All you need is a patch of soil, your hands and a small amount of effort over the 100 days from sowing to harvest. Flax is a low-maintenance plant and will not require a big commitment of your time. Check back on this blog for updates and feel free to email with any questions.
- Get your free seed. If you live in or near West Coker then seed packs are available to pick up in person from OSR Projects. If you live further afield then packs can be posted. Send your name and postal address to Jo Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each pack contains enough seed to cover one square metre. You can grow more if you have the space but will need more seed – just ask for more so you have one pack per metre square of soil.
- Choose your growing site. A sunny, sheltered area is best if you can find one. Each pack contains enough seed to cover one square metre and it’s best to plant in a square block rather than a long row. Flax grown in a block will be more able to support itself, produce better fibres and be easier to weed.
- Prepare the soil. Choose a fine day in late March when the soil isn’t too wet. You will need some tools for this bit – a spade or a fork, a rake and a watering can. Ask friends if you can borrow theirs if you don’t have these. If there’s grass where you want to plant then skim off the turf with a spade. Fork or lightly dig over the area of soil removing all weeds and big stones, then go over with a rake until the soil is fine and crumbly. Ideally, leave your prepared soil for about two weeks so any dormant weeds or grasses will germinate and can be removed before you sow your seed.
- Sow the seed. The best time for sowing flax is mid April, though it can be sown into May. Seeds can be mixed with some dry sand to help you see where you have already sown them. Scatter the seed as evenly as you can over the whole area. The seeds need to be covered with soil, otherwise birds might eat them. The easiest way of covering them is to go over the area gently with a rake, aiming to cover the seeds by an inch, and pat down firmly. You can mark out the area with string and canes if you like.
- Water. Gently water the area taking care not to wash the seed away, if possible use a watering can with a fine spray. If it’s forecast to rain in the day or so you can let the weather do it for you. The seeds should germinate after about a week. If it they haven’t sprouted then lightly water the area again. Other than that flax needs very little irrigation and watering is only necessary if we have a very dry summer (yes it could happen!)
- Weed. When the flax seedlings are small and just getting established it is helpful to weed out other plants. Work your way through them pulling out the plants that look different to the majority. There a picture of flax seedlings further down this page. When they are more then a few inches tall the flax will fill in the gaps and not require weeding.
- Nurture your growing crop. Pull weeds if you spot them and water if there’s a dry spell.
- Wait and watch for the flowers! About three months after planting flax begins to bloom. Abundant flowers appear for a week or two then become intermittent. The blue flowers look like a reflection of the sky and folklore tells of confused ducks that have landed in flax fields mistaking the waves of blue blossom for the surface of a lake!
- Harvest the plants. Flax is pulled up not cut down – you need to take up all the roots to get all the fibres. This usually happens 2-4 weeks after flowering, when plants begin to turn yellow. As a rough guide if you sow mid April you will pull the plants in late July to August.
Grow Wild has some helpful videos about planting seeds (in this case wildflower seed but it applies to flax too) which you can see here.
To help you identify weeds there’s a gallery of common ones here.
Flax seedlings look like this – don’t weed these out!
Mature flax plants look like this (in very neat blocks!)
And finally harvested flax plants, tied into ‘stooks’. There will be a harvest day event in West Coker at the end of the summer. Keep an eye out for more details.