Friday, July 5, 2024

A Blooming Good Time!

I don't have much to update you on the Gale Woods Linen Flax crop except to say... it's blooming like crazy! Since rain was forecast every day for the next week, I dropped by the farm on what was to be the sunniest day (this past Wednesday, July 3) to see how the blooms were coming along. 

View of long row of flax growing and blooming

There are so many blooms and so many buds about to flower! 
Image of multiple flowers on the flax stalks

The height of most of the stalks is now over 3 feet.
Image of measuring stick next to flax stalks

Since it was a beautiful day and there wasn't much to report from Gale Woods Farm this week besides the blooms, I stopped by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Look who greeted me on one of the back paths! A giant, ancient tortoise! The moss on his back is fantastic!
Image of a giant tortoise on a dirt path


Friday, June 28, 2024

Rolling With the Punches 
A Thriving Linen Flax Plot and… 
the Death of a Plot


Update on the Gale Woods Farm linen flax plot

Image of long row of flax stalks in field

The Gale Woods plot is thriving! On June 20th, I saw the first flower in bloom. Actually, there were three flowers in bloom in the entire plot, which indicates that I probably arrived on the first day of the bloom. 


One blue flax flower in bloom

This was earlier than I expected to see the first blooms. Surprises are part of the process! The total time from sowing to bloom was precisely 44 days. 


Flax flower next to measuring stick

It was interesting that the blooms were not on the tallest stalks. I guess height is not necessarily an indicator of bloom readiness. The average stalk height was around 30 inches.


Gale Woods flax plot with yardstick showing the general height of the stalks


I revisited the plot this past Wednesday (June 26th), 

Long row of flax stalks on June 26th

and there are multiple blooms! It was a windy day, so getting the flowers to stand still for their portrait was difficult, 


so I made a video of the flowing stalks. (Turn up your sound to experience the site. At 7 seconds, there is the faint call of a farm rooster!)


Measuring stick showing height of flax stalks

The tallest stalks are now over 36 inches—beyond the reach of my yardstick—and many are 42 inches tall! There are still several shorter stalks, and they are all looking very healthy.


Hand holding a bunch of blue flax flowers in field

Based on the number of buds ready to burst with flowers, I suspect that starting this weekend, the plot will be in a great blooming phase, which, considering the number of stalks, might last one to two weeks. Get out there soon, or you will miss the bloom time! Each flower only survives for a few hours, which I can testify is true since I watched a flower drop all its petals during the short time I visited the plot around midday. 



Update on my personal linen flax plot

Now, some bad news, at least for me. This summer has shown no mercy for my poor personal plot. If you have been following this journey through the weeks, you know that my plot had challenges in its not-so-sunny location and being near the end of a house downspout. And we have had a LOT of rain this summer in our part of Minnesota. With one particularly heavy overnight deluge, my stalks became lodged (laid on the ground). I hoped they might recover, but they never even got a chance to try. The downpours of rain have been relentless. I finally have accepted this: my plot is toast.

Image of flattened flax stalks lying on the ground

Goodbye, personal plot! (And hello to needing to purchase flax stalks for any workshops I might schedule in the next year. Darn!)

 

As any gardener or farmer can tell you, the ability to roll with the punches is essential. The whims of nature will always be a factor. But after several years of trying to produce a decent linen flax crop at home, my rose-colored glasses are finally put away. I am convinced that, as things are, my home location is never going to work as a site to grow linen flax. I will need to look elsewhere. Fortunately, for this year, I have the Gale Woods Farm plot to follow and process (crossing my fingers that no significant weather events will affect that plot!). So, the remainder of my blog this summer and fall will follow the Gale Woods project. Onward!




 

Friday, June 14, 2024

Flax Weeding is Done – Now Growing is the Focus

Update on the Gale Woods Linen Flax Crop 

Image of flax plot row.

I visited the plot at Gale Woods Farm today. No more weeding is necessary! The crop is filling in very nicely. Grasses around the area have been mowed, so it’s easier to see the plot from the entrance road. It has been raining nearly every other day, in fact, almost too often, so watering the crop hasn’t been needed for a while. We are expecting some warmer days ahead (80+ Fahrenheit), and it will be interesting to see if the crop bolts in height during that period or slows down.


