Monday, April 25, 2011

Indigo compost update

I opened up the indigo compost to give it a good stir and it has gotten very dark in color and was compacting down nicely now. I am a bit worried about it being too wet now that we are having so much rain. The humidity is way up so I may just open it up and stir it more often to add more oxygen and keep it from being too damp. It really is a balancing act.

I also opened up the jars of fermenting indigo to check on them. No mold but I think the smell and how slimy the liquid was is probably not a good thing. I decided to pour off the water which was brown and added fresh and stirred it up quite a bit. I am planning to let the green bits settle again and pour off the water and repeat the process. I am thinking about what I might need to add to change the chemistry in addition to adding oxygen. I am thinking ash, lime or something acidic like a fruit juice?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Looking close at indigo seeds

Indigo does not come from just one plant. Japanese indigo also has several varieties as I am finding out.

The packages of indigo from Rowland Ricketts are nicely labeled indicating the name of the variety and what color blooms they will have. It also states the tint the stems will have. The kojyoko variety will have white bloom and green stems while the senbon variety will have pink blooms and stems with a reddish cast. I plan to separate these in my garden so I can track the differences in them this year. I want to look at yield of dried leaf and color produced from the dried leaf.

The seeds are slightly different in appearance as well as being different from the seeds I got last year from  The seeds from Companion plants are flatter and smaller and dark brown in color.  I started those last week and they are now sprouting.
Indigo sprouts
leaning toward the light
You can see the shells of the seeds
clinging to the cotyledons.
The white fuzz is the thin
hair-like roots forming.

Above are the seeds from the new packages. On the left in each picture is a seed still in the husk. On the right is the actual seed. The kojyoko seed is darker and smoother than the senbon. Both the kojyoko and senbon seem to have three sides instead of the two sided flat seeds from Companion Plants which is labeled as indigofera tinctoria which is part of the pea family.  The Japanese variety--polygonum tinctorium is part of the buckwheat family. I will be starting the flats of these seeds this next week.


Actinomycetes!  Scary sounding name, but turns out it is a beneficial type of bacteria in the composting process. I was a bit concerned when I opened up my indigo compost to turn it and add oxygen to the pile. I thought the whitish gray fuzzy stuff in there was mold. Read more about Actinomycetes at

The compost had an earthy soil-like smell and not a moldy one, very much like going outside on a warm day after it has rained. I was happy to find that it was warm and the bulk seemed to be shrinking. It needed more water than I had originally thought.
The little whitish gray thread-like
fungi is the actinomycetes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Indigo seeds have arrived

I now have my indigo seed from Rowland and I am really excited about getting it started. I was sharing my plans with my students and they think I have gone a bit nutty. They don't understand why I want to do my own experiments with the process instead of just looking up what someone else has done on the internet. I have look at other sites, other books, taken classes and listened to the wisdom of the instructors, but nothing replaces experiencing something for yourself.  It is the difference between reading about chocolate and actually eating it, between falling in love for the first time and having sometime tell you about it. It is just not the same as experiencing it and learning as you go along. My students are so impatient with the doing of things, the actual making of things. They do not value or honor the process and it shows up in their work. I hope as they mature, they will remember what I have tried to teach them about this.

Rowland was kind enough to send one of the promo cards
from one of his shows with a little advice!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Indigo on the way

I started some of my indigo seeds left over from last year this past week. I was not sure if they would germinate after spending a year in my basement, but all seem to be sprouting. I also have seeds on the way from Rowland Ricketts. The money from the seeds will support his work at Hilltop Garden for the IndiGrowingBlue project. Rowland hopes to be able to buy silk scarves for children in the summer program to dye with the fresh leaf indigo.  How can you not want to help with that?  If you are on Facebook, look up the project there to see about the availability of seed packages. I got a package of each and I am going to attempt to keep them separate to compare them in a more scientific way. I want to see if there is a difference in harvest times, pounds of dried leaf produced, composting time, fresh leaf dye color and composted dye color. I need to talk one of my book making friends into making me a special notebook for tracking everything.

The composted indigo seems to have gotten too dry. I think there is too big of a gap inside the styrofoam cooler and that air is drying everything out. I know it needs to breathe to compost right but the material I used to cover it may not be holding enough moisture in. I added more water and stirred, stirred, stirred. I then cut a piece of an old tarp to to size to just cover the pile in the cooler. If the Indiana weather is better next week, I am going to take my fermenting indigo outside to process it. The smell is still rather bad but I see layers of blue inside the jars so I am hopeful that I have usable dye.