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Flax – June 3, 2013

March 13:

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Cotton Seedlings – June 3, 2013

Cotton seeds planted: Mississippi Brown, Erlene’s Green and Sea Island (white).

After a few days of inactivity, I added a heat mat under half of the pots, and by March 22- 23 there were 3 plants in the heated pots.

The others are starting to sprout too, so it may be chance, but I’ll use the heat mat from the start next time.

April 13:

A month later, and the second leaves are developing on the first cotton seedlings. I’m careful to water them from the bottom now, and once they are a little bigger, I’ll find them some bigger pots in which to spend the summer.

Also coming along are Japanese Indigo and more Madder seedlings, as well as various tomatoes from seed saved from last year’s crop. Last thing planted was Calendula, which haven’t appeared yet.

May 24:

Flax are now planted in the allotment garden – I used about 1 1/4 pounds on an area 30 x 15 feet. It doesn’t look that thickly sown.

June 4:

Flax is doing well in the cold, wet weather we’ve had lately. Cotton is still small and could use more sun and warmth. I’ve just moved the pots into the screen porch where the sun exposure is better. Woad is now sown in the allotment plot and Madder transplanted into the ground. Calendula and j. Indigo are next to go outside.

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CottonBlossomThere are a few seeds that I like to order and start early as they require a long growing season. The first of these is cotton. It is hit or miss trying to get mature bolls in my climate zone (3), but I try anyway as it’s a nice plant with a beautiful, if short-lived, flower. This year I’ve ordered Erlene’s Green Cotton, Mississippi Brown Cotton and Sea Island White Cotton from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I still have plenty of Uplands Cotton seeds from my 2011 crop, so I’ll likely plant some of those too.

Last year’s cotton plants were rather sickly, so I only got a few stunted bolls, and I’ll discard any seeds that formed as I’d rather start with healthy seeds.

My second order was for Japanese Indigo (Dyer’s Knotweed) seeds. I’ve planted some of these directly in the garden, but they had only started to bloom when the season ended. I brought a few indoors and they have continued to produce blooms, but it doesn’t look like there’s much viable seed there and now they are dying back. I’m ordering these again from Companion Plants – one of the few seed houses I’ve found that carries them.

Third order is more Madder seed. My 2 year-old plants looked good last summer, but so far none have produced any blooms or seeds. I’d like to get some more plants going, and I’ll also try to start some from cuttings. Madder seeds germinate reliably and it’s nice to have a sure-bet in the flats. These I get from Horizon Herbs, and they are also hard to find.

I think I now have a life-time supply of woad seeds after letting a few plants over-winter and bloom. Just have to remember to scatter them once the ground is bare. Another plant that’s easy to grow.

The rest of the cold months should be dedicated to spinning and mordanting a supply of yarn so that I’ll be ready to go when the dye plants are ready to harvest next summer.

Next on the order list is fibre flax seed – still need to calculate how much I can reasonably sow in a limited space before I place my order.

It’s never too early to start planning next summer’s garden – hope you enjoy the process as much as I do.

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Woad leaves being washed in the kitchen sink

Woad grows well in my area, and I’ve just finished the first leaf harvest. I’m using the same process I used last year – extracting the indigo in a solution and then evaporating it until I’m left with indigo powder that I can use next winter in an indigo dye vat.

My scale wasn’t large enough to weigh the leaves, but I’d say there are about 700 grams in this first cutting.

There were three sources of information that I followed: the directions in the book Wild Colour (revised ed.) by Jenny Dean, the directions that Sarah Dalziel has included on her website http://www.woad.ca, and the directions that Teresinha Roberts has included on her website http://www.woad.org.uk/html/extraction.html.

There aren’t very many supplies needed, but I would recommend buying litmus paper to determine the pH level of the solution at the various stages of the process.

Here are my dye supplies. The citric acid and soda ash are used in small quantities, so these jars will do many batches.

Here’s what I did:

1. Cut and washed as many Woad leaves as possible, while still leaving enough on the plants to keep them growing. I think I had about 700 grams.

2. Put 7 litres of water in the 10 litre dye pot and added 2 tsp of citric acid to change the pH of the water to 3.

3. Heated the water to a rolling boil.

4. Ripped and added the Woad leaves and once the leaves were all added and stirred together, turned off the heat.

5. Half-filled the kitchen sink with water and ice cubes, and sat the pot in the sink to cool off rapidly. The directions I used indicated that it is best to quickly cool the solution to 50C.

I found that it took some time to cool that much liquid, so next time I’ll start with less water and add cold water to the pot to cool it instead of cooling the pot in the sink.

6. Let the leaves soak for about 30 minutes (I checked after 20 minutes, and the water still looked very clear, so I left them for another 10 minutes).

7. Scooped out the leaves and squeezed them to save as much solution as possible.

8. Added about 4 tbsp of soda ash to raise the pH of the solution to 9 – 10.

The solution still seemed pretty clear, but it did change in colour from reddish to greenish as it’s supposed to.

9. Using my hand-held mixer, I beat the solution for about 15 minutes to add air. The surface foam did change from very light yellow through green and blue and back again to yellow during this time.

10. I didn’t have enough glass jars to decant the liquid, so I’m letting the solution settle in the pot for a few days.

Next Steps:

Once the solids start to settle, I’ll remove the clearer liquid from the top of the pot and top it up with a little fresh water – this seems to help the solids settle out.

Eventually, the liquid evaporates and the remaining solids will be added to my little bottle of powered indigo from last year!

November 10 update:

The settling and evaporation were completed some time ago, and it looks like there’s about a gram or two of indigo sediment in the pyrex pie plate that was used as the last evaporation pan. It’s hard to get the sediment off the glass, so next time I’ll try to find an unscratched teflon pan to use in this final step. Once the sediment is all scraped off, it will be added to the gram or so that I got last year and as it’s way too little to make an indigo vat, I’ll try to use it as a pigment painted on a soya-milk prepared cloth for a Katazome project.

 

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