The Monster Madder Harvest

I have been on a bit of a hiatus this year – lots of time spent with work, not as much with painting or pigment-making. One big thing did happen, though: this past spring, I made the decision to leave my wonderful garden plot. (Well, okay, I actually made the decision a long time ago, at least a year and a half. But it can take me a long time to get around to doing something, especially if I don’t particularly want to do it. But it’s a good thing I did: the way this year has gone, the garden plot would have languished completely.) And in this case there was another reason it took me so long.

Why did I get rid of the plot? Well, we bought this house last year. It’s a really great house, and it has some space for growing plants outdoors. A backyard, don’t you know. So it made sense to move my dye plant operations closer to home. And truthfully, I had been spending less and less time at the plot over the past few years anyway – it’s just hard to find the time. There was a waiting list for garden plots, so it didn’t make any sense for me to hang on to it and keep it from someone else.

Still, I miss the place sometimes. I put a lot of energy into that plot.

There was a big reason it took me so long, though, and that is that there was a monster madder harvest to deal with. Readers may recall that it takes madder about five years to fully mature; these plants wound up staying in the ground for almost six. And there were fourteen madder plants left in the plot, from an original seventeen. The roots go deep and far. It took me a month and a half to dig them all out, going over there to work at it a couple of times a week. I’d like to show you the pile they made when they were sitting out to dry. Here they are:

Madder Roots

Madder Roots

That’s quite a few madder roots. Of course the pile shrank when they dried; still, I should have enough to make, well, quite a few batches of madder lake. More than enough to try all the variations I’ve had in mind for so long. Here they are dried:

Madder Roots

Madder Roots

I also rescued a couple of volunteer weld plants. And: madder plants! Some root clippings took to new soil very well. Take a look:

Madder and Weld

Madder and Weld

And, the iris plants (the ones I didn’t give away) have successfully made it into the new location as well. This summer a few of them even expressed early approval of the place, unexpected but quite welcome:

Blue Irises

Blue Irises

So the dynasty continues. This time, though, I’ll definitely be growing the madder in containers. (!) I still have seeds from the indigo plants as well, they will go into pots next spring.

Coming up: a review of some of Daniel Smith’s PrimaTek natural pigments oil paint line. And: the long-awaited madder lake recipe. Stay tuned!

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2 Responses to “The Monster Madder Harvest”

  1. bb Says:

    Your adventures with madder and making madder lake pigment have been fascinating to read. I’ll keep checking back for that madder lake recipe! Thank you!

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