Testing Japanese Indigo Seed

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.

This week I am on vacation from school, and the weather yesterday was fantastically warm and sunny. So, I decided the day had come to clean up some seed and try to get some started. I have read that Japanese indigo seeds do not stay viable for very long, so I am not sure that any will grow.

At some point in the past I had separated some seeds and dried flower stalks in an 8-oz canning jar, so I started with this pile of colorful debris:

I originally thought that the pink dried flowers were just dried flowers. I assumed I would be able to winnow this pile like I have done with flax seeds. My method for that is to blow around the edge of a wide pan (really, the lid of a big pot) and let the lighter chaff blow away.

This method did not work. Everything blew away. Plus, I couldn’t see many seeds at all. What was going on?

I decided to separate the debris using a screen. I haven’t invested in actual seed-cleaning screens, but we picked up some small window screens last summer, and I used those. It worked really well to separate the smallest particles, which included a lot of dried soil:

On top of the screen were the larger particles, including the seeds and flowers, etc.:

As I rubbed the debris against the screen, I realized that the seeds were inside a dry papery cover. Even the little pink things that I had assumed were just dried flowers actually had seeds inside.

In the photo below, the shinier seeds are the ones from which the covering has been rubbed off. The duller ones with a slighter rougher texture still have the covering on:

To be honest, I am not sure if rubbing off the covering is helpful or harmful. Maybe too much rough handling will damage the seed coat, and/or maybe they would have germinated just fine with the outer layer still attached. We will see!

On the left hand side, below, is a close up of a damp paper towel with seeds sprinkled on, so I can see how many will germinate (if any) before I plant them. On the right are both of the paper towels I set up:

Here is the germination experiment bagged up (to retain moisture) and labeled:

Now that I had a pretty good method figured out for cleaning up the seed, I decided to separate all the flowering seed stalks from the dried leaves. I have never read anywhere, nor heard from anyone, that dried leaves are useful for dyeing. Alas. I kind of want to try them anyway because the color is incredible. So, I put the leaves into a separate bag, and wound up with a large paper grocery bag of leaves and stalks, and a smaller one with flower stalks. At the bottom of the original bag was a jumble of broken-off leaves, flowers, and seeds. For the final sifting job, I used a regular colander to separate the larger leaves from the rest:

 

Wrapping Up A Loose End

I have not done much dyeing lately. My last dye day was on September 6th when I ran my second Japanese indigo vat. Since then, I managed to rinse and dry the skeins, but didn’t get much further than that. They’ve been sitting in a tub waiting for closure. On New Year’s Eve I finally wrapped up that loose end.

As I noted in my original post, I don’t have good photo-documentation about that vat. But at least now I can show you photos of the skeins I dyed. All the yarns are wool. Here are the blue skeins.

over dyed blues with Japanese indigo Continue reading “Wrapping Up A Loose End”

The Hurrier I Go

Life has been very busy. Back in July I kept thinking, “July is the month of everything.” Dye plants blooming, flax needing to be harvested, NEH summer institute, NEWS, family weekend at Queen Lake, hiring a new co-worker at school…. I did a lot, but since I can’t do everything, I had to let a lot of things go. No goldenrod or Queen Anne’s lace dye baths this year, and I missed Peggy Hart‘s talk on the history of NEWS, for example.

Then when August came, I thought, “No, August is the month of everything.” Even *more* dye plants blooming, flax *really* needing to be harvested, prepping for school, getting to know my new co-worker….  I did a lot, but ditto July. I had to let a lot of things go. No flax retting experiments. No purple loosestrife or black walnut experiments, despite an absolutely ridiculous abundance of wild dye plants. Very few orange cosmos flowers were collected and frozen. No woad was cut or dyed with. The flax and linen study group website was not updated. Continue reading “The Hurrier I Go”

Japanese Indigo Vat At Last

Last year at the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair I bought several Japanese indigo plants (Polygonum tinctorum, though I’ve heard that perhaps the name has changed). I was very excited and intended to dye with them, but then next thing you know, summer had raced past and they were blooming. I was worried that they would have lost a lot of their color once they started to bloom. And I was worried that I might have a hard time finding plants or seeds again. I decided I’d save them for seed and not use them for dyeing after all. You can recap a couple posts from last year here. And here.

