We gardeners in harder zones have a tough time growing certain things. If you’re a gardener who wants to grow your own dye plants, it’s even tougher! If you’re a Calgary gardener who wants these, it’s even more more tougher! Our growing season is shorter, and while we get intensely sunny days, due to our altitude, we also get much cooler nights–no steamy evenings here (at least, not in the garden 🙂 )
Last spring i planted madder seeds in a big black pot, containing it because madder is notorious for sneaking everywhere with the root system, and this makes it easier to harvest when the time comes (usually after 3 years), but also because my Zone 3 garden is clay based, due to being only a few 100 yards from an old (still quite active) river. I used a mix of “garden soil” i’d had delivered, some actual garden soil from the extant garden, a bit of sand and then amended it weakly with some lime.
It grew to about 3.5 feet last year, and survived the first 3 frosts, before i heeled it into the garden in October. That means, i dug a hole deep enough for the pot, sank it to its rim, then mulched with newspaper, garden debris and it’s own stalks. (I also removed the trellis obelisk, as metal conducts cold and i didn’t want the roots “injected” with -20 to -40 temperatures!)
I pulled it out of its hole on the 27th of April, and was about to PULL all the old growth off, when i realized i didn’t know if it would grow new branches, or start from the old ones. Good thing i stopped and really looked, because the old growth base is precisely where the new growth starts! If you click on the photo below, you can see the new growth.
While it may not look terribly exciting to some, it IS. IT’S VERY VERY VERY EXCITING, because that means at the end of next year, i can be using my own home grown madder for dyeing with! Madder roots are best used in year 3, or 4 if you can wait that long 🙂 The big deal also is the fact that we had one of our harshest winters in a long time, and it still survived being buried under 3 feet of ****ing cold and snow for 5 and a half months. It was also a LONG winter, with snow still happening until mid April…………..
It didn’t flower last year, though that again is not that much of a disappointment, but i’m hoping because it has a much earlier “start” this year IN it’s growing conditions (ie no indoor starting, coddling and having to harden off), that it will—–because it also occurred to me this morning, that if it does flower, seeds from it would already be on their start to being a Zone 3 hardy dye plant!
I’ll continue to use “commercial” madder until then, but i can’t wait to see the results of true “slow dyeing” 🙂
Which reminds me…….last year i harvested the third year roots of gallium, a more “local” dye plant that gives red from the root also. (Gallium grows almost everywhere in the world so i call it “local” because *i* *can* harvest it locally if i had the patience. I grew mine from locally sourced seeds though, as the wild areas are too dense with roots to find any easy to dig out. And Conservation Officers would nail me, if i got caught. And i’m not about to dig in a wild area like that, to that extent, because ya just DON’T!) I did wrap it in silk at the time, ready to throw in a pot and use as an ecoprint material, but never got to it, and just added it back to the pile collected. Today i will try using it!