One of the things I love about Hautes de France is the fact that flax is still a major crop. It has been grown here for over a thousand years and although very mechanised these days it is still in principle the same process.
In the spring we see the beautiful fields of blue flowers looking like a haze across the horizon, I don’t have to walk very far to see vast swathes across the plateau. Stunning!
When we get to July the flax is pulled – it must be by machine, but this is the one process I have yet to see in action. Don’t even know what the machine looks like, but the vast fields of lying flax have to have been done that way.
Around the edges of many of the fields are straggly bits of flax that have been missed – this is my chance to pull some up, well it would be rude not to wouldn’t it?
The flax is left on the fields to dew rett for several weeks, it goes so black it’s almost rotten – but then that is the idea of retting. The outer husk needs to be removed as easily as possible to get to the lovely fibres inside.
Then along comes the “flax gobbler”! (my name for this machine) It’s a fun machine to watch in action – Racing across the fields collecting up the flax into a great round cheese, when it stops you know that the next thing to happen is the baling – and then it is “pooed” out of the back and left on the field to be collected up by tractor and trailer.
These bales are stored in farmer’s barns all round the area until the processor is ready to take them. The tractor arrives at the processors loaded with bales, these are weighed in and then it’s over to the machine men!
The processing takes place within a huge long machine, which sadly I have no photos of, although I have seen it in action – there isn’t much to watch really – a man stands at one end feeding in the flax from one of the bales, there are a series of windows along the machine to check everything is working as it should (and gives you a quick view of the processes if you’re just visiting!). Another man stands at the other end taking off the processed flax fibre and twisting it into small stricks ready for baling and shipping.