Flax Progress Report 2023

It has been nearly 100 days since we sowed our flax seeds at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) Farm School in Richmond – and we have begun to harvest!

Like many places, it has been an odd spring for growing here on the West coast, and those of us growing flax are looking forward to our continued time in online conversation with some of our flax growing peers in the 2023 British Columbia Flax Network that EartHand is hosting.

Here is short video of Kathy Dunster in the flax crop July 7 before our early harvest.

AND! we are participating the International Year on the Field project which this year is focused on Flax.

Read the post Kathy wrote about our project here, and visit the main page for the project here to find other entries from folks growing flax in other parts of the world.

Our Flax harvest party is happening July 14th 6.30-8.30 pm- register here for a free ticket and come help us out and have a chance to handle the flax samples of our different varieties!

The Flax Network

With over 30 members spread across the province we have many different bio-regions represented and its been fantastic having a chance to hear about each others’ experiences and learn collectively as we gather virtually each month.

Here is a little snap shot from our growers survey showing the variety of locations represented.

The three areas we have the most participants represented are 27% Vancouver, 21% Kootenay Area and 15% in Central Vancouver Island.

Forms response chart. Question title: Which region are you located in?. Number of responses: 33 responses.

Meanwhile, the little demonstration crops we have tucked in our environmental learning gardens at both Trillium and MOP appear to be great examples of just how much we can get away with when it comes to ‘benign neglect’, showing how little work is required to grow flax for linen! ( note- the hard work happens after harvest)

The Trillium crop had almost no additional water through the hot dry month of May, and the seeds sown at MOP garden in a slightly shaded area overwhelmed by sunchokes the last several years both managed to grow fairly decent looking crops!

If you have grown flax and are about to harvest, we recommend small bundles being tied that you can take through each of the subsequent steps. As we pull ours, we lay it down strategically so the seed bolls don’t get tangled up on each other, but are easy to still pick up for tying. Do be sure and keep your root ends and seed heads separated and not interchange directions in any bundles.

Some folks ripple -or remove seed heads -right away, we usually let ours dry first.

Generally for growing the finest, high-quality linen, harvesting is done earlier- when the plants still have some green showing on the stalks. This is about 100 days after planting. For seed production, the plants are left an additional month. There is linen of course still in these stalks, but it will be of a much courser quality.

Some of the research we are doing this year includes cutting some of the linen instead of hand-pulling to see what might be possible for linen flax as a no till crop in future plantings.

As well, we harvested a portion of several varieties a week earlier then our planned harvest party- the plants are ready early this year- and we are curious to observe any tactile difference in the hand of the processed fibres harvested one week apart.

If you are curious about more information and the history of flax for linen, some excellent books we recommend are:

For growing:

Homegrown Linen: Transforming Flaxseed into Fibre by Raven Ranson

look for this book in libraries or anywhere you can find it:

The Magic of Linen: Transforming Flaxseed to woven Cloth by Linda Heinrich

and an excellent book on the history of Flax in North America is

Flax Americana- A history of the fibre and oil that covered a continent by Joshua MacFadyen

On the East Coast of Canada, TapRoot Farm &Fibre Lab and Jennifer Green’s Flax Mobile are leading the way of what is possible for community building and local textiles.

Also- be sure and check out the newly formed non-profit North American Linen Association

and follow all the great work that Fiberevolution is doing in Oregon ( and beyond) to support the linen industry’s’ return.