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Growing and Processing Cotton on a Small Scale

 
pollinator
Posts: 160
Location: Southeast Arizona, Latitude 31, Zone 8A, Cold Semi-Arid, USGS Ecoregion 79a
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I'm hoping we can get a detailed conversation going about growing cotton on a small/homestead scale in various regions.

I live in/near one of cotton's homelands, in a high desert grassland valley of Arizona (abt 4,300 ft. elev., abt 31 degrees lat.). We mostly irrigate as was traditionally done around here, with earthworks to corral and direct monsoon floodwater, and we use our small amount of graywater for supplemental irrigation for one patch (this starts out as rainwater from our roof).

This year we would like to try growing Sacaton Aboriginal Cotton (developed by the Pimans for food and fiber, related to Hopi cotton) and Davis Green (a cross between Pima cotton and a Louisiana green cotton, said to produce a longer fiber than most green cottons). I love working with colorgrown cotton especially. I'm going to try seeding them "when the mesquite begin to leaf out" as the Pimans reportedly did. They haven't leafed out quite yet.

A couple years ago I grew some Sacaton in a raised bed with moderate drip irrigation from a well at about the same elevation as here but nearly 4 degrees latitude north. It didn't produce copiously there, but it did produce. Embarrassingly, I haven't processed those bolls yet. I'm hoping for higher yields down here, and I'd just add those few bolls in.

I'd love to talk more with folks about the vagaries of growing and processing cotton on a small scale if there's interest. I'll report back anything I learn. Thanks in case!

P.S. I love that cotton was independently domesticated in both EurAsIca (if you'll pardon the neologism) and the Americas. Do we have a list somewhere of plants like this? (Do nettles/ramie count? What about hemp? Wikipedia says (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp#History), "In July 1605, Samuel Champlain reported the use of grass and hemp clothing by the (Wampanoag) people of Cape Cod and the (Nauset) people of Plymouth Bay told him they harvested hemp in their region where it grew wild to a height of 4 to 5 ft. In May 1607, 'hempe' was among the crops Gabriel Archer observed being cultivated by the natives at the main Powhatan village, where Richmond, Virginia is now situated; and in 1613, Samuell Argall reported wild hemp 'better than that in England' growing along the shores of the upper Potomac.") Are there any perennials in there?
 
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Sally Fox's cotton is a really good starting place.

She breeds her cotton for natural colour and natural resilience to pests and bad weather.  One day I want to get some of her seeds.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1981
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Does cotton need more water than hemp and linen in respect to the quantity of fiber we get?

I have the climate for cotton I think, but not much water here....

 
r ranson
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Water needs depend on where you are.

Linen doesn't get any water here because the rains are heavy in the spring when it needs lots of water and stop when the weather gets warm and flax doesn't need any more water.

If we grew hemp here, it would need a lot more irrigation than cotton, but grown in other parts of Canada, like Ontario, it grows as a weed without any outside irrigation because they get rainfall at least once a week in the summer.

Where I am, in my greenhouse, where it does not rain for the 6 months of summer, Cotten needs 20 min of drip irrigation once every 10 days to get a fibre crop.  Less than that and I wasn't able to get a crop - but I was experimenting with how little water I can get away with and still get a half decent amount of fibre.  
 
Xisca Nicolas
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ok... so I live in the canary, depending on irrigation year long. Of course we have some rain in winter, as a meditarranean / oceanic / ever-spring climate.
But no rain at all in summer.
Now we might be having our last "real rain" until september or even october!

If I understand well, hemp is asking for more water in summer?
Linen might be the less demanding, if my soil keeps some humidity from spring?
And then cotton as second choice?
 
r ranson
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Hemp needs fertile soil and irrigation during the hot month.

Linen needs water during the cold months (for the first 30 to 50 days) depending on the soil moisture.

Cotton seems to need less water than either on the whole, but it does want some throughout the grow cycle.  It can also be grown as a perennial where the weather permits.  Looking at historical examples, it was grown in the high desert with a rock mulch to capture the dew.  There's an issue of Ply Magazine that talks about this growing method where there isn't rain or irrigation.  

 
Beth Wilder
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Xisca, my understanding about cotton is that it can be quite drought tolerant, being originally from parts of the world with moderate rainfall in the seasonally dry tropics and subtropics. Here it is quite dry except during the summer monsoon and with some variable winter precipitation, so I've looked for seed that was developed in and grown in areas with a similar climate. I'd like to try growing it as a perennial (wow, I didn't realize it's actually a perennial!), although we have some significant commercial cotton fields in the area that I worry might attract pests and, since they spray, they might head elsewhere looking for unsprayed cotton. So that might not work. We'll see. Anyway, the lack of rain during its traditional growing season might be an issue. If your temperatures are more steady year-round, what about aiming to have its main growth during the winter rains? Do you think you'd have enough heat to make it flower and set seed?

Raven, I'd like to find out more about that issue of Ply Magazine. Was that the Spring 2016 "Cotton" issue? Edited to add: Also, I can't find any seed at the FoxFibre site. Have you seen it there before, or do you have a line on it, or are you saying you hope she'll sell that in future?

This is a very cool conversation. Thanks, you both!
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Posts: 1981
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Linen will definitely do it here... I can have water now and then dry for the finishing of the plant.
But I know that the one for eating seeds is not the same! I will see just in case there was a local variety. Also, the island used to produce silk! Cotton I do not think so, but they sell plants for their beauty in some plants shpos.

I had already look at cotton, and it seems complicated to select a variety. I think it is like a mallow/malva, so a sort if hibiscus, thus perenial does not surprise me!

I do not go under 8ºc but this is not enough for cotton to grow. Between 16 an 20ºc most days, and can be hot if we have calima from Africa, so quite irregular. I definitely need to grow it as a summer crop!

With an oceanic climate, yes we have quite a lot of humidity in the air, often around 70% even in summer. I still have to observe more about dew, as I have seen it irregular. Mostly on my plastic water pipes which is cool!
 
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Beth Wilder
pollinator
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Location: Southeast Arizona, Latitude 31, Zone 8A, Cold Semi-Arid, USGS Ecoregion 79a
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Holy crap, that's amazing. Thanks very much for turning me onto this YouTube channel, Paul! (All my free time has just been absorbed. ;) )

I seeded Davis Green and Sacaton Aboriginal cotton last year at the time when it seemed it was traditionally sown around here: when the mesquite trees started to leaf out. But that had it trying to grow during the hot dry windy season of spring and early summer, and between that and the fact that it was one of few green things poking its head above the ground during that harsh season making it irresistible for the rodents and ants that we try desperately to remove from the fenced garden areas without perfect success, none of it made it. (That area does have buried greywater dripline irrigation, but it wasn't enough.) So this year I haven't seeded it yet. I'll try getting it in the ground right around when monsoons start like we do with the tepary beans, squash, and corn, and hope it can get to a harvestable stage in time.
 
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