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Time to harvest Suffruticosa seeds & dry leaves

14 Nov

It’s November here in the Texas Hill Country. Temps are dropping and the days are shorter. My Indigofera Suffruticosa has bloomed and the seed pods are turning brown. Time for harvesting seed pods before the winds come.

Slowly they turn brown despite the grasshopper threat.

I trim the tops off that are heavy with seed. The leaves are dried in a herb dryer under shelter. The seed stalks are left in a wheelbarrow to ripen & dry.

Dried IS leaves
Drying on the stem after leaves harvested for drying

The seeds continue to ripen on the stalk until brown/black & the pods split until the seeds peak out at you.

Seed pods are dry & splitting

So now I wait and let the Indigofera Suffruticosa pods continue to dry. Jan/Feb I will have a grand seed stomp and separate chaff from seed for sale. These seed pods will continue to dry in their wheelbarrow. The seeds will be much easier to separate the more patient I am with the drying process.

Need to pull out stems

And now, back outside to continue the harvest before the wind & rains come. It is a different game once the weather shifts.

Indigo Yield Testing in Texas

5 Jul

Note, SORRY guys, I accidentally deleted my blog post, my bad, let’s try this again.The 2020 season was time for experimenting with wet extraction of my Indigofera Suffruticosa and my Japanese Indigo.  Prior years, due to our Texas heat and extreme weather, it was easier to pick the leaves and dry them for storage while I became acquainted with growing the plant itself in the Texas Hill country.  You gotta keep the plant alive to reach the indigo cycle.

Let me just say for the record that I am extremely glad that Stony Creek Colors and Botanical Colors are vendors for indigo pigment.  I enjoy growing the indigo varieties, but for my 110 gallon indigo vat I will never grow enough indigo to fill that vat adequately to obtain dark color for my paste resist work.  However, I do small batches with my home grown indigo when I do stitch shibori or just need to overdye yarn skeins for weaving.  Both methods, buying or growing are viable depending on your vat size or intent.

Below is my indigo pigment chart provided by Stony Creek Colors after analyzing my home grown pigment content, comparing vinegar wash versus no wash, and a comparison of Japanese Indigo versus Indigofera Suffruticosa.  I submitted a total of 13 one gram samples over the season to test for pigment content.  In other words, I process 13 batches over the growing season, kept notes on leaf weight, washing and kept them separate for testing.

Each test batch of dried pigment was 1 gram more or less. Summer Arrowood, Senior Research Chemist, was most patient in explaining their testing process. I had a question on the above chart on the last 2 columns on the right of the chart I received with my above testing. This is what I asked. “What is difference on your table between Indigo Content of Solids vs Overall % indigo of sample. Are you spinning out moisture from my sample or drying it further? Is the Overall % more indicative of indigo contained? I am having trouble differentiating between the phrases since they are referring to the same sample.”

Response from Summer Arrowood, Senior Research Chemist, “Your samples were quite moist, as much as 43% water in the case of #12.  In order for our analysis to work the samples must be very dry.  I dried the entire sample on a moisture balance and then took the dry material and analyzed it for indigo content.  The ‘Indigo content of solids’ refers to this analysis. To get the ‘overall % indigo’, I used the moisture content and the indigo purity to calculate the % indigo of the sample as you sent it, including the water mass.”

My big surprise was the LATER in the season that I harvested my Indigofera Suffruticosa the HIGHER my indigo content went.  I expected the indigo content to be much higher in July and August with the sun intensity, instead, October and November growth gave the greater yield in the Texas Hill country.  This was in two – four year old shrubs. My field notes chart combined with the Stony Creek pigment report sorted by yield is below. Of course there are other notes on leaf weight/sun/process but this is an abbreviated compilation. 

