I first learned to identify swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in 2012 after discovering some lovely fibers near my sister’s apartment in Maryland. In 2015 I acquired some plants from Nasami Farm in Whately, MA for the Common School‘s fiber and dye plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm. For all this time, I have been keeping an eye out for it “in the wild” but haven’t seen it. Until now!
This month I have been spotting swamp milkweed all over the place. The first place I noticed it was in the bluebird field at Amherst College on July 6th. Admittedly, these photos are a bit like photos of Big Foot: blurry and indistinct. Trust me, though, it is swamp milkweed!
The next place I caught a sighting was in the Lawrence Swamp area of the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Amherst. It was right in the swamp, aptly. We could see several plants further out, but ran into the same blurry Big Foot photo problem. This one was close to the edge of the trail:
Next, I saw some plants at Bramble Hill Farm, on July 21st. These were growing in a wetland area, among the cattails:
Lastly, on July 23rd I saw a gorgeous plant right at the edge of Route 9 in Amherst, across the street from Amherst Tire:
I am thrilled to see so much swamp milkweed in so many different places nearby!
My flax crop this year has been sorely neglected due to a pinched nerve in my upper back that had me out of commission for about 6 weeks in June and July. However, despite the weeds and lack of TLC, the flax started to bloom on the first of July. Here are some buds getting ready to flower:
Here’s the whole bed on July 1st. The main weeds are campion and lambsquarters, with lesser amounts of plantain and dock.
By July 10th the flax was in full bloom. Here are a couple photos of the flax flowers against the sky. It was a beautiful morning, and the flax flowers were gorgeous. The type I am growing this year is called Electra, and as you can see it is a blue-flowering type:
The flax plants are not really gigantically tall! I knelt down so I could frame them against the sky. Trying to photograph the flax flowers amidst all the other plants didn’t work very well. Looking at the flowers against the sky really captures their luminous beauty.
Here are two others views of the plot on July 10th. The campion is the white-flowering plant. Despite the fact that I wish there wasn’t so much of it, it is beautiful in its own right. The mix of lambsquarters and campion with the Electra blue is actually very pretty:
An interesting phenomenon that I observed in the plot is that there were fewer weeds on the eastern end, which is shaded by trees until late morning. I don’t know if this was due to something Ryan did with his cultivation last year, or if the additional shade discouraged the weeds. Without the other plants, you get a better sense of the low germination rate I got with the Electra. In the area where you can see bare ground, the only plants growing are the flax plants:
The low germination rate is due to the age of the seed. It’s from 2012. Jeff Silberman at FIT, who gave me this Electra, is growing from the same stock this year, and I gather he has had a similar rate of germination. I guess we now know the limit of viability for storing flax seed at ambient temperatures. In retrospect, when I replanted I should have put in more like thirty pounds. Live and learn!
While I weeded the flax plot on May 6th, I was simultaneously glad for the opportunity to dig out the campion, and worried about weed pressure later in the summer, and worried that nothing had come up yet. So, I decided to spread another ten pounds of seed. There were a few reasons for this. First, I was worried that I hadn’t accounted enough for the possibility that I’d get a really low germination rate. Second, the more densely the flax is planted, the less the stalks ought to branch as they grow. Third, the more crowded the plants are, the finer the stalks will be and theoretically the finer the fiber will be. Fourth, a dense stand of flax might, hopefully, crowd out weeds. Continue reading “Ten More Pounds of Electra”→
On May 6th, after the rain stopped, I stopped by the flax plot to see how things were going. There were no flax seedlings, but there was a lot of some other plant that I didn’t recognize.
They were big, robust, and had very deep and spreading roots. Since the flax hadn’t emerged yet, I decided to seize the opportunity to weed out as much of these deep-rooted plants as I could. So, I got a pitchfork and began digging. Continue reading “Weeding Out Campion”→
Back on April 16th, I set up a germination experiment with about 300 Japanese indigo seeds from 2014. I put them between layers of wet paper towels inside a zip-lock bag and placed them on top of the hot water heater. It took a really long time for any of them them to sprout. Here’s what they looked like on April 24th:
In 2014 I was very excited to acquire my first Japanese indigo seedlings at the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair in Cummington, MA. I bought them from Blue By Ewe in Temple, New Hampshire. That year I saved the whole crop for seed. You can read about my harvest in an earlier blog post here. I intended to expand the amount I grew each year and save my own seed annually.
I did manage to grow my own seedlings in 2015, which I documented in a couple posts that you can link to here and here. I even managed to use the plants for dyeing that year. However, I was not on the ball to save seed in an organized way that fall, and I did not grow any Japanese indigo in 2016. Continue reading “Testing Japanese Indigo Seed”→
I was especially nervous about how things would go on Saturday because I had a lot of responsibilities that day. For one thing, I was a speaker on the first panel in the morning, which was focused on the botany of flax, growing flax, and seed saving. My legs were literally shaking from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon.
Woad is a biennial, which means it flowers and sets seed in the second year of growth. I thought I’d share a little bit about the life cycle of woad and how last year’s plants fared this spring and summer. Here are some photos of the state of things over at the dye and fiber plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm on May 15, 2016.
I realized in my last post I didn’t show the buckets of transplanted flax. They transplanted just fine, which was a useful discovery.
After we came back from our weekend away on July 9-10 and found that the seeds in the buckets of flax at home had been chomped, I bought two new types of rodent repellent and a solar robotic owl for the garden. The first type of repellent I tried, Bobbex-R, stinks to high heaven! I wanted to run away from it myself as I was spraying it. We have been having a sustained spell of very hot weather, and the directions said not to spray when it’s over 85 degrees, so I waited to spray the plants at dusk when the temperature cooled off a little. It was initially more effective than the Plantskydd. I didn’t detect any new damage overnight. After a day or so, though, things went back to normal. Sigh. Continue reading “Last Straw(s)”→