Indigo First Harvest 2020: Step 1

Posted by Amanda Baxter on

My indigo is ready for the first harvest.

This will hopefully be one of three harvests for 2020.

I am using wet extraction to process my indigo plants. This requires up to several days and lots of water. Harvesting and processing indigo this way is a series of steps:

  1. Cutting and Soaking
  2. Fermenting
  3. Aerating and Alkalizing
  4. Straining and Rinsing

(Note: I learned how to do this from this blog, then adjusted the process for the amount that I harvest.)

About water usage:

In my garden, I have five 40 ft. rows of indigo. For this first cutting, I am using 4 extra large 50 gal barrels. The first cutting is always the smallest, so the next harvest will require even more water and barrels. (I have trash cans I use when I've run out of barrels.)
As you can see, it takes a lot of water to do wet extraction. This is the most indigo I would grow for wet extraction, and I will go through hundreds of gallons of water in a season to do so. I have a well for my water, and don't live where there is water shortages, so my only cost is running the pump. It's something to consider when using this method.
The water I use gets tossed into the garden when I'm done.

How do you know when it's time to harvest?

It mostly has to do with timing. Usually around 6 weeks after transplanting, the plants have lots of nice, large leaves and is beginning to get bushy. For this harvest, I picked a time to harvest when the weather was cooperating for a few days. Hot sunny days will make the fermentation happen very quickly, whereas cooler or cloudy days will slow the process down. The harvesting/fermenting stage of extraction is the most time sensitive and requires attention; ferment too long, and the indigo breaks down.

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Step 1: Cutting and Soaking

I soak my indigo in extra large barrels with lids. The tall narrow barrel makes it easier to keep all the plant material under water during fermentation.

You want to get the indigo soaking in water before it gets too wilted. For my 40ft rows, the easiest way for me to do this is to cut half a row, then transfer it to my water-filled barrels.

Hand Sickle

I cut my indigo with a serrated hand sickle. They're around $20 on Amazon. Some people like to use shears (especially electric or gas ones). I just prefer the hand sickle for whatever reason. Even though it is slower than motorized shears, in my opinion it makes gathering up the plant and cutting it short easier, and the tool is not too expensive. If you have a lot of back problems or grow more than I am growing, this might not be the best method.

I cut my plants down to 3-5" tall. Using the hand sickle, I gather up the plant with one hand, and line up the sickle near the ground with the other, making sure to cut away from me. (Even getting knicked by a serrated blade is not much fun!)

As I go, I fill up a tote I carry with me, then take the fresh cut plants and put them directly in the fermentation barrel. Use whatever size container(s) you need to soak your plants completely in water. Make sure they're not packed in real tight, or some leaves won't ferment.

I put something on top to keep the leaves from floating above the surface. When the water warms up, it will cause the leaves to rise to the surface, so placing something on top will keep them from going above the water line.

(I usually put something heavier on top of that, but I didn't have anything that day.)

Once everything is cut and soaking in water, I put a lid on it, then...wait.

Fermentation will begin when the water warms up.

Indigo is cut, and ready to grow back for harvest 2 in another month!

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