa is cut back and dormant but the seed pods were beautiful.

The madder root bed was frozen back but we weeded and looked at the roots gleaming with color.

The Japanese Indigo beds lay fallow waiting for their early spring turning of the soil. Some frozen indigo leaves showed their true colors.

Frozen indigo suffruticosa & test bed sites

9 Dec

After the great Texas blizzard of 2017 the remaining frozen indigo needs some attention. You can see how much indigo remains in the Indigo Suffrucitosa. I will pick and strip them before the winds take them down for me.

My day will be spent slowly trimming more branches in anticipation of the winter winds.

Slow is the operative word as I am still recovering from an October back TLIF surgery. I’ve graduated from my cane, I can start driving in a limited basis and start physical therapy next week to restore my core strength. I had a major victory this morning when I could lace my boots myself. My husband is glad to see me further along the recovery road also. I had a set back earlier this week when I tried to do too much too soon. My body set me straight yesterday. Patience is not one of my virtues. Gardening and the dye pot help some.

Besides harvesting the frozen leaves indigo the seeds have matured and need to be gathered, dried and winnowed.

I am amazed to report that this year’s volunteer crop outside the fence line did not get a nibble this season from the ever insatiable deer herd. Next year I will get more ambitious and purposely plant seed along the irrigation line.

The test bed on the west side did well above my expectations. It was exposed to the hot August and September sun and held up. More will be planted there next year. I think regular irrigation will make that a viable bed for future use.

The Japanese Indigo has gone for the season. The seeds are drying and the bed needs to be cleared.

The critter that cannot be caught waited politely thru the growing season before making an incursion under my Fort Indigo fence. We will continue our quest to capture & relocate the grub digger.

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday and a New Year as the year draws to an end. If I decide to sell seeds for next spring I will post here. Enjoy your garden dreams for 2018.

End of Season Indigo Chores

25 Oct

We have frost in our Hill Country weather forecast this weekend. With my recent back surgery I can’t go into physical overdrive but with my husband’s help I can pull in both indigo species seeds for drying and trim some Indigo Suffruticosa leaves to dry.

The Japanese Indigo seeds below are set out to dry before separating from blooms. There is another leaf bed to harvest but I am saving those for a John Marshall study group project. Hopefully, the freeze is just a forecast not a reality.

Above are the banana shaped Indigo Suffrucitosa seed pods. See the black seeds peeking at you?

And finally the leaf stripping station. Truly high tech, I strip the leaves off the stems. Easier now rather than later. The fresh leaves will be weighed and after drying I’ll weigh the yield. Like that back brace? It will be my friend for the next 90 days while my bone grafts heal. Oh goodie.

This batch will go into my leaf drying mesh bag and left out for a couple of days. By then the bugs will decamp and I can transfer the batches to rubber tubs for long term drying indoors.

These tubs show dried batches from earlier this year. All are Indigo Suffrucitosa except the lower right hand which is Japanese Indigo.

In the end the process is easy to fit into my lifestream and I can focus on growing the indigos, dry them and run dye pots later. Its all about focus at the proper time. I’ve been collecting quantity stats to see what amount of color I can expect each season. The indigo left on my plants today will probably be my freeze dry stash for the year. We trimmed the plants for the winds so here’s hoping for a dry hard freeze when old man winter does hit.

Here is a photo from last year’s freeze dry experiment. It worked! 100 grams yielded this color on 340 grams of silk. Granted it is not a dark blue but I am testing the process for my Indigo Suffruticosa that works for dried Japanese Indigo. It worked well enough that next time I am cranking up the dry leaf quantity to see how blue I can go with dried indigo, more words on that in another blog entry. And of course, these skeins will go in to get darker.

In the larger scheme of dye life it is about what colors you can grow, the easiest process to use what one harvests and how to get darker colors and fitting it into your daily rhythm. We do it because we can. Enjoy your harvest.

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Dried Leaf Japanese Indigo Process – Take 1

14 Sep

July 2018 Newsflash! JOHN Marshall has come out with a new release covering a variety of ways to use your Japanese Indigo. The process described below in my blog is covered in his book, here is a link to my review & where you order his book. Enjoy!

Original post…One of the frustrations of a small producer of indigo is the limited amount available to dye things blue at one time. Of course, one can buy dried indigo powder from India or South America, but when one has stepped firmly over the edge into growing your own Japanese Indigo you look beyond the obvious and want to work within your own garden boundaries.  

Drying my Japanese Indigo appears to be the solution for me. Below is a photo of my first experiment with 100 grams of dried indigo leaves after neutralizing with vinegar and washing with Orvis. Three articles (1 cotton and 2 silk)  were dipped twice each for 5 minutes. The extra skein on the lower left is a blender fresh Japanese Indigo skein left overnight in a fresh batch and is provided just as an example of the different color way you get with another method using your Japanese Indigo.  Consider the fact that I can and will run another batch of dried indigo and continue to dip these items to continue to darken their color. This first test batch I stuck close to John Marshall’s recipe (c-Background below) and kept track of measurements. For those who like #’s, here you go:

  •    The cotton t-shirt weighed 150 grams
  •    The scarf weighed 25 grams
  •    The silk skein weighed in at 48 grams
  •    Total of 223 grams for total substrate dyed

So the ratio is 100:223 or 1 part dried indigo to about 2 parts substrate. Impressed with the color obtain at that ratio? I am.
This means I can harvest and dry my indigo over the growing season and have my indigo on hand when I have time to enjoy the dye pot process. With the violent weather and winds that we can have in the Texas Hill country it is very attractive to be able to harvest and dry part of your harvest and protect it from unpredictable climate.