I’ve added my growing notes in the chart below in addition to the testing performed by Stony Creek Colors on my samples submitted. Chart is sorted by Indigo per Sample yield but I’ve included data to show you the seasonal cycle.    The late season results were surprising. I was happy with the seasonal yield although it does include 4 batches that did not get washed to remove the calcium carbonate. I included the weight of pigment before washing and after washing. Towards the end of the season I had committed to washing with vinegar on all my batches and felt what I had measured earlier in the season gave me info I needed to see the difference. I calculated the the reduction in volume stored was about 80-90%.

I feel that reduction in volume was sufficient to justify the extra time washing pigment.As indicated in the indigotin chart, my Japanese Indigo did not perform well at all.  I do not know why, but I suspect the intense sun here in central Texas had an impact on indigotin production.  Even though I use a sunshade that does not seem to help the indigo production in the Japanese Indigo.   Even looking at early season harvest my indigo levels were not high.

Details for those who want to know more….

In summary, I did only wet extraction in 2020, washed my pigment and compared seasonal extracts, washed vs not washed pigment %’s. Stony Creek Colors was very helpful in explaining their testing methods and indigo content % measurements to me.  Having been educated by the grower/dyers in the FaceBook Indigo Pigment Extraction group I made the plunge. I am a measuring person, the type that likes to have an idea of what effort I am putting in and what I am getting out of it.  My observation is that dried leaves were giving me good color on a small scale but exactly how much pigment are the dried leaves giving me?  Wet extraction seemed to be the best way to measure the picked leaves, render them down to pigment and get a measure from that effort.  I am a measuring person, so I have records of my leaf weight before I dry them to compare to the wet extraction results.  I am also a frugal and “older” indigo farmer.  I only want to pick as much as my limited equipment could handle and that I could lift.  I had a good idea what I could pick, strip and lift in the AM and set out in my 5 gallon buckets to soak in the sun for a couple of days for the wet extraction.

My bushes told me what I needed to cut as I could see the bluish tinge in the leaves.   I trimmed both varieties for shape and for the winds to avoid damage during storm seasons.  My Indigofera Suffruticosa shrubs can last for at least 4 or 5 seasons if I don’t have a killing frost or cold spell.  It is now game over due to our major freeze and power failure we had in February 2021. This 2021 spring I am back to restarting my plants from seedlings.  It will regrow! My plan was to double check my testing but with my bush loss this year, I had a test set back. 2022 will be the year to test the IS again in central Texas. I set aside growing Japanese Indigo as I am focusing on prepping the IS beds which had settled over 3-4 years as the shrubs grew and this is my time to reprep those beds for new plants. Heaving Texas soil takes time for a home farmer.

The kicker in the wet “measuring” process is the calcium hydroxide used to flocculate the indigo and get It to settle for filtration.  Despite trying several methods of just using water settling the indigo, my observation is that this method takes way too long for the indigo to settle to a useable filtration state.  Using the calcium hydroxide is much more efficient for me and enabled me to get on with the process and my life outside of indigo.  But, the 4-6 tablespoons of calcium hydroxide added for flocculation adds weight and one cannot get a clean measurement of just pigment.  So I investigated washing my pigment with 9% vinegar to cleanse it of the calcium carbonate which the calcium hydroxide inevitably becomes when mixed with water and oxygen.  Leaving it as paste just adds to bulk and one must always add more slaked lime to reactivate the indigo chemistry to get the bonding.  Plus washing reduces the sludge.  I have heard mutterings that the vinegar washing impacts the indigo paste but I have not found anything in writing. Folks do wash only with water, next time I will try that against a vinegar wash and compare. 

On a side note, I mixed ONLY calcium hydroxide and water and used my sump pump as if I were mixing a flocculation brew to create a test.  I washed it about four times and did see a major reduction in calcium carbonate volume. My observation is that I had the greatest reduction with the 9% vinegar after two washes.  Wash 3 & 4 worked but just seemed like extra effort just because I could. Unfortunately, at that time my mom was having a round of health problems, so I did well just to complete the vinegar washes and capture photos.  My intent to measure reduced volume each time was thwarted by real life outside the dye patio.  Sometimes I just had to walk away from the dye patio process and leave everything to wait for me until mom was cared for.  But visual observation of the process showed the reduction was substantial despite the lack of measurement of the process.

