Plant a field of nature's colour The warm blue that belongs to Hong Kong

KidsClub likes mountains and rivers and being surrounded by nature. What will happen to Indigofera tinctoria planted in a land full of vitality?

Each colour in the world carries different energies.

Emerald green mountains make us comfortable; blue sky makes us optimistic, and the red flame coming from firewood makes us feel warm. Each colour coming from nature gives us different energies and feelings.

How about the blue colour coming from local Indigofera tinctoria ? What feeling will it give us?

From a seed to a seedling, the plant grows into an emerald green Indigofera tinctoria. After being harvested, it is fermented and precipitated. Then, it will transform into a calm indigo sap. Dye the material you like with this touch of blue to frame the unique and warm blue.

Take a closer look at Indigofera tinctoria, the leaves are neat and beautifully shaped. Indigofera tinctoria belongs to the bean family and is a plant that is easy to be taken care of.

Indigofera tinctoria  as a high yield local species that is easy to be taken care of

Since last September, KidsClub has been growing plants for indigo dyeing for the experimental project “Colours of the Earth”. Indigofera tinctoria was the species selected. KidsClub tries to plant a local blue that is “made in Hong Kong” to provide different artists with materials for indigo dyeing activities.

Uncle Ho, the farmer, said that he tried planting Indian and local species separately to see the difference this time. The former is brought from India, and the latter comes from seeds reserved from the Mills’ rooftop planting last year. There are four species of plants for indigo dyeing: Chinese Rain Bell, Japanese Indigo, Woad and Indigofera tinctoria. Why is Indigofera tinctoria chosen? “Because I plant whatever I am provided with.” Uncle Ho said with a smile, “Indigofera tinctoria is easy to be taken care of. Also, the yield is higher than other plants for indigo dyeing.”

The growth cycle of Indigofera tinctoria is like this: first, the seedlings are cultivated in February or March; next, they are left to grow in the pot for 4 to 5 weeks; after that, they are transplanted to a farm; finally, they are harvested after 3 to 4 months. Indigofera tinctoria can be harvested every two months and at most 4 times a year.

Indigofera tinctoria was once a local species of Hong Kong. “Do you know why farmers always wear dark blue or black? It is because they would not get dirty so easily! Therefore, farmers used to dye their clothes with Indigofera tinctoria.” Farmer Uncle Ho said with a smile.

Together with Uncle Ho, we visited the seeds of Indigofera tinctoria that are reserved. The Indigofera tinctoria has many side buds. The small flowers from the side buds would have seeds to be reserved.
The strips in the picture are Indigofera tinctoria flowers. Uncle Ho said that one flower already has many seeds.

Who is stronger? Hong Kong or Indian seeds? Planting seeds in the right season is crucial

Regarding seeds reserving, non-local seeds need time to adapt to a new place. These non-local seeds need to be planted and reserved each year. The species would start adapting to the climate of a new place in the fifth to seventh generation. Uncle Ho shared with us that he planted Japanese rice, Koshihikari, in Hong Kong more than 10 years ago, “The seeds had not adapted (to the climate of Hong Kong) in the first year. The yield was also not too high. The seeds started adapting to the climate in the fourth and fifth year. The quality also became better and better. We tried to bring the seeds back to Japan as an experiment and turns out they need to adapt to the climate of Japan.”

“It has been raining almost every day since June. Therefore, we did not water the plants. Indigofera tinctoria is relatively drought-tolerant. If it is too wet, it won’t be pretty. The roots may be rotten.” In addition, Indigofera tinctoria did not need much fertilizer. Uncle Ho shares that we can use a little fertilizer in the 2nd month of planting and after the first harvest.

After a year of planting, comparing the Indian species with the local species, which has better quality and yield? Although local seeds are only reserved for a year, they are similar to the Indian ones in every aspect. It is because Indigofera tinctoria is tough! “Indigofera tinctoria is very adaptable. Therefore, the quality and yield are the same for the Indian and local species. If the first generation of the local species has adapted (to the climate), the (quality and yield of) later generations would be more or less the same.”

Uncle Ho said that they would reserve the seeds of both species. The farmers might try to test the adaptability of each species by planting the seeds every year. “The key to planting the best Indigofera tinctoria is to plant them in the right season,” said Uncle Ho.

Uncle Ho said that he planted many Indigofera tinctoria this year (about 7,000 feet) which are enough for the collaborator to use as indigo dyeing material.

Participating with collaborators, hoping everyone realizes the importance of the process

Jenny sat next to Uncle Ho while arranging her schedule and writing down matters that KidsClub needs to deal with. At the same time, she was having lunch with her daughter Gua-gua. She would say a word or two sometimes when Uncle Ho shared with us his experience.

Being one of the founders of KidsClub, Jenny said that she does not just want to assist in planting. She wants KidsClub to demonstrate the whole process of indigo dyeing even though they are only responsible for planting Indigofera tinctoria. “If we want to carry out the fermentation (a process in the blue dyeing process), we don’t know how to do it. Is it feasible for them (our collaborators) to teach us this part?”

The position of KidsClub’s education is clear– to provide a “process”. This is why the activities last for at least half a year. They participate in the planting of indigofera tinctoria this time. They hope that the collaborators can be a part of the process from the beginning to the end to understand the whole process. This is their persistence.

Kids Club founders Jenny (front) and Kitty (back).

In July, a collaborator dyed with the Indigofera tinctoria from the first harvest. The first fermentation and production of blue clay were also carried out here. It is very important for her to experience the process with her collaborator.

“One of my difficulties living in Hong Kong is that Hong Kong is a 100% consumer society. We use the money to trade for daily necessities. This condition will completely separate us from the essence of life. We seem to have no cost; however, the third world and nature bear the cost for us. Therefore, when we have a place to educate others, we want to try our best. Although we have never done indigo dyeing, we think we can find others to collaborate with us. Then, there will be new ideas generated. KidsClub is very flexible–there is a lot of room for us to try. This is very precious!”

Indigofera tinctoria is a dwarf shrub. Some are slightly taller than humans. Cats like to hide here to keep cool.