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Summary

Grow linen yarn sustainably and organically. A book for homesteaders, gardeners, and yarn lovers.

Discover: how to grow flax for fibre • how to adapt growing techniques to your conditions using permaculture techniques • how to create a personalized fibre flax variety • how to process fibre from flax straw • the tools • tips and tricks for working with linen • other uses for flax



Where to get it?


buy Homegrown Linen Here!


Related Podcasts



Related Videos



Related Articles

Farm Show Magazine
Landrace Linen: growing fibre flax this link appears to be gone.  here is a copy of the text from that article

Related Threads

Homegrown Linen Kickstarter thread on permies.com
Learning to spin yarn on a drop spindle - excerpt from Homegrown Linen
Linen Flax - flax plant for spinning yarn

Related Websites

Crowing Hen Farm
kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of this book
COMMENTS:
 
master steward
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I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns!

I seriously love this book. Tracy's illustrations are not only beautiful, they are also simple and do a fantastic job of visually explaining what Raven's writing about. I first read this book in it's nascent stages, before there were illustrations. And, while Raven's words do a marvelous job of explaining things, the illustrations add so much. I love Tracy's detailed, uncluttered artistic style that compliments this books so well, both in feel and appearance.

Raven's writing style is a delight to read. It's fun and quirky and so informative. The first time I read this book, I was half asleep, nursing a baby, and it was midnight, and I had no real prior knowledge of flax or linen. I wasn't even that interested in reading about linen. Until I started reading, that is! Her writing style kept me awake and learning and wanting to read more.

She takes something that seems overwhelming and impossible and makes it not only do-able, but also desirable. Before reading this book, I was not really interested in flax/linen, and really had no desire to grow my own, let alone spin it. But, well, now I've read the book, and there's flax seeds on the way, and I think I might just find a patch of soil to grow my own flax! Maybe I'll even get some flax seeds from the grocery store, like Raven suggests, and add them to the other seeds and start my own landrace.

Raven literally takes you from seeds, to growing, to harvesting, to retting to carding and spinning. And, the fact that I can rattle off all those steps without a second thought is a true testiment to how wonderful this book is.

This book is a must-have for:
  • Anyone the slightest bit interested in fibre arts (like knitting, sewing, weaving). I love to knit and sew, and this book has me wanting to experiment with flax. It's cooler than cotton!
  • Anyone who wants to be prepared for "The end of the world as we know it." It's a perfect resource to have on hand, "just in case."
  • Anyone who's interested in history. I LOVE all the historical tidbits she added to this book!
  • Anyone who just wants an interesting book to read that will also teach you cool stuff


  • Raven's book is da bomb!
     
    gardener & bricolagier
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    I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns!
    HOMEGROWN LINEN Transforming flaxseed into fibre by Raven Ranson is an excellent resource for making the transition from spinning wool to spinning flax.

    The terminology used to talk about flax was unfamiliar to me and I am glad Raven gave good definitions of words as she used them, and provided a glossary in the back. Linen has been woven since at least 3500 BC, so there are words for every bit of the process, that once they are explained make perfect sense, but are mildly intimidating to start with as they are unfamiliar.

    This book starts with how to grow and harvest your own flax, including a lot of things I found fascinating, like fiber flax and seed flax are the same plant, but historically have been grown differently. I understand now why it was grown differently, and where it would grow best on my property for either seed production or fiber production. Understanding WHY things are done is important to me, and through the whole book not only does she teach what to do, but why it has been done that way, so changes can be made to the process depending on local conditions. Permaculture teaches us to adapt our techniques to local conditions, so I like understanding the reason behind the historical and standard techniques that are taught, so I can adapt it to my own circumstances.