Watching the vinegar work on the calcium carbonate

 Two Looms was very generous with information as to how they clean their indigo with citric acid or hydrochloric acid.  However, we are on a well and septic system with direct discharge to the Pedernales River and I felt like that journey was beyond my chemical skill set, hence 9% vinegar. I haven’t tried 20% agricultural vinegar but it is definitely on my list.  I need to investigate safety measures needed for that level of acid and recommend that one check the MSDS data to understand the risks of 20% agricultural vinegar.  It is a chemical that can hurt you.  Nine percent works just fine for me.  We are sitting on alkaline limestone, so I don’t feel real bad about discarding vinegar dissolved calcium carbonate water into our natural system.

I found 5 gallon buckets and the Dudas 25 micron filter really useful for washing the pigment in manageable amounts.  I usually wash it with a 3:1 9% vinegar to water at least twice AFTER the normal filtration is done.  I found the wet paste mixed well with the vinegar brew.  One learns to mix the vinegar in slowly or you get the lava foam effect and can lose solution from an overflow accident.  Keep an eye on the foam reaction.  That is the vinegar hitting the calcium carbonate and dissolving it.  This is a good thing except when it overflows your filter.  This step takes time but if you’ve been extracting indigo from your leaves you aren’t in this for a quick process.  

The benefit of washing with vinegar means I am not storing wet paste and the dried and washed pigment is MUCH easier to grind.  The volume reduction is significant between wet paste and dried pigment and does not require a refrigerator or extra storage space.  If you do the math on my chart above you’l see that I had a 60 – 90% reduction in volume.   Here is a link to a YouTube video on my vinegar washing, you’ll bounce over to YouTube, sorry, WordPress changed some functionality and I could not get it directly into my blog. This gives you a view of how I wash my home grown indigo and ALSO how I wash the Big Jar at the end of the season to retrieve my indigo for the next solar season. I learned about storing mud from one season to the next from the indigo masters in Sapa, Vietnam who were very genorous with their knowledge. I met them thru Above The Fray – Textile Travel, a great journey with friends a couple of years ago.

I’m glad I went to the trouble and expense to separate out batches over the season and get the analysis of indigo content.  My next step is to compare my dried leaf output to the wet extraction to get a general idea of what 100 grams of dried leaf indigo gives me compared to my pigment. More math is in my future when I am in the mood.

This was an extremely long blog entry.  Any suggestions, questions or comments would be most welcome.  Deb Mc

Sold Out! Indigofera Suffruticosa seeds for sale

23 Apr

(Sold out for 2021! See you next year!) The temps have finally cranked up in central Texas and I am finally confident I can keep my Indigofera Suffruticosa seedlings happy. You can join the seed planting party here at my Etsy shop. https://etsy.me/3tnpIAv As of early July seeds are still available in my shop. You’ll get a good start of growth still with the summer heat!

Seeds soaking in hot water overnight.

I’ve soaked my seeds overnight allow them to swell. They are labeled to keep my husband from “cleaning” the bowls. Imagine why….

Using a spoon I put them in the prepared seed trays. Hopefully the 80° F weather will feel better than the cooler temps. We gone thru worm season, now I need to watch for crickets. Weather is cranky this year and the insects are confused, as are the humans.

The bad news is that I believe I lost all my plants during the Texas deep freeze in mid-February. We covered the plants with frost cloth and had heat lamps in place but 6 days without power, freezing temps, ice & snow took out my plants despite our efforts to protect the plants. I lost 2, 3, & 4 year old plants. We are on the north range of the plants and usually can protect them. This weather was evil. Olive tree growers ride the same risk being located at the northern boundary of the grow zone. I am seeing reports of olive tree loss.

