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Madder...growing, harvesting and dyeing

 
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Location: Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep clay/loam with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I've been trying for years.

I find that it germinates easily and then grows wonderfully but overwintering here is iffy.

I have yet to get plants to survive to three or more years so that I can harvest roots.

Three out of four madder plants made it this winter, ones that I started last late winter...they were in all different spots in the yard and I think that made more difference than the straw mulch I covered them with.  There were more than that last summer but I lost track of where I planted them and gave a few away.

I have some just sprouted in pots from some old seed and I have fresh seed out to start some more today.

As I've said, I'm determined to grow this dye plant  

I'm adding a three of my older photos lifted from my more general dye plant thread https://permies.com/t/15888/fiber-arts/growing-harvesting-natural-dye-plants

flat of 2014 spring starts...weld, woad, madder and hopefully yellow senna....and a 'mystery' plant in the lower right of the flat.


madder taking off after winter dormancy


two year old madder flowering


Has anyone had success growing it long enough to harvest for dye?


 
Judith Browning
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I buy seed from https://www.richters.com/show.cgi?page=QandA/Growing/20080103-4.html

Madder is hardy for outdoor growing in USDA zones 4 to 10 (our catalogue says zones 5-10, but this is a bit out-dated)which means that it can take average annual minimum winter temperatures of minus 20 to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 29 to minus 23 degrees Celsius. It should be able to tolerate summer heat up to zone 10. I presume your home does not get much, if any frost in winter, but probably gets lots of summer heat. Plant the madder in a shady spot, mulch well and keep moist to keep down the root zone temperature.



and I also buy from https://strictlymedicinalseeds.com/product/madder-rubia-tinctorum-packet-of-20-seeds-organic/

 Plant prefers very fast draining soil and full sun.  It is very drought tolerant and will thrive for weeks in a sunny, well-drained bed without any water at all.  Sow seed in fall or spring.  Sow 1/2 inch deep and tamp securely, then keep evenly moist and in the sun until germination, which may take up to 3 weeks.  The seeds may be sown in pots (3 per pot, thin to the best seedling) or direct seeded at 3 inches apart, then transplant or thin to 1 foot apart.  The plant will appreciate a trellis, mainly because this will give you, the gardener, space to cultivate around the plants, which stimulates them.



Both have had perfect germination.
 
Judith Browning
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Here is a link to a great site for more information about all things madder (and many other natural dyes)...   Growing & harvesting Madder (Rubia tinctoria)



Close-up of cut madder roots -


Madder dye plants make one of the most light-fast of natural dyes that has been in use for thousands of years.

The fleshy swollen madder roots produce madder red dye which is sensitive to temperature and to the mineral content of the water. Alizarin is the main chemical compound in this important natural dye and produces the red colour.

 
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you say that you have clay/loam soil. Madder really likes sandy/sandy loam soil. It's a Mediterranean plant. It needs lots of sun too. So, I would suggest that you look at where you planted it. Maybe add some sand to the soil or try to grow it in a pot. I think it would be fine in zone 7 through the winter. I would think that what's happening is that it's getting too wet.
Good luck!
 
Judith Browning
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Dinie Johnson wrote:you say that you have clay/loam soil. Madder really likes sandy/sandy loam soil. It's a Mediterranean plant. It needs lots of sun too. So, I would suggest that you look at where you planted it. Maybe add some sand to the soil or try to grow it in a pot. I think it would be fine in zone 7 through the winter. I would think that what's happening is that it's getting too wet.
Good luck!



thanks Dinie! I think that's the answer
I am seeing one patch up already this spring and it is on a raised bed so good drainage there.

The other area where I had it will take some careful weeding as I let it grow up in bermuda grass last year.  It had spread well and looked healthy so I'm hoping it has survived.
 