    Turning the harvested flax into fiber, and the techniques for working with it to spin it into thread are explained clearly, and all the unfamiliar terminology was quickly not strange anymore. Raven’s extensive experience with fiber processing and spinning shows, as she explains what it feels and looks like when done right, the possible errors, and how to correct them. It’s like taking a class from an excellent instructor, without having to travel to do it! That means a lot to me, a lot of people have good skills, but do not communicate it well in a book, and it frustrates me to read a book and feel I still don’t know how to do it. That is not a problem here, and I expect that anyone who has spun and wove other fibers will be able to spin flax immediately, all you need to know is there.

    Another thing I liked was discussion of making paper out of flax, I know linen paper is excellent, and I may make some to try with my artwork. And I admit, I giggled at what NOT to do, I won’t kill a blender now, Raven sacrificed hers so I won’t have to ruin mine.

    All in all, an excellent, educational book written by someone who knows their craft well, and illustrated beautifully by Tracy Wandling, and very much worth reading! I’ll be growing flax soon!
     
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    I was wondering when the book would be available to purchase? I want to give it to my daughter for her 20th birthday in mid-March. She has been spinning for a number of years already. First withdrop spindles made by her younger brother and wool from her angora rabbits. The past 2 years has been with a small spinning wheel made by her older brother and using fleeces from various sheep breeds. Last year we grew cotton together, but she had yet to really work with it. So, this year I hope she can make the foray into flax. Thank you for all your efforts to make this information available 😀
     
    master steward & author
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    I'm hoping to do an official update in a day or so, with pictures and exciting news.

    Basically, the book is done.  The printer ran it through their testing system to make certain that everything is in the right place.  Tracy did a fantastic job with the layout, no major delays there.

    Next came the proof - a mock-version of the book.  Actually, the proofing happened in three stages.  The colour pages were printed and approved, then they printed a full version of the book, but it wasn't bound correctly.  Last of all, they printed a proof with the proper binding to make certain it looks good and nothing is lost in the 'gutter' (the bit of the page near the spine).  I had to sign each stage.  

    It's all at the printer now.  Nothing left to do but wait.   The printer suggests it will take about two weeks... so long as there are no surprises.  

    All in all, we are a few weeks behind schedule, but I think it's worth it because we got to add a lot of extra goodies to the book thanks to the stretch goal.  



    Once I have the book in hand, I'll put it for sale on my etsy shop.

    I also want to encourage shops to carry the book and contact me for wholesale pricing.  Buying in bulk saves on shipping.  
     
    Laura Jean
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    Thanks for the update Raven. I was looking for you on Etsy earlier today but I couldn’t find your shop. What is the name of it? How can I find it?
     
    garden master
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    Welcome to Permies Laura!

    Here is a link to Raven's Etsy shop. She has it listed on her website, Crowing Hen Farm.
     
    Laura Jean
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    Thanks Joylynn. I’ve actually been hanging out here on and off for years. I just never had anything to say😊. With my daughter becoming more and more involved with fiber arts
    I now have a reason to wander over to this area. I will eventually get her hooked in to this website, but not until I give her Ravens book for her birthday next month. She would probably find and and get it for herself!
    Blessings
    Laura
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    OH. MY. GOODNESS!!! It has ARRIVED!!!

    I was a test subject for Raven's shipping (to work out any possible kinks) and I got my package today!!!

    My kids, of course, were nearly as excited as me to open the package--they had to help, too :D



    My son thought the bookmark was super cool, and asked me to take a picture. How could I not? It's lovely!



    And my book, oh my goodness, it is so much more lovely in person than when I previewed it online. I had to run outside to get a nice picture.



    Seeds! Had to get a nice picture of my future flax field :D



    The drop spindle is awesome, and my son opened it up and assembled it before I had a chance to! I love that it comes with instructions, and that Homegrown Linen has a really useful how-to-spin tutorial in the back. Having never spun before, I've been reading it over and over!



    I couldn't resist trying my first hand at spinning, using some roving I had around!



    The book is just so lovely. Even though I'd been able to preread it before it was published, it is SO MUCH more amazing in it's physical form. The ink is so shiny and the quality of the book is very high. The pictures are very high resolution, too. I love how the little sidebars pop out when I flip through the book. I was skimming through it, enjoying all the pictures and lovely formating, when Joseph Lofthouse's name popped out! There he was, in a really neat little sidebar. SO COOL!