Fortunately I have seed and will grow again. We haven’t pull the plants yet, I keep hoping they will surprise me. The prairie larkspurs are giving them a send off.

Water Settle Versus Lime Flocculate, Lime for the WIN

6 Aug

Back on July 17th I put a pound of Indigofera Suffruticosa leaves to soak. In the Texas heat it was ready to pull the leaves and move on to pull the pigment. I had time so I had used my well water (about 8-9ph) to soak the leaves and separate the pigment. And I waited for the pigment to settle.

Ready to give up the pigment!

And I waited. Little drained thru my Duda 25 micron filter, pigment was evident but the water was a beautiful blue and looked happy to wait for evaporation to happen.

Waiting for water extraction

Come August 3rd I was done waiting, I poured off the liquid into a holding bucket and stopped when pigment paste was evident in the pour. This went into my coffee filter system. It is not beautiful or useful for large quantities but works if you parse out your work.

Paste from 1# of Indigofera Suffruticosa leaves by water extraction only

This paste is still wet and has a bit more drying to go before I measure.

Water extraction IS paste

But I still had half a bucket of dark blue water mocking me. So, I added 3 TBSP of calcium hydroxide and let fly with my paint mixer to aerate. The pigment/lime dropped like a rock and I could easily see the pigment ready to filter.

Pigment lurking in the bottom of the bucket

I poured the liquid off and captured the paste in my Duda filter again. I did have to clean my filters from the long wait for water pigment drop. The bottom side of the filter had molded from the heat and moisture. Ugly stuff. One day later my filtered paste volume had reduced enough for me to start my vinegar wash.

Capturing the paste for washing

Now, I am washing this paste because I want to see what my one pound of leaves yielded. Remember, I captured some of it with just a water drop but pigment remained to capture in order to get a full measurement.

I wash with 9% vinegar to dissolve the calcium carbonate that is formed during the aeration process. Others use a stronger chemical to wash but I will leave that process to them to explain. I am on a well and septic system so I prefer to keep my chemicals fairly intrusive.


CaCO3 + 2CH3COOH = Ca(CH3COO)2 + H2O + CO2. Limestone (CaCO3) combined with vinegar (2CH3COOH ) yields calcium acetate Ca(CH3COO)2, water (H20) and carbon dioxide (CO2).

One must always remember to leave room in your container when adding your acid to your brew. Remember the volcano science experiments as a child? Yea, you are gonna make foam. I always secure my jar in a laundry tub so if nature gets too explosive I can recommend my pigment.

So, I add more water to my paste, add vinegar and mix and watch the foam rise.

So now I have started the wash to remove the calcium carbonate. The water & dissolved goods will float above the paste & I will pour that off. I might repeat 3 times to get a good wash and then cycle thru my coffee filter setup again for the final paste.

Waiting for the dissolving to separate

At this point I’ll be able to compare the two pastes to see the color. More on that later. In the meantime I have 3# of processed leaf water that also never really dropped that I am going to lime tomorrow. And I need to harvest my Japanese Indigo for pigment extraction as well. The water extract was an adventure but did not work well under my working conditions. This is the year for extraction opposed to drying leaves. Definitely more work for extraction.

Washing the indigo paste

17 Jul

22 days leaf to paste, 3.5 # of leaf to 1.1 # of paste before washing. Indigofera Suffruticosa in Texas Hill Country. I opted to do nothing the 4 days it was 104-112 degrees outside. The pigment can settle without fiddling in that heat.

