Monday, July 14, 2014

Flax to Linen, the 1765 Way, Part II: Growing

In 1765, John Wily recommended planting tobacco or another weed-discouraging crop the year before you planted your flax field. Any weeds that "come up with the Flax," he said, "will be very hurtful to it, unless picked out, which is very troublesome," (31). Luckily, after I planted my flax patch in April, I could afford to weed it by hand in lieu of any tobacco crop last year. I weeded my patch every couple weeks or so, but for the most part weeds didn't seem to be a big problem. To mimic eighteenth-century reliance on natural rainfall, I didn't water my patch at all. 

The images below give you a sense of what a flax season might have looked like two hundred years ago. You'll note that, initially, the plants actually didn't end up that thick and that there were a number of disconcerting blank patches of soil. This seemed less of a problem as the plants got taller and appeared crowded enough to encourage thin stems, as Wily recommended.

April 16th, plants 0.5-0.75" tall.

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May 5th, plants 1.5-3" tall.

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May 23rd, majority of plants 11.5-15" tall. I initially thought the plants were bent over because of a heavy storm the day before, but over the next month they seemed to do this regularly. I suspect it has to do with moisture content.

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June 7th, majority of plants 25-30" tall. I noticed the first blooms on the 6th, exactly two months after planting.

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June 9th, now in full bloom.

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June 28th, plants ranging between 26" and 37", with the majority around 35" tall. Notice that those on the edges of the patch, lacking the support of neighboring plants, are inclined to fall over.

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Here's the patch the day we harvested it, July 11th.

A few days before harvesting, I noticed half a dozen inch-long, fuzzy caterpillars in the patch. They seemed to only be eating the leaves. From what I can tell, they're Virginia Tiger Moth caterpillars. They got to my flax late enough that it didn't matter, but I wonder how much damage a large number might do if they hit the plants early in the season.

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