Planting Flax 2016

In this post I will show some photos of the beds I dug for planting flax this year, and some photos that reflect my desperation as I waited for signs that the seeds were actually germinating!

I decided to focus on 6 types this season. I selected the ones that had the tallest height at harvest last summer. This doesn’t account for branching habit, days to first flower, signs of disease, or any number of other relevant factors in selecting fiber flax seed. On the other hand, it’s straightforward and uses the data at my disposal, so I feel OK about it. Continue reading “Planting Flax 2016”

Winnowing and Wine Bottles

OK, so I said earlier that I am bad at winnowing. This is still mostly true. I also said that on the next sunny weekend day I would use the wine bottle method to get the seeds off my flax in an efficient way. This is only a bit true, but it’s “truthy” in a way that can be explained with details and isn’t a lie.

This post is about how I spent a significant portion of April vacation removing the seeds from six varieties of flax from last summer, and got it cleaned up for planting. I know that ostensibly my blog is about dyeing, but I have been flax-obsessed lately. You might have noticed the flaxy-flaxy-flax-flax theme…. So, yeah. Flax. Again. Continue reading “Winnowing and Wine Bottles”

Low Humidity! April Vacation!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want to process flax, you’d better do it while the humidity is low. I am not entirely positive why this is so, but I know from experience that it is true. If you try to break or scutch your flax while it’s humid, the stalks just bend and the shives cling to the fibers for dear life. You do not hear the gratifying crackling, snapping sounds that should accompany such activities. It is arduous and futile. Well, maybe not futile, but it’s certainly a lot easier and more successful when the humidity is low.

I suspect that this is related to one of the properties of linen that make it a desirable fabric. Flax fibers are hydrophilic, meaning that they absorb water easily. I am sure someone has done research on how being damp also makes flax want to stick to itself. If you know of good resources on this, shoot me an email.

For the past several days here in western Massachusetts, we have had very, very low humidity. Well, low for Massachusetts. It’s been anywhere from 30-50% in the morning, dropping to about 18% in the afternoon. The weather has also been bright, sunny and warm. And best of all, it is April vacation! So, I have had time to sit and process flax! Everything I’m working on this week is the variety Marilyn, though I’m chipping away at bundles from various years. Continue reading “Low Humidity! April Vacation!”

Magnification Technology Mach 2

Apparently one of the unforeseen functions of my blog is to document the decline in my vision over the decade of my forties. I have written about it here and here. Despite my attempts to be philosophical about it, I still find it annoying (at best) and unsettling (at worst) that I can’t see as well as I used to. Fortunately, magnification technologies come to my rescue at opportune moments. So honestly I cannot complain. Here’s a great example of such a rescue.

I’ve been stripping the seed bolls off of my flax from last summer, and sifting through debris for individual seeds. Flax seeds are shiny and glossy, and they stand out amidst the beautiful but comparatively lusterless dried leaves, flowers, and other bits of plant debris. Well, they stand out a *bit*. They do not stand out a *lot*. The chaff and other debris are highly textured and multicolored, and even glossy, shiny seeds can get lost in the mix. Especially with my not-so-awesome eyesight. The other day I was stripping the seeds off of the variety called Ariane. I’d removed all the seed bolls from the plants. Yay. However, I had a huge pile of debris to sift through with loose seeds mixed in. Sigh. Time to double down. Continue reading “Magnification Technology Mach 2”

Or, If it’s April It’s Time for Snow

On Sunday morning after I took all the photos for my last post, I woke up to this snowy scene:

Sunday snow sceneIt was just a dusting, but it came along with some much colder temperatures. Maybe it isn’t really spring? Here’s another view of the back yard yesterday morning, including kitty paw prints:

paw prints in the snowAnd here’s a view of the woods a bit later in the day when the sun came out. It’s like spring in the foreground where the sun melted the snow, and winter in the woods where it was shady:

winter woodsThis morning, Monday, we had snow for real:

van under snow

So, I am a bit less anxious about the fact that I haven’t planted my flax yet!

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. Continue reading “If It’s April It Must Be Time to Plant Flax”

What Are Those Bees Doing?

This is yet another post in which I attempt to catch up on the wealth of observations from the summer’s flax project. In this post I will share a lot of photographs of bees. Photographing bees and other flying insects isn’t easy. However, my certainty that bees visit flax blossoms was the main reason that I was worried about cross-pollination when I was setting up my USDA seed project this spring. It’s the reason I covered the plants, even though flax is considered self-pollinated. I’m not sure what bees and other insects are doing, exactly, when they visit flax flowers. I just know that they do.

Here’s a bee visiting a flax flower on July 29, 2015.

July 29 2015I didn’t make note of what variety it was on. Continue reading “What Are Those Bees Doing?”

More About Flax Seed Maturity

This is a follow-up to my recent post about fiber flax seed maturity. After I posted it, I realized that I have a lot more photographs depicting the things I was trying to describe. So, here’s a bit more visual detail.

Let’s revisit the problem of dehiscence. This would mean that mature/over-ripe seed pods, bolls, or capsules would a) fall intact from their teeny withered stems onto the ground or b) shatter, pop open, and drop their glossy seeds willy-nilly on the ground. As a seed-saver, I was not in favor of either of these possibilities. Continue reading “More About Flax Seed Maturity”

Saving Flax Seed: Days to Maturity

This is the next installment about the USDA germplasm project I have been working on this year. In this post I will discuss the definition of “days to maturity”, which was one of the pieces of information I was supposed to be tracking for the USDA. I will also share some of my thinking around how I decided to harvest seeds this summer.

Since there has been a significant lapse of time since my last flax-related post, I will quickly recap. In this first season of the project, I was hoping to increase our supply of seed. I tried to prevent cross pollination by using isolation cages made out of lightweight Agribon and wooden stakes. Half of my project suffered utter crop failure in mid-July due to predation by rodents (or possibly other unidentified flax-stalk chewers and flax-seed eaters). Luckily, the other half of the project escaped largely unscathed, thanks to better weeding, daily monitoring, and cat-pee soaked scraps of cloth pinned to the isolation cages. You can read my earlier posts from April to August of 2015 for more details. Continue reading “Saving Flax Seed: Days to Maturity”

Anti-Rodent Action

After I discovered the rodent catastrophe at our community garden plot, I fearfully headed over to the other site at Amethyst Farm to assess the situation there. Some damage had already occurred, but it was really minor in comparison.

Here are some chewed up stems from the type nick-named 448, and another variety that I apparently forgot to make note of below that.

448 chewed stalks July 24July 24 Amethyst Farm chewed stalks Continue reading “Anti-Rodent Action”