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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.

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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.

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Japanese Indigo Blossoms

I underestimated the amount of dyestuff that’s needed for natural dyeing, but fortunately, the amount of fibre that my garden produced this year is also small.

This means that next year I will devote more garden space to both fibre plants (flax and cotton) and to dye plants. I’ve already lined up some additional woad seeds from Sarah Dalziel at Woad.ca, and hope that the blooms on my Japanese Indigo plants will produce seeds before our first frost.

My own woad was useful for dyeing, but will not produce seeds until its second year.

On the fibre front, there are at least ten cotton bolls ready to burst on the potted cotton plants in the porch. Here are the first two.

Cotton Bolls Opening

I’ll devote some time this winter to further experiments with retting and processing last year’s flax fibre and to spinning and dyeing the cotton – of course, all seeds will be saved for next year!

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Today the flax fibres can be separated easily from the smooth central core and reasonably well from the outer bark layer, so it looks like retting is complete. It’s been rinsed and is lying out in the sun and I will try breaking it in a few days once it’s dry. Most of this flax straw is about 30 inches long. This year’s crop is still a little shorter, and is blooming beautifully.

The dye plants are coming along (shown are Bedstraw, Weld and Japanese Indigo in front of the flax patch), although I’d like to see a greater quantity of leaves to harvest for dyeing. The best performer in the dye garden is the Japanese Indigo. The Madder plant that I pulled up by mistake had lovely orangey roots.

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Cloth from the Garden

Last year’s flax crop was pretty successful, so this year I’m attempting a crop of cotton – a challenge here in Eastern Ontario in an area that has only 100 – 120 frost free days while cotton has a 160 day growing cycle.

Finding cotton seed was not as difficult as I’d thought – a quick search of the net brought me to MRC Seeds, which offers free shipping to USA, Canada and UK. They carry a dozen varieties, including brown and green, so choosing was not easy. I finally chose Pima Extra Long, and my seeds arrived promptly after ordering.

The plan is to start the seeds indoors under lights, then take the pots outside for the summer, and possibly return them indoors to complete ripening if some bolls do form.

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