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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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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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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)

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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

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First Cotton Seedlings

This is the second year (third for flax growing) of my project to produce cloth from my garden.

As I live in Ontario, Canada (not exactly in the heart of cotton country), I plant cotton seeds indoors well before the local growing season begins. Last year my cotton plants stayed in pots outside all summer and came indoors again in the autumn so the bolls could continue to ripen.

Four days ago I planted some of the seed saved from last year and today some have already germinated! I’m sure they were slower last year, but this time they are sitting on a heat mat which really speeds up germination (for seeds that like warm soil).

I have four varieties planted: Pima, Upland, Green and Brown.

If enough seeds germinate, I’ll try planting some out in the garden and depending on their progress, cover them with a hoop shelter in the fall if they need a little extra time to mature. Cotton has up to a 160 day growing cycle, which is a challenge, but the plants are attractive with lovely hibiscus-like blossoms. The fibre is fun to spin and, unlike flax, does not require a great deal of preparation.

Cotton spun on a spindle and plied on a wheel

Last summer I also grew my first Japanese Indigo plants and collected seed from a few plants that were brought indoors in the autumn at the blooming stage. It was hard to tell if the seed was maturing, or if the plants were just dying back, so I’ve put a few seeds between wet paper towels in a plastic tub to test their viability. They are starting to put out little shoots which is very promising.

If all goes well, I’ll be able to extract some indigo and dye a little of the cotton – adding blue to the natural colour pallet of white, green and brown.

The yarn shown was spun on my little takli spindle (shown) and then plied on my spinning wheel. It is not my home-grown cotton yet – I’m still practising with the cotton that came with the spindle from Joan Ruane. Many Thanks Joan!

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Japanese Indigo Blossoms

I underestimated the amount of dyestuff that’s needed for natural dyeing, but fortunately, the amount of fibre that my garden produced this year is also small.

This means that next year I will devote more garden space to both fibre plants (flax and cotton) and to dye plants. I’ve already lined up some additional woad seeds from Sarah Dalziel at Woad.ca, and hope that the blooms on my Japanese Indigo plants will produce seeds before our first frost.

My own woad was useful for dyeing, but will not produce seeds until its second year.

On the fibre front, there are at least ten cotton bolls ready to burst on the potted cotton plants in the porch. Here are the first two.

Cotton Bolls Opening

I’ll devote some time this winter to further experiments with retting and processing last year’s flax fibre and to spinning and dyeing the cotton – of course, all seeds will be saved for next year!

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