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when to harvest the seeds?

edit
found it.  http://www.ecotonethreads.com/?p=947#:~:text=Once%20you%20have%20gathered%20as,any%20further%20cleaning%20or%20processing.

 
r ranson
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I harvested some madder roots today.  There's been something digging up and eating my madder so I took about half and made a new madder bed and took about a quarter of what was left, rinsed it off, and brought it in the house.

Right now I'm chopping them into tiny bits.

Do I have to dry them before I can dye?  I wouldn't mind just dyeing the wool later this week.  I've got lots of dry madder powder in the basement I bought years ago, don't need to add more to my stash.

Also, anyone know the WOF for wool and fresh madder root?  
 
r ranson
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I know the colour is dependent on the temperature.  So the first day I heated the madder to #1 on my stove.  Got some vibrant dark orange.  Did a second dye at that temp, got apricot.  Second-day #2 on my stove, got more vibrant orange, but not so dark.  

And so on, a bit more temp each day.  Finally got to a simmer yesterday.

Still getting orange.  

How do I get those nice brick and muddy reds that I associate with madder - or am I seeking the wrong colour?
 
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From my class, this past summer, if I recall correctly, the deeper, darker color was only achievable the first time you reach the highest point of temperature, with subsequent dippings becoming progressively lighter, though staying fairly vibrant, at least for a few dips, before losing the vibrancy. I'll check my notes, when we go upstairs, in a bit.
 
r ranson
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Each time I get to the new temperature, I'm getting a dark colour again, but a different dark colour.  Then the second dip is pale.

But it might be the PH?  I can't find my litmus paper.  

I'm now getting the problem where the water is a dark red colour, but the yarn won't soak up the colour as much.  
 
Carla Burke
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What are you using, for your mordant? What's the ph of your water? Madder(according to (Wild Color, by Jenny Dean) will dye a clearer red, in more alkaline water. Also, something I learned in the class, was that adding some copper - as simple as a small piece of copper pipe - will greatly amplify natural dyes. In looking at my dye swatches/samples, the madder dye we did in the class isn't very deeply colored, either. More of a ripe persimmon color.
 
r ranson
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I'm using alum at about 10% WOF.

I don't know the PH, but I threw some woodash in the vat this morning and it changed the colours away from orange towards peach.  

The colour of the water is still very strong red but the yarn isn't taking up the colour anymore.  I think today is the last day for the dye vat.  
 
r ranson
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Ug, my end result is not exactly steller.

I got a really nice range of colours, but when I washed and went to block the yarn, it was super-fragile.  Nothing like it was before I dyed.

This might be a mistake in the mordanting or the dyeing... but it doesn't appear to be any specific batch that did it.  I don't know.

Disappointed as this is a lot of handspun and represents many hours of labour.  It's no longer suitable for warp but might do for weft.  I'll have to see.  Maybe combine it with some commercial yarn for warp?

It was going to be a fully homegrown handmade skirt.  
 
Carla Burke
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Oh, no! I'm so sorry! I hope it is still good for weft! Your mordant sounds like exactly what we used, in class. My concern was alum vs acid, because acid tends to wash out the dye. Once I get around to rinsing, blocking, braiding & labeling my swatches, I'll see about getting some pics posted, but quite frankly, right now, those swatches are pretty low on my list of priorities.
 
Judith Browning
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Hoping these bits of info from my dye book might be helpful in the future...after years I have finally have had my madder plants outlast the deer and rabbit pressure so plan to dig roots in a year or so also.

Rita Buchanan, in 'A Weaver's Garden' says this about madder....

Wash fresh roots thoroughly to flush some of the yellow and brown pigments out along with loose soil.

Chop fresh into tiny bits and mash or use blender to grind into paste.

Use Hard water...add some lime or chalk or even baking soda one tbs per gallon.

Soak ground roots overnight or all day then heat dye bath very slowly to 140-160F
Strain, add premordented wool, simmer at that same temp for one hour then let fibers cool in dye bath.

Rinse in soapy water then clear water.

...and she has lots more to say but I thought these most relevant.

 
r ranson
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I dyed some yarn with madder

 
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