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Linen Flax - Flax plant for spinning and weaving  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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Getting ready to plant some flax at the end of the month, I thought I would review this thread.  Splendid thread by the way guys!  I'm thrilled that so many people are enjoying growing linen for textiles.

Almost as exciting is what I saw at the bottom of the page.

This thread has been viewed 109543 times.


Most of the popular threads I see on permies have 40 to 70 thousand views.  109 thousand!  Pretty darn cool.


In other news, someone was asking for sources of bulk fibre flaxseed in North America.  I might have a lead on that.  flax for sale has some seed.  It wasn't the easiest place to buy from as they want a check or money order, but I hear their seed is very good and well worth it.  I'm hoping to buy a pound and bulk up my seed so that we will have enough for a large area in a couple of years.  1 pound does about 300 square feet which is enough for a shirt or set of table linens. 
 
Hans Quistorff
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By the way The bulk bin flax grew very well in my heavy clay soil that the wild flax grows in. It got 16 to 20 inches tall and pulls out at the roots easily compared to the wild flax which starts growing in the winter. If I can get the grain flax to start in the ponds and then harvest the seed heads and pull the plants and leve them in the ponds to ret over the winter it might work.
 
Danette Cross
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I bought 7 oz of long line from Belgium.  Going to plant in my 4'x20 beds and try to start naturalizing the seeds for Montana.  Not sure how many seasons it will take to get a solid cold weather seed. Wish me luck!
 
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I planted my flax a couple days ago. I planted 3 varieties, each about 50 row-feet long: Fiber flax that I grew last year. Yellow flax and brown flax from the grocery store. I'm interested in growing flax for food, as well as for fiber.

I may plant one more patch of the fiber-flax via broadcast, so that I can compare the plants structure between close planting and row planting. I can't weed very well if I broadcast...
 
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I broadcast the seed [brown from the bulk bins] in my test bead last spring.  It was 2' wide in heavy clay which is sub irrigated.  the plants were less than an inch apart. They out competed any annual weeds. The center actualy grew taller than the edges So just like the wild flax that has the seed with umbrellas it seems to do best in my conditions when densely planted.  The grain flax roots pull easily when mature but the wild flax roots are deep and do not pull.
 
Sharon Kallis
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Such a great thread! Thank for bringing it to my attention R.Ranson!
A few interesting things to add that I did'nt see in my skim through postings so far..
I've also been trying to find a good commercial supplier of linen sliver for spinning
.
Taproot farms in Nova Scotia have done some great work  building equipment for sale
Taproot farms fibre lab
they also are selling wonderful linen tow sliver- which we found of great quality and used it  to teach new spinners in our linen growers club.linen products for sale
I am going on holiday this June to Northern Ireland and have research into  linen in the Ulster area on top priority! Any tips or ideas f people to contact should you be in that region, please do share!
I will report back what I learn and discover....
 
r ranson
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I'm really excited about Taproots and the work they have been doing.  They have designed some small milling tools for local flax production.  They are going to be at a conference in Victoria this year over the Canada Day long weekend.  I hope to meet up with them and find out more details about their machines and if it's feasible to bring some to the West Coast.  We already know linen grows great here.  There's demand for the yarn.  But is there enough to justify getting the equipment and setting up a small linen mill?  I hope so.

But I need to do more research before I present it to our local flax to linen group.  Maybe we will be ready in 2020?
 
r ranson
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A bit of handspun flax weaving I've been working on.
flax-weaving.JPG
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Libbie Hawker
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This is such a cool thread! I love wearing linen clothing. It's really neat to see how it's made.

Most of the books I write are set in ancient Egypt, so I've written many a scene of flax-spinning and flax-weaving. It took me a long time to track down information on how flax was spun back in the days before people used wheels. R Ranson, have you ever spun flax with a spindle and distaff? (Purely out of curiosity--it looks much simpler to use a wheel.)
 