Some additional #’s for you, each of my indigo plants have at the beginning of their peak and thru their main growing season 10-12 stalks ready for cutting with an undergrowth of new plants coming up. Remember I am located in Central Texas and irrigate my plants with well water heavy in calcium. Other geographical locations will have different growing conditions. Go ahead, run out and count your plant stalks. I’ll wait! Put in the comments where you are located and what # of stalks your plant is putting out.  I go thru my Japanese Indigo bed and pick the plant stalks without blossoms for my drying bundles. My bundles usually hold 20-24 stalks for drying. Below are photos of my drying method. I secure my bundles to protect them from the birds and bugs AND the wind. I don’t want an unexpected gust to send my leaves somewhere I cannot retrieve them. 

 After about three days in my Texas heat the stalks have dried down enough for me to strip them off the stalks and let them continue to dry.

In the interest of providing more #’s for those who want some guidelines here is more data:

  • 6 bunches yielded 129 grams dried Japanese Indigo
  • 4 bunches yielded 70 grams dried Japanese Indigo
  • 2 bunches yielded 37 grams dried Japanese Indigo

As I type 5 more bunches are drying and now that our humidity has dropped after some much needed rain I will go out and continue to create more bunches for drying. 

 I know if you have read this far you are looking for the dried leaf recipe. My source is John Marshall’s limited edition Dyeing with Fresh-Leaf Japanese Indigo (link below in Background). Below is John’s recipe that I modified to use Soda Ash I had on hand rather than the Washing Soda called for in John’s recipe on page 16 of his book. I used the basic assumption that it takes 3 parts washing soda to equal 1 part Soda Ash. I am very grateful that John took the time to put his experience and the translation of different masters into a usable document for indigo dyers.

• You simmer the dried leaves for 20 minutes at a slow boil (honestly, I used an active simmer) and pour off the water. The water has a yellow tinge to it. That is the wash of components that will throw off your blue indigo. If you have ever used leftover blender JI leaves for a yellow dye, the water color is similar to that color. Discard the water. 

• After washing the leaves, I added 4 grams of soda ash and 6 grams of thiorea dioxide to 100 grams of dried indigo leaves in about 2 liters of water. I simmer almost to a boil and stirred as it heated. I did not boil. John says to boil. I could not bring myself to do so. I did not have my thermometer handy, the pot sang but I did not allow it to boil. It took about 20 minutes for first indigo glow to show on leaf and water surface.

• Strained the leaves and put the indigo solution into a separate pot.


  

  • Went thru the process again but only added 2 grams of Soda Ash and 3 grams of thiorea dioxide to 2 liters of water and added my leaves back in, 20 minutes again.
  • Stained the leaves and add the indigo solution into my holding pot.
  •  And repeated the 2 gram/3 gram step again, 20 minutes again. The indigo released was noticably less in the third extraction. The resulting strained liquid is your indigo dye bath.


I tested the PH of this mixture before adding my substrate and was found it registered at only 9. I was using the paper strips, not a meter. I did expect the PH to be much higher due to the Soda Ash and was not expecting the cotton t-shirt to take the indigo due to the low PH. I was surprised.

My items were submerged at 5 minutes each and allowed to oxidize twice. I kept the pot in the sun and the temp ranged from 100 to 120 degrees as I did my dipping and oxidizing.


The magic of indigo oxidizing:


About the only negative about this process is I am still using Thiourea Dioxide for the oxygen reducer. I just do not like the smell of Thiourea. I plan to try the fructose/slaked lime method once I am more comfortable with the Thiourea Dioxide results.

Background:  I have seen mention of dried indigo in books but no recipes to get me started. Of course I am familiar with the fermented indigo, sukumo, made from dried leaves. Being a small grower I was nowhere near producing the amount needed to get a decent blue. Nor do I have the facilities to ferment over a long period of time with winds and violent temperature swings beyond my control. So either fresh leaf indigo extaction, dried leaves or the traditional purchased indigo powder was the path for me.

When attending an indigo class at John Marshall’s studio he allowed us to look thru his Japanese dye book collection. I do not speak Japanese but I could see tantalizing photos of dried Japanese Indigo. John has been a master working with dyes in surface design over the years with his soymilk mordant and artistic mastery of stencil resist. (Yes, I am a serious fan girl) I asked if he could look thru the recipes and help me figure out a dried leaf path.
His side study along with his stencils has been with Japanese Indigo. He recently took the time to put his thoughts and mastery into a reference book based on his experience and the Japanese dye masters. The dried indigo recipe that I used is sourced from John’ book Dyeing with Fresh Leaf Indigo.  His blog has blown up on him.  When he reposts a new link I will put it here for you. The book is pricey but has many approaches and recipes and should be considered as a guild resource and brought into a library where folks can benefit.

John has also written about his dried indigo recipe for Turkey Red. It is at the end of his Turkey Red article.

Finally as of July 2018, JOHN has a new book release, click here for more info…

Enjoy, Deb Mc

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