    And, of course, there's something rather magical about seeing my own name in print, even in the very pretty page of thanks.


    This book, and all the wonderful things I got with it through the kickstarter, and high quality and amazing. They were so worth the weight and very much worth the cost. I am so glad that I got to take part in bringing this book to print by supporting our marvelous Raven in kickstarter. I can't wait for her next book! (Will it be sheep? Oh please! Let it be sheep! I want sheep and I want her advice and knowledge before I get them!)
     
    steward
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    Hey Nicole;

    Thanks for your sweet-as-pie response to our book! I have to admit, I got a little teary when I was finally holding it in my hands. It's a dream come true for me - I have always loved books, and dreamed of making books since I was a young girl. Holding my first illustrated book was one of 'those moments'. Just thrilling.

    I'm so glad you like it!

    Cheers
    Tracy
     
    r ranson
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    That's something else I was wondering about international shipping.  I have a choice of sending it for a little bit cheaper (customer saves $2) but that makes the delivery time about 12 weeks instead of the 5 to 10 days.  12 weeks seems like a really long time to me.  What's other's people's thoughts on this?
     
    r ranson
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    I moved some of the posts to the Kickstarter Reward Suppor thread: https://permies.com/t/94278/Homegrown-Linen-Kickstarter-Support-Thread
     
    Posts: 149
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    How much of the book does R Ranson devote to processing and spinning flax? I was wondering if the techniques used in this book could be adapted for milkweed bast. I would also know if she has any tips in the book on how to get the specialized equipment for preparing flax (scutching board and knife, flax brake, hackles etc.). I'll try to find another thread on this forum that might be of help for tracking down the equipment needed.
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    She explains how to make your own scutching board and knife, flax brake, hackles etc (pretty sure she explains all of them, but I'd have to double-check).

    For a little view into her knowledge on this subject of processing and spinning flax, you can check out this thread: Linen Flax - Flax plant for spinning and weaving and this one Home processing Cotton and Linen on a small scale. She's might have more threads on the subject, too.
     
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    I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns.

    It is both  instructional and entertaining, an all around knowledgeable and beautifully illustrated book!

    I think it is a valuable resource for both experienced fiber folks and also those new to the adventure...it inspires.

    I wish I were better at writing reviews...I usually avoid even trying to do so

    I love the book and I can't wait to start collecting future 'homegrown' books by raven and tracy...



     
     
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    Such a beautiful book!  Yay!  It was so exciting to see it arrive in the mail, and I can't wait for snow to melt and the ground to thaw to plant the seeds!  Raven, your handwoven towel is gorgeous, it is washed and ready for the trial run  I love your cloth label, can you share where you get these from?  I'm a spinner and weaver also, and am always looking for a better solution!  Thank you so much, I'm really glad this was well supported, you guys have put so much work into it, and it's AWESOME!!!
     
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    Great addition to learn how to grow flax in permaculture practices. even better. Maybe  I'm in the right sight to win a book.  I am a weaver and spinner, i've woven linen but not learned to spin it yet. and definitely interested in learning the whole process in permiculture terms. thank you for sharing with us. I have begun to ware linen for energy and health and it makes a difference.
     
    r ranson
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    I noticed the Linen Landrace article linked to in the first post is gone.  This is an article I wrote at the start of my flax breeding adventures.  I talk about this in more detail and accuracy in the book, but I'm putting the text of the article here for references.

    In other news, I'm saddened by the passing of Permaculture Magazine North America but happy to hear that the parent magazine is keeping things running.

    Linen Landrace
    By Raven Ranson
    first published on Permaculture Magazine North America Website

    “Organic Fiber Flax Seed.  Plant in well-drained soil, full sun, after last frost date, 100 days to harvest.”

