A Dye Garden ~ Preventing an Invasion
This post contains links to the web sites I found useful in researching Noxious Weeds, and dyer's woad in particular, in my area. It contains no affiliate links or adds. However if you want to support my work, feel free to fuel me with a kofi.
How I THOUGHT I ought to plan a dye garden:
One would think the logical way to plan a dye garden would be to determine with the colors we hope to produce and the plants that grow in our area that would produce them. From there we could do some research - what plants grow wild and could there for be harvested outside our gardens and what plants do we need to grow? Obviously we then order seeds for those plants we plan to grow, plant them and set off on our merry dye adventure.
Tap that Sign Up button in the top right corner to follow along on this merry dye adventure and read on below to learn (as I did) why it isn't quite as simple as I had assumed.
I did proceeded to do just as I described above (more about the plants that grow wild in my area and those I do intend to grow in an upcoming post). However, I quickly ran into a snag: one of the seeds I had ordered, dyers woad, is an invasive species in Washington State! If it grew wild here I could happily harvest a ton without worry for taking too much, but it doesn't because of the hard work of caring people to eradicate it in the early 1990s. Had I not realized the potential for invasion, I could have reintroduced a plant that would negatively impact the my neighbors who are the plants and critters I share this valley with as well as the farmers and ranchers who's lives are directly tied to the land.
The realization that I could be introducing someone who would threaten the habitat and home of those I care about by planting the wrong seed set me off on a new journey to learn more about the plants in my area. And the purpose of this blog post is to share with you resources so that you can do the same.
My first step on this little side trip was to contact my local cooperative extension. You can search your local cooperative extension here. More information about the Cooperative Extension, the history and mission can be found here. I googled "invasive species Washington State" and learned that a more targeted search would have been "Noxious Weeds Washington State". That lead me to the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board and their three classes of noxious weeds. This site lets me do a simple search of the plants I want to grow and has photos and descriptions so I can be sure I am on the right track.
Your local cooperative extension can help you locate a list of Noxious Weeds that threaten your area. Again, a link to search local extensions by zip code can be found here. I will never plant a seed again without checking to be sure that I am not threatening the habitat nearby or the livelihood of my wild and human neighbors.
It feels a tad it insulting to call such an amazing plant that yields a deep blue color to fiber a "weed". I believe it is possible to respect the plants that are invasive in our area at the same time that we recognize the threat they impose. It is because I respect dyer's woad and the land around me that I am seeking another option to dye those beautiful blues.
HOWEVER! This did bring up a huge bonus: An important part of harvesting is to only take 1/3 of what a plant is offering (of course less if that is all we need). This is a practice I apply to berries, flowers, medicine - anything I am harvesting wild (or wildcrafting). BUT! What about an invasive species such as dyer's woad?! The more of this plant we pull, the better for the land and those who live off it. This means we can harvest and harvest and harvest (as long as we do this properly - learn more about eradicating dyer's woad manually at Pierce County Noxious Weed Board's Dyer's Woad page). According to the Washington State Noxious Weed Board, "Hand pulling is the recommended control option - after the plant bolts, and before seed production. This is considered the only practical control method of hard to reach, or difficult terrain."
To dye with dyer's woad we need LOTS of leaves - and we want the pigment to be high in the plant. Fortunately for us, that pigment is highest right before it bolts - the best time for harvesting if we seek to eradicate it. We can harvest to protect our ecosystems and then take what we need for dyeing from that harvest. I hope if I ever meet Dyer's Woad in the wild we can be friends. I'm convinced that the planties we get to know will give us more color and deeper relationships are always better for everyone.
If you live somewhere dyers woad grows wild (or has invaded) and would like to try your hand at dying with it, a great blog post about wildcrafting dyer's woad by Daniel Howell can be found on Folk Craft Revival's site here.
Are there more resources you know of as I learn about plants in my area and the potential for an invasion? Have you run into such an issue yourself? Have you ever made friends with an invasive species?! Share in the comments!
Happy Making! ~Sönna
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