Sharon Kallis
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have you ever spun flax with a spindle and distaff?
Hi Libbie, I teach new spinners on a spindle,  to start, and using the shorter fibres is always easiest... learning to draft is the tricky part! Spinning from the fold is my preferred way to spin longer line on a spindle, but I also use a "traveling distaff' sometimes- tying the root end of the fibre to a line that gets tied to my belt loop on back of pants, and then throwing the line over my non-dominant shoulder... this is a an easy way to be able to have fibre on hand for spinning and moving around- something I am sure clever and busy women would have done thousands of years ago! have you read Womens Work, the first 20,000 years? you would love it if not! One of my favourite books...
 
r ranson
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Libbie Hawker wrote:... have you ever spun flax with a spindle and distaff? (Purely out of curiosity--it looks much simpler to use a wheel.)


Yep, often.  Spinning on a spindle is a lovely task and one that many modern spinners neglect.  To think, most of history, all that cloth was made with a spindle.  Everything from clothing to rugs to sailing cloth.  All durable, functional, beautiful and practical.  All spindle spun.

Think about it like a pen and a typewriter.  The typewriter (like a spinning wheel) can be faster and more efficient than the pen (per minute used), but it takes a dedicated space to set up, it's heavy to cart around, it's expencive.  A spindle, like a pen, can be carried with you, you can scribble a note on a scrap of paper or the palm of your hand, it's more productive when one thinks about all of the hours in the day.  A pen can write a novel or it can write a grocery list.  A typewriter can write a grocery list, but it's better suited to bigger and projects that need a very consistent typeface. 

I'm not a fast spindle spinner as I do mostly production work on my wheel.  But I can spin enough yarn for one sock in about an hour on a spindle.  Probably 40 minutes with a distaff.  But that's wool.

For linen, I use a distaff most of the time, both spindle and wheel spinning.

For line linen (the meter long fibres), a distaff is a godsend, but it's long and bulky and I don't have a portable one yet that can handle line.  So I spin (rehackled) tow on my spindle as I have a small distaff that is just right for holding in the hand.  This works great but has another disadvantage in that I don't have any water for wetting the flax as I spin.  The stuff I spin on my spindle is dry spun which isn't as smooth as the stuff I spin on my wheel.  However, in the past, they had different techniques for spindle spinning depending on what the finished cloth would be. 

I'm trying to remember, but I think ancient Egypt had some pretty specific linen working methods which sometimes involved pre-drafting.  I know there's quite a change from ancient times to the Islamic period I'm more familiar with (mostly post-Fatimid Caliphate).  I would love to learn more about the earlier methods for working with linen.  I remember something about pre-drafting the linen, putting it in balls, then spinning from that.  A bit like the First Nations on the West Coast of North America do with their spinning.
 
Danette Cross
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R Ranson wrote: This works great but has another disadvantage in that I don't have any water for wetting the flax as I spin.  The stuff I spin on my spindle is dry spun which isn't as smooth as the stuff I spin on my wheel.  However, in the past, they had different techniques for spindle spinning depending on what the finished cloth would be.


If I am spindle spinning tow or long line, I use a sponge with flax mucoid (flax seeds soaked in water overnight - drain and use the liquid) in a small pocket I make from a zip lock bag.  You can tie it to a string around your waste. When I spin flax (tow or long line) on one of my wheels, I put the mucoid in a small bowl.  The flax mucoid is slimey, some think it gross, but it really slides the fibers beautifully, creates a beautiful sheen on the yarn and is great for your hands!! I usually have a small pint mason jar soaking in the fridge, strain the spent flax seeds after a night or two, and keep refrigerated, because it will go "bad".

When I weave my hand spun (or even commercial) linen yarn, I use the mucoid to wet the warp to help strengthen it, especially if I am using one of my looms that has metal heddles rather than texsolv.
 
r ranson
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I took some of the linen cloth off the loom and washed it.  Here they are side by side, see how the washed one is much denser.  It's a whole lot softer too.
linen-cloth.JPG
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Danette Cross
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R Ranson wrote:I took some of the linen cloth off the loom and washed it.  Here they are side by side, see how the washed one is much denser.  It's a whole lot softer too.


Do you boil your cloth then use a mangle?
 
r ranson
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Danette Cross wrote:
R Ranson wrote:I took some of the linen cloth off the loom and washed it.  Here they are side by side, see how the washed one is much denser.  It's a whole lot softer too.


Do you boil your cloth then use a mangle?


nope.

The yarn is boiled in an alkali befor weaving.  I used washing soda, baking soda, or wood ash depending on what was closest to me at the time.  Washing soda worked fastest but wood ash gave the nicest result. 

