Traditionally, flax is harvested 100 days after being sown. So far that has been our experience here at Mallon Farm, Ireland. However, this year, a mix of strong sunshine and heavy rain meant that the flax ripened quicker than usual and some collapsed under the rain, so we made the decision to start the harvest early. If left, the fallen flax may have rotted and would have been lost. Once two thirds of the stems have turned yellow and the seed heads have formed, the flax is ripe and ready to harvest. No chemicals or mains water are required for this sustainable crop.
We used the traditional method of hand pulling the flax. This preserves the full length of the fibre and suits the slope of the field we have planted out this year. Many friends and family have come along to help us. For some, it has been their first experience of flax pulling; for others a chance to share years of experience.
When a bunch of flax has been pulled, it is tied together in what is known as a 'beet'. These can then be stacked together, traditionally in groups of twelve or thirteen, called 'stooks'. We also hang beets around the fences of the farm as this is an ideal spot for drying.
If dew retting, the flax would be laid flat out across the field, however we have found that tank retting is more suited to our climate and scale of production. This means the flax must be dried before being submerged in rainwater that we have gathered in a large repurposed cheese vat.
There has been plenty of hard work and great craic in the field over the past weeks of the harvest and we are grateful to all who showed up to lend a hand.