Close-up of flax stalks and measuring stick showing height


I remembered to bring my yardstick to check the actual height this time. There are various stalk heights, with the differences being roughly between 14 and 21 inches. This makes sense since some sprouts didn’t emerge until about a week after the first seedlings. If they grow at a rate of one inch a day, which I have been observing, that seven-inch difference in height would be expected. I suspect the heights will even out as they grow and mature.


Image of blue damselfly on garden bed.


A very pretty Damselfly, the Enallagma, seems to be attracted to the stalks. These damselflies (Bluets) have also been visiting my flax and sitting on the stalks, which is a good thing since, from my research, I have found they eat aphids, mayflies, and small flies that are harmful to plants. The things you learn when growing flax!

 

Other than that, there isn’t any significant news to report. It’s simply time for the crop to grow and eventually develop flower buds—although that will be several weeks from now.

 

Update on My Personal Linen Flax Plot 

With all the rain we have been experiencing, the trees around my plot have become even denser. Therefore, there is even less sun hitting the plot than last week. There has still been growth, though. The tallest stalks are around 25 inches, with a range between 20 and 25 inches.


Image of green flax stalks and measuring stick showing their height


 

Friday, June 7, 2024

Linen Flax Enjoys the Month of June 

Update on the Gale Woods plot

Yesterday, I was doing a minor weeding of the linen flax plot at Gale Woods Farm—mainly looking for more thistles. The best part of the work is being outdoors on a gorgeous June morning! Aside from needing to button up to avoid ticks and douse myself in mosquito repellent, there is nothing like a real garden experience in open fields in June! Huge, puffy clouds were sliding across the most intense blue sky. There was a crazy wind, though—gusts of 30+ mph. But that was natural bug repellent! Yay!


Image of blue sky with farm field below.

Above: The flax plot is in the foreground. Use your close-up vision to see the red barn and silo in the distance!


Image showing a long row of flax stalks in field


It was fabulous to see the dramatic growth in the plot! It is beautiful! At one month (precisely 30 days), the stalks are tall enough to blow in the wind (on average, they are about 8–10 inches tall). It is a wondrous sight! If you come out to visit, the plot is easier to see now that the stalks are poking up more from the surroundings. Look for it behind the fence, to the right along the entrance road, and across from the red pavilion building. There are some tall grasses between the metal fence and the plot. You will need to climb over the open wooden fence to get closer to the metal garden fence. (Careful about ticks in this area!) Perhaps in another month, the plot will be visible without going over the wooden fence.



One section towards the middle of the plot has meager growth with smaller stalks. Why? I don’t have a clue. Maybe there was something in the soil in that area—too much or too little of a particular nutrient? Maybe that bunch of seeds was less vigorous? It is curious.

 

Update on my personal plot

It’s a mixed bag of heights between the front and back of the plot. They all received the same amount of moisture and were sown and emerged at mostly the same time, so I assume the height difference is because of inconsistent sunlight. The stalks in the front receive more sun and are dramatically taller. 



After nearly 2 months of growth (precisely 54 days), the maximum height is 17 inches. That is almost halfway to their final ideal height (about 40–48 inches). However, due to the sunlight issue, I suspect my crop will be shorter at harvest time than the Gale Woods flax, even though they are the same flax variety. We shall see! (Having mostly dense woods for a backyard is wonderful, especially for the fireflies that will soon be dancing back there, but it’s not optimal for a linen flax crop!)

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Linen Flax Growing Project Update 

Gale Woods Farm Linen Flax

I was at the farm on 5/30/24 to see how the flax (and weeds) were growing. As suspected, the thistle continues to make its mark on the south end of the plot, as do a few other smaller weeds throughout. I pulled the unwelcome plants for 2 hours with relatively good success. 

The plants have grown to a height that makes them generally too tall to step on, yet the weed problem needs to be handled. Due to the timing of the plot proposal and other factors, the plot was only plowed a few times this spring before sowing. A fall plot preparation is ideal, but that wasn't a possibility in this scenario. This less-than-ideal situation is becoming more apparent as the soil is becoming more than just a home for the flax seedlings. I will need to continue weeding next week, but I hope this will be the last intensive weeding session. 

Close-up image of flax plants in field row.

After 3 weeks of growth, the seedlings are becoming stalks! The average height was about 4 inches, although I forgot to bring my measuring stick.

Personal Flax Plot

Measuring stick showing 12 inches of flax plant growth in field.

These plants are vigorous! The tallest ones are 12 inches. It's possible that they would be taller in a location with more sunlight, but they are still thriving with the cooler weather and steady rain we have been experiencing.

