Posts Tagged ‘growing flax’


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.


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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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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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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This is the fifth day that my bundle of flax has been soaking in a styrofoam box lined with plastic sheeting.

There hasn’t been a great deal of foam or sludge or anything on top of the retting box, and the water doesn’t feel slimy, although it’s now a darker brown. I think this is due to the fairly low temperature of the water, which is cooling off each night.

As there doesn’t seem to be any biological activity, I haven’t started to add any fresh water.

The process is going to take longer than I first expected, but perhaps this is a good thing as it’s the first time I’ve tried it. The flax straw doesn’t feel any different yet, so I’m not sure it’s even reached the end of the developmental stage.

The day lilies nearby are starting to put on a show, so I’ve included a picture of them for interest.

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This year’s flax crop is just starting to bloom, so it seems like a good time to start experimenting with processing last year’s crop. I used the seeds saved from last year to grow this year’s crop, and the germination rate was good, so I’ll do the same this year. When harvesting for fibre, the flax should be pulled while many of the seeds are still immature, but I’ve read that leaving them on the plants after pulling will allow more of them to ripen. Last year, I didn’t remove the seeds until several months had passed after pulling the flax and drying it. Since then, the flax straw has been stored in an open bag and is nice and dry but not at all brittle. I’m following the directions for retting found in “Flax Culture” by Mavis Atton, 1988, The Ginger Press, ISBN 0-921773-06-4.

This first batch is being processed using the water retting method (rather than dew retting) and I’ve taken about a third of my bundle (crop) to use. I found a styrofoam box that was almost long enough to hold the flax, and only had the bend the ends over a little bit. Plastic sheeting was used the line the box, in case of any leaks.

Step One – Leaching Stage: Water from the hose (cold) was used to fill the box and the flax was soaked for about four hours. A couple of bricks were used to hold the flax straw under the surface. The soak water turned a nice yellow shade, so it was apparently doing its job and mixing with the water soluble materials on the flax straw.

Step Two – Developmental Stage: The box was drained and again filled with fresh water from the hose. It’s a warm, humid day, so the water temperature should rise in the box fairly rapidly. The best water temperature is 27 C or 80 F, so it will be a challenge keeping it this warm over night, or if it rains…

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