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master steward
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The cotton seeds are on their way.
Please let me know when they arrive.
 
r ranson
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Cotton harvest 2016!  Fewer plants but better harvest than the year before.  A mixture of seeds I saved and seeds I bought.  Not sure which is which.

I still have seeds to share if anyone's interested.  Free for Canadians for the next few weeks, price of postage for other countries (please know your local laws as some parts of the world have restrictions on growing cotton).  In a few weeks, I'll be charging a nominal price to fund getting new varieties of cotton seed.
growing-and-harvesting-cotton-in-canada.jpg
[Thumbnail for growing-and-harvesting-cotton-in-canada.jpg]
canadian cotton harvest
 
r ranson
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Sally Fox is possibly the most influential cotton grower of our century.  She's developed many organic varieties in a multitude of natural colours, all by using traditional breeding techniques.


Sally Fox in her cotton


Here's a bit from an article on how she breeds her cotton

The cross pollinating itself is a sensitively approached matchmaking effort. Cotton typically self-pollinates before the flower even opens. “You go in the night or morning before the flower opens, take a petal off and remove all the pollen with tweezers and cover the flower with a bag and mark it. You bring the father (pollen) of one plant to the stigma (female part) of another.”



This article goes into beautiful detail on how to breed cotton.  Cotton is a lot like tomatoes - primarily self pollinating and suffers no inbreeding depression, however, with enough insect activity, it can cross... occasionally.  But not often.  Which means I'll be pollinating by hand this year.  It also means I may start again wth my cotton growing and label each plant so I can do things a bit more formally.  The plants I started already, I'll put in a sheltered spot and see how they do.  
 
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While not about cotton in the north, I still thought this might interest you, http://growingwisconsin.com/features/2014/04/worlds-oldest-cotton-study-shows-plant-gets-bum-rap/ It's about a  acre of land that has been in continuous cotton production for 120 years as part of a Auburn University study about sustainable cotton.
 
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R Ranson wrote:Being in the mildest corner of the Great White North, we don't get very hot summers.  So I decided to grow my cotton plants in the greenhouse.  These are plant that I grew outside last year, in a sunny spot, flowers, but no harvest, dug up in the fall and overwintered inside in pots.  Come the last frost date, I put them out in the greenhouse and they took off.  They share the tiny greenhouse with some rather enthusiastic pepper plants, and even more excitable luffa squash - which grew out the window and now covers half the roof.

Lots of flowers and bolls, but no sign yet of the white fluffy stuff - or in this case it's suppose to be the green fluffy stuff.

November 5th is our usual first frost date, but something in my bones says we may be in for an early cold spell.  However, I think cotton needs to come in long before then, as I understand they don't like being below 10 degrees C.  

What shall I do to increase my chances of harvest?  They just seem to have stalled, continuously making flowers, with random success at setting bolls.  Do I limit their water now?  Manure tea?  More water?  Cut off the new growth so they can focus on fibre production?  I want to dig them up again for winter, but if I had to choose, I would rather have a cotton crop and seeds, than have these plants survive the winter.



I wonder about pollination.  Do you have mason bees that frequent your greenhouse.  Flowers say they are willing, but no 'fruit' says there were no takers.
 
Danette Cross
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R Ranson wrote:2015 has given me my first cotton harvest.

Doing the impossible: 2015 cotton harvest in CANADA useing permaculture techniques and a greenhouse.


This is the funny, suppose to be green, cotton I talked about in the first post.

When I have raw 'colored' cotton, I have never seen the color until I wash it after spinning.

 
r ranson
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Danette Cross wrote:

R Ranson wrote:...

Lots of flowers and bolls, but no sign yet of the white fluffy stuff - or in this case it's suppose to be the green fluffy stuff.

...



I wonder about pollination.  Do you have mason bees that frequent your greenhouse.  Flowers say they are willing, but no 'fruit' says there were no takers.



'bolls' are the 'fruit' of the cotton plant.  I was getting 'fruit' but I didn't know how long it takes to ripen or if I needed to change the conditions to encourage it.


But this brings up an interesting idea, do cotton need bugs to pollinate?

Apparently not.  

Cotton seems to be a lot like tomatoes in that the flower can self-pollinate easily if jostled.  

I have loads of pollinators in my greenhouse, including some hummingbirds that frequent it, so it isn't such a big concern for getting a harvest.  But what I do want to accomplish is to interbreed the different varieties of cotton to see if I can come up with a landrace that thrives here.  The easiest way to do this is to allow the bugs to do the work for me.  But it isn't the surest way.  I think I might hand pollenate some cotton this year, then select for promiscuous pollenation like Joseph Lofthouse does with his tomatoes .
 
Danette Cross
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'bolls' are the 'fruit' of the cotton plant.  I was getting 'fruit' but I didn't know how long it takes to ripen or if I needed to change the conditions to encourage it.

But this brings up an interesting idea, do cotton need bugs to pollinate?

Apparently not.  

