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Growing and Harvesting European Linen for the 2023-2024 Season

Hello friends,

As a crafter and a gardener, I like to combine my hobbies in interesting ways. In this case it was growing and harvesting European flax (Linum usitatissimum) in order to prepare some linen for spinning and weaving.

Back when we lived in Wellington I bought some Essene European flax seed (Linum usitatissimum) from Koanga Gardens. In the first year I sowed half the seed packet into a 1 m x 2 m space, and grew the linen plants mainly for producing seeds, so in years afterward I could grow even more flax for linen. My linen harvests thereafter would be self-sustaining. I now grow linen every couple of years for collecting seeds, and stockpiling flax stalks for making linen.

This blog post is showing the process of growing linen from seed sowing to harvesting. In later blog posts I'll share as I go through the flax processing and then spinning and weaving it.

The first thing I did was buy the book "Homegrown Linen: Transforming flax seed into Fiber." by Raven Ranson. This book is very detailed, and shows all the necessary steps in growing homegrown flax for linen. I then used it to calculate how to grow it in New Zealand seasons.

The first step in growing flax seed is deciding when to sow the seed. Flax seed is sown in spring when oats and barley are sown, and in our case it was in mid-October. If flax is grown for linen then the seeds are grown very close together so that long tall stalks are produced, but if flax are grown for seeds, they are planted further apart to allow for branching and more flower production.

After weeding the patch of ground it was to go into in spring last year, I fertilized it with a high nitrogen fertilizer in the form of sheep pellets, and then prepared the soil to a fine tilth. I then sowed the flax seed in a broadcast fashion very close together, so that the linen plants would grow very tall, with little to no branching. After covering the seeds over with a fine layer of soil using a rake, I watered the seeds in, and then covered the crop with bird netting to protect the seeds from the local very hungry avians. It takes approximately 100 days from seed sowing until plant harvest, so this was classed as day 0.

Within a few days of watering each day, the flax seedlings began to appear. It is always very exciting to see them come up.

And within a week, the seedlings were actively reaching for the sky. In the photo below I was growing the linen plants for seed, but as you can see, I spread them a little too far apart.

Once the flax starts growing, it basically fends for itself. If sown very close together no weeds will grow, making it an easy crop to take care of, as long as it gets enough water. And once the flax reaches about 50 cm tall, it begins flowering at around day 60. The beautiful blue flowers open during the day, and close again at night. And now that the plants are tall, they sway very prettily in the breeze.

Flowering and setting seed boils takes around a month. One of our neighbourhood cats, who we call Patches, decided to make their snoozing spot inside the linen crop. No matter how many times I tried to shoo them away, they kept coming back, so I let them be. It's a good thing they're cute because they ended up squishing a bunch of linen...

Once the seed heads (boils) have set, now is the time to think about when to harvest. It's a good idea to set aside a section of your crop to let the boils (seed heads) mature and turn brown, which means they are then ready to harvest for next years seeds. Their plant parts will be dry and thick and yellow, and they won't make good linen.

The rest of your crop will be used for producing linen. When the bottom half the plant has turned golden, it is time to harvest the plants. The seed heads will not usually be viable for collecting seed, but I've found in the past that some of them can be.

The best way to harvest linen is to pull them out by hand in clumps. Lay the harvested linen plants out on the grass, all facing the same way, with the roots at one end, and the boils at the other. Once you've harvested all the linen plants, it's time to stook the plants, which means creating bunches of sheafs, and then tying them in the middle like the poles of a teepee. You want air to get up into the middle of the sheaf to dry it out. Place the sheafs upright with the roots at the bottom and let them dry in the sun on sunny days.

Once the linen plant sheafs are dry you can store them until you want to begin processing your linen. The next step is processing my current linen crop, and this will occur in a couple of weeks after autumn starts...

Have you ever tried experimental gardening? I've done this in the past with growing wheat, and it's very interesting to see how food and fibers are processed. It makes you appreciate how complicated food and textile production is.

Have a wonderful day


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Staying at SkyScape in Twizel for our Wedding Anniversary

Hello friends,

Recently it was hubby and my wedding anniversary. It was a big anniversary, the type of one that has precious metal connotations with it.

