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RE:growing indigo, woad, and flax.

Poster: Betty & David Eyer <Betty_and_David@compuserve.com>

This is my second season of growing woad.  Please note that indigo use was
not wide spread until very late period so if you have an early persona woad
is more appropriate. Although once they are reduced to indigotin, they are
the same.   I am growing a dyer's garden including potpouri materials and
dye flowers.   Many of the flowers you already love to grow will produce
dye and your garden does not have to be ugly to be useful.  One of the
editions of Hand Spun magazine in 97 had a special on using woad.  Misuse
of the woad in extracting the indigotin will get you some very nice pinks,
lavenders and yellows - sometimes from the same bath!  Kinda cool, but not
if you were hoping for blue....

What Anarra said about the seeds from woad are true, with one exception. 
Since it is very difficult to get seeds, you will probably want to reserve
one plant for your own seeds and cover it with cheese cloth when the pods
emerge.  When  they are dry, snip off the head and hang it upside down in
your shed or utility room until the pods drop into the cloth.   I hope that
I will have seeds from a similar method at the end of this growing season. 
I already have dozens of folks asking for samples of these seeds that do
not exist yet, so don't ask. 

Woad gets the best color from very fertile soil and will exhaust it.  Woad
was one of the first crops to be used in rotation, since it tends to
deplete the soil in its two year life cycle.  However, in a small garden,
you can avoid relocating by feeding your soil with organic material
(compost, composted manure, fish emulsion, etc.).  You will need about a
pound of leaves for every 4 OZ of wool.  So for a decent experiment, you
will probably need 6 or more healthy plants.   For a big project you will
probably want 20 or more plants.  You can pull off leaves from the edge and
the bottom of the plants several times a season.  Start your plants in late
summer or early fall - this mimics the behavior of the plants in the wild
and you will have plants large enough to pick by May or so.  Otherwise,
start indoors in January and place outside in March.  Woad can withstand
frost.  You get the best color in the hot months from fresh leaves.  

It is easier to get seeds for flax and for indigo - try Richter's, they
have a webpage.  If you have a search engine they are easy to find.   I
have read that flax is beautifull in a field, especially in bloom, but I
think you will need a very large yard to get more than an experimental
sample (i.e., an acre?).

A good reference for growing textile related herbs, including potpouri, is
"A Weaver's Garden", by Rita Buchanan.  Border's has it, or can order it
for you.  Also, a good reference on plants that are indigenous to England
and Scotland is " Traditional Scottish Dyes and how to make them" by Jean
Frances ISBN 0-86241-575-6.  "The Color Cauldron" is another excellent
book, with more of a historic interest, but it is out of print, and you
will only find it at things like Pennsic, and MD Sheep and Wool Festival,
or out of print book dealers.  

Hope this helps.

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