What’s that blue crop growing in your field?

May 28, 2010

A few neighbours have stopped us and asked ‘What’s that blue crop growing in your fields?’ Well, it is linseed which is also sometimes known as flax. This year it is being used as a break crop instead of the usual oil seed rape or winter beans.

Linseed can be planted in the Autumn (Winter Linseed) or the Spring.  Historically, winter linseed has been quite a difficult and temperamental crop to grow because it is sensitive to the climate and could suffer badly in harsh winters but, if the winters are mild then often the crop becomes too thick.

The crop below was planted last Autumn and will be harvested on the farm this year, probably at the end of July or early August.

linseed - view from Newland bank

linseed - view from Newland bank

It was sown using the direct drill. It is a beneficial crop to grow on the farm as it allows the farmer to control some weeds more easily than in wheat, and should allow an easy low till entry into wheat.  Slugs do not appear to like linseed and no chemical pesticide control is normally required.

linseed flower

linseed flower

The yield for winter linseed should be in the range 2.5 – 3.5 t/ha (1.0 – 1.4 t/ac) however, as this is the first year we have grown the crop, we will have to wait and see if our expectations have been met.

Traditionally linseed has been grown because of the oil it produces; this is added to paints and varnishes and assists with the drying and hardening processes.  More recently linseed seeds are used in health foods because it is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega 3 and 6. It can also be added to animal feeds and has been woven to make a fabric.

linseed in flower

linseed in flower

The linseed plants can grow up to a metre tall but height is normally controlled to about 50cm.  Linseed produces very pretty, light blue flowers.


15 Responses to “What’s that blue crop growing in your field?”

  1. Rachel burns on September 13th, 2010 5:17 pm

    Thank you. I saw a field recently with this flower and I was curious to know what it was.

  2. Arthur W Lewis on June 16th, 2011 11:14 pm

    I have seen quite a number of fields growing flax (linseed) this year in S Warwickshire. In previous years there have been none. I saw a few fields a number of years ago!!! Why is it grown so spasmodically?
    Why is it being grown as a “break crop” THIS year instead of oil seed rape.?

  3. chris on June 17th, 2011 6:25 pm

    Dear Arthur
    Thank you for your questions. Years ago linseed was subject to a subsidy from the old common market and some farmers grew it just for this reason. Sometimes it wasn’t even harvested! This regime has long passed and so now linseed is grown as and when the demand is there. For example the price has risen from around £200 a tonne to over £400 over the last two years. This is partly due to the fears of contamination from GM crops from imported crops – see http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2009/11/06/118376/Linseed-price-leaps-following-GM-fears.htm .
    We grow linseed and oilseed rape as break crops. Both crops allow use of different cultural and chemical control of weeds. Linseed is not favoured by many farmers as it is often late and difficult to harvest. However I suspect the answer to both your questions is answered by the high price paid for linseed this year.

  4. Arthur W Lewis on June 17th, 2011 8:51 pm

    Thanks for that Chris
    Some more inquisitive questions.
    how is it harvested – it looks like a very small blue flower – so must have small seeds. Similar to oil seed rape suppose.
    And, where and how is the oil extracted – being that its such a spasmodically grown crop.?


    Arthur W Lewis

  5. chris on June 18th, 2011 8:54 am

    Harvesting linseed is carried out using a normal combine (the same as for oilseed rape or cereals) though there are a number of changes required e.g. sieve settings, fan speed etc. However it can prove to be a very difficult crop to harvest, causing problems feeding into the combine header. Pre-harvest dessication is essential, a hot sunny day, a sharp cutter knife and patience are required. I suppose the seed is about the same size as OSR but is a different shape – more like a tear drop – and will leak out of every hole in the combine or trailer. Linseed straw is not particularly useful and I believe is the only straw that is still allowed to be burned in the field, though my neighbour does use it for bedding cattle.
    As to where and how the oil is extracted, the answer is I don’t know as I deal directly with a merchant not the end producer though I think most is exported to Europe. You could try merchants such as http://www.robin-appel.com/linseed.php or http://www.premiumcrops.com/linseed/linseed.htm.
    The Spring linseed crops are in fully flower at the moment and I always think it one of the prettiest crops we grow.

  6. Arthur W Lewis on June 18th, 2011 11:00 pm

    Thanks very much for that information Chris.
    I also think that the blue fields makes for a very nice view, especially the contrast with the wheat and barley fields that we’ve seen between Southam and Coventry in Warwickshire.I bet it looks nice from the air.


    Arthur W Lewis

  7. ann w on July 5th, 2011 12:30 am

    just what I wanted to know, thank you. On 28/06/11 I photographed a very large field of blue flowers quite near to Twycross Zoo, on the Leicestershire/Warwickshire border. While I was standing admiring the view I heard several Skylarks singing above the field – what joy – I haven’t heard these birds for many, many years. I hope to see more fields of these lovely flowers.

  8. Martin Cassell on April 9th, 2012 8:41 am

    Dear Arthur,

    As an amateur photographer I am keen to try and get a good picuture of a field of linseed (I am aware that the flowers follow the sun, so need to think how and when to get the picture) but when is the typical UK flowering season?


  9. Susan Wilmot on June 20th, 2012 8:41 pm

    Brilliant. I saw this beautiful crop growing locally and had no idea what it could be. So easy to find out using your site.

  10. Alan Green on June 26th, 2012 11:31 am

    I notice that the blue flowers disappear at night. Do they drop off, to be replaced by new flowers or do they simply close up until sunrise?

  11. Dave Powell on June 27th, 2012 4:06 pm

    Thank you for answering the question that was in my mind.
    The flowers were noticed a couple of days earlier about 10.30 and when I went to take some photos there was only a couple of flowers to be found but lots of buds. I went back today at 10.00 to find the field full of flowers again.
    Are these Flax flowers just day flowers?
    Thanks again.

  12. Roy Clark on July 15th, 2012 4:44 am

    I came across your very interesting site when seeking to identify the blue flowered crop in the fields at the moment. Thanks, I now know it is linseed. I have not been so lucky in finding an answer to another crop related question I have, and wonder if you can help. Travelling throughout East Anglia during this very wet summer I have noticed several fields in which the farmer has been growing a strip, about five meters in width, of flowers around the edge of a field containing a seed crop. The most noticeable has been red poppies around the edge of (I think) a corn field. Is this just a separate crop in the same field, or is there any other purpose in doing so? Thank you.

  13. Robert Perry on August 3rd, 2012 1:14 pm

    Hi .
    Found your site while trying to track down a new blue flowering plant growing around our way, ( north west Essex ) on reasonable sized acreage, in flower at the moment. I have asked someone living near a field who asked someone else who gave it the name ITCHEGEN
    or similar,it is not Linseed, Flax or Borage can you help with our mystery crop.

    Thanks Bob

  14. christopherpadfield on August 7th, 2012 12:23 pm

    It is common to find farmers growing separate crops strips around the margins of fields. Generally these are to promote wildlife and bird populations. There are government backed schemes such as the Entry Level Scheme (see link http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/farming/funding/es/els/) and arrangements between individual growers and processors (see link http://www.conservationgrade.org/nature-friendly-farming/).

  15. christopherpadfield on August 7th, 2012 12:26 pm

    Dear Bob, You have listed the main crops I would have expected (linseed, flax, borage). Some farmers are growing crops as green manures (crops that increase soil fertility, retain nutrients and reduce soil compaction) but will be mulched rather than harvested. IF this is the case with your question the crops could be Phacelia or a Vetch mix

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