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John Marshall’s Japanese Indigo dye resource released

17 Jul

Passing on the word that John Marshall’s book has been released in printed & affordable format. For those of us who grow Japanese Indigo on a small basis due to garden or climate limitations it gives us choices on which technique to try with our precious crop. I have been fortunate to watch this release be tested & developed. We have not had a practical guide released on this side of the ocean in decades. Firmly rooted in the Japanese tradition John has translated, tested and added his personal experience to this tradition. Your guild should have a copy. If you grow and want other avenues to explore other than extraction you will enjoy the brain biscuits that John has beautifully prepared for us. Enjoy!

http://www.johnmarshall.to/indigo/

10 day difference for Japanese Indigo seedlings

30 Mar

10 days & temperature increases and sunshine made a big difference. March 17th I planted my Japanese Indigo seeds, by the 27th I had sprouts! I ordered the wrong seed tray. Duh, but seeds planted in new tray sprouted sooner than my old method. I am smarter now despite myself. Next up I will plant my Indigofera Suffruticosa seeds. I’ll throw Cota and Hopi Sunflowers into the mix this year also. Maybe I can beat the birds to the seeds for dye this year.

I am still on bud watch on my older Suffruticosa plants. Will the 3 year old plants live longer? Did the freeze this January take the younger plants out? The drama of gardening continues.

Plus the Texas Persimmon is budding and blooming. Before I know it I will be out picking persimmons in July for the dye.

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.

Fort Indigo, Armadillos & Failure

16 Aug

Sometimes life or armadillos get in the way of gardening.  Throw in seed misfires and you have to work on acceptance and rework with reality.

I am participating in an indigo study project (link) and was ready to start my spring garden.  http://johnmarshall.to/TSG/TadeaiStudyGroup.htm

So when I asked John Marshall, my group coordinator, for the test seeds I was very early as he was still suffering thru late frosts and had not thought about seedlings yet.  So my seeds would be in the mail soon but not yet.  No worries, I had my own seeds to prep.

Here in my part of the Hill Country starting a garden involves indigo seed pack trays in late March.  One cannot plant direct into the garden as we have crickets that are born hungry once they hatch when the earth gets warm.  So you hold your plants in a protected area until after the cricket hatchlings have grown up and moved on. No problem, I started my own seeds for both Japanese Indigo and Indigo Suffruticosa.  These grew happily in their bug safe area and I rotated them in the sun to harden them and strengthen the seeds.

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I plant both Japanese Indigo and Indigo Suffruticosa, just for info here is a comparison of those seedlings and why I label my trays.  Not much visual difference in the seedlings at the beginning.

My problems started when I prepped my indigo beds.  I broke the earth and worked in more soil.  By the end of the growing season the irrigation lines do a little dance and get out of line when they run so I always reset them in the soil and anchor them so they don’t dance early in the season.  As I let them run to check for leaks I mark where the drip hole is so that I can drop in my seedlings where they get the best water.  It’s not tough but is time consuming to turn the earth, place the markers and clean out the clay balls that turn up when you till.  Here you can also see my madder root at the top of the photo.  This has to be trimmed back and roots pulled to keep the madder root in its place.  Or attempt to keep the madder root in its place.

IMG_8496So you can imagine my muttering when I came out the next day ready to drop the plants in the prepared bed and either an armadillo, skunk or raccoon had come out to help me in my garden.  All the lines were pulled up and holes dug randomly thru the bed.  After serious grumbling I put out the live trap for a week and kept rotating my indigo seedlings in their safe room.  Note my white markers that I carefully put by my drip hose have been tossed around.  Plus holes dug everywhere, if I could only harness that energy.

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Well, the damn varmint just came coming back and digging and succeeding in tipping out the food without tripping the trap.  Yes, I know if we had dogs we would not have these critter issues.  I am just not a dog person.  I was running out of time due to some travel plans so I constructed Fort Indigo.  A combination of old lattice frames, gates and garden wire.   I reset the garden prep and watched it for another week to see if that would stop the digging.  Whoever did try to get in and wandered thru the outside madder root but my small fort seemed to hold them at bay.

So I dropped my seeds into place by the drip irrigation water outlets and moved forward.  Half of the Japanese Indigo bed was my indigo seed I receive about 5 years ago from Donna Hardy, Sea Island Indigo, in the southern part of the US that I have faithfully renewed my seeds each season.  Half of the bed was reserved for my project seeds that I received and started later in the month.  In keeping with the “it’s a bad year for gardening”, only 5 seeds germinated out of two 24 seed tray, so much for my project participation with this round of indigo seedlings.

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I have no explanation as to why these seeds did not germinate.  It is the same seed starter soil, the same environment and watering sequence.  Zip, nada but a few seedlings in the starter trays.  In addition, I direct sowed extra seeds to see if I could jumpstart the project.  Not one sprouted, either in the direct prepped bed or the starter trays.

The other item we considered is that I received older seeds from a prior year stock.  It happens to the best gardeners.  Japanese Indigo seeds are only viable for one year so it is entirely possible I got a batch from a prior year harvest since I started earlier than John  expected.  So….I am going to try again with what we know is this year’s seeds and do a late season harvest if I can get them up and going before an October freeze.  At a minimum I do have my own Japanese Indigo growing so I will have some to dry for use later in the season.

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One must have hope as a gardener.  And practice acceptance.  Blue will come again.

Proof of prior success, but failure in the garden happens.  If all else fails, there is always weeds to pull!

 

3 days makes a difference!

28 May

Here is a comparison shot of my suffruticosa indigo Tuesday evening and 3 days later after sitting with a shot of fructose added. There be indigo! I am going to feed it again on Sunday, stir it up and add some pickling lime to see if I can get my indigo to strike some silk. 

After 3 days…

Where we started…I am happy to take suggestions from any indigo grandmother out there for alternative paths! Trying to avoid thio…

And here is my rigged anti skunk/raccoon or armadillo cage device to keep the critters from digging for grubs between my Japanese indigo & indigo suffruticosa! Evil creatures!

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