In the end of April I wrote a post about growing woad and Japanese indigo and of my blue dreams. Today I share the progress and setbacks of my blue reality.
I walk down to the community garden at 6.15 am to water the allotment. The air is still cool, but I know it is going to be another hot day. The air smells of morning and I soak it in and let it into my lungs. Slowly I fill the watering cans and pour the dear drops over the allotment beds. The drops fall differently on different plants – flowing down the matte kale leaves, softly bending the broad bean stalks and flowing over the flax plants like a wave on the ocean.
I am taking a course in growing, harvesting and extracting dyestuff from woad and Japanese indigo. We have two sorts of each – European and Chinese woad and the Japanese indigo sorts Maruba and Kojoko. We got baby plants of the Kojoko, since it has quite a long developing time, and seeds of the Maruba.
As soon as the Kojoko babies were large enough I cut them and made new plants of the cuttings, and as the new plants were large enough I made another set of new cuttings. I just love the idea of making new plants from existing ones! The indigo cuttings produce roots really quickly, I can almost see them grow. And once the new plants are in the soil they start growing almost immediately.
Plants at play
The Maruba that I got seeds from have also germinated and grown into fine specimens. A couple of weeks ago I decided the plants were big enough to come out and play. I planted both the Kojoko and the Maruba plants in clusters of 3–5 plants in a rectangular planting box outdoors, just by the front door so I can keep a close eye on them. I draped a garden fabric over the plants to protect them from too strong sunshine and to give them a more even temperature. And of course I used wool as mulching to keep as much moist as possible in the soil.
The plants seem to have adapted quite well to their new home. I keep two pots under garden fabric in the pallet collar greenhouse too. They are larger and seem to thrive more than the ones outdoors. However, they may be more sensitive to dehdrating or pests. I imagine it can’t be bad to have plants in two locations, should anything happen to any of them.
I replanted the woad plants outdoors a few weeks ago. We have a Hügelkultur in the far end of our garden, built from branches from a felled oak. It is quite large, and my idea was that it would be perfect for the woad. I arranged the bed with fresh soil and covered it with wool before I planted the woad in it.
One morning the bed was in total shambles – someone had dug up the soil, leaving the tiny plants to their own destiny. I’m almost sure it was our local fox, perhaps it is looking for places to bury pray for the winter. I remember looking out the window one morning years ago, to find the fox digging up a very dead rat from our kailyard.
With tears in my eyes and brutally struck by this blue reality I replanted the plants I could save, plus some other ones that I still had in pots, covered the soil with compost grids and hoped it would keep the fox out. It didn’t. This time the plants were totally ruined.
The foxes’ forest
More tears, the last pot plants, four grids and heavy stones were offered to the Hügelkultur. The next morning the Borlotto beans, with no grid, were dug up.
We live in a city, but it is also the foxes’ forest and we have to deal with that. I cry a bit and move on. One second I dream about exploring the different extracting methods to dye my handspun yarns, the next I deal with violently and irrevocably broken stems. I tell myself that this is gardening. I can do my very best with my plants, but I can’t stop the slugs from gooing their way across the soil, eating everything in their way, the roe deers from munching peas and chard, blackbirds from pinching the strawberries or foxes from organizing their winter pantry. Or, as this June so far, the sun from drying the soil for weeks on end. I’ll just have to deal with it.
The garden potty
One way to take care of our plants to the best of our ability is to pee on them. Or, rather, water them with diluted urine. Urine is one of the best fertilizers. In fact, most commercial fertilizers are based on the Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium ratio in urine. I use my garden potty, designed to work as a watering can, for that particular purpose. I dilute the urine 1:10 and water the most nutrient craving plants with it – kale, tomatoes, leeks, courgettes, chili. And, of course the Japanese Indigo. Practical, easy and cheap!
Eco printing dreams
It seems to be the summer of colour dreams. As I have been obsessing over videos and tutorials of different ways to use indigo plants for dyeing, videos with eco printing have popped up too. At first slight I wasn’t that jazzed about it, but now I am equally obsessed with that. I have bought seeds for a number of cosmos (rosenskära) species, as well as coreopsis, pin cushion and hollyhock (tigeröga, praktvädd och stockros) to have a library of flower shapes and colours.
To be able to play other seasons than summer, I also bought a flower press for bundle dyeing with pressed flowers. I keep a close eye on Swedish eBay for second hand clothes in linen and silk, that may potentially look better with some flower arrangements printed on them. Also I have a plan to sew a dress designed for eco printing. In the meantime I look at the sweet little swatch I made my first indigo eco print on and listen to my heart singing, in blue.
The Dogwood Dyer has good tutorials for eco printing, bundle dyeing and what plants to use for it. She also has tutorials for working with fresh indigo and some sweet inspiration on her Instagram account.
It hasn’t rained for weeks, the lawns are yellowed and the plants seem to have come to a standstill. The weather forecast promises rain on Sunday. I want to drink in the smell of fresh summer rain, see the leaves cleaned of pollen and dig my hands into moist earth. At 7.15 am I am done. I have filled and emptied two 13 liter watering cans 11 times each into the garden beds, hoping the water will sustain the plants a little longer. I long for Sunday.
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