    These were the words on the envelope that started it all.  A manilla affair, 2 inches by 4.  A white sticker label with planting instructions and a picture of a little blue flower. Immediately I was in love.  Finally, I had found a plant fiber to fall in love with.  Traditionally grown in less than perfect soil, planted at the tail end of winter, or even late fall… wait a moment, the packet says plant after last frost date.  Something’s wrong.


    Linen is the textile made from the fibers extracted from the stem of the flax plant.  The process is somewhat labour intensive, but the resulting fabric can’t be matched for durability and breathability.  Stronger when wet, cool to the touch, linen makes excellent summer clothing and the perfect base layer in winter.  This is the same plant that produces linseed and flaxseed – Linum Usitatissimum.  The variation in the different cultivars is surprisingly diverse.  Flax grown for seed production is often squat, has many branches and focuses most of its energy into reproduction – as many big seeds as possible.  Fiber flax, on the other hand, is delicate and lanky. Very few seeds; what it does have are usually small.  The phylum, the circulatory system in the stem, becomes the textile – this bast fiber runs the length of the stem, from root to tip.  The longer the stem, the fewer the branches, the better the cloth.

    (Traditionally fiber flax is blue, but there are almost 200 different kinds of flax, with a great variety in flower color and shape.)

    Around the world, many people are rediscovering the joy of transforming flax to linen.  It was from one of these groups, The Flax to Linen Group of Victoria, BC, Canada, that I found my inspiration.  Fascinated by the history of the plant, I’ve gathered up little tidbits of tradition and ideas on how it grows, but lacked the courage to try it.  Finding a group of people who shared my interest was a true blessing; however, it’s surprising how different modern day flax growing is to historical accounts – especially planting times.  At first, I thought this was because the tradition had changed, so I experimented by planting flax at different times of the year, only to discover that they were right, this variety does grow best when planted around the last frost date.  However, this is also about the time our summer drought starts, so planting flax at this time of year means irrigating it for the first 50 or 60 days of growth (it takes about 100 days from germination to harvest).  Crops that need watering do not fit into my plans for the farm. What I need is a different variety of fiber flax.

    Easier said than done.  Gathering together all the seed catalogues and resources I could find, that year there were only three sources of flax seed, two of them out of stock, the third was already growing in my garden. As interest in growing linen increases, there are more flax suppliers; even still, it is an area with room for a lot of expansion.

    It was about this time that I first discovered landrace gardening and the work of Joseph Lofthouse.  Most of the seeds we buy are a specific cultivar, they have predictable and uniform traits; landrace seeds are more diverse. For example, we know that Moneymaker tomato all produces red fruit, of a uniform shape and size, with lots of juicy seeds, grow well in greenhouses &c.  A landrace tomato will share one or two traits, maybe they are cold tolerant and ripen early, but unlike a cultivar, a landrace has a great deal of genetic diversity.  Some of the fruit might be yellow, others green with stripes, some red.  Some large, some small… you get the idea.  Landrace = genetic diversity.  Genetic diversity leads to resilience.

    (6 different kinds of flax, each a different shape. The taller ones are more desirable for flax production, but the shorter ones are generally more bee friendly and hardy in the garden. The goal is to combine these resilient traits with the taller shape.)

    Inspired, I decided to create a landrace flax.  My linen landrace would be a lot like the flax of my history books: frost tolerant, growing tall during the rainy season and drying down during my drought.  My landrace would thrive in marginal soil and need almost no weeding as it would grow when many of the weed seeds are still in their winter slumber.  To produce the finest fiber, the stems would grow tall and there would be no branching which weakens the fiber.  With these qualities in mind, I bought a packet of every and any flax that remotely resembled these qualities, planted them about 8 weeks before our last frost date in the hope that natural selection would rid me of any frost intolerant varieties.  I was rewarded with a great diversity of shapes and sizes of plants, as well as a gorgeous selection of flowers.  My plan is to encourage promiscuous pollination, inviting bees to transfer pollen between the varieties, mixing up the genetics and giving me something new to select from.

