River Friendly Retting at Mallon Farm

Retting is the process of breaking up the outer core and releasing fibre from the stem of the plant, traditionally by submerging in rivers, ponds or dams or by laying the flax out over fields to be retted by dew. Years ago streams and rivers here suffered because of pollution from the retting process. Water retting methods using rivers and dams have been linked to the decline in flax growing here. It was felt that dew retting was the more environmentally friendly method, but unfortunately it was suited to warmer climates than ours.

Retting was the one part of the process that we knew we needed to change if we wanted to restart flax growing here. But we like a challenge! We got great advice from Ballinderry Rivers Trust to establish retting methods that are environmentally sound. We don't use chemicals, we harvest rain and spring water and we use repurposed cheese vats rather than waterways.

We've visited the impressive fields of flax being dew retted in Northern Europe and experimented with both methods here on the farm. We found tank retting to be better suited to our climate and scale of production. When the retting is finished, we draw the leftover water into a slurry tank and distribute it across the fields as a cost effective fertiliser. 

During retting we monitor it carefully, removing the flax twice a day to check the progress. What we are looking for is fibre that comes away easily from the outer core. And when it's ready it's important to act quickly. We've been told stories about flax being removed from retting dams in the middle of the night to ensure it is at the perfect stage. 
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