This spring I successfully grew about 40 seedlings, half of which I put in at Bramble Hill Farm and the other half at our community garden plot. I guess I was in a “don’t put your eggs in one basket” mode this spring. Very wise, as it turned out. Continue reading “Japanese Indigo Vat At Last”

Japanese Indigo Take Two

After realizing my mistake with the first attempt at growing Japanese Indigo seedlings, I tried again. On April 25th, I laid out some seeds to sprout in damp paper towels. I’ve used this technique with beans before, but I didn’t think to try it with the Japanese indigo seeds until I heard from Laura Harris, a fellow Seed Savers Exchange member to whom I sent some of my seeds earlier in the spring, that she had done it. And ta da! Success!

Here are a couple photos of the seeds once they germinated.

May 1 Japanese indigo seeds sproutingMay 1 Japanese indigo seed germination Continue reading “Japanese Indigo Take Two”

Japanese Indigo Take One

On Sunday April 19th I decided to start some of my Japanese indigo seeds. You may recall that I was able to save a substantial quantity last fall. I ought to have started them weeks ago, perhaps even months ago. However, earlier in the spring it was hard to believe that the snow would ever melt so I just couldn’t handle seed starting. This past weekend, it was gloriously warm and it was clear that spring had triumphed at last. So, I figured it was better late than never.

I borrowed a teeny cold frame from school, which has been sitting in the basement over there for years. It needed a little washing and reinforcing. I used our very own compost mixed with potting soil, planted seeds in little six-packs, watered them, and set them in the warm sun. The cold frame is on the wagon is so we can move it around to keep it in the sun, and bring it indoors easily at night.

April 19 Japanese indigo Continue reading “Japanese Indigo Take One”

Three Bags Full

About a month ago I was tidying up the crafts room. I was trying to get organized so I could weave a new crop of “Jack Frost” bookmarks before the winter holidays.

The crafts room is the room in our apartment which houses my loom, all my yarns, dried dye plants, dye equipment and materials, niddy noddy, swift, scales, carders, and drop spindles. It also contains two large book shelves full of books, a desk, a small filing cabinet, bookbinding supplies and tools, two antique scutching knives and an antique hetchel. The crafts room also contains a lot of dyed fleece and spinning fiber, hand-woven items, notebooks with all my dyeing, weaving, and teaching records, and some fiber magazines. Also, it’s where I store plastic bins with samples and materials for various fiber arts activities that I teach, and an ironing board and iron. And lots of other stuff like dye plant seeds and the beater and reeds for a 40 inch Macomber loom that’s been occupying my mom’s laundry room for a year while I try to figure out what to do with it. I know, that is a nutty list, and I didn’t even list everything. It is in a fairly chronic state of chaos. Continue reading “Three Bags Full”

Japanese Indigo Harvest

Why two blog posts in one night, you may wonder? I am typically a binge-blogger. Once I finally sit down to deal with photos and organization and writing, I get in a groove and it’s fun to keep going. Tonight, however, I am killing time while I wait up for a tansy dye bath and a wool mordanting bath to get done. Tomorrow I am doing a natural dye workshop for Mass Ag. in the Classroom at their day of hands-on gardening skills. I have been absurdly busy with one thing and another all week, so tonight was my sole free night to wind skeins, scour, mordant, and make the dyebath. It’s more than I usually try to do in a night after work, and makes for a later night than usual. Anyway. I am not actually writing about that. I am writing about my gorgeous Japanese Indigo plants.

After a few frost warnings this month, during which I covered the Japanese Indigo with several layers of sheets, the forecasted temperatures on October 19th were in the 20s. I figured the time had come to cut all the Japanese Indigo and hang it up to dry. You may recall that I had decided to let the plants get as big as possible, and to try to save as much seed as possible, rather than harvest the leaves for dyeing this season. I had brushed off seeds as the flowers stalks matured and dried out, so I already had a pretty nice stash of seeds. But, I read in Dorothy Miller’s seminal book Indigo From Seed to Dye that you can cut the whole plants and allow them to dry, and the seeds will continue to mature. Since I know this is true of flax and some other plants, I was pretty confident that it would work. Continue reading “Japanese Indigo Harvest”

Japanese Indigo Is Flowering

Way back on Memorial Day weekend, I was lucky enough to find some Japanese indigo seedlings for sale at the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair. I had been wanting to grow this plant, Polygonum tinctorium, for many years, but it’s not that easy to find seeds and we don’t have a good set-up for growing seedlings anyway here at the apartment. I had never come across seedlings before. In a fit of excitement, I bought out the vendor’s entire supply (11 plants) and planted them in the front bed at my dye and fiber plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm with maximum southern exposure. Continue reading “Japanese Indigo Is Flowering”