    That was the original plan.  Get the bees to do the work, grow and promiscuous pollinate the flax, save the seeds, grow again.  Do this for two or three years to build up a joyful diversity, then start roguing (removing) the short and branchy plants so that I select only the plants that will produce good fiber.  The landrace should be mostly stable in about 5 or 6 years.  If only it were that simple.

    Alas, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that flax has only a 3% chance of crossing by insect*.  Only 3% chance of promiscuous pollination? This isn’t much better than a regular garden pea, a notorious self-pollinator, which is usually declared to have a 1% chance of cross-pollinating.  However, quite often these numbers come from industrial agriculture, which discourages insect activity.  If they have no bugs, the chance of cross-pollinating via insects is minimal.  In an organic setting, cross-pollination for peas can be as high as 25%.  So maybe, my 3% for flax is in an industrial setting.  Oilseed is the most valuable flax crop for industrial agriculture and maybe the studies were done on this variety of flax, not the lesser used fiber flax?  It’s possible, but until I have more data, only a hypothesis.  The more I read, the more I learn.  There is, however, another source of knowledge, far more useful than books and interweb.

    The first principle of permaculture – my personal favorite – is to observe and interact.  I have 7 different varieties of flax in my garden at this moment.  If the books have taught me anything, it is that numbers, like ‘pollination by insect’ vary drastically from place to place.  I am growing flax on my farm, the best source of information I have is to observe my flax.  So I do.  And wow, do I learn some exciting things!

    The flax flowers are only open for a few hours a day.  Some wake up with the sun, others laze closed until lunch, and one variety is a true lazy bone and waits till the heat of the day, about 2pm, to wash the sleep out of its eyes and show it’s petals to the world.  In the early morning there seem to be fewer pollinators interested in flax, but come early afternoon, there are always bees or wasps buzzing between flowers.  The insects seem to avoid some varieties, but obsess over others.  Why is this I wondered?  On closer inspection, I noticed that the flowers the insects avoid have their anthers wrapped tightly around the style (pollen making parts wrapped around the pollen-receiving parts) which prevent contributions from foreign pollen. The flowers the insects are attracted to have their anthers spread apart as if welcoming the bugs with open arms.  These are also the flowers that are open in the early afternoon.  I suspect these flowers are more likely to cross-pollinate.  Unfortunately, only one of these varieties is the right shape to be a fiber flax – fortunately, one of these varieties is the right shape to be fiber flax, meaning that I am already ahead of the game and am starting with some desirable traits.

    Another challenge/opportunity will come when I start to save seeds.  If I was growing flax for seed, I would treat it as like beans and peas, collect every seed, toss them together, and that would be the end of it.  However, seed production is not what I want in my landrace flax.  If I were to just collect all the seeds in one big bucket, then plants that produce lots of seeds would be more prominent.  I would be inadvertently selecting for seed production.  Instead, I have a decision to make.  Do I save seeds from each type of flax, then plant an equal number of each plant?  Or do I plant more of the ones with fiber friendly characteristics?  Or perhaps, I want to focus on promiscuous pollination, which at this stage in the project, do not produce the best fiber.  I could plant twice as many bee friendly flax as I do the other varieties.  Or I could keep the seeds from each plant, separate, then plant “x” number of seeds from each ‘mother’ plant and observe the sibling groups.

    Whatever my choice, it will affect the direction this project takes.  I find this thrilling.  Imagining my perfect plant, then working with the plants to actualize my dream.  It might be a success and in a handful of years, I’ll have my linen landrace or perhaps things might lead in a completely different direction.  It may even happen that nothing comes of this and the bees refuse to help create crosses.  Even that won’t be an absolute failure.  It has been an excellent opportunity to practice the first principle: observe and interact.

    Breeding a landrace or one’s own variety of vegetables opens up a whole world of possibilities.  It needn’t be flax, it could be artichokes or zucchini, or anything in between.  Unlike professional plant breeders who must meet market demands, which aren’t necessarily the qualities that small producers desire.  Amateur plant breeders don’t have to ship our produce long distances or harvest by machine.  That leaves us free to focus on qualities like taste, thriving in local conditions, and most importantly, beauty.


