The Grumpy Gardener – Consider Flax but…




The Grumpy Gardener – March
Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander

In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander notes that with cotton starting to fall out of favour in some circles, French flax could make a comeback.

Flax in flower (Credit Wikipedia)

Flax in flower (Credit Wikipedia)

While flax as a crop in your garden may not be an option given France is the world’s top producer, readers with a smallholding might consider opportunities offered by varieties of a very hardy plant.

Until the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 most of our fabric was made from linen which is produced from flax and France harvests in excess of 64000 tonnes of this product each year.

The French recently developed a winter variety which brings with it some very real advantages. (Read more here) Ground that would have lain idle over the winter months can now be given over to flax production which will also reduce erosion as the plant binds the soil.

Problems with our reliance on cotton for clothing fabrics are becoming more prominent among environmentalists. Almost half the fiber used to make our clothes is created from cotton. This is the most intensively treated crop we have, accounting for 10 percent of the world’s pesticides and up to 25 percent of the world’s insecticides including three which according to the World Health Organization are among the top ten most hazardous to human health. It can take ten years and one hundred million dollars to develop a new pesticide in the US but only five or six years for major pests such as weevils to develop immunity. Cotton is also a thirsty crop and many of these countries are using vital water resources to produce a material we use so widely.

An average cotton shirt for instance requires 2 700 litres of water to produce. Flax on the other hand requires little irrigation, virtually no fertilizers and if it is now harvested in the summer months the conversion process will become easier too. It is the oldest plant fiber used by man and has been farmed for millennia. There is evidence of its use by European stone age man and the Egyptian mummies were often wrapped in linen fabric after embalming.

Comprised mostly of cellulose it does not causes allergies and is able to breath, thus reducing humidity. As a bonus the seeds are both healthy to eat and have multiple industrial uses such as delaying the drying process of paints and as the base ingredient of linseed oil.

Flax seeds (Credit Wikipedia)

Flax seeds (Credit Wikipedia)

For agricultural use the most common variety used is Linum usitatissimum which also makes a very easy to use garden plant for fronting borders and in rockeries.

Producing abundant pale blue flowers from May to June, each lasts only a day but is constantly superseded by new blooms coming through. It is very undemanding and is not vulnerable to very many pests. There are a variety of different cultivars and colours available to the gardener so you may want to look them up in a few catalogues before deciding what best suits your needs.

And don’t forget to keep an eye out for linen-based clothing as well.

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Previously – click an image below
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To read a previous article
– click an image –
Hedge Your Bets
www.french-news-online.com

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Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander
mike@mikealexander.fr
Follow Mike on Twitter 

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