Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Cotton Harvest

Yes, it is Christmas day and I am posting a blog.
In mid-May, I started growing cotton plants. I wanted to know how much cotton I could get from a small plot (8 ft by 15 ft). This is the area in my sub-urban (BURB) quarter acre plot that didn't have planter beds and fruit trees. It was an area close to the house to get reflected sun for more warmth and light. And it had been bare for sometime waiting for the longed-for hot tub, one that probably will never happen.
So, I decided to experiment and grow my own cotton to spin. I wanted to know how much water it really takes and if all the chemical stuff was really necessary. What is the difference between Upland and Pima, or Alcala and Fox? Is it possible for a home burb farmer to raise enough spin fiber to actually make something?
So the adventure started.
I found that the cotton patch- intensively planted- grew well in my area using about as much water as a lawn. I would deep water one time per week, which is a bit less than I water the lawn in front. So for me, the cotton did not take any  more time or water than a lawn or regular shrubbery. It is also possible to use gray waste water from the sink, from washing fleece and from house run off. Because it is deep watering, you don't use a sprinkler and don't need lots of pressure. Much of the water I used was recycled from my sink and fleece washing. We didn't get enough rain to divert run-off.
I also found that the fertilizer I needed was not any more than I used for my trees and vegetable garden. Nothing special. I fertilized at planting, then at three weeks, and again at 6 weeks. Then nothing. The plants were growing like gangbusters.
Pesticide- none. This was to be totally organic in that no pesticides were used and only organic fertilizers. We would just have to see what bugs presented themselves.
Many of the seeds proved to be fertile and sprouted. Some sprouted quickly, others taking much longer. Some didn't sprout for a couple of months. This presented a problem in harvest expectation. How long was this going to take? The commercial information I had researched suggested that the crop is done at the end of 6 months - which would be before Thanksgiving. Other areas start planting in March and are done in September. I realized I had waited a bit too long to plant, but we usually have a warm fall so I was not too worried.
I found that I had a predominance of Pima plants, with a second level of Upland and a few Alcala. This was obvious in that the Pima plants grew very tall and more tree like, while the Upland and Alcala were shorter bushes. After some of the bolls developed, I could tell the Alcala from the Upland.
Alcala plants are short and bushy. Many branches and slightly fuzzy leaves with three lobes (usually). They were late to sprout, late to bloom, and produced a few bolls of brownish white short staple cotton with fuzzy seeds. The cotton sticks to the seeds and leaves a fuzzy layer on the seed. This plant was still growing and blooming in November and may be able to winter over here. We will have to see.
Upland- I loved this plant- is shortish and gangly. Not really bushy with smooth leaves, usually 3 lobes, and made lots of bolls. It bloomed and did well in the shade of the taller Pima. It made much more cotton than the Alcala and it made it faster. Even though these plants were still green and growing, I harvested the bunch and pulled the plants out in October. I need to make a bed just for these babies. They are great plants. The cotton staple is long and white. It blooms on time and does well in this climate. There was almost no bug activity. I can see why it is the national favorite.
I was able to get about 20 grams of fiber and about 60 grams of seed from the few upland plants. And about 5 grams of fiber from the Alcala.
Upland Cotton is a great plant to mix into your landscape and grow as an annual. Not all areas are allowed to grow cotton, but if you can- it is worth the time and water.
I will write about Pima in my next blot. Right now- time to bake cookies.
Spin well and be happy.