Flax was one of the most important crops of early North American settlers. Grown mainly for its fiber, the seeds pack a potent nutritional punch. In fact, flaxseed has been associated with fighting cancer. Here’s how to grow flax seed at home.
Flax comes in both annual and perennial varieties. The type you want to grow for seeds is the annual and may be listed as Linum usitatissiumum. You may need to order seeds online, as they can be difficult to find.
WHEN TO GROW
Direct sow flax seeds outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked or start them indoors about 5 weeks earlier in regions with short growing seasons. Set out transplants after the danger of frost has passed to avoid transplant shock, although flax can usually survive temperatures as low as 28° F.
WHERE TO PLANT
Today, flax is generally only grown in North Dakota and Minnesota but traditionally it was grown in far more areas of the United States. In fact, you can grow flax just about anywhere, though the scorching, southern regions are not ideal. Plant flax in an area of the garden or in a field where it will receive full exposure to the sun. Flax can be grown in large containers but this may not be ideal as they need lots of nutrients and you need to grow a large amount for a worthwhile yield.
Do not grow flax in the same area every year. Rotate your crops to avoid pest and disease problems. Flax does not compete well with weeds. When planted early enough, summer weeds should not be a problem. Avoid planting it with cool season weeds (like wild mustard).
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING FLAX
Flax grows best in loose, rich soil. Amend your garden soil with lots of organic material, like mature compost and aged manure, prior to planting. Till your garden bed or field deeply before planting, eliminating as many weeds as possible. Soil pH is best at 6.0 – 7.5.
Sow seeds indoors in individual peat pots or direct sow them outside. Cover them in only a thin layer of soil and keep the soil moist until they sprout. Seeds can take 2-3 weeks to germinate. Many weeds can pop up before the flax does. Hand-weed carefully when direct sowing flax so they have time to sprout without being overwhelmed with competition. Set out transplants or thin seedlings to 12 inches between each plant. While you can direct sow seeds before the last frost, it’s best to wait until after your last frost date to transplant seedlings to avoid shocking them.
WATERING & CARE
Flax prefers frequent, light watering as opposed to long soaks. However, it may only need your support during dry periods without much rain.
Fertilize flax with a standard, organic fertilizer or compost tea once per month throughout the growing season.
DISEASE & PEST CONTROL
Flax is prone to fungal diseases. Keep an eye out for discoloration and spots or wilted stems. Try to keep your plants well aerated. Water so as to keep the foliage dry, particularly when nights are cool. You may need fungicide on hand.
The flax bollworm can be problematic. They hatch in the flower petals as green caterpillars that will eat your flax seeds before they are ready to harvest. Cutworms can also target young flax plants (mature plants should not be susceptible). If your area is prone to cutworms, you may want to place small, cardboard borders around young seedlings to protect them until they become established. Transplant seedlings once they are a big and strong if cutworms are a problem in your area to limit the vulnerability.
Flax will be ready to harvest after about 100 days. The seedpods will turn yellow-brown and begin to split when they’re ready. Harvest once 90% of the seed capsules turn yellow or brown. Cut them off before they split completely or you will lose a lot of seed.
Lay the pods out to dry in a safe place out of direct sunlight. Pinch the seeds with your fingernail. Fully dry seeds won’t leave a dent and can be collected for use. You should get an average of 4-6 seeds per pod, perhaps as many as 10. When harvesting large amounts of seeds, collect all your pods into a canvas bag and thresh them free. Separate seeds from other plant matter to store in airtight containers for up to 10 months.
TIPS & ADVICE
Flaxseeds have a slightly nutty flavor and contain rich amounts of omega 3 fatty acids and fiber.
Flax will grow to about 3 feet tall.
Flax will flower about 2 months after planting. Perennial flax makes a lovely ornamental, producing beautiful sky blue flowers.