It's hard to believe it's been 25 years. Hubby and I met in university, back when I was a biochemistry honors student, and he was in 3rd year computer science. We met through a mutual friend, and then over time we became best friends, and then we started dating after falling in love. After a couple of years, we got married, and life has been busy ever since.

We decided for our 25th wedding anniversary we wanted to do something very special, and since I have developed a very large fear of flying (thanks to living in Wellington), we decided to stay somewhere within driving distance.

A number of months earlier I had spotted an Instagram ad for a place in the Mackenzie region called SkyScape. It's a luxury eco-accomodation nestled within tussocks and hillside of Omahau Hill Station. Once I showed hubby that we could have an opportunity to sleep under the stars within the dark sky reserve, similar to places like Finland and Iceland, we booked our stay.

The day before our anniversary we drove from Dunedin to just outside of Twizel, where SkyScape is based. The three SkyScape units are nestled in the hills on a working farm just before the mountain called The Pyramid. Each of the units are far away from each other, ensuring privacy and peace. After settling in, enjoying the central heating on the cool autumnal day, and cooking a delicious meal, we eagerly awaited nightfall.

We were extra excited because my phone had been pinging me all day about there being a huge aurora. A KP8 aurora was happening, and we hoped and prayed it would last until I could photograph it. As a keen amateur astro-photographer I had brought all my gear, it was a great chance to do some photography. We prepped my camera gear, got out all our winter clothes and hiking boots, and waited... And oh wow, it was just wonderful, the aurora was huge and big and bright. While taking photos hubby and I witnessed arcs, bands, and rays, all visible to the naked eye. 

The aurora was so beautiful and magnificent, it didn't really bother us that it was freezing outside. We stood outside taking photos for a couple of hours, and then once the aurora had begun to disappear, we retreated back to the cozy warmth of our SkyScape unit, and looked up at the milky way through the glass roof above us.

It was very special to be going to bed and sleeping under the stars, I actually found the whole experience very relaxing during the night whenever I woke up. The next morning, our wedding anniversary, the sun peeked out over the horizon, and we were treated to the most amazing sunrise from the comfiness of our warm bed.

The next few days were quiet and restful, since I was recovering from surgery, and then an infection afterward. We relaxed, read books, I did knitting and cross stitch, and we ate lots of good food. Hubby went for walks on the farm tracks, since I wasn't allowed to be doing that much exercise yet, and he also enjoyed SkyScape's outdoor tub as he soaked under the stars. I'd downloaded TV shows and movies on Netflix and Disney+ on my iPad before we left home, since I knew there was no TV available, and we ate popcorn and snuggled up as we watched shows on my small iPad. We also went into town for supplies, and to walk around, and we found the most amazing bookstore in Twizel called The Twizel Bookshop. The bookstore is tiny, but the owner has the most amazing taste in books. I walked away with a pile of books I'd been wanting for ages, but couldn't find them easily in our local bookstores. They had a great selection of science, gardening, fantasy, and science fiction books for both children and adults, and I'll definitely order from them online in the future.

While we were also in town, I found this amazing giftware store, and I just had to come home with a bee themed mug called "Bee Happy". It got added to my huge mug collection that hubby groans about at every time he opens the kitchen cupboard.

On our last night we went into Twizel for dinner, and came across the institution that is Twizel's Chippery. We waited for our order in the car since it was already getting cool, and drove to a scenic spot to eat dinner while the sun was going down behind the mountains. We headed back to SkyScape very soon after that, a frost was due, and we wanted to return while it was light enough to easily drive the long farm track to the unit.

The next day, we left SkyScape and Twizel, happy and relaxed, and we headed north for the next part of our adventure, visiting Aoraki, and then onto Lake Tekapo. I hope you've enjoyed hearing about our adventure, if you ever get the opportunity to go to somewhere like SkyScape, I thoroughly recommend it. Our hosts were friendly and knowledgeable, and their units are wonderful to stay in. The units were designed to keep warm in winter, and cool in summer, and are solar powered. Water is supplied by a local spring. I really enjoyed their continental breakfasts while we stayed there.

Have a wonderful day


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Book Review - The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

Hello friends,

I absolutely love reading, and have been a book lover and collector for most of my life. Some of my earliest memories as a child are of my mum taking me to a local library, or of us going into town for the day, just so I could pick up a copy of the latest book in whatever series I was currently obsessed with. And pretty much nothing has changed in the many years since then.

