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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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The cotton seeds that were planted on Feb 23 are progressing nicely, and show every intention of soon outgrowing their pots. The best performers are the brown and green cotton from Joan Ruane, followed by the Uplands cotton. My heat mat stopped working at some point, which may account for the lack of Pima seed germination so far.

The indigo planted on the same date is also growing, and has lovely delicate leaves.

I re-planted  both the indigo and the cotton about two weeks after the first go, so new plants are still appearing.

I’ve made one addition to my dye-plant list and ordered some Japanese Indigo seed, as I think it might survive outdoors in our Canadian zone 3b climate.

This is based on the excellent dye-plant information to be found at Leena Riihelä’s Riihivilla site – written in both Finnish and English. Her blog is exceptional and I wish I could travel to the Helsinki market where she and her husband Jouni, sell their lovely natural-dyed Finnsheep wool and mitten kits. These are also available on their website and the pictures are gorgeous. Leena provides a list of suppliers for Japanese Indigo seed and I ordered from Peter Borchard’s Companion Plants in Ohio.

A few warm days and some rain have greatly reduced the amount of snow in the yard, so Spring is definitely in the air.

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A large part of my seed stash originated with my husband’s aunt, Tante Liisa. She was an avid and very successful gardener, and we spent many happy summer vacations with her at her cottage in the country. There she had apple and pear trees, a large vegetable garden and beautiful perennial borders full of huge red poppies, day lilies and peonies.

When she passed away, many of her seeds came to me, and over the years I have planted some and kept others for a rainy day.

Today, I thought I’d have a look and see what could be used this summer, and what might be a little out of date (some of our collective seed packets go back to 1991, and those are just the ones with dates on them).

Each little packet brought back wonderful memories, and I’ll always keep a few as a souvenir.

Some were a little more mysterious – when did she buy the Schwarzwurzeln and did they grow well? There are still some seeds in the packet, and it will be fun to try a few in my garden.

Some of the seeds are identifiable, and some are not, but I look forward to planting, and solving, these little garden mysteries.

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I’ve been focused on dye and fibre plants so far this winter, but I don’t want to neglect the vegetable garden, so it’s time to get my veggie seed list in order. I do save seeds, so there are a few things that are taken care of: cilantro, dill and various heritage tomatoes.

Seed Potatoes:

Last year I ordered some sample size packs (foursomes) from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes: banana, peanut fingerling, norland, alaska sweetheart, german butterball and russet burbank. This was a great way to try a variety of potatoes and all of them grew well. My new-found favourites were the fingerlings and the Alaska Sweethearts, which were a nice pink inside. In addition, I picked up some Pontiac Reds at a local fruit and veggie stand as they are very reliable in our area and also keep well in the cool back porch.

This year I’m going for quantity as well as quality, so I’ll grow a few fingerlings, but also try for some heavy producers as well. So far the list looks like this:

Banana Fingerling (a heritage type)
Russet Burbank (Netted Gem)

I’ll order from Eagle Creek again, as I liked the varieties they offered, and they grew well for me. I’ll also pick up what’s available locally – an early variety since the others are late maturing and nothing is better than a continuous source of new potatoes!

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I’m a big fan of Richters Herbs – they have such a huge variety of herbs and other seeds and plants that are hard to find anywhere else. Over the years I’ve ordered fibre flax seed (last year’s crop was grown from this seed), various herbs, and a Hardy Chicago fig tree that’s over-wintering in my cool back porch.

Richters was a logical choice to find the dye-plant seeds that I needed for this year’s Cloth from the Garden project, so I ordered indigo, woad, weld, yellow bedstraw, and golden marguerite seeds.

Indigo will be the most challenging dye plant to grow as it requires warm temperatures (minimum 19° C) and a long growing season. It probably won’t be feasible to move the plants outside at all, but it’s worth a try and I’ll baby it indoors.

Woad produces the same dye chemical (indigotin), that is found in indigo, but in smaller amounts. It’s a biennial and the first year’s leaves are harvested for dyeing so I’ll start it indoors and transplant it out. It’s indicated as hardy to zone 3.

Weld is also a biennial, but only hardy to zone 5, so this one may have to be grown in a warmer garden than mine (if I can find one).

Yellow bedstraw is hardy to zone 3 so this one will be planted outdoors and should grow well here.

Golden marguerite is hardy to zone 4, so I may just take a chance that it will thrive here.

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Madder is a dye plant used to produce red (turkey red). It was the hardest dye plant seed to find, with only two sources that I could discover: Horizon Herbs in Oregon, and Wild Colours in the UK. This one will also be a challenge as the roots are used for dyeing, and the plants need to grow for three years before harvesting. Indoor cultivation won’t be the answer, it’ll just have to survive outdoors.

I ordered my seed from Horizon Herbs, and it arrived almost by return mail!

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Cloth from the Garden

Last year’s flax crop was pretty successful, so this year I’m attempting a crop of cotton – a challenge here in Eastern Ontario in an area that has only 100 – 120 frost free days while cotton has a 160 day growing cycle.

Finding cotton seed was not as difficult as I’d thought – a quick search of the net brought me to MRC Seeds, which offers free shipping to USA, Canada and UK. They carry a dozen varieties, including brown and green, so choosing was not easy. I finally chose Pima Extra Long, and my seeds arrived promptly after ordering.

The plan is to start the seeds indoors under lights, then take the pots outside for the summer, and possibly return them indoors to complete ripening if some bolls do form.

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