By Patricia Belyea
WAUCONDA WA I had a dream—to include a little packet of Okan Arts Indigo Seeds in every Japanese fabric order going out from our shop at the beginning of the new year.
I wanted to be an indigo-growing cheerleader for all my textile friends because growing indigo is so easy, fun, and satisfying. The plants themselves create happiness with their bright green leaves. And anyone with a blender and ice can experience fresh-leaf indigo dyeing.
With a forecast of overnight frost in early September, I hurried and harvested most of my indigo plants. I left one quarter of my crop in the ground for seeds. To protect the tropical plants from the kiss of death, I raided the linen closet. Anything big and flat got hauled down to the field to cover my flowering beauties.
For days, I took off the bedding and blankets in the morning and put them back late in the day.
Then I came up with a 4-pronged plan to see if I could somehow produce indigo seeds without all the linen shenanigans:
1. I transplanted four big blooming plants into gigantic pots and brought them up to the house. Daily I moved the heavy planters in and out of the basement, keeping them watered while I waited for the flowers to produce seeds.
2. I cut an armload of flowering branches and placed them in a vessel of water in the kitchen. At first the branches were droopy but amazingly they came to life, standing upright and growing long white roots hydroponically. They were still alive!
3. I dug up one huge flowering plant and hung it upside-down like a drying herb. I'm not too sure what I was thinking with this approach.
4. I left many indigo plants down in the field to fend for themselves with no frost covers at night. Remarkably we had an Indian Summer and the plants got three weeks of moderate weather to keep growing.
Over the next seven weeks, the bright pink indigo flowers I was husbanding gently lightened in color and dried out. I clipped the blossoms off their branches and laid them in trays to monitor their progress.
Not one flower gave me—or you, lovely shop customer—a seed. So in early spring 2022, I will be reaching out to Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors to again supply Okan Arts with Japanese indigo seeds.
I did manage to produce one more big batch of indigo dye. In mid-September, I harvested the plants in the field that had leaves but no flowers. This time, at the end of the extraction process, I did not dry out the blue muck. Instead I filled five quart jars with the wet indigo pigment.
In the coming winter and spring, I will concentrate on natural dyeing with my own indigo pigment. Next summer, I will grow another crop of indigo plants. Hopefully by the fall, I will unlock the mystery of producing seeds!
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