Close-up image of top of flax plant holding a water drop.

Linen flax LOVES a wet, cool, humid environment! This one wants to hold onto a water droplet after a rainstorm!

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Birth of Two Crops!

May 23

Update on my personal linen flax plot

My linen flax crop is now one month old and growing vigorously. It started out slowly, probably due to the cooler weather when it germinated, but now it is growing at a rate of about an inch a day! We are getting pretty regular rainfall, so I've rarely needed to water the plot. The air temperature has been gradually getting warmer, but overall, we have had a cooler spring. Both are keen factors in growing happy linen flax. Yesterday, the longest stalks measured 6 inches in height, and today, they are 7 inches. One inch a day? Wow! Happy flax! 


Image of flax stalks with measuring stick showing 7 inches in height.

I kept the plot regularly weeded until about two weeks ago when the majority of the stalks were getting too tall for such disturbance. The plot is pretty weed-free at this point. The area that was somewhat washed out by an early plot flooding has not been lost. It is simply a bit behind in growth. So, somehow, the seeds remained in place even with the flooding. Perhaps that is also a factor of the careful raking that I did during the sowing. It is interesting to see the seeds are so vigorous, even under duress.


My ongoing concern is that my plot does not have continuous sunlight throughout the day, especially now that the trees have fully leafed out. I guess I will have to wait and see if that becomes a factor in the overall stalk length. Having the Gale Woods flax to compare it to (they planted the same Avian variety of linen flax, but in full sunlight) will be interesting.


Image of Blue Flax flower in grasses

A side note:
I planted a perennial variety of flax (Blue Flax) a few years ago, and it is already in bloom! This variety has multiple branches with multiple flowers, is quite short at its full height (maybe 10 inches tall), and, therefore, is not a good linen fiber flax. It is found in garden centers and is the type of flax you can commonly find in a seed packet. But it is still very beautiful!

 

 









Update on the Gale Woods Farm linen flax plot 

The seeds sown at Gale Woods Farm started to pop through the soil at around the 7-day mark. 


Small linen flax seedlings in plot at Gale Woods.

Now, they are two weeks into their growth, and some are developing their second and third leaf sets. Some areas have been slower to germinate, probably due to being raked deeper in the soil, but even those areas now have seedlings that are starting to emerge. I expect that in one more week, most of the crop will be well on its way. The bulk of the plants are at the height of a first weeding, so today, I went over to the farm to weed them. 


People on hands and knees pulling out weeds from flax plot.

Happily, the crew that was part of the seed sowing was there, and they came over to help weed the plot. What a wonderful help they are! It was weeded in no time. The worst of the weeding right now is with large thistle plants that are really trying to make their mark in the plot. I suspect we will be dealing with those nasty guys for a while. I will return next week to do another weeding and check the flax stalk growth.

 

 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Sowing Linen Flax Adventures in 2024!

I am not very consistent with this blog. I can't believe over a year has passed since I put something up here. 

A lot has been happening with me and linen flax since I received the American Swedish Institute Teaching Tools Grant for acquiring (and creating) linen flax processing tools. I've had three sold-out flax processing workshops at the ASI over the past year, one sold-out flax spinning class at ASI, demonstrated flax processing at the ASI midsummer event, presented on the subject of linen flax to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and gave a presentation and demonstration on linen flax to nearly 80 attendees at the Weavers' Guild of Minnesota. Whew! That, plus more research into the historical and biological aspects of linen flax, has kept me busy and given me more knowledge of the subject to the point that I wanted to dig deeper this year, literally deeper, into linen flax.

So, last fall, I purchased more linen flax seeds from the Landis Valley Heritage Museum in Pennsylvania. Receiving this pound of seed (Avian variety) put urgency into me to find a place to grow the seed in the spring of 2024. Nothing like finding something to kick you in the butt!

In the past, I taught and volunteered in the fiber program at Gale Woods Farm, an educational farm part of the Three Rivers Park District in Minnesota. In the winter, I approached the farm staff to see if I could kick-start a linen flax crop this spring. When they saw the possibilities of this fitting into their sustainability programming, it was a “Yeah! Let's do it!"

I also wanted to have a personal plot with part of the seed I purchased to record the entire growing process daily. Therefore, between the two growing projects for this summer, my refresh of the Saga Hill blog begins as a way to record this year of linen flax!