IS 1st harvest of season 6/26

26 Jun

Continue reading

IS & JI planted, add water & wait for heat

5 Jun

This week we hit 100+. I’ve finished as much planting as I can in Fort Indigo. The fences have been newly painted and hopefully will withstand the armadillo and possum incursions for grubs. The indigo bed was enlarged at the expense of a madder bed. This year I am mixing Japanese Indigo and Indigofera Suffruticosa in the same bed. The IS will shade the JI and the two have played well together when I trim the IS limbs up. Plus I have the added bonus that the JI beta enzyme appears to work with the SI leaves when the two are crushed together. More on that later this season.

Smaller earlier planted IS compared to spoiled IS seedlings held in pots to grow.
Before the mulch the plants, both IS and JI, are placed by irrigation emitters to ensure water available in the hot season
Mulch in place, fence in place, now we wait for growth to kick in.
For comparison, two & three year IS bushes happily growing under the eaves facing East. Note the new seedlings for this year.

So, if all goes well I will continue to practice with my indigo extraction and blender vats this summer. And, even more importantly I will have an Indigofera Suffruticosa seed crop this fall.

Indigofera Suffruticosa Roots

18 May

I usually don’t pull up my precious Indigofera Suffruticosa until grudgingly certain the plant has given up the ghost. Last time I pulled up IS was about three years ago when I got hit by a hard freeze. I lost all of my plants and did have to pull everything up. I remember that was difficult but they’ve been in the ground for three or four years. So this past winter I did lose a two year old plant, but the same vintage plants around it survived. So, here is a replay of the pull..

Two year plant succumbed to winter 2019/20 freezes.

So, the plant broke at ground level, not surprising since I have been doing spring watering. Rot has set in with the irrigation moisture on deadwood. So here is our second try at pulling the root.

So, yes, after two years full growth, the roots are deep. I won’t take a shovel to it due to its proximity to other plants. That root will stay in place.

And for those who remember my sad plant ravaged by caterpillars, it lives. Transplanted to a pot and spoiled for a couple of weeks the leaves are making another appearance. This will go back into the ground soon. It still looks sad but with the increasing warm temps and a permanent home in the ground it will thrive.

Seasons of Indigofera Suffruticosa

3 May

The seasons move on and we decide how to spend them in the garden with what they have left us. I am working with my Indigofera Suffruticosa seedlings and getting them ready for the Texas Hill Country summer sun. I soaked the seeds in hot water overnight. The seeds were planted in seed trays about April 8th. The seedling pushed out in 80 degree F weather but slowed to a crawl with 60 degree F. The past week we’ve pushed the low 90’s so the seedlings are much happier and growing. As of May 2 I moved them from the seedling tray into larger pots and let the root system grow. It seems that with our hot dry weather this gives the plant the strength to grow and thrive thru the hot 100 degree F in the summer months when I put them in the ground.

Lower left seedling tray
Lower right combining seedlings
Top left larger pots

Over the winter my husband and I covered our plants twice to protect them from several early mornings of a hard freeze. Of all the plants that survived one succumbed in late April to caterpillars munching away on the leaves. I moved the plant to a pot to try and give it care but I think I’ve lost this second year indigo but I still hope. It is rather pathetic looking. Send healing thoughts please.

Finally, looking at my 1 & 2 year plants that we did successfully defend from hard freezes this past winter, the spring growth is pushing out from last year’s hard stems and is looking good. Sun and time will yield plenty of Indigofera Suffruticosa leaves for processing and hopefully seeds at the end of the season.

Excuse the spring wind, here’s a clip of the growth pushing out. I usually leave my dead wood in place early in the season so the hummingbirds can perch. Once I harvest the leaves in the first harvest in late June I will trim it back. Some folks have asked me what a 2nd or 3rd bush looks like. Here ya go.

Example of spring growth on 2nd & 3rd year plants

Indigofera Suffruticosa Seeds

24 Oct

Seed crop is looking good. I will know more if I have enough to sell in Jan/Feb 2020.

This picture gives you an idea of one year old plants versus two year old plants. This year I will definitely keep them safe from killing frosts. Leave room to grow. I have digging armadillos hence the Fort Indigo.

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