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Looking back at the last Flax Year - Experiences from the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory (Germany)

The Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory for Experimental Archaeology

The Open-Air Laboratory Lauresham is an archaeological open-air museum which, among other things, deals with the education and research of early medieval agriculture. Different types of fields (including so-called ridge and furrows) as well as cultivation methods are studied here.

The Open-Air Laboratory Lauresham (in the front) in its wider context of the Upper-Rhine-Valley (Picture: M. Fuchs)

Flax is part of the cultivation spectrum every year and the following will provide insights into the cultivation, harvesting and processing from the 2021/22 season.

Soil preparation and sowing

Due to the period of research at Lauresham, namely that of the Early Middle Ages, all work processes related to soil preparation and sowing are based on animal traction methods and, more precisely, on cattle traction.

Team of draft oxen during plowing of the dedicated flax field in autumn 2021

Accordingly, the planned field of 90x6 m was turned over for the first time with a moldboard plow and a team of oxen in fall 2021. A seedbed preparation with a harrow then took place at the end of March 2022, before a mixture of the fiber flax varieties Felice, Avian and Lisette was spread on April 12 – in broad sowing by hand. To enable a more even sowing, the flax seed were mixed with flax straw. Thus, with each throw, the hand was literally full. The seed were worked in again with the harrow.

Preparation of the seed bed using a single draft oxen and an seed-harrow in April 2022

Broad-sowing by hand

Weed control

Due to increased weed pressure in the month of May, a single pass of weed control (especially for thistles, burdock, mullein and dock) was done by hand at the beginning of the month. Significantly more caution had to be taken than with cereals to avoid damaging the flax plants. On May 10, the always particularly impressive flowering phase of the flax began.

Flax in full bloom on May 10th 2022

The flax field (on the left) in the wider context of the field systems (three-field crop rotation) and field crops (wheat on the right, fallow land in the middle) of the Open-Air Laboratory

Harvest and Post-Processing

On the 19th of July, the flax was harvested by hand. After riffling (decapping), the flax stalks were prepared for further processing with the help of a dew roasting ("Tauröste" in German) process that lasted several weeks.

Flax harvest in July 2022

Postprocessing (breaking [“Brechen”] on the left, hetcheling [“Hecheln”} on the right) of the Flax in fall 2022

The further processing itself then took place in the months of September and October with the classic steps of breaking and hetcheling ("Hecheln" in German). School classes, kindergarten children, and adults were actively involved in the processing procedures as part of educational activities.

The spinning and weaving of the flax yarn into linen fabric is finally planned for the second half of 2023.

Text prepared by: Claus Kropp


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