How Do You Crop Indigo Plantations?


Quick Answer

Indigo, one of the most important cash crops of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina during the colonial period, was planted by hand in rows with hoes and other simple hand tools. Sometimes the plantation slaves, who were the primary indigo planters, used horse-drawn plows to prepare the fields for planting. According to one planter, an acre of prime land was enough to produce 80 pounds of indigo. Less adequate land could produce 30 pounds or more.

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Indigo could be sown and harvested throughout the year in Florida because of its warm, wet climate. North of Florida, in Georgia and South Carolina, planters could expect two harvests per year. After picking the indigo plants, slaves would stack the harvest, which would be carried by wagon to processing vats. These vats were large containers where the indigo was made into dye. However, the plants first had to be soaked in water for 12 hours or more before they could enter the fermentation stage of the process.

During fermentation, the water in the vats would boil and froth, producing a bad odor as the plants inside rotted. The top of the water would change color, and overseers would remove the indigo when the colors signaled that the process had gone on long enough. When fermentation finished, the plants were oxidized in a second vat. During this process, slaves beat the material with paddles to stir it up until the liquid turned a green color.

Workers then added lime water to the substance to produce a sludgy substrate, which would be used to create the indigo dye. The process of removing water from the indigo continued until it was pasty enough to be formed into bricks and cured. Workers had to ensure that flies and other pests did not contaminate the final product.

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