It’s only now – winter of 2021 – that I manage to put the results online. I have to admit that I neglected the blog a bit after I started working at a design studio in August. At least now I can already write about the farming from a “looking back at it” type of perspective, which can be refreshing too. In hindsight I believe I decided to choose the approach of this year because I wanted to experience why we work with flax the way we do. If you need to recall what/how I have sown the flax, go to my second post here. Questions like these, motivated me to try new things:
Yes, I know we need to grow flax in the sun, but what If you don’t have sun in your garden (facing north), can you then literally not grow it?
Yes, I know we should prepare a seedbed, but wouldn’t it be much nicer if the flax could flourish between all the other plants that are naturally there?
At first I thought I would have one harvest day, but pretty soon I realized that’s not gonna work for this experiment. Or t least I feel it was a shame to not let the few flowering plants come to ripe the seeds. So I changed my strategics. Since there weren’t so many plant anyway, I would harvest whenever a plant was ready. I started as early as August and finished in September.
So what happened?
Field 1A – was located in front of the house, in the sun. I didn’t prepare a seedbed, instead I carved rows in the soil and dropped seeds inside. At first it looked really good, quite a few flax seeds germinated and made it to a height of a 3 to 4 cm, but then the other plants took over. So by August (harvest time) only a stunning number of five plants made it to the flowering/seed producing stage – of approximately 2100 seeds. I also noticed that some seedlings were drying out, which makes if their root systems need to compete with the other plants around them .he largest plant was around 43cm
Field 1B was also located in the front of the house, in the sun. No seedbed, the seeds were just thrown onto the mix of moss and grass. It was much harder to spot the flax seedling here, same story as above, just around ten plants were flowering and tried to produce seeds in the end. The largest plant was around 47cm. However, it was lovely to spot that one little blue flower in a sea of green grass, glad you made it little warriors!
Field 1C was also located in the front of the house, in the sun. No seedbed, the seeds were just thrown onto the mix of moss and grass. But I used the double amount of seeds, so around 4200. Yes, it was visible that I had sown more flax there, indeed there was a higher “yield” compared to the first two fields, but that didn’t come unexpected. It was noticeable though, that rodents and birds also discovered this feeding ground as there were significantly more flax seed shells visible. The largest plant was around 67cm.
Field 2A The most “successful” field in the series is this one. Why, you may ask? Because I believe it comes closest to the ideal environment – yet of course is still quite far away. This field was located behind the house, thus had shade the entire day, except for in the early mornings for maybe 2h. This field was actually sown in rows in a prepared seedbed, so nice conditions for the flax. The germination went fairly well, but growth got stagnant for a lot of plants when they were about 3 to 4 cm tall, only a tiny bunch of them made it to the flowering stage. The largest plant is around 78cm
Field 2B It was supposed to be comparable with field 2A. I wanted to compare wether sowing in rows or spreading it out made a difference in yield. The yield was significantly lower than from field 2A but I don’t believe that comes from the sowing method, I think it is because this field plainly got even less (direct) sunlight than the first field, as it was further behind the house. I find that really interesting in fact. Again, a very small bunch made it to flowering (see pictures) and the plants generally stayed shorter than from field 2A. The largest plant was 67cm tall.
Field 2C Now this one was supposed to be fun. I had sown dyers woodruff (Isatis Tinctoria) between the flax (supposedly a dyer’s plant that likes shade). Well, what should I say after all of the above. The woodruff has never been seen and a strong eight plants made it to the flowering stage. It’s very significant that the seed pods stayed incredibly small (around 5mm diameter) compared to a regular seed pod (around 8mm diameter). The largest plant was around 50cm. All in all, I think this field had the least sun.
The box – the box was my comparison group. I wanted to make sure that my above experiments wouldn’t be because I was using old seeds or sandy soil (not a soil type flax loves). So I also prepared a 1x1m seedbed for flax at a spot the flax would love (in the sun) and I would weed it regularly. So what’s the result of this? Well, the yield was still much lower compared to my flax 1x1m flax experiments in Germany, but I think that’s mainly because I used 3 year old seeds and I was growing it on sandy soil instead of clay. However, I still got a good handful of flax from that little patch, the height of the plants is also pretty much the same as they were at ‘The Linen Projects’ field at the Open Air Museum. Approximately 90 to 100cm . So I am relatively confident I can use this little square as a comparison field in my amateur research. As you can see in the comparison below, the amount of yield is incredibly much higher than with the other fields.
Looking at my diary and all the pictures I am quite happy I did this experiment this year. I gained more about flax farming, why we do it the way we do it. Because yes, otherwise we wouldn’t get a lot of these plants that we love to make beautiful garments from. So here are some takeaways/assumptions from this year:
- Sowing flax either in the shade or onto a grass/moss patch has the more or less the same effect: very few plants make it to flowering, the plants stay small. I am assuming the most important factor is light, then comes water.
- Every hour of extra sunlight increases the chance of a plant surviving and it’s chance to flower.
- Increasing the amount of sown seeds also increases the amount of yield. (I have read that this is true until too many plants compete for the same resources)
- The current used method (sowing onto a seedbed in the sun) has the highest yield and the least plants drying out.
How do I want to continue?
I am so intrigued by testing these different methods. I would love to find a way to farm flax that could be more nature inclusive, the trials this year were a first test. Simply put, the way we farm flax large scale today is monoculture. I’d just love to wear my own garden really. So now I have clarity that growing flax in the shade is really tough one and also that throwing flax seeds into your garden hoping that nature does it’s thing an you’ll get some flax plants at the end of the year – well, yes, it will be some. Just enough if you decide to make a sweater for ants. Anyhow, I got really motivated to try more techniques next year. My mind is running.