Growing Golden Flax in a home garden - Zone 4

This year, I experimented with many healthy/survival plants. Right now, we can easily buy flaxseed at the grocery store (for a reasonable price) and incorporate it into our diet. But I want to be able to have access to flax even if grocery stores no longer carried it (or no longer carried food at all!)

Why grow flax?

  • It's a great source of lignans and omega-3 fatty acids
  • It is frost hardy
  • It grows pretty little blue flowers (attracts bees)
  • The straw can be used as mulch or to make linen - for clothing, baskets, twine 

Flax is super hardy. I planted it by seed straight into the garden on March 31st in zone 4. It was still fully winter at this point, though our snow pack had completely melted. I planted about 1/2 a teaspoon of seeds.

The flax seeds germinated within a few days and stayed alive and well through many weeks in the low 20s (Fahrenheit.)
golden flax seedlings
Golden Flax Seedlings
They grew quickly and stayed erect without need of staking or a trellis. In 2015, I grew them in front of my tomato bed. They made a great companion, staying in their own area, and inviting bees to the other plants.
A thin row of flax among tomatoes - early May
blue flax flowers blooming
Their flowers were beautiful - but fleeting. Each flower only lasted a few hours before it toppled to the ground.
flax seed heads forming
 Flowers opened up daily, but those that fell left behind little round seed pods (bolls).
Tying flax up like sheaths of wheat
On June 22nd, almost 3 months after planting the seeds, the flax started falling down. It was shading my tomato plants and getting "wild" so I tied them into bundles like sheaths of wheat.

The bottoms were already starting to yellow a bit.

Eventually, weight of the seed bolls combined with hail damage caused the sheaths to topple over. They were no longer able to stand up - even with help.

This, combined with the fact that birds were starting to nip the bolls, led me to bag the heads. I covered them in netting bags (jelly bags.)
bagging flaxseeds to protect the bolls from birds

Any seeds that drop will be caught in the bags, and birds will no longer be able to damage the seed bolls.

Here are the seed bags all collected:
I stripped the stems and used the little leaves as mulch. They didn't go very far.... Then the rest of the stems were thrown into the compost.

Here's a shot of the inside of the bags - mostly bolls with a bit of stem.

These were stripped off using a wide toothed comb. The stems were placed in the garden and compost piles.

Once these completely dry out, I will roll the bolls and winnow out the chaff.

Each boll has 10 seeds in it.

Flaxseeds after a few winnowings - really high wind is required because flax seeds jump!

In the end, we harvested about 3/4 of a cup of seeds (once all the winnowing and cleaning up was done.) From 1/2 a tsp to 3/4 of a cup is amazing, but it's still not cost effective to grow this on a regular basis.

In the future - I will grow flax as a pretty blue flower - hard and early - to attract pollinators and save a few seeds. I will always have seeds on hand for eating and emergency planting.  But I will buy the bulk of my flax seeds. You just can't beat the price of flaxseed in the stores (even organic!)

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