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Extending the Season

It’s been a good year for the vegetable garden, which prompted me to try to extend the season a little longer. A second planting of edible pod peas in August has produced a nice crop and there are still a few blossoms on the vines, even though we’ve had many below-freezing nights already.

Pea blossoms

 

 

As the night temperatures dropped below freezing, I covered a small raised bed in which a second crop of cilantro and some garlic has been planted. The smaller the plants, the better the flavour it seems with cilantro, so it’s a good candidate for periodic replanting. The colder it gets, the more layers I’ve added so the bed now has two layers of crop cover material and a clear plastic shower curtain on top supported by 3′ high plastic hoops. The air temperature inside varies between -2 C and 8 C and the cilantro and garlic both seem to be fine with this temperature range. The days are short and often overcast, so the rate of growth is not what it is in the summer, but I still have hopes of a little more fresh cilantro this Fall.

Cilantro and Garlic in covered bed

It hasn’t been a good year for the cotton plants, but they are now inside again, and there are some buds and the occasional blossom and boll, but these are much later then they were last year, when blossoms were more numerous and fewer buds were dropped. I’ll try for fewer plants in deeper pots next season to see if that helps. In the meantime, I’ll try to overwinter the strongest plants from this season and see if they eventually produce some fibre.

The dye plants are looking healthy, and I’m tempted to harvest another cutting of Woad before the leaves are covered with snow for the winter.

Woad leaves in November

Madder – first season plant

Weld – first season plants

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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.

 

Dyeflower Harvest

Coreopsis and Calendula next to Woad (right side)

In spite of a hot, dry summer, the dye garden has done reasonably well. The flax and Japanese Indigo didn’t thrive, but the Woad, Coreopsis (Dyer’s Tickseed) and Calendula did very well. Several weeks ago, I cut some stalks of Weld and popped them in the freezer to use later (when I get around to spinning enough wool and cotton to sample with). Today I picked the Coreopsis and put it in the freezer too. I’m not sure if it will work as well as it would fresh, but I think it’s worth a try.

50 grams of fresh Coreopsis blossoms

The cotton plants that are out in the garden, and not in pots, are very small, but I was happy to see that one of them is now sporting two little “squares” – so with some help from a row cover this fall, perhaps we’ll see some garden-grown bolls.

Two Cotton squares (either side of stem, under top leaves)

First Wax Beans - 2012

First Wax Beans – 2012

This is the first picking of beans for this year. There are now plenty of yellow (wax) and green beans that are almost ready to eat, so it’s time to find some good recipes so we don’t get tired of beans every day…

It’s been very hot and dry until last night when it finally rained and cooled off some. Even though it’s been hot, I think the garden is off to a slower start than last year.

Here are some late-July shots to show how everything looks today:

 

Tomatoes are forming, but are still green so far:

Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New leaves on Cotton

The cotton didn’t go outside as early as last year, and hasn’t even formed squares yet. There is some new growth, so I’m still hopeful that some bolls will have time to develop.

 

 

Madder – second year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second year Madder withstood the dry conditions extremely well and is very glossy and prickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the new Black Walnut seedling has been planted at a good distance from the garden. It’s looking very well!

Black Walnut seedling

Robin’s nest

A robin has discovered the best place to build a nest at my parents’ summer place. The board over the front door that holds the porch light forms a sheltered ledge just the right size for a nest. Covered by the porch roof, it’s the perfect place to sit out rainstorms and windy days.

Building a nest can be a messy business, but the results seem perfectly satisfactory, and we are all looking forward to the launch of the next generation of household robins.

Construction waste

cotton seedlings with watering cords

I’ve found that cotton seedlings need just the right amount of water – too much or too little and they go limp. They also seem to prefer to be watered from the bottom, and develop nice strong, deep roots even before the leaves are abundant.

This is fine if you have them in pots with saucers that you can pour into, but I still have most of my seedlings in smallish pots grouped on the lid of a rubber storage bin.

The best solution I’ve found is to cut a piece of thick cotton cord (the kind found in fabric shops) and push one end down to the bottom of the pot and put the other end into a bowl of water. Capillary action will draw moisture up the cord and into the soil in the pot. It’s also helpful if you will be away and unable to water the pots for a few days. The water reservoir can handle a number of pots.

I would love to start hardening them off, but the weather stays stubbornly cold and wet, so they’re going to be inside with me for a while yet.

Bucket line

This is the third year that we’ve travelled to my parents summer place across the river in west Quebec and tapped some maple trees. We only stay for a few days and the weather this spring has warmed up very quickly, so we were fortunate to catch the days when the sap was running pretty well. The buckets went out on Saturday, March 10th and we took them down again on the 14th.

Topping up the pot

We added three new buckets, bringing our total to 9, and once the sap was boiled down, we had about 4 litres of syrup. The colour looked a little darker than last year, but it’s always delicious, and you do work up an appetite sitting outdoors and watching the fire. We finish it off at home on the propane BBQ, but I think the wood fire gives it a special aroma.