I may boil the cloth with the next bunch of yarn just to see what difference that makes. 

edit to add: as for the mangle - I see this more for linens and cloth that wants a smooth texture to it. This cloth, I want to appear as rustic as possible and if it works, I'll weave some more and make a jacket from it.
 
Erwin Decoene
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I stumbled over this. I did not know the topic existed.

Funnily i live in Wevelgem near Courtrai (actually the town name is Kortrijk). Once upon a time (when animals stil spoke), this was more or less the world capital for flax and linnen processing due to the water quality of the Lys river (actually the rivers name is Leie). Initially the flax was put in some kind of cage that was sunk into the river to loosen the fibre. The processing capacity and know how were so big that local flax production was not enough. Once railroads got here, flax was imported from Russia and elsewhere to be processed here. At one time probably more than 50% of the population was involved in flax at least part of the year.

The smell of the rotting flax in the river persisted untill the early 1980's. Each time a barge passed there was huge stink. The fenomenon even seeped into local expressions.



In Courtrai there is a museum dedicated to the industry. Here you have a link http://www.texturekortrijk.be/en/



Flax seeds for fibre and oil are still traded. It should not be much of a problem to buy them from a licensed dealer.

My great grandfather was - according to family tradition - rich from his involvement in the trade but a combition of WWI-war damage and losses due to the great depression in the 1930's is supposed to have done him in. There are still some local flax processors. Flax is making a modest comeback in local fields due to new uses for the fibres (insulation, building materials, ...) and the oil from the seeds.

I will try to post some pictures next time i come across a flax field.
 
r ranson
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Flax planting today.  We did roughly 20'X12' with just under a pound of flaxseed. 
 
Danette Cross
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R Ranson wrote:This cloth, I want to appear as rustic as possible and if it works, I'll weave some more and make a jacket from it.


I love an almost tweed in linen.  If the sett is right, it has the greatest texture!
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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My new flax plants are growing!

It seems the traditional way is: put the seeds in the ground on the 100th day of the year, it will take them 100 hours to sprout and then 100 days before it's time to harvest. The 100th day was April 11th, so I sowed my seeds. They took over 100 hours (almost 2 days more), but then they appeared. Now I'll have to wait at least 100 days; I think more, I want the seeds to ripen, so there will be new seeds to sow next year.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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R Ranson wrote:... as for the mangle - I see this more for linens and cloth that wants a smooth texture to it. This cloth, I want to appear as rustic as possible and if it works, I'll weave some more and make a jacket from it.

I love the rustic texture!
 
Hans Quistorff
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May be part of the explanation; The seeding demonstration was before the 100th day, Those seeds were eaten by the birds. The next day I seeded the area where the chicken tractor was and they did not come up until after the 100th day and look about the same as the ones in the picture above.
 
r ranson
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A Dutch video about linen.  There's spinning, weaving, handmade horn buttons, a bicycle.  All of it ending in a beautiful shirt. 



Brilliant!
 
r ranson
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I found a beautiful, if difficult to navigate, site called a flax project.

If you click on the text at the top, a menu comes down on the side and there we can read some text and see some videos.  There are A LOT of videos, so I've chosen some of my favourites and I'll be posting them here.  But there are loads more videos on that site, so check it out.


This first one is interesting.  It's about machine harvesting flax.
If we are going to get our local flax production up enough to meet local demand, we are going to need a faster way of harvesting.  Right now we pull by hand.  With volunteer labour, this takes about two weeks per acre

 
r ranson
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Spent most of this weekend playing with flax.  Some of the flax to linen group came over and we tested the equipment to see if anything needed repairs for this year's demo season.  We had a fun time bashing and smashing flax stems, getting them ready to spin.  We even carded some tow (which is super-easy on the drum carder).

One thing I did was to sneak in some retted ornamental flax.  I also snuck in some seed flax I grew too.  We had one person here who learned how to process flax in her village back in an Eastern European country, long, long ago.  She has loads of experience with flax, but she couldn't tell much difference between the fibre and the seed flax.  The ornamental flax produced noticeably more tow (but nice tow) than the fibre flax and the fibres were on the coarser side.  But it was super-easy to process.  It's not just me that can get fibre from non-fibre flax.

