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Snow Retting Flax

img_1092Last summer the dry, hot weather resulted in my first flax crop failure. There wasn’t enough seed to collect for 2019, so I’ll order new seed. There’s still plenty of flax from previous years, so I can continue to experiment.

Today it’s a sunny -15 C so I’ve taken a few bundles of flax out to try snow retting. The snow in the yard is at least a foot deep and much more can be expected before spring, so I’ve marked the corners of the patch with poles.

I’ll let it stay out there until the snow starts to melt and then examine it for signs of retting. While it’s this cold, I don’t expect any big changes, but with time, the fibre may start to separate from the core and the outer covering. Here’s hoping!

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Bella in front of a snowbank for scale.

Update: It’s April 7th and over the last few days the flax has reappeared as the snow melts. It was covered with at least a foot of snow until recently:

 

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It feels quite dry to the touch and I don’t think it’s changed much while buried in the snow. I’ve taken a small sample indoors to dry it completely and see if it’s started to ret. The rest can stay out on the snow and maybe absorb some moisture and do a bit more retting. Stay tuned.

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Flax Rippling Tool/Dog Comb

Over the past few days, I’ve removed the seeds from my flax bundles (there were 104 bundles this year!). As I do not have any actual flax tools, I found a small metal dog comb that was fine for my purpose. The seed pods were captured in a sheet spread on the lawn, then a rolling pin on a cookie sheet was used to crush small batches of  pods to release the seeds.

At this point there is a large amount of chaff and various bits and pieces mixed in with the actual seeds that I plan to save and plant next year. Until this is mostly removed, I will have no idea how much seed I’ve actually got. I did winnow a small sample to see how much chaff could be removed by pouring the crushed seed/chaff mixture back and forth from one bowl to another, and the breeze did a pretty good job of removing the lighter chaff.

Flax seed separation might be a slow process, and I’ll have to wait for a day with a breeze. The flax bundles are now easier to handle as the seed pods that made them stick together and tangle up are now gone. They await some retting experiments when time permits.

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First Flax pulled – August, 2013

I started pulling the Flax on August 4th. It’s still quite green, but there is some yellow in the stems and seed heads. I’ll continue to pull and dry bunches of it until it gets browner and then I’ll finish pulling the rest. This is about 80 days since it was sown, and this gradual pulling approach should take me to the 100 day mark. The bunches already pulled are sitting under an overhang, but still get a lot of sun and warmth. I hope that pulling it while still immature will yield a finer fibre.

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Coreopsis (Dyer’s Tickseed)

The Coreopsis (Dyer’s Tickseed) is doing well, and I should get out there and collect some flower heads for a small dye vat. This clump seeded itself, but the area I planted this Spring, is just starting to come into flower. Along the roads, the Goldenrod is blooming – another plant I’d like to use this summer. Golden flowers are overtaking the garden – a last glow of summer sunshine!

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Madder blossoms

The Madder plants that I have been growing for the past three years were all started from seed. The germination rate has been very good – I’d say over 75%, and the plants were fairly easy to transplant into the garden. Once established (second or third year) they started to spread nicely and this year some second-season plants have bloomed!

There is still some room in the Madder patch, so I’ve attempted 2 methods to establish some additional plants – cuttings rooted in pots of soil, and using wire staples to keep longer shoots on existing plants in place in the soil so they develop roots of their own, much like strawberry runners do.

The cuttings are a second attempt – first time I put some in a jar of water (with a small shoot of willow to encourage rooting) and all they did was rot. Most of the cuttings in pots rotted as well, but a couple did root and have now been planted out in the Madder patch.

I think it’s too soon to tell if the shoots held down in the soil with staples (made from lengths of hanger wire) are rooting themselves. They do look healthy, but they are still attached to the parent plants.

Madder appears to be a nice hardy plant in our 3a (Canadian climate) zone. It grows best in the same conditions that Lavender likes.

I’ve tried all the same methods to propagate Lavender, with no success – has anyone been able to propagate Lavender from cuttings? How did you get it to root?

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Lavender that will not root

P1000692The flax in my community garden plot is growing nicely. It’s blooming and just starting to show some yellow in the stalks and some seed heads. The soil here is loose and very nice to work with – weeds pull out easily.

When the flax was about a foot tall, I added some string that criss-crosses the patch at a foot or so above the ground, to try and keep it from falling over in high winds. It seems to have helped, as we’ve had a few storms and it’s still standing.

The seed was planted on May 24th, so it should be ready to harvest in a few more weeks. Once there’s more yellow on the stalks, it’s probably ready to pull.

Here’s hoping we have a nice sunny spell when it’s ready to be dried.

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Flax – June 3, 2013

March 13:

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Cotton Seedlings – June 3, 2013

Cotton seeds planted: Mississippi Brown, Erlene’s Green and Sea Island (white).

After a few days of inactivity, I added a heat mat under half of the pots, and by March 22- 23 there were 3 plants in the heated pots.

The others are starting to sprout too, so it may be chance, but I’ll use the heat mat from the start next time.

April 13:

A month later, and the second leaves are developing on the first cotton seedlings. I’m careful to water them from the bottom now, and once they are a little bigger, I’ll find them some bigger pots in which to spend the summer.

Also coming along are Japanese Indigo and more Madder seedlings, as well as various tomatoes from seed saved from last year’s crop. Last thing planted was Calendula, which haven’t appeared yet.

May 24:

Flax are now planted in the allotment garden – I used about 1 1/4 pounds on an area 30 x 15 feet. It doesn’t look that thickly sown.

June 4:

Flax is doing well in the cold, wet weather we’ve had lately. Cotton is still small and could use more sun and warmth. I’ve just moved the pots into the screen porch where the sun exposure is better. Woad is now sown in the allotment plot and Madder transplanted into the ground. Calendula and j. Indigo are next to go outside.

Fig with matching Bug

Fig with matching Bug

The back porch is the closest I can get to a cool greenhouse. It has windows on three sides, and is heated with electric baseboard heaters that are turned down to 40F most of the winter. This makes it a great place to over-winter the fig tree and any remnants of outdoor pots that I can’t bear to toss out in the Fall. It’s also a catch-all for garden remnants that are awaiting further processing. This includes several year’s worth of flax plants and a container of black walnuts (the hulls are another story).

This year, the fig tree started putting out leaves in February, which seems a little early, but so far it seems happy enough and is sporting a little bug that perfectly matches the green of the leaves.

In spite of having two years worth of flax to experiment with, of course I’m planning to plant and harvest some more this year. I suspect that it takes a great deal of raw fibre to produce even a very small amount of linen thread, so the more the better.

Flax Bundles

Flax Bundles

The black walnuts are enjoying their second winter in the porch, so it may be time to make a present of them to the local squirrels. I’m always amazed that they are so good at getting at the kernels, a job I do not greatly enjoy doing myself.

Black Walnuts

Black Walnuts

Next on the agenda is a trip to the farm to put out a few sap buckets and see if we can make a few litres of maple syrup. It’s fun to get outdoors on a sunny day in March and listen to the patter of the sap droplets in the buckets and poke at the wood fire that we use to boil down the sap. Cold, but fun.