    * These numbers are from Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe.

     
    gardener & author
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    I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns.

    Growing, spinning and weaving my own linen has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but have never gotten around to (yet). This book makes the process seem really doable, and even provides estimates for how much garden space you’ll need to grow a towel!

    The illustrations are beautiful and the book is arranged nicely, so that you can read it cover-to-cover, learning the process of growing and processing from start to finish, and come out knowing what all these weird terms like ‘tow’, ‘retting’, ‘scutching’ and so on mean, along with some interesting historical tidbits, and at the end of it can be pretty confident in trying it yourself.

    I liked Raven’s approach and writing style, where she has put a lot of personal experience and observation into the subject rather than just doing what others have done beforehand. Instructions are provided for easily starting your own landrace fibre flax, and also why it might be better to do this rather than seeking out an official fibre flax seed. Raven’s landrace flax actually grew taller than the fibre flax, and was no different to prepare for spinning. Landraces are also more resilient to weird weather and anything else that might affect the crop.

    The “some of the many uses of flax” section makes it seem even more worthwhile to grow flax for linen from a permie perspective, as we are not just getting one thing out of the process, but many different products such as mulch, hanging basket liners, and flaxseed for eating.

    I have already recommended this book to friends interested in linen and textile history and will continue to do so. I would love to read more books in this series, and hope that Raven will write one about sheep.
     
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    I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns!


    I greatly enjoy Raven’s style of writing. I found this book both informative and entertaining at the same time.

    This book is full of highly practical techniques and yet also includes a whole lot of philosophical wisdom at the same time. I especially appreciated the many times when Raven reminded the readers to experiment and see what works best for them in their particular situation. I think that saying “experiment” rather than saying “do it my way” is the true mark of someone who wants people to find the best solution to a problem.

    I feel comfortable admitting publicly that I knew pretty much nothing about linen before reading this book. I feel like this book is at a level that is accessible to someone like me but also contains nuggets of wisdom that could benefit even the most experienced reader.

    There were a few times where I (being very much new to this) wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but then there were notes like “more on this in a bit” and, sure enough, it was explained brilliantly two paragraphs later.

    The images in this book were also extremely helpful for me. There were times when I wasn’t quite sure about how something worked but then there was a picture of it. And then it made perfect sense.

    When I first found out how long this book is, I probably thought something like “oh, that’s pretty short. I don’t know about this…” But Raven packs a lot into a little. It’s a very quick read, but it didn’t leave me feeling like it was missing 100 pages. Instead, I think the short page count actually motivated me to pick up the book, knowing that I actually had time to get through it as opposed to some of the lengthier titles on my shelf.

    All in all, I’m glad I read this book and I’m looking forward to more books from Raven in the future.
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    Location: Pacific Northwest
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    I posted these pictures in the Homegrown Linen Kickstarter threadkickstarter thread, and thought I'd continue the discussion here!

    My little flax/linen garden bed! It's pretty small, but it's something. It's seeded with flaxseeds from Raven's kickstarter! I'm hoping I learn a lot this year, and so I can scale up next year!



    Is that little bitty flax that I spy? I hope so!

    (The fence is over it to keep my ducks from eating all the seeds...something I realized the day after I planted it. Hopefully they didn't eat too much of it in that time!)









    My flax has grown! My son loves to get the hose going and water them. He then comes and happily says to me, "Guess what I just watered? Raven's flax!" (Raven is my kids' superhero). I'm still getting some blooms, but other stalks are turning yellow. Those yellow one also seem to be the tallest, so I think I'll follow Raven's suggestions in her book and tie a string around those to save them for seed. This will be the first time I save seeds!

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    The
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    Pretty little blue flower, half closed from the rain.
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    Seed heads!
     
    This looks like a job for .... legal tender! It says so right in this tiny ad:
    dry stack retaining wall
    https://permies.com/t/85178/dry-stack-retaining-wall
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