Wednesday, June 29, 2022

There is a Reason for the Madness

You may have wondered why I have been so intent on the flax-growing experiment this summer. I had a reason, but I wasn't sure the reason would come true. It has.

I am happy to announce that I am one of three awardees of a Cultivating Nordic Handcraft, Teaching Tools 2022 Grant from the American Swedish Institute! The grant allows me to purchase the wood to make a tabletop flax brake and 3 gradated hackles for processing flax, ultimately for spun linen. I will use these tools in flax processing and spinning classes and/or demonstrations and presentations at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis and for classes and presentations at other venues. Up to now, I have been using vintage, rough tools for these activities, with no means of fully processing the flax to a spinning state. 

Obviously, this grant is so welcome, and it means an exciting year ahead for my work and what I can offer to others interested in flax and linen handcrafting. 

And it's a reason for trying to grow flax that might ultimately be better prepared than the flax stalks I poorly retted and still have in storage from a past flax growing experiment at Gale Woods Farm (an educational farm that is part of the Three Rivers Park District and where I occasionally teach). 

And, perhaps, this year's experimental potted crop will lead others to grow their own flax in pots or in garden plots? Or it will at least be a lesson on what NOT to do!

One of the potted stalks is already 16 inches tall!







Monday, June 27, 2022

Don't Fence Me In!

Over the weekend, I tried some methods of containing the potted flax so it may grow more upright. I put tomato cages into the pots and had the "brilliant" idea to add some nylon netting to further contain the stalks. Hmmm...

NOT happy, flax!

It really didn't like being contained within the netting. The stalks bunched together and were so miserable that I could almost feel it! So, I took off the netting...

Happy flax!

It didn't take long for the stalks to reach back up to the heavens when they were released from the netting prison. Lesson learned. Flax likes its freedom. I will keep the tomato cages, though. They will give the stalks something to lean on as they get taller without constraining them too much. I may also be forced to thin the crop a bit. I am always hesitant to cull growing plants, although I know it can help the remaining plants grow more vigorously. But, I will need a tweezer to get into the pot and thin them. Oh, why didn't I do this earlier in the growing cycle? They need to be densely planted, but at some point, they also need room for their roots to grow. To not cull them may risk killing the entire crop. (There is a more profound lesson about life to be learned here. Enough of the heavy, though.)

There has been, perhaps, another benefit of growing the potted flax crop. The potted cherry tomato plants standing behind the flax are growing like monsters this year! 

Giant tomatoes.

They are easily 8 feet tall, and it's only the end of June. Typically, my potted tomatoes grow nearly this tall by the end of the season, which would be in 2 more months. Perhaps they enjoy growing beside the flax? Do they have long conversations about life and reaching the sun? Or is there some plant-to-plant competition going on here? 😉

In a few days, I will be blogging about some exciting news regarding the subject of flax and the next year. Keep in touch!





Friday, June 17, 2022

Measuring Up After One Month

It's been four weeks since the first crop of flax was sown, and it is averaging between 7 and 8 inches in height. That's good progress!

The First Crop at One Month

The crop that was sown a week after the first is between 4 and 5 inches in height. The overall seed germination rate remained less in that crop than the first, but what did come up is doing well.

The Second Crop at Three Weeks

At issue now… I don't think self-support of the stalks will work in a potted environment to keep them from falling over when watered and in the general breeze. If they were in a mass in a field, they would have natural vertical support as they lean on each other. I believe I need to create a support structure as they continue to grow in height, or they will continue to fall over and have a crooked stalk which is not ideal for flax fiber. 

So, onward to developing a support plan for the pots!




Monday, June 6, 2022

Timing is Everything?

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post and the flax is actively growing. The first pots of flax are flourishing. The second planting, not so much. So, why, is the question?


The first planting, on the left, is crazy healthy. The second planting, in the black pots on the right, was planted only a week after the first crop. The soil is from the same potting soil bag, and the planting depth is the same. The only two variables between the plantings are the pots being black and the seeds having been planted a week later, in late May. Did the soil get too warm in the black pots for the seeds to germinate correctly? Did perhaps just one week later in the month make a difference in the seeds' viability? It's curious. I am leaning towards a combination of warmer soil and later planting as the problem. Flax likes cool weather for germination, just past frost. Late May in Minnesota is pushing the limit. Even though this May has been quite cool overall, the sun is at a higher angle and that may be a bit too much for robust flax germination. I will assume that just one week can make a difference in the final outcome. I see the lesson being: plant just after the danger of a hard frost—typically mid-May in Minnesota. Don't wait until the end of May in this latitude! It will be interesting to see if the last planting grows any differently as the season progresses.


 

Last spring, I planted some ornamental flax down by our county road and it is starting to bloom already! Note that this is NOT fiber flax (which is an annual plant) but a perennial ornamental version. The flowers are similar, blue, with 5-petals, but the stalk grows to a much shorter height and has multiple leaves as you can see in the bottom right. (Ignore the large leaf in the middle, the fine, lacey leaves on the right are from the flax plant.)



Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Baby Flax!

Look what I found yesterday morning! The first flax seedlings in my garden pot experiment popped their little heads out of the soil in the early light of May 24th. They germinated in exactly 7 days. Cute little guys! It's hard to believe these tiny things will hopefully become about 36-inch tall stalks at full growth. 


Oh my, how they grow!

As of this morning, May 25th, the pot is full of little green heads. Although fiber flax likes to be densely grown to produce the straightest stalks and fewer flowers (fewer flowers mean fewer breaks in the final flax fiber), I will definitely be culling a few as they grow.



To continue the experiment with a staggered start, I seeded 4 new pots yesterday, so now I have a total of 8 pots of flax to tend and watch grow for the summer.

A question to put out there… do deer eat flax plants? There was a deer in our driveway this morning. Uh oh. Some research is in order!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

A New Experiment in Growing Flax – in moveable pots!

I am making another attempt to grow fiber flax (Linum usitatissimum) at Saga Hill. Flax requires quite a lot of sun to flourish, and my previous attempt to grow flax in my garden created very meager plants due to the lack of full sunlight. So this time, I am using portable pots. The pots will allow me to move the plants into more direct sunlight as the light direction changes through the summer. Since the root structure of flax is quite short, there should be plenty of room for their full growth in the 12-inch deep pots. 

I purchased the seeds from Richters.com (a Canadian seed firm). They arrived a bit late (due to COVID delivery issues from Canada and supply issues) but still in time to plant, considering our late spring this year in Minnesota.


I broadcast the seeds in the pots (sprinkled them liberally) and put about 1/4 inch of potting soil on top. They are supposed to take 2 weeks to germinate. I plan to have a second planting in a few days as a fall-back crop and see how the planting time might affect the growth and harvesting timeline. A thorough weeding occurs when the plants are 6–8 inches tall. I may need to stake them for support as they grow, but that remains to be seen. About 60 days after planting, flowers will appear, but for only a day. When the flower petals drop off, seed pods form, and 80–100 days after planting, the stalks will be ready for harvesting (by pulling, not cutting!).

I am eager to see where this experiment goes. If the plants make their full growth, I will rett (rot/soften) the flax properly in a puppy pool rather than in snow as I did last time with the Gale Woods Farm experimental flax crop. Snow-retting was not a very stable process!

I'll continue to blog on the progress, so keep in touch!

BTW… My previous blogging site is still up at https://sagahill.wordpress.com although I am not updating it with new posts.