Adventures in Gardening Series: Wrap up on the Hippie Heart: Growing lentils and flax

The Hippie Heart got a crew cut

We’re clearing out our cool season crops for the warm season ones, so it’s time for some reporting on the new beds we’ve been profiling under the “Advances in Gardening” series. We’ll start with the Hippie Heart.

The Hippie Heart is a heart-shaped bed where I was intending to experiment with planting seeds straight out of the pantry, ill-advised as that might seem, just to see what happened. Erik grumbled at this plan–and for good reason, since a lot of seeds we can buy in bulk bins may be hybrid, sterile or irradiated. But I wanted to try it anyway. This first season I planted the Heart with bulk bin flax seed and lentils from a boxed lentils. The results were mixed. Sort of interesting. Not super-productive, but not a failure, because I learned lots.

First, both flax and lentils are very pretty plants. In its prime, the Heart was an attractive thing The flax grew straight and tall and made lots of periwinkle blue blooms that turned their faces to the sky.  (The mature were knocked over in a storm, so if I plant it again, I will do so with supports). The lentils, which were planted around the edges of the heart, made pleasant, rounded shapes, not big and sprawly like so many legumes can get. The folliage is delightfully delicate, almost lacy.

Fascinating flax

The flax proved fertile. The flowers died back and left pretty little round pods, each of which holds a few flax seeds. Of course, we didn’t plant enough flax to really do anything with it. I have a few bunches of harvested flax now, and if I beat the pods, I might harvest a cup of flax. This doesn’t seem worth the effort. The dried stalks are very pretty, and I might bring some of it inside to put in vases. Also, the chickens like them a lot, so the bulk of it will probably end up chicken fodder.

The harvest is in

What’s more important to me was the experience of growing flax. I hold it in my hands and say, This is linen. This is flaxseed. This is linseed oil. Henry the VIII’s shirts were made of this stuff, as were my grandmother’s best napkins. Rembrandt mixed his paints with this–most oil painters do, since linseed oil is a common carrier for oil pigments. Heck, he was painting on linen, too.  The linoleum of our kitchen floor is made with this. And at this moment, all over LA, raw foodie are subsisting on dehydrated flaxseed crackers.

Flax pods. They rattle, and kittens like them!

I love growing a plant with that much cultural relevance and history. It doesn’t matter so much to me if it’s practical, though I may not do it again, not on this scale.

The fate of the lentils

The lentils were less successful.  They came from a box of Sabarot green lentils. They were planted in November. Months passed. They didn’t flower, didn’t flower. I began to figure they were sterile seeds. At the very last moment, in May,  a few tiny flowers appeared here and there, but by that time I had to take it out. So that is the risk of growing from unknown seed raised for commercial consumption. It was a risk I took. In the future, though, I’d consider planting lentils from real seed, because the plants are compact and attractive.

A cover crop option?

Here’s a side thought–being a legume, lentils help draw nitrogen into their soil via the roots. If you want to boost the nitrogen in your soil, you can plant legumes, then cut them down when they flower, leaving the roots with their nitrogen nodules in the soil for the next crop to feed upon. (If you let them grow beans, they consume much of that stored nitrogen). This process is called cover cropping, and though it sounds like something only a farmer would do, you can do this in your garden beds to rest and rejuvenate them. The thing about these boxed lentils is that they didn’t flower for months and months, and then hardly at all, so they’re an ideal cover crop: they give you plenty of time to knock them down at your leisure.

What’s next?

While I liked this experiment, I don’t know if I want to continue with pantry seed–though I do have a lingering desire to grow sesame plants! I’m not even sure if I want to continue planting annuals in that bed. Edible perennials are always preferable to a lazy gardener like myself, so I might be leaning that way.  Will let you know what we figure out.

Previous posts on the Heart:

Leave a comment


  1. my sesame does well in full shade and no irrigation. i use it for those problem areas where i can’t find anything to grow because of the shade and small space.

  2. I tried cover cropping for the first time this fall/winter with buckwheat planted in my tomato beds. Now the buckwheat has all been cut down and the tomato seedlings are all in. It will be interesting to see what difference (if any) this makes to my tomato crop this year.

  3. Kelly, Not only was your experiment a success, your post informative, but it was beautifully written, rather like poetic prose. It really spoke to me. It is great the kittens and chickens are happy with the Hippie Heart’s results. Maybe I just want a Hippie Heart.

  4. I’m so glad to see that you did this. We’ve tried some things like this, in part as experiments for my kids as well. Last year we planted pinto beans straight from the pantry, and they grew and produced more beans. The result was similar to your flax experiment, however, in that we grew maybe 1/3 cup of beans (we only had a few plants). After reading this, I’m inspired to try some new things this year, more for the fun and experimentation than for high expectations of food production.

  5. Great stuff. Cover crops are definitlely feasible in a small garden. I like bell beans. The system that seemed to work best for me was to cut them in about March before they make beans, leave the cut stalks on the bed, inoculate with handfulls of worms/castings from the worm bin, and mulch over with a single layer of newspaper covered in straw. When you plant the bed a month or two later it’s just gorgeous under there and full of worms and castings. Good stuff!

  6. All it takes is one dig with the spade after a winter of cover crops to prove to someone that it’s worth doing in the garden. That soil just falls right apart.

    I use austrian field peas – interesting to read about the other legumes that some of you are suggesting!

  7. Cover Crop question: Our new-to-us place and a lot of the houses around here seem to be suffering from erosion (SoCal). I don’t know what was planted here, but it doesn’t appear to have been drought resistant and the ground is blowing down the street. I want to plant a cover crop, at least in a few feet wide perimeter around the property, along the street. The 6 lbs of seeds have arrived and now I can’t seem to pull the trigger on planting them (we’ll be trucking in compost to replace the lost topsoil). If I think about planting them soon, I imagine the birds eating them. If I consider waiting till October or so, I just envision the seeds getting washed away in the rain. When do they stand half a chance?

  8. Hey Joss,

    What seeds did you get? Most cover crops in SoCal are planted in the fall. If you plant now they might get cooked by late summer heat waves.

  9. It’s 6 lbs of this:
    “TSC’s Fall Mix Cover Crop
    Take the guess work out of which cover crop to choose with this multipurpose blend that is perfect for fall sowing. Our mix will help control weeds and erosion while adding valuable nitrogen and organic matter. A balanced blend of Austrian Field Peas, Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, Annual and Winter Rye. For the best nitrogen fixation, it is recommended that you inoculate with the Garden Combo Inoculant (ZFE266 or ZFE267). Recommended seeding rate: 2-3 pounds per 1000 square feet; 100 pounds per acre.”

    I’m trying to decide between September planting (b/c Pat Welsh’s SoCal gardening book made it sound like the last month before the rainy season) and October (allegedly the first month of the rainy season).

    Thank you!

Comments are closed.