Harvest day in the experimental flax patch

I never know when it is the perfect day to harvest my flax. When I read up on the subject, it usually says to harvest about 30 days after the first blossom. The stems should be yellow to up to about a third of the length of the stalk. This year, though, has been extreme in the sense that it has been hotter than ever before. Weeks of temperatures close to 30°C  and no rain for over a month. According to a local flax association, the heat can make the flax mature faster than usual. I the end of July I decided it was harvest day in the experimental flax patch.

This is the second post in my flax series.

A quick resume

This is the fifth year with the experimental flax patch. My ambition with it is to learn something new every year and bring that new knowledge into the next season. Someday I hope I have enough knowledge to produce spinnable flax fiber.

I have processed the harvests for the first three years to the best of my ability. The only flax processing tools I own are two hackles. Last year’s harvest has been retted and dried but I haven’t processed it yet. I may be getting some real processing tools later in the fall.

I bought the first seed from a commercial seed brand. The resulting harvest was ok and I used the threshed seeds for the following seasons. Earlier this year, though, I bought the seed Ilona from a retiring flax farmer.

Flax harvest of 2018

I used the Ilona seed for the 2018 flax season. I have never had such long and straight plants! When I sowed the seed I got a little carried away, though. It was too much for my regular flax patch in the flower bed at the house. I decided to expand the experiment with a branch in the allotment. Unfortunately, I hadn’t enough seed for both patches. This resulted in the seed being spread unevenly, which in turn affected the quality of the flax harvest. Flax likes to be planted evenly and quite closely together. The further away the plants are from each other, the thicker the stems and the more seed capsules they will develop. For spinning the flax stems need to be thin and straight with fewer capsules. Perhaps the extreme weather contributed to the quality as well – the plants were uneven in both length and thickness.

Close-up of bundled-up flax stalks
Quite a difference in thickness of the flax plants in this year’s flax harvest.

When I pulled the plants I tried to pull the same length for the same bunch. I’m still concerned that I may have pulled a little too soon, but since this season has been so crazy, I didn’t want to keep it in the ground anymore.

The root of a flax plant
The flax is pulled straight from the ground, root and all. Photo by Dan Waltin

It is perfectly fine to pull the flax early, though. It will result in finer fibers, but also a less amount of mature seed to thresh for next season. So I will have to buy new seed and hopefully I will get some good quality seed from an experienced spinning flax farmer.

Flax seed pods
Sweet seed capsules

Next step: Rippling and retting

The next step in the process is rippling and retting the flax. I usually dew ret on the lawn just outside the house. But since the weather has been so dry, I think it will be a while before there is any dew to talk about, so I think I will wait a couple of weeks before I start the retting process. Meanwhile, the flax hangs safely on the wall of the house and looks pretty and promising. And I still have last year’s retted flax to process and some commercial flax to spin.

Happy spinning!

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