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Resources

A list of resources that I have used and that may be useful to anyone else looking to do a similar project. I’ll update this list as I find new resources!

Linen: From Flax Seed to Woven Cloth” by Linda Heinrich (2010) ISBN: 9780764334665

“Flax Culture; from flower to fabric” by Mavis Atton of Ontario (1988) ISBN: 9780921773061

“How to Weave Linen” by Edward F. Worst (1926)

“The Book of the Farm, Volume 2” by Henry Stephens (1844)

Linen. Handspinning and Weaving” by Patricia Baines (1989) ISBN: 9780934026529

“Flax and Hemp: Their Culture and Manipulation” by Edmund Saul Dixon (1854)

This link takes you to a website called ‘Interweave’, where you can download a free ebook that contains a series of articles on linen flax – growing, processing, spinning it.

In a previous blog entry, I linked to a series of silent, black-and-white videos on Youtube that depict a peasant family in Northern Italy processing flax in 1963.

Another video, this time depicting the weaving process. Black-and-white and silent, and filmed in 1964 in the same area of Northern Italy as in the previous set of videos.

A group at the Ribe Viking Centre in Denmark undertook a project to make a replica of the Viborg shirt (which was found during excavations of an 11th century settlement). This is their report, available in full on Academia.

Tangential, but this link is to a Youtube video of a group of Romanian peasants demonstrating their methods of processing hemp into fibre and clothes. Having read about the discovery that the Vikings used both hemp and linen flax to make fabric textiles – perhaps I need to add hemp to my list of things I would like to try my hand at growing/processing?

…sowing and growing…

Yesterday I got Meg sent a picture she took – the seeds we sowed in her flax garden have started germination, just 5 days after sowing the seeds. We’re on track there too!

Today, I visited Joan and turned a weedy patch into a flax bed. I listened to an audiobook while making a nice pile of borage and assorted weeds and then sowing the seeds and covering it with netting. For future reference, a couple of patches of this bed were fairly hard-packed dirt, and the netting I brought with me wasn’t quite long enough to cover the whole patch. I will be interested to see how things grow, with birds having access to part of the bed and if the seed can get through the hard patches. Sunlight shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as that fence has gaps to let late afternoon sunlight through.

My abs feel like they’ve been used today. Excellent. I’ll come back in a few weeks to see how things are growing, weed as needed and take off the netting.

Germination is a-go!

The weather of the last week has been really quite sunny and so I’ve been making sure to water the patch every day. I will admit to losing track of time a little, since it’s the holidays, and so I was very surprised to come out today and find lots of germination!

Last year, I saw some germination on day 5, with most new leaves up by day 10, so we’re on track!

…sowing…

The weather today was lovely – sunny, not too windy, a perfect day for sowing more seeds.

Two friends had patches of garden that they wished to offer to the project. Meg and Holly live in the same neighbourhood on the other side of town to me, so I made the trip a twofer (or more, if you include the visit to the hardware/garden store for a dwarf fruit tree to add to my new dwarf-chard on the way home).

First was a new bed for this project. Meg, who has been a friend since we were both 15 or so (20-mumble-years ago) offered one of her vege patches for this project. I visited her this afternoon for a bit of lunch, some weeding and seed-sowing. Her patch gets sun almost all day, so we will see how tall they grow there! I cannot forget to add a thank you to another friend of hers, visiting at the same time, who gave us a hand (and a foot, gently pressing the seed into the soil with her soft-soled sneakers)!

Meg’s freshly-sown flax bed with marigolds in the middle.

Next up, I dropped by Holly’s place to admire the work she has put in. Holly, of course, has been involved in this project from the start. This patch gets good sun too, but the soil under Holly’s lawn is not great, as demonstrated by her first flax crop (in the first photo). Holly has worked hard to improve it over the last couple of years with worm tea, trench-composting, worm farm contents, and finally, layers of shredded paper and mulch/straw with potting mix on top. She sowed her seeds today, and we have high hopes of a healthier, taller, stronger crop from this bed.

On the way home, I stopped off at the big box hardware/garden store and bought more bird-netting and pegs for it, because I have one more patch of ground that has been offered, and that will be another post, once the seed is in the ground there. I am very happy with progress so far, and am looking forward to seeing what the end result of these different patches will be.

Sowing, sowing, sown!

It’s school holidays, so I have some time without work, the weather is glorious, and I have seeds – time to get sowing!

Here’s the bed as it has been – I sowed some snow peas there in April or so, hoping I might get an early or winter crop. The trellis wasn’t quite strong enough for them, and before the gale winds of the last week, I decided to put it on a slant. The plants survived – there were a lot of flowers and a handful of pods – but I needed all of this space, so out the peas and that lone lettuce came.

