Tag Archives: Indigo

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

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 https://academic.oup.com.  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

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.

Final Harvest

11 Jan

Finally! All indigofera suffruticosa seed polls cracked, hulled & winnowed except for a couple of renegade pods. The winds were useful today. Next up winnowing Japanese Indigo seeds.

Indigofera Suffruticosa Seed harvest

13 Dec

As the growing season winds down and winds and freezes become more frequent one begins to harvest the remaining leaves from the freezes and check the seed harvest status.  Like little bunches of bananas the indigo seed pods darken from green to brown to black and start to reveal glimpses of tiny black seed pods.

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I usually cut back my indigo after the first freezes so that the branches don’t break in the winter winds.  I leave some up for the migrating hummingbirds to use in the late winter for observation perches.  The stems that hold the seed pods are tough.  It is easier to pull them off the same time you harvest the remaining indigo leaves before the “winter” trim.  One runs the odds of leaving leaves on the branches against the odds of a wet week that will soak seed pods and frozen leaves.  The weather forecast becomes a thing of great interest!  But the longer one leaves the seed pods on, the better they ripen and are easier to harvest.

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You can see in the photo below the “not quite ripe” against the “bursting and fling the seed out” pods.  Greenish versus brown/black finishes give you the signal.  Hence the wait for ripening against the rain gamble.

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Usually I process in stages, cut some branches, strip out the seed pods and the frozen leaves, set the pods aside, finish up the leaf processing and let the pods continue to dry out.  They are easier to process when dry.  A bit of my leaf harvest is written about in this blog entry.

Below you see my processing station of the dried seeds in my red garden holding bucket.   My winnowing silver bowl, my two kitchen strainers with appropriate hole size, a trash bucket for hulls and my faithful molcajete for breaking the pods for seed extraction.  img_1261

When the pods are dry they crack much easier when pressure is lightly applied by the molcajete grinding stone to break the bond.

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The lightly crushed pods are put thru the two sieve process and manually stirred to release the seeds.  Husks go into the black bucket for one last look for more seeds.

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The seed harvest is set aside to winnow in the winds to cull out the smaller husks and chaff.  If you pick over your starting seed pods and cull the green immature pods your final effort will result in a good seed harvest for next year’s use.  This is not a high tech process, just time and patience that gets you in position for next year’s planting.

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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.

Prepping  indigo seeds while madder silk soaks

8 Apr

While the silk sun soaks in the 6 year madder root I am prepping my indigo seedings.  

One fends off crickets and raccoons early on in the season with seedlings so I am trying a safe start on Harley’s sun porch. We’ll see how that works out. 

I am prepping indigofera suffruticosa seeds, second generation from Donna Hardy’s South Carolina seeds. 

http://www.seaislandindigo.net/about/

Some of the plants left out in the terrace garden to overwinter are even putting out new growth. I have hopes that if they are protected from the north winter winds I can get them do their perennial thing.

http://www.cabi.org/isc/mobile/datasheet/28611

  

In addition, I am prepping Japanese Indigo or polygonum tinctorium seeds. These come from John Marshall and I am grateful to have them. I had total crop failure last year due to an irrigation dripline failing me mid-season in May. Due to family illness & death I could not save the plants so I’ll start a new seedbank this year. Not to mention a blue color source. John had written a nice indigo overview about the different indigo sprcies here:

http://johnmarshall.to/blog/2015/01/23/just-what-is-indigo/

And for guilds, he has written a nice guild to dyeing with Japanese Indigo, info here….

http://johnmarshall.to/blog/2015/02/05/dyeing-with-fresh-leaf-indigo-limited-edition-2/

I’ll finish with a intriguing yucca madder test piece. As I “walk” my cat here in the Texas Hill Country I’ve been scraping yucca to see if it can be separated for thread.  I had a piece handy and tossed it into a madder exhaust bath and it picked up the color beautifully….

 

Not sure what direction this will go but it is percolating…. 

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Taos Earth Palette

9 Dec

Indigo dye pots from top to bottom:
1. Chemical pot with hide glue
2. Fructose with a 24 hour rest
3. Aloe pot
4. Fructose with no rest.

Thanks so much to Diane DeSouza for teaching the class and Taos Wool Festival for sponsoring the Earth Palette Dye conference.

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