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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 47

Flax Growing

Flax Growing.

The existence of wild hemp and flax in British Columbia promises well for their cultivation. An immense growing demand exists for these and other fibred plants. New Zealand hemp in 1872 sold for 25l. to 44l. per ton in London; the tow 12l. to 18l. per ton. The Egyptian Government dressed flax 43l. to 56l.; Egyptian scutched 54l, to 60l. per ton. Flax is a crop which requires much attention. It is not, therefore, likely to be grown by settlers who are hard at work "making" their farms, but older settlers should try this crop as a portion of the regular rotation on their farms. It is essentially the small farmer's crop, sown by himself, and cleaned, pulled, steeped, and sometimes even scutched, by his wife and children. This is the only way in which it can be grown in British Columbia until labour becomes much cheaper. I imagine the best plan at the present time would be to collect wild hemp or flax, also to cultivate some from the best and purest seed, and send several tons of the simple, unprepared plants to be dressed in England. It will thus be ascertained what the wild, and also the cultivated plants, from British Columbia are respectively fitted for. They may be fit for fine cloths, or only for ropes, twine, and coarse fabrics. Flax has been cultivated in Oregon, but only to make oil-cake for cattle. If British Columbia would show what kind of hemp or flax she can produce, the next question would be to get farmers in a district to grow flax regularly, and subscribe to build a scutch-mill of a size regulated by the probable wants of the flax-growers in the immediate neighbourhood. A small 4-stand mill could be built for 750 dollars (150l. English). Water-power would be best for such mills, as they would only be worked for part of the year. Perhaps, as the growth of flax increased, practical flax-makers from the north of Ireland might form in the province flax-preparing associations on some principle not requiring the paying out of high wages. Land is rich and cheap, water abundant, wood plentiful, and perhaps Chinese or Indian hand labour might be used.

The Government of the province can give full information as to the proper management of a flax crop. It may here be stated that flax is usually grown on a wide range of soils—sandy, calcareous, clay, loam, peat, &c. The most suitable, probably, is a deep friable clay loam, or the alluvial deposit of rivers. The land should be very well drained and subsoiled, and thoroughly weeded and pulverized like a garden soil. There must neither be underground nor surface water. Plough in winter and expose to action of frost. Replough and harrow in spring. Sowing time in Europe is March to May—say April—2½ bushels to the statute acre. Favourite seed comes from Russia, but Dutch seed is extensively used for heavy soils. The flax is not cut with the scythe, but is pulled up by the roots.