The experimental flax patch

I grow my own flax in a miniature experimental patch. Miniature means about 2 square meters and experimental means that I try to improve every year by experimenting and learning from my previous mistakes. I started in 2014, it was all coincidental. I was seed shopping for our allotment and found a pack of flax seeds for spinning flax. When I planted them I had no intention of processing the fiber, but come August I thought I might give it a try. I had no knowledge and no tools, but my plan was to keep it experimental and grow flax just because I could, and I was sure to learn a lot in the process.

The first year’s result was meager, but I was still  very proud of it. I had grown it and gone through all the steps required to produce fiber. With no tools, I had to be very inventive. After drying and retting, I separated the seeds by putting the bundles in a pillowcase and hammering on it with a mallet. I broke and scutched the stems with a rolling pin on the tiled kitchen floor. I think I used a comb to hackle the fibers. And I was left with a line the thickness of a rat’s tail. But it was my rat’s tail.

A very thin stick of homegrown flax.
Flax harvest of 2014

The following year I had a small experience bank to build on. I planted tighter and more, which gave result. One problem was weeds that sprouted at the same time as the flax, and it was difficult to deweed without deflaxing as well. I had found two hackles which helped me a lot and the result was much improved, the thickness being of approximately 3 rat’s tails, and a lot longer and finer fibers than the first year.

A thin stick of homegrown flax. Hackles and tow in the background.
Flax harvest 2015

In 2016 I waited for the weeds to sprout before I started the flax planting. That way I could deweed before I put the flax seeds in the ground, which was a success. The flax grew nicely and the patch looked very promising. Until the next problem arrived. The problem spelled C-A-T. Frasse, the neighbour’s cat had found a new bed. In my flax bed. He lay there every day and didn’t care about my golden fiber at all. So a lot of the harvest was ruined by cat.

Also, the fall was very dry. I dew retted the flax longer than I had before, but when I processed it, it was really hard to separate the fibers from the core. The consequences of which led to both more waste (=less usable fiber) and more core cellulose in the finished fiber. And I think it has less shine than the previous harvest.

A thin stick of homegrown flax. Hackles and tow in the background.
Flax harvest 2016

But this is why I do it – I learn every year and use my experience to improve the next year. And I did end up with 4 rat’s tails!

This year’s flax has had its ups and downs. To start with, I put a compost grid 5 cm above the soil to prevent the cat from hi-jacking my flax patch. He came, he sulked and he left. I increased the patch with two pallet collars below our big oak. Also, I got some new seeds (Ilona) from a retired flax gardener. But the oak sucked out all the water from the soil and all that is left are some sad yellow stems, about 20 cm high. So we are left with the original patch. Which is full of weeds between the flax stems. However, I planted the new seeds on the original patch and this flax is a lot higher than it ever was before, so I’ll make sure to use the new seeds next year.

Flax flowers.
Flax in blossom
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