 
Danette Cross
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With all this rain, I haven't had to water my small patch of "Marilyn" from Belgium once!!  Hope to get a good seed crop - and a little to spin!
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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My flax is growing for 66 days now (counted from the day I put the seeds in the ground). There are some small blue flowers and the stems are nice, long and strong (my opinion).
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I harvested my flax about July 15th which was planted the first few days of April.  I grew it in rows, that were not irrigated for most of the season. It was shorter this year than last. I expect because last year it was planted in a section of the garden that stays moister, and it got irrigation sooner. Also, last year I planted in a patch, but it's hard for me to keep patches weeded, so I grew in a row this year. The "seed" flax was shorter than the "fiber" flax, and seed productivity didn't seem to be much better. It's much easier to harvest if I don't have to stoop over to gather. Therefore, I'm intending to only grow "fiber" flax next year, for ease of harvest, and to maintain the option of making better linen.

I used a comb to remove the seeds from the stems. It's the same comb that I use for scutching.
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The fiber flax is taller than the seed flax
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Collecting the seeds via combing.
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Harvest from 150 row-feet
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Scarlet flax was planted later and is still flowering
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Harvesting fiber flax
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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The seed flax was dry today so I combed the seed pods out of it. Stomped on the pods to release the seeds. Ran them through a sieve to separate the seeds from the remaining pods and stems. Winnowed to separate the seeds from the chaff. Since we don't have dew or ponds here, I threw the stems on the lawn under a cherry tree where the sprinklers will dampen them a couple times a week.

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Stomping on seed pods to crush them and release flax seeds.
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Separated stems (on left) from flax seeds and chaff on right.
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Winnowed flax seeds
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Rhetting flax on the lawn under a sprinkler.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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And finally, I made flax-porridge for breakfast this morning.

flax-porridge.jpg
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Flax porridge
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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My flax was ready for harvesting. The 100 days are over (if I counted well). This photo is made just before I pulled the stems out
 
Gordon Haverland
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You may be left coast, but you are also left side of Rockies.  I am right side of Rockies.

I've  been running into blurbs about seeding density of fibre flax which look vaguely like growing trees for wood.  Have people looked at culling "flax trees" in season with respect to getting longer fibres?

At the moment, Richters Herbs seems to be my only accessilble source of fibre flax seed (presumably Regina).  Are there other varieties one can find in Canada?

 
r ranson
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Gordon Haverland wrote:You may be left coast, but you are also left side of Rockies.  I am right side of Rockies.

I've  been running into blurbs about seeding density of fibre flax which look vaguely like growing trees for wood.  Have people looked at culling "flax trees" in season with respect to getting longer fibres?

At the moment, Richters Herbs seems to be my only accessilble source of fibre flax seed (presumably Regina).  Are there other varieties one can find in Canada?



Hi Gordon,

I'm actually off the coast, on one of the islands.  The general themes of flax are the same, but even a few feet apart they grow differently.  The best thing to do is experiment with what you have and observe which methods give you the results you want.

A neat idea, but I don't think thinning flax would be of much use.  We want the flax to grow as thin without branching.  The easiest way to do this is to plant it densely.  Thinning might disturb the roots of the remaining plants and encourage it to branch out.  But I could be wrong and it's definitely worth trying with a small patch just to see.  Please do and let us know what you discover.


As for fibre flax seed.  I think there's a post upthread about seed sources.  There's one in the US, Richters in Canada (but their supply is inconsistent), and one in the UK. 
 
r ranson
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Different varieties of flax grown as fibre flax, my results are in!

I just harvested my experiment with a mixture of decorative and seed flax planted in fibre flax spacing.  Last year the same plants were fairly squat and had many branches, but planted as we do fibre flax, most of them grew thin and tall with a single seed pod on top.   They also grew taller than they did when planted further apart.  This confirms what I suspected - that given the right conditions, any flax seed can grow like fibre flax.

This spring, I mixed a collection of retted seed flax and decorative flax in with the fibre flax.  I set up the equipment and invited some experienced people over for a flax bashing party.  I could tell which was which by the way I tied the bundles.  I observed as they worked and asked at the end if there was any difference between the sheaths, but I didn't tell the others there were different kinds mixed in.  They could not tell the difference between fibre, seed, and decorative flax plants except for some had more branches than others.  My observation was, the decorative flax had about 10% more tow than the others and the seed flax had slightly noticeably thicker fibres, but all within the normal range one would expect from fibre flax.