There is nothing better on a cold and rainy autumnal day, than to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book, and reading the afternoon away. But that all came to a jarring halt last year when I unfortunately had a run of very bad books I didn't want to finish. My reading bug flew away, never to be seen again, and instead I turned to reading numerous emagazines from the library, or wasting way too much time on Instagram...

My reading bug miraculously returned though, when I came across Alexandra Roselyn's BookTube channel. She is very much into the adult fantasy, cozy, and romance genres, along with middle-grade and YA books. The books that she loves and reads are very similar to my own tastes, and it wasn't very long at all (perhaps minutes) before I had a huge lists of books I wanted to read, especially in the Cozy Fantasy genre.

One of the books she suggested was the cozy fantasy novel, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna. She had me at the words witchy, cozy, fantasy, and romance.

It was mere moments later that an e-version of the book was downloaded onto my iPad. And I devoured the novel in only a couple of days, loving every single second of it.

Here's the blurb for The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches:

"A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family--and a new love--changes the course of her life.

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don't mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she's used to being alone and she follows the rules...with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and...Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he's concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn't the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn't know she was looking for..."

I loved the main character Mika Moon, a witch who was brought to Britain from India when she became an orphan shortly after her birth. She was adopted by another witch, but was raised by a number of strangers until she was an adult, and has been all alone for most of her life, apart from her much-loved companion, a super cute golden retriever called Circe. You can't help but feel for Mika, and admire her, as she struggles to live the lonely path of a solitary witch.

To banish her loneliness and connect with others, Mika runs a Youtube channel where she pretends to be a real "witch", and posts witchy content online to the masses. She is a ray of sunshine in the dark, and people are drawn to her, including an elderly man who claims to know who she really is–a real life witch. He begs for her help in teaching three young witches to control their magic, and she can't resist breaking the rules of her being a solitary witch, in order to help the young girls while living in a remote home in the English countryside.

Mika becomes tangled up in the lives of her three challenging, but delightful charges, their wonderfully quirky cast of caretakers, and the surly, yet hot Irish librarian called Jamie, who is the grumpiness to her sunshine. She finds him hard to resist. Many hi jinks occur as the book continues on, along with lots of witchy goodness, and both laughter and tears. As the story unfolds, and Mika finds her place, and her home at Nowhere cottage, she begins to believe that maybe, just maybe it might be possible to not be alone anymore. But life is complicated, and not just because of all the magic swirling around them. There are secrets to be uncovered, and not all of them are pleasant...

As much as I want to share more of the book with you, I don't want to spoil the story. But there are a number of great quotes in the novel, and this one is my favorite, and is said by Jamie, the hunky and grumpy Irish librarian to Mika:

“It’s not always enough to go looking for the place we belong...Sometimes we need to make that place.”
― Sangu Mandanna, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches.

This quote pretty much sums up the heart of the book, sometimes you have to make the place and family you belong to.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is everything you're hoping for in a book if you're after a cozy fantasy novel that is heartwarming and uplifting, and has a diverse and inclusive cast of quirky characters that you will adore. I really loved the found family trope, along with the magical witchy aspects. If you used to be a fan of the book series that can no longer be named, and have a magical shaped hole in your heart, this may be the book to soothe you. It has a very similar feel to the novel The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, which I also adore. Comparing the book to movies, it definitely has Practical Magic and Kiki's Delivery Service vibes.

In terms of the romance plot, in general it is sweet. There is only one sex scene, and it isn't too explicit, it fits in perfect with the rest of the book, and doesn't distract from it.

Coming into the autumn and winter season in the Southern Hemisphere, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches will be the perfect book to curl up with in front of a fire while drinking a mug of hot chocolate, as it is set during this time.

I have a habit of trying to borrow a book from our local library first, and if that isn't possible, to buy an ebook copy of a novel. Only if I absolutely have fallen in love with a book, and know that I will reread the novel over and over, will I then go and spend more money on buying a paperback copy of a book. I loved The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches so much, that I bought a paperback copy of my very own. I hope to reread it soon, when we go on holiday, so I can enjoy the book again during autumn.

Have a wonderful day,


Want to discuss my post? Feel free to chat with me on Instagram or Mastodon.

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