A field of flax in full bloom is a lovely thing. Years ago we had a summer place outside of Lipton, Saskatchewan. One day when we were driving around exploring the countryside, we came around a corner and saw a lake shimmering in the distance. As we got closer to the lake we realized it wasn’t water at all, but a field of flax in full bloom. The blue flowers and the gentle way the plants were swaying in the wind looked like water and waves. We didn’t have time to be disappointed that it wasn’t a lake — as we were so thrilled by the beauty of flax field.
While my wee field of flax is nothing in comparison to those 50+ acre parcels in Saskatchewan, it is still a thing of beauty. Since the flooding wiped out a lot of our crops, this is the prettiest thing in our garden these days.
So what’s the plan for this field of flax? About 30 days after the flowering is over, the flax is ready to be harvested. Then the work begins. I pull the plants up, roots and all. If I want to save the seed — for next year’s planting (?) I have to dry the plants out. If I decide not to save the seed, then I can move to the retting process right away. Retting is the process of rotting the outer layers of the stalks that are holding the linen fibres to the woody core. This is the first step in extracting the linen fibre. You can do this by leaving the flax outside on the ground and let the morning dew do it. You can also do it by leaving the flax in standing water for a while. According to “Linen in the Middle Ages — A Guide to Growing and Processing” by the Baroness Eleanora van den Bogaerde, water retting is faster and leaves the flax a whiter colour than dew retting does. The challenge is having something large enough. With my wee field, I don’t think this is a problem. Maybe in the future it will be, but for now, I think I can manage with a huge rubbermaid bin. After it’s retted, there are three more steps before I have fibre for spinning.
One step at time. Right now I am growing the stuff and admiring its beauty.