I weeded, and thinned out the mulch (hence the pile of twigs from the olive branches I’d laid across it over autumn/winter. I designated the southern fence and a line down the middle as walking spaces, and cleared the mulch off the rest. I also moved some of the NZ native groundcover (Pratia angulata) that had encroached on the space to other parts of the garden where it will be useful.

And then I sowed the seeds, watered them, and fortified the whole bed against the birds with hoops and netting.

Since my last post, I have had two more friends offer garden space for a bed of linen flax. The plan is to check one of them out tonight, and to sow the seeds at the other two places on Sunday. This afternoon, however, I’m turning my attention back to my vege garden – I shall get a crop of peas over summer, since it didn’t happen in spring!

Sowing is a winnow-away

Spring is here, and Daylight Savings started overnight. The sun is shining outside now, but earlier today a rain-storm was still blowing its way through overnight. I needed something I could do indoors – and it’s only a little over a week until I plan to sow the seed, so I set about winnowing it all!

First step – break up the bolls. Last year, when I had about 0.7L of seed bolls, I broke it all down by tipping portions into a plastic ziplock bag and crushing them with my rolling pin. This year, I have somewhere between 5-10L of seed bolls, so I needed to scale it up. Taking an idea from Wise Wendy (who got the idea from a flax farming contact), I tipped my harvest into a sturdy plastic bag (which I got yesterday when I bought mortar sand to make a path) and stomped on it until I got bored/tired.

I then tried to winnow the chaff away – but the seeds weren’t separated from the bolls in sufficient quantity, and I was wary of my seeds being blown away in the wind, which was still quite strong – even in a sheltered spot near my garage. I discussed the issue with Wendy and Holly, and eventually hit upon a method that worked reasonably well.

First, I took a bit of broken brick lying around my garden, and used it to crush/grind the bolls open. I then shook it to get the heavier seeds to move to the bottom. It’s not easy to see in the photo, but I then softly combed the chaff with my fingers, and scooped up the mix of seeds and chaff with a clear container. I shook that container, scooped the chaff away from the seeds, and dumped it back into the ‘chaff’ bin. The mostly-seeds left in the clear container were tipped into the ‘seeds’ bin.

I repeated this process until there were very few seeds left in the ‘chaff’ bin.

I then took that chaff bin and winnowed it over the flax bed – if some seeds escaped in the wind, then at least they probably fell in the right place, and the chaff can help add some nutrients back to the soil.

In 2018, I bought a couple of tablespoons of seeds to start my first crop, which became 3/4 cup of seeds for the second crop in 2019, and my third crop has given me 1L of seeds (a bit of chaff etc. on the top, but it’s mostly seeds)!

I didn’t manage to sow all of my seeds last year – my parents have some of the leftover seed for their sunny riverbank garden, where I hope it will grow nice and tall. Holly will get some, of course. I have had offers of garden space from friends in the past – I should see if any of them would like to try growing a crop (or lend me some space to do it myself) this year!

Soon I will sow this crop, and once the weather warms up a bit more (possibly December, though most likely January or February), I will try retting for the first time! No boredom for me!!

Ripples upon ripples

We had hoped to do this before now, but with a worldwide pandemic causing a nationwide lockdown, Holly and I had been unable to get together to ripple the crop. She had possible tools, I had the crop, but we had to wait until we were able to get the two things together. Today, on a chilly, rainy autumn day, we managed it!

On my garage floor, I set up an old sheet and put my small cold-frame on it, as a barrier for errant seed bolls wanting to fly under the car. Holly had some bee combs and a couple of miscellaneous pronged items she had gathered up. We tried them all, and found that the red-handled bee combs she got online were the best – the tines were close enough that the bolls were caught and pulled off, but far enough apart that we could actually move them through a handful of flax. The wooden-handled one was too widely-spaced, and the one with the green handle was a) heavy, and b) too finely tined.

Red is the best!
It was interesting to notice how each bundle had dried – some were different colours, possibly related to the size of the bundle.
Me in the dark corner of the garage, hanging the bundles back up again – it’s a very handy bar, though I have to be careful when opening that door!

Holly’s hand.

It took us a couple of hours, but we got seven bundles rippled and re-tied to the bar. We got somewhere between 5 and 10 litres of seedbolls, which we still need to crush and winnow before we can plant them next spring. Holly has spent the past year and a bit adding compost and mulch to her patch to improve the quality of crop she is able to grow. In the meantime, our glorious harvest of seeds has been stored in a dark container downstairs.

Autumn looms

So, I’m now 5 days married!! My husband and I are having a staycation honeymoon – lots of napping, pottering about tidying up loose ends from the wedding, napping, occasionally going out, and yet more napping…and today I finally had the energy to get into the garden for an hour or so – putting the pizza boxes (from a family dinner the night before the wedding) into the compost pile, along with the coffee grounds from our coffee guy and a Bokashi bin that really should’ve been emptied a couple of days ago; plus a bit of weeding and a harvesting a few small potatoes and a strawberry!! Woohoo!

