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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.

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.

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!

 

Dye Garden Storm casualties

24 Jul

Some walking wounded plants in the dye garden. We had a severe thunderstorm roll thru this afternoon. Fortunately no hail but wicked NW winds at about 40-50 mph. Hopefully the madder and Japanese indigo will raise their heads with the sun tomorrow. The indigo suffrucitosa did ok as it is sheltered from the winds. I Imagine I will be drying some Japanese indigo earlier than planned if the stems broke.

Madder root blow over, not bad grown for roots so just need to keep alive.

Sad Japanese Indigo, I hope it pulls thru as I don't have much.

Indigo Suffrucitosa still standing!

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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