My personal home plot begins

To respect nature's calendar year, I looked at the Bloodroot plant that grows in our home woods. Its blooming is always a sign that true spring has arrived. Even if the weather might get cold and even snow, which it did, I have never seen any major cold events happen after the Bloodroot blooms. This year, it bloomed a good two weeks before prior years. So, I used that as my guide for sowing my linen seeds. Onward! 

The technical details of my home plot…

Plot size: somewhat triangular, roughly 6 x 7 (42 square feet).

 

Date sown: 4/15/24. This date was chosen because the Bloodroot in the nearby wooded area is now in bloom, which has been an early sign of true spring here. (This is about two weeks before its bloom date in previous years.)

Time sown: 4 PM

Weather: 66 degrees, partly cloudy, rain in the forecast

Soil temp: did not test, although nearby farm had a soil temp of 40 degrees nearly 2 weeks ago. According to University studies, 40­–50 degrees is supposedly the ideal temperature for flax sowing (although that may be for seed and straw flax).

Soil: Loamy, raked up 3x to a fine consistency

Sown: 4 ounces

Sowing method: Broadcasting from a cup. Criss-crossed plot to densely cover the entire area. Then stepped down and watered. Some seeds remained on the surface. Reworked soil with a fine rake so more seeds would drop into the soil.

 

I placed a wooden grid and some sticks over the plot to try to keep the dog and some critters out. Keeping ground squirrels out will probably be my biggest challenge.

 

For the following 48 hours, there was a LOT of rain, and the north part of the bed was flooded. I will wait to see if any seeds germinate before re-seeding it in that area.

 

From 4/15 to 4/25, some nights had 33-degree temperatures, perhaps briefly below freezing, too. There has been considerable rain during this period. I only needed to water the plot once around 4/23.

 

4/26/24 – (12 days since sowing) The first sign of emerging plants! I put sticks over the plot to discourage our dog and other critters from stepping on the area.


image of small flax plants growing in soil

4/30/24 – It appears that most of the seeds have germinated. The partial flooding of the plot and the early cold weather don’t seem to have affected the germination in any obvious way. The north end of the plot is more prolific than the south end. That may be because, right now, the north end gets a little more sun. The sun exposure for the entire plot will increase up to midsummer. Interestingly, it took longer for the seeds to germinate than those I have sown during warmer weather in previous years (particularly on the 20th of May, 2023). The photo below shows that more seeds have germinated from the initial emergence. I removed the sticks and now have a fence around the plot.


Taller flax plants in soil
 

5/8/24 – (4th week since sowing—the date of this blog post) The seeds have grown to a height of about 1 inch in general. Since the 30th of April, there has been rain nearly every other day, so I have not had to water the plot yet. The sun is more centralized over the plot, although the nearby trees are also leafing out, leading to a shorter amount of direct sun in the course of a day. Our property has so many trees, which is another reason I sought out Gale Woods Farm as another plot test. So far, weed growth is minimal.


The Gale Woods plot begins

May 8, 2024 – we sowed 1.5 pounds of linen flax seeds at Gale Woods Farm this morning!

The garden supervisor managed to corral three staff and one volunteer to help with the sowing. Approximately 150 linear feet of linen flax (Avian variety) was sown by 11 AM on this gorgeous spring day, with an air temperature of around 65 degrees and a very light breeze. Between the six of us, it only took about 45 minutes to finish the job: from raking the soil to a finer consistency (“as fine as snuff,” as the Swedes say), distributing and broadcasting the seeds with our hands from cups, and raking the seeds into the soil. Efficiency comes in numbers! Now we wait for a potential rain this evening, or the garden supervisor will sprinkle a little water on the seed bed tomorrow morning. It was interesting to see the seeds shining in the sun before the final raking, knowing that more raking was needed if we saw any seeds shining. Crossing my fingers that we see the plants emerging in about a week!

Here are some images from the Gale Woods sowing:

Plowed field row with people raking the soil

The initial raking of the plot row. The plot is 4 feet wide with 2 feet on either side for walking.


We distributed the seeds into cups to broadcast them evenly in the plot row.


A person throwing the seeds onto the plot row.

The seeds were broadcast (thrown) onto the plot row. To ensure the seeds were consistently sown along the row, each person had four ounces of seeds to spread within their zone. Linen flax requires a tight density of plants—as many as 2000 seeds per square yard!


Several people raking the seeds into the plot row.

The final step was to rake the seeds into the plot row. The seeds only need to be sown about 1/2 to 1 inch into the soil, and a gentle raking is a very efficient method of achieving this.