If It’s April It Must Be Time to Plant Flax

It is, in fact, April. No foolin’. I am excited that it’s spring but, as usual, I’m ill prepared. Even though we had a mild winter here in terms of temperatures and snowfall, it was still winter. And I was still surprised by the sudden acceleration of the hours of daylight around the spring equinox. Winter winter winter winter winter, then, ta da, spring!

The other day I read on a blog post from one of the Vävstuga students that they had planted flax as part of the Väv Immersion class (tip: hit the back button to get back to my post from these links). What? I felt a sudden panic. I am not ready to plant.

I have been slowly chipping away at removing the seeds from the fiber flax varieties I grew last summer. We have had plenty of warm, dry weather over the past couple months. For example, on the last Sunday of February I gave my FIBERuary presentation at Sheep and Shawl. It was about 60 degrees that afternoon, and we set up the brake, scutching board, and hetchels outside for people to try their hand at. Fun! Warm! Dry!

On Friday afternoon it was a balmy and sunny 70 degrees. However, it seems that whenever I have free time to deal with my flax seeds, it’s raining, cold, or dark. Lo and behold, on Saturday it was raining, but I hunkered down indoors to work on flax. When I’m stuck in the apartment, I try to minimize the mess of dealing with flax straw. By “mess” I mean dried soil that stuck to the roots, teensy shriveled little fibers that fall off the roots (well, they’re small root hairs, I guess), dried leaves and flowers, and dried seed bolls that fall off and get into the carpet and everywhere. Here is a photo of what I’m talking about:

dried flax debrisIt’s very pretty, actually, but very messy. In fact, it was evocative of summer and handling the plants was very pleasant. There were lots of little dried flowers that looked very sweet. This type is a white-blooming variety, and the teeny dried blossoms had an antique quality sort of like baby’s breath:

white flax blossomsHere are some dried flower buds still on the plants:

dried blossoms on the flax strawTo store the bundles of flax over the winter, I wrapped them up inside the row-cover that I used to make the isolation tents. I keep the bundles nestled in those while I pull off the seed bolls.

unwrapped bundle of 5NNIt has been working pretty well, but pulling off the seed bolls is a very, very slow process. Thus far I have removed the seed bolls from the 3 tallest types from last summer, the ones nicknamed 1602, 5NN and Peynau. Matthew took these photos while I worked on Saturday, so you can see the set-up.

handling seed bollsThe bundle is resting on a 6 foot table and I have a floor lamp and desk lamp for light.

pulling off seed bolls

separating flax stemsThe tips of the stems are really prickly and sharp. My right index finger is especially scratched up now. You can see the ziplock baggie on my right where I’m putting the bolls.

A much faster way to do it is to crush the bolls with a wine bottle, and then sweep up all the debris:

wine bottle methodI was able to use this method this summer to quickly remove a lot of seed that I wasn’t planning to save. I was worried about attracting mice, though, so I got off all the seed before I stored the straw. I will employ this method on the next dry weekend day. Meanwhile, I’m pulling off bolls by hand.

crushed seed bolls using wine bottle








Here’s a close-up of the dried seed bolls on the stalks. They are at different stages of maturity. I’ll have to do some germination tests to see if the color of the boll affects how viable the seed is.

dried flax seed bollsLast, but not least, below you can see a photo of some of that beautiful, messy debris with the precious objects of all this labor hiding within it like jewels. Flax seeds are really shiny. You can see a few glossy brown seeds gleaming here amidst the chaff:

Can you see the seeds?In case you need help seeing them, there are a couple seeds between the dried white flower bud and the tan-colored boll right in the middle of the photo. If you click on the image it should open up a bigger image that might be easier to see.