Below is another informative excerpt from the Newsy Farm Notes column, found in The Guardian PEI Newspaper. Flax and “all that the inventor claims”: In 1929, Agricola turned his regular farm column to flax, making him the latest in a chorus of boosters promoting flax to Canadian farmers. The most familiar refrain here was his suggestion that the main barrier to a Canadian flax industry was technical. “A new machine for processing hemp and flax is now being tested in Ontario, and should it prove all that the inventor claims,” he promised, a flax linen industry would surely boom.

Flax flowers have a vibrant and beautiful colour

“I note in a periodical that the revenue from flax production in Canada has increased by 206% in the last five years, and this led me to inquire into the industry. Flax is grown successfully in other parts of Canada, but I have not heard of its being grown commercially here. The chief drawback of the industry is the amount of hand-labour required in preparing the fibre, and that means money nowadays. The flax is spread in the field and “retted”- which means rotted- till the fibres separate easily. Then begins the tedious process of taking the fibre from the body of the plant. It is run through a “breaking machine” which gently breaks up the woody part, and makes it ready for the “scutchers” who hold it to blunt revolving knives which thresh out the wood and leave the fibre in the scutcher’s hands. The retting process is often speeded up by soaking the stems in a pool keeping them submerged by weights. 

Though flax is one of the oldest of cloth materials, no better method than the laborious hand preparation has been devised, if quality of fibre is required. All machines for scutching up to the present, have proved unsatisfactory, producing too much tow (broken stems, etc.) in proportion to the fibre. The “hackling” or combing of the machined fibre, previous to spinning, has not stood the test. 

Linen is made from flax fibres

There has of course been a long, patient and expensive effort to produce machinery without these defects, but without success. A new machine for processing hemp and flax is now being tested in Ontario, and should it prove all that the inventor claims, an impetus will be given to an industry which means much to Canada. Owing to this difficulty, flax has been grown principally for seed, and that it is productive is shown by the fact that in 1925 1,126,100 acres produced 9,297,100 bushels of flax seed valued at $18,462,500; and in 1926 when 733,065 acres were sown, the revenue was $9,613,000.”

Read Flax Americana by Josh MacFadyen to read why flax actually boomed in western Canada. Hint: it was more about paint than linen!

Sources: Agricola. “Newsy Farm Notes.” The Charlottetown Guardian. July 26 1929. Accessed July 4 2019.

May 9th, 1957

“The April issue of the Royal Bank of Canda’s [sic] monthly letter, which treats “Using Soil Wisely” reached this farm today by way of a Doctor- friend of the family with this quite startling comment relative to this interest of his heart: “Apparently future generations will die of deficiency diseases or starvation unless some way is found to prevent soil erosion.”

“Through millions of years” the interesting article states “Nature built up a balance between animal, vegetable and mineral life. She tied the mixture in place on the earth’s surface by the interlacing of grass roots on our prairies and tree roots in our forests. The leaves she discarded in autumn became part of the soil that produced them”.

“But we humans came and broke up the prairies and cleared away the forests. We upset the balance of nature. Today our earth is sick…”

Soil erosion is a continuing issue on Prince Edward Island to this day.

“Just what in plain terms does this deterioration of land mean to us? One result of lack of conservation is a lowered level of living and the development of human erosion to be seen in the various deficiency diseases and hidden hunger. It is conceivable that if wastage of land continues, we shall be faced not with a struggle for markets but with a struggle for food.”

“Health is so important to us that we should be well advised to spend relatively more on knowing our soils and seeing that they are healthy, and relatively less on our illnesses, which are merely the outward sign of an often unrealized soil deficiency.”

“In considering health it is misleading to separate men, animals, plants. All are part and parcel of the same nutrition cycle which governs all living cells. The earth’s green carpet is the source of the food consumed by livestock and mankind.”

“We have passed the stage looking upon plants and vegetation as inexhaustible resources, but we do not yet fully realize how perishable the earth’s goodness can be..”

Photo Credit: NRCAN

“What we seek from the land is that it provide the base of the highest possible standard of living for the people of Canada…” And we who farm for future generations recognize that the term “soil erosion” includes a number of things. It takes in not only the more and less depletion left in the wake of the wintry seasons and rains, but any careless mining of the fields without thought of much restoration which is some instances, with help scarce and time at a premium has to pass for farming today. And how shall conditions be bettered?

It is likely the 26 man committee set up by the Senate early this year charged with a “widespread study of land use in Canada” in a job described in the Chamber as one of the “most important the Senate has ever undertaken” will find some answers to the question. It may be that sooner or later, to work toward the benefit of all, that soil survey and regulation of arming to some extent will be out lot on farms. 

Tonight the Maytime fields rest, quietly beneath a damp Spring-blanket of snow. 

Until tomorrow – – – Diary – Goodnight…….”

Ellen’s Diary, May 9th, 1957.