Conclusion: if one can't get fibre flax seed, start with what seed you can get and plant it like fibre flax.  Especially when starting out as it takes a year or three experience to notice the difference between them.
IMG_0398.JPG
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Landrace Flax Patch in July
 
Gordon Haverland
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r ranson wrote:
Gordon Haverland wrote:You may be left coast, but you are also left side of Rockies.  I am right side of Rockies.


Hi Gordon,

I'm actually off the coast, on one of the islands.  The general themes of flax are the same, but even a few feet apart they grow differently.  The best thing to do is experiment with what you have and observe which methods give you the results you want.

A neat idea, but I don't think thinning flax would be of much use.  We want the flax to grow as thin without branching.  The easiest way to do this is to plant it densely.  Thinning might disturb the roots of the remaining plants and encourage it to branch out.  But I could be wrong and it's definitely worth trying with a small patch just to see.  Please do and let us know what you discover.


As for fibre flax seed.  I think there's a post upthread about seed sources.  There's one in the US, Richters in Canada (but their supply is inconsistent), and one in the UK. 


---

Thanks for moving my thread/reply.

I am in the position (for now), as to be capable of making some land available to grow things for seed.  In so far that you can raise a crop without tillage (I have no tractor (yet)).  I just bought a 10x100 foot chunk of black plastic, so I can start demoting some pasture.  This year, I had been trying raised beds placed on the pasture, with newspaper at the surface.  The "final" step in these experiments, is to seed tillage radish (or daikon radish) was completed today.  With the next (probably small) rainfall a few days away, I am hoping my sunflower/pole bean/buckwheat doesn't interfere too badly. 

Thinking of the future, I want to have "shelterbelts" like haskap defining cereal strips (and I will include a bunch of things non-cereal).  I will have a shelterbelt, a "grass" border, a cereal plot, a "grass" border and a shelterbelt.  On the two grass borders of a cereal plot, is a place for two robots  to walk on the grass, with a truss connecting them, on which another robot can go back and forth.  The two grass walker robots, try to keep keep constant "northing", so that the robot that "walks the truss" can assume constant "northing".  The truss robot plants the seed (and drip irrigation line?) and hence knows the location of any seed that was planted.  If it sees any growth at a non-planting location, application of a non-specific herbicide (like acetic acid) is warranted.

But what I was looking at in my original comment, is that if all the flax plants are H +/- S cm tall, if a particular plant is less than (for example) H-2*S tall, the robot can cull it.  It could spray it with acetic acid, or it could cut it.

But the idea is to approach the growing of a crop, in the manner of the growing of trees in a plantation.  You plant things at a density more dense that you eventually want.  And at various times in the  growing "season", you remove plants that are too short.


 
r ranson
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Neat stuff.  I hope you report back on how it goes.

if all the flax plants are H +/- S cm tall, if a particular plant is less than (for example) H-2*S tall, the robot can cull it.  It could spray it with acetic acid, or it could cut it. 


I think it's worth a trial to see if it will work.  Be sure to try one patch with and one patch as grown per normal.

In my own experience, when growing a fibre flax cultivar, they all grow about the same speed (except at the edges of the patch and where the soil moisture is uneven).  Maybe a few millimetres different at the start, but by the time they are ready to harvest, the difference in height is negligible.  Having taller plants don't necessarily make the best fibre.  Finer (aka softer) fibres come from thinner stems.  However, tighter seed spacing, in my experience, forces the plants to grow taller than when I planted the same cultivar less densely.  So you may not get taller plants by thinning out the ones that don't grow quickly.  Or you may.  It depends a lot on your soil and weather.  This is why it's worth trying a few different methods to see what works for you.

In my mixed cultivar experiment - aka, my landrace flax project - some of the plants didn't keep up with the others.  They got crowded out and only grew about 4 inches tall.  So I had two lengths of flax, the tall and once that was harvested the short plants.  I noticed that this patch had one weed, whereas a regular fibre flax patch this size would have several hundred.  I wonder if this short stubble helped prevent weeds from growing.  But that might have been the soil as it's my first time planting flax at that location.  Next year, I hope to plant several different kinds of flax there to try to find the cause. 
 
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