Indigo – Judith's Story

I had begun growing indigo in my own garden but the results were not good, due to the cool and foggy summer days in Berkeley.

Having been part of the East Bay Waldorf School faculty and community for a long time, Destiny and I secured a long six-feet wide irrigated garden bed at the school’s garden in El Sobrante, an ideal hot climate.

Our group of weavers (www.weavingalife.com) started our next indigo adventure from seed. Growers from the Gil Tract gardens, with their access to UC Berkeley greenhouses, brought our tiny flats of indigo seedlings to readiness for planting.

Craig Wilkinson, Fibershed’s organizer of indigo plantings, gave us several hundred more starts from his stock.

This first year we were operating blind: planting the indigo starts, applying a compost tea several times, we were amazed to get three cuttings before the blooms appeared.

We dried the cut leaves each time outside of our office studio in my back garden on a tarp and stored them once dried in our studio.

Stripping the dried leaves from the stems took quite a bit of time, not difficult but time-consuming…there is no color extracted from the stems and they add unwanted weight to the pile. Luckily there were five weavers sharing the task so it was a communal activity, something indigo requires at most stages.

For three years, the students and several of the teachers at the Waldorf School have been involved in the planting and the tending of the indigo bed.

We also introduced the Three Sisters system of planting corn, beans and squash adapted from the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois People.

We also created several dye pots made from fresh leaf, cutting the leaves and using them on the same day to dye skeins of wool and linen as well as silk squares and cotton towels, following the guidelines in Rebecca Burgess’s book Harvesting Color.

Since then we have planted between 500 and 1,000 indigo starts every spring in El Sobrante, finding the hot climate and full day of sun to be ideal for a healthy crop of indigo. This year, for the first time, gophers decided that they enjoyed nibbling the tops of the indigo plants.

This has meant that our harvests are modest, making the whole process into small manageable batches. Destiny and I did our first harvest in mid-July 2017 and laid the leaves out to dry.

In mid July 2017 I took a class using indigo and oak gall.