Flax harvesting methods
Flax is an annual crop that grows historically from the eastern Mediterranean region to south East Asia and India. Its mention is found in ancient Egyptian scriptures and engravings. Its use has also been historically relevant as it was both used as fiber for making cloth and making oil from its seeds.
Even today, linseed oil, made of flax seeds, is oil which is extensively used as a drying oil for varnishing and painting. Its seeds are also considered to be of high nutritional value, having a high content of omega 3 fatty acids. Flax seed has a nutty flavor, and can be added to porridge, cake or oatmeal - increasing the nutrient quotient manifold.
Flax is also the oldest crops in the world that have been used to produce fiber. This fiber is extracted from the outer skin of the plant. The fiber extracted is soft and flexible. It is stronger than cotton but not so elastic. While low grade fiber is used to make ropes and twines, high grade fiber is used as a raw material for making paper for banknotes as well as cigarettes.
The flax crop takes about 100 days to mature. This is about a month after blue flowers start appearing and two weeks after seeds appear in capsules. The plant turns yellow from the stalk, indicating that the seeds are mature enough to be separated from the harvest. If the plant is green, this shows that the seeds are not mature enough. If the plant is turning brown, it indicates that the fiber has started to disintegrate from the straw. Timing is of crucial in harvesting this crop, as is with every other crop.
There are two main methods by which this crop is harvested. The first being a mechanized method, using farming equipment similar to hay harvesting. The second is a more manual method which targets at getting the maximum of the fiber. When the plant is mature enough, it is cut by mechanized mowing equipment. These harvested crops are then rolled up and dried. It is then harvested for seeds, which are also of value as is the fiber. This method of harvesting is very efficient if there are lesser weeds in the crop. More the weeds more are the chances of the spurious plants to clog up the machinery and slow down the harvesting process. The amount of weeds in the harvest also determines how much worth the crop would be.
This method of mechanical harvesting is also very useful if the crop is sufficiently dried. If the weather has been sunny, and the crop has got ample time standing in the sun, it will be easier to harvest in this manner. If both the conditions of lesser weeds and a dry crop are met, it is an overall cheaper method of harvesting flax.
The second method of harvesting flax maximizes the fiber. Here the crop is not cut but uprooted, to maximize the overall length of the crop so as to maximize fiber output. The crop is then laid onto open fields and left in the sun and rain. Enzyme action as a result of the wet and dry treatment causes the peptide bonds which bind the fiber to the straw to break. This treatment which can continue a couple of weeks to a couple of months is called retting. The straw is retted and then dried. The dried harvest is then taken away to extract fibers.
If flax crop is grown for its seeds output, the crop is matured till the seeds turn bright yellow and are splitting. The crop is then harvested by a harvester and dried to extract the all important seed.
A further step of Threshing is conducted to separate the seed from the plant. This can also be done using machinery. Or it can be conducted in two parts. The first part enables the farmer to bring the crop to a level of general consumption like making coarse rope or twine. Here three steps are followed- the first one to separate the seed from the crop, the second to separate the fiber from the crop stalk and the third a refining stage where straw and other spurious matter is further separated from the usable fiber. The second part brings the crop to bring the crop to a finest stage for a manufacturer, intending to make lace or fine linen from flax.
These steps of harvesting ensure that the flax crop is utilized in all its usefulness. Both seeds and fiber is usable, though a farmer may grow his crop primarily for a certain gain - the seed or the fiber. He may employ appropriate methods of harvesting, so that he may maximize his desired output.
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