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?

Life Interrupted By Dementia

2 Dec

I don’t post my finished product much to this blog. I tend to focus on “the process” but here is an exception. Much gratitude to Linda Haddock at EchoInJohnsonCity for her generosity in creating a salute to Dementia Awareness Month. My natural dye block woven rug which she purchased via the Hill Country Science Mill Auction is featured in her store.

A brief tour of the Echo Art Front Board

Salt Rub Tadeai (Japanese Indigo)

21 Nov

Lately a video shared via a Facebook Indigo group caught my eye. A hilarious Japanese woman was shown using salt as a tool to extract color from a Japanese Indigo variety with apparent success. I’ve dubbed it the Indigo Salt Rub method. I’ve never seen it written up anywhere in historic literature.

Here’s that video link! I claim no credit but just sharing the info…Enjoy.  Skip the ad!

For those who speak Japanese here ya go, please let me know in the comments if you glean more info if you read thru the blog.   Here is the  website, it looks like the gallery has a blog where more info is embedded.

My experiments are below, a reminder that this works with this species of Japanese Indigo because of the beta enzyme that causes the indigo to bind with the protein fiber. It is a short-lived enzyme so one must work the material quickly before the benefit dissipates with exposure to oxygen.

In October I decided to give indigo salt rub a try as demonstrated above and also add a twist with my dried Japanese Indigo. I don’t have much fresh indigo this year due to the strange weather so I thought this would be a noble cause for dried leaf sacrifice.

Below are my results with appropriate labels. I did use tight spun organize silk sourced from Bhutan. My control amount was 30 grams since that is what my prepared skeins weighed. My personal impressions are:

  • Salt rub with Japanese Indigo does give you a truer blue than the blender method. This was the case with JUST Japanese Indigo as a base rub.
  • It is great for small items where you just want use a few leaves for color. In my case, I harvested to dry my indigo for later use and used the leftover leaves that I stripped off the stalks for hanging for the salt rub method. Keep some silk blanks around to use or some tight spun protein silks that can take the rubbing. Remember the mechanical process is rough on the material.
  • I would not do this with wool. The effort to rub the leaves would most likely felt the wool. The blender method is much more sane.
  • It is not a high production method, it takes time to smash the leaves and rub the color evenly thru the skein.
  • I used ordinary table salt, some folks online have suggested using rock salt for better pressure points to break the leaves down. It appears that the teacher in this video used some type of larger salt crystal. Since I was rubbing silk skein I opted for limited salt impact and more time/muscle.

Once I saw how the color took on the straight salt rub I wondered if it would work with my dried indigo. John Marshall in his Singing The Blues covers a method, Cooked Raw Leaf and Enzyme Bath, in his “Singing the Blues” book (p. 27). That method worked nicely if you have a good amount of indigo and need to spread your work over a period of time. So I tried a couple of approaches.

Fresh Leaf Indigo Salt Rub – worked as reported, it did take time but yielded a blue. I used 30 grams of fresh leave to my 30 gram silk skein. The color yielded was not as dark as possible only because I was not willing to give up my leaves I am drying for future use. This became my basis for comparison to the next two skeins.

Fresh/Dried Leaf Salt Rub – I added 30 grams of dried leaves to 30 grams of fresh leaf and rubbed away. It was not successful. I had hoped that the beta enzyme in the fresh leaf would kick off the dried indigo to bond.

Fresh/Soaked Dried Leaf Salt Rub – keeping in mind that straight dried did not work with the kneading, I tried soaking to soften the leaves. I soaked 30 grams of my dried leaf for a couple of days to break down the cells and added that mush to my fresh leaf mush. This soaking did not yield a darker blue than my control skein. Overall it was fun to try this experiment but in my region I just cannot grow enough Japanese Indigo to take advantage of this rubbing method.

And I have taken my fresh leaf and dried leaf remains and formed patties to air dry.  I plan to see how these patties work in part 2 of a Rowland Ricketts recipe for extending the use of my leaves after they have been dried.

The salt rub method with the Japanese Indigo gave a truer blue than the traditional blender method.
The blender method combining both the Indigofera Suffruticosa and the Japanese Indigo provided the best blue for the least effort and use of fresh leaves of methods tried todate.

Blender Blends!

10 Nov

And here are the results of the blender comparison.  My interest was in pushing the use of the beta-glucosidase found in the Japanese Indigo species to affect other varieties of indigo, in this case, Indigofera Suffruticosa.  A paper titled

rβ-Glucosidase in the Indigo Plant: Intracellular Localization and Tissue Specific Expression in Leaves

compiled by a team of Japanese scholars goes thru some of the details of cell structure.  This paper is located on  I am not a scientist but am using the culture of grandmothers’ knowledge to try this.  One day I will hook up with a scientist to understand WHY this works.

Let’s play “What was in the fresh leaf blender?” Please note these skeins have not been washed! More to come after washing to see what really sticks.  ANSWERS BELOW!

1. Which skein is blender indigofera suffruticosa?

2. Which skein is blender Japanese Indigo?

3. Which skein is a “blend” of both Japanese Indigo and Indigofera Suffruticosa?

4. Which is the leftover skein for all season?

Please note the @botanicalcolors hoops in use!

Note how the Indigofera Suffruticosa mixed with the Japanese Indigo presents a stronger blue rather than the traditional green of Blender Japanese Indigo

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!

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… 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.

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