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Work Before the Dye Pot

3 May

“When Life Spirals Out of Control” series

You carve & create the stencils

You create the paste resist from bran & sweet rice flour & steam it. That was yesterday’s project.

You prep the fabric, should have done this while paste was steaming.

You lay the paste down, carefully & slowly.

And go on to the next piece….notice I am not to the dye stuff yet. That was grown, harvested & dried last year.

Will allow to dry overnight, then on to dye pot.

Gasp…Japanese Indigo in mid-March in the Hill Country

24 Mar

Truly unusual, indigo in mid-March. When I left on my travels in mid-January I noticed that, for the first time my Japanese Indigo had sprouted on its own. In January. I figured it would freeze back, but come mid-February it had grown well and was holding it own. I left the country again thinking our late February or early March freezes would put it in its place.

Well, I am home now, my husband did defend the plants thru one deep freeze (serious husband points) and the indigo is thriving, even blooming. Normally this time of year I would be turning the soil, enriching it, placing the drip hose and eyeing the seeds figuring out when to start the seed packs.

So, now what do I do? Let it continue to grow till it hits a foot and harvest it? I am tempted to do a pigment extraction. I usually dry & hold. Suggestions are welcome.

This is truly a bonus crop from last year’s seeds left in place. We still have cricket season in the near future. If I do see cricket chomping I will harvest. In the meantime I will dig out my seeds and prep my seedlings to drop in between these early bonus plants.

Winter Garden Chores

12 Jan

Temps here in Texas are just weird this season. Japanese Indigo seeds are sprouting early. Never have they sprouted in January.

Madder root are poking new shoots out rather than going dormant. Mid-January is just not the time for this dye plant behavior.

Being the weather opportunist I had Emerald Landscape local folks out to pull a large perennial flower bed which was past its prime, weed & layout a pad for an indigo pot work area. More to come on this pot install journey later.

After 10 years here our rosemary had gotten old and overgrown and needed to be pulled. Since John & I have also gotten older as well the day of garden muscle help was most welcome.

Since I did not have to wrestle rosemary bushes out of the ground I used this wet day to trim back madder root away from acanthus bushes and save the roots for dyeing. I hate to toss red roots. The gardeners think I am nuts.

Here are the roots after cleaning. I will let them dry for a couple of days and then cut them smaller for further drying.

The garden bed is now prepped for the 3 year root harvest. It has been 4 years since the last harvest. More to come on this harvest later. Where’s my pitchfork?

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.

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.

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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