With that done, I also had a look at my remaining flax. Very very lodged, so I’m not sure that it’s going to be much use, fibre-wise. There are some seedbolls forming, so it won’t be far away now.IMG_20200305_165930842

Also, here are the harvested stooks, drying nicely. I should see about catching up with my friend Holly to ripple these…and then sort out more places to grow flax next year, since we’re going to have A LOT of seeds. IMG_20200305_170013025

So, that’s how it all stands (or hangs) for now. Daylight Saving ends this weekend, so soon the days will be getting shorter and I’ll be less keen to be outside. I’m working on my post-wedding plans, with many projects lining up for my attention. I’m not going to be bored!

Harvest, Year 2, part 2

3 weeks before the wedding, and I was taking a chance to sort out a few things in the garden, before it gets craaaaazy busy. I was entertained by a fun conversation with the 4-year-old son of the neighbours, who likes to say hello when he sees me in the garden. He was interested in my tomatoes (finally, some nice red cherry tomatoes came ripe) and my peas, my jasmine, and helping me water the compost heap. He doesn’t like tomatoes, but we did eat a pea each, fresh from the pod.

I also knew that the flax was getting close – and rather than leave it for another month (since I doubt I’ll be having time for the garden!), Wise Wendy and I agreed that it was time to harvest.

Here’s the crop as it was, about 3pm today.08 February 2020 (1)

And here it is afterwards – with a close-up of the remaining, short, sun-deprived crop. I didn’t measure them, but they’re probably no more than 50cm tall, at most. Very few flowers, definitely no seeds. I will keep an eye on them, I suspect I won’t be harvesting anything until late autumn.

08 February 2020 (2)08 February 2020 (3)

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s the crop, hanging up in the garage. Most recent harvest is furthest from the camera. 08 February 2020 (4)

I’ll come back to these in March, to ripple the seed bolls off. I think I will need to wait until next summer before I’m able to try retting (and I will try to make a system so that I can identify each section of crop, to compare how the fibre turns out).

See y’all on the married side!

 

Harvest time, Year 2.

Life is busy, with the wedding now only FOUR WEEKS away (cue mild panic), but today I needed a little garden time. I had some potatoes to pull (most of them turned out green, I haven’t been paying anywhere NEAR enough attention to mounding/mulching this season) and also some peas.

While I was outside, I took a look at my flax crop, and consulted with Wise Wendy, who was still awake on her side of the planet. There was a lot of brown in there, and they hadn’t grown much (most are still around 80cm tall or so), so we agreed it was time to harvest the plants with brown seeds!IMG_20200201_145904087

Here are the two right-hand beds – lots of brown!

 

And another angle – interesting how the plants yellow off at different rates. Also, a close-up of the seed bolls.

So, I pulled it all up. Most were about the same height, but I did try to separate them by stem thickness. Some were much thicker than others – the plants in the centre of each bed were thinner, presumably etiolation was at work because of the density of planting.

I brought them into the garage to hang and dry for a bit – rippling for the seeds can wait until after the wedding. On the left I hung up the harvest from the right-most bed (thinner stems to the left, thicker stems to the right), cos I harvested from the middle…. On the right, I hung the harvest from the second-right bed (thicker stems to the right, thinner stems to the left). IMG_20200201_163357363

And here is the flax crop, as it stands now. A little bit of the second-right bed that wasn’t as brown as the others, and the two left-side beds. I’ll give the taller plants another week to brown off, and I suspect that the left-most bed will be a long time – the plants there don’t even have flowers yet. It will be interesting to see what happens to them when I pull up the plants to the right, that are blocking their sunlight.IMG_20200201_163644809

 

I also pulled up that self-seeded lettuce, as most of the lettuces in the rest of the garden have bolted. And now – back to wedding preparations!!

Growing up!

I got home from a few hours of exam supervision, and my flax bed was basking in the sunshine as I pulled into my driveway. Before I went into the house, I thought it was time to examine the crop – it’s two weeks shy of the date when I pulled up my crop last year. As I looked closer, I can see that things are definitely getting close to ready. There’s a bit of lodging happening, alas, but it means I can see the yellowing starting to happen in the base of each stalk.25 January 2020 (1)

The seed bolls are starting to brown up.25 January 2020 (3)

You can really see the yellowing starting to happen.25 January 2020 (4)

There’s definitely some browning in there! 25 January 2020 (5)

So, I shall keep a close eye on it from now on, because getting the three taller beds pulled in early February would be really good – our wedding date is creeping closer!