Cotton seems to be a lot like tomatoes in that the flower can self-pollinate easily if jostled.

 

Oops, missed the bolls part. My bad. Hmmm, I had family in Mississippi, and when we would drive through I always loved to stop and look over the cotton fields.  TONS of bees and butterflies, so I assumed cotton was insect pollinated.  I have heard of small growers hand pollinating, but wow, if you have more than a 40'x40' plot, that is a drag.  I found this article and it says that bees are important for cotton crop pollination.  http://www.pollinationecology.org/index.php?journal=jpe&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=259 I think there must be 'varieties' specific for self pollination, just like trees. What they are, I have no idea (yet).
 
r ranson
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Cotton 2017 is looking good!  I planted them a bit later this winter because the weather wasn't improving at its usual rate.  I'm tempted to start another batch of cotton for growing outside against the wall where it will get lots of heat, but I've run out of room inside due to all the plants.  There are a lot of things I usually direct sow that want starting inside this year.  It's the end of march and I'm usually chowing down on my first peas, chard, and kale about now, but alas!  Not this year.  So far my only harvest has been miners lettuce and leeks.

But, the cotton is coming along nicely.  I grew a cover crop of wheat, chickpeas, lentils and flax in one greenhouse over winter and plan to add llama manure to both greenhouses.  The thing is, I'm not really sure how to kill the cover crop.  I tried turning it upside down (roots up, greens underground) but patches of it kept on growing.  It's a bit tricky to work in such a small space.  What I really want to do is to increase the water-holding capacity of the soil for the summer, while keeping the drainage good.  It's like I'm trying to do two opposit things at the same time.

I'm growing a mixture of different cottons.  Some I grew and some bought seed.  
 
r ranson
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I planted half the cotton in the greenhouse yesterday and watered it in well.  It's extremely happy!  I'm thinking to brew up some nettle and comfrey tea for it as the soil in there is pretty spent.
 
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First cotton boll of 2017



It's my first success with brown cotton.  Even more exciting, it's the first smooth seed cotton I've managed to grow to maturity.  



This year I found the limits of how little water I can give these and still get a harvest.  20 minutes of drip irrigation twice a month gives a small harvest indeed.  20 minutes of drip irrigation once a week was much better.  
 
r ranson
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Some more photos from 2017 harvest.



And spinning

 
r ranson
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A few weeks drying indoors and the cotton is looking mighty fine.  Best quality cotton harvest so far - which is unexpected as I was pushing the extremes of what these plants could tolerate.  



I think I might start a few plants later in the week for next year and then compare them to the plants I start in February.  We'll see how it goes.
 
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I've been carding my cotton and I've got just about a pound ready to spin.



And yes, that is a cigar box.  But they are cigar-shaped, so... why not?

That's not including stuff I've already spun or this year's harvest.  But a whole pound!  Wow, that's a lot of cotton towels.  2 years worth of harvest, of a handful of plants grown in a postage stamp of a greenhouse in a country where it's impossible to grow cotton!  I'm pretty darn chuffed with myself.  

Which got me wondering, how much cotton does one boll make?  Usually, I separate out the seeds from a bunch, leaving behind a big cloud of fluffy stuff in a bowl, then card it up later.  Tonight I tried just one.  This is from this year's cotton and it's my new favourite (because of the naked seeds): sea island brown cotton.



One boll made one puni (rolly thingy that organizes the fibres and makes it easy to spin).  I'll do an experiment later and see how much towel it makes.  That's the next project but one, hand spun cotton towels!  I did a sample already and I don't ever want to use anything else again.  
 
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I know I'm monologuing, but I hope you don't mind.  I just find this project so interesting.  

One thing I noticed about my cotton harvests is the colour is nowhere near as intense as it should be.  My greens are coming out creamy, my whites, brilliant, and my browns as tans.  I wonder what I can do to increase the colour?  Maybe something is missing from the soil?
 
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Oxidation or bleaching in the sun ?
 
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r ranson wrote:I know I'm monologuing, but I hope you don't mind.  I just find this project so interesting.  

One thing I noticed about my cotton harvests is the colour is nowhere near as intense as it should be.  My greens are coming out creamy, my whites, brilliant, and my browns as tans.  I wonder what I can do to increase the colour?  Maybe something is missing from the soil?



When I was weaving with Sally Fox's organic color grown cotton yarns I remember hearing that the colors would darken in time, and some, especially the 'rusts' appeared to after weaving and washing, etc.  According to this article below, there is a big change in color from boll to yarn.


The color of the fiber changes as it goes from harvest to finished product. In my photo, you can see a boll each of brown and green cotton and the yarn that resulted from each color. Once cotton has been spun, it must be boiled to set the twist. At that time, the color deepens. What is on the spindle in the photo is green cotton. You can see how much darker the finished yarn is.

 https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/grow-spin-cotton
 
r ranson
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I'm looking forward to the cotton colour getting darker with washing.  I've read that adding a touch of washing soda or other alkali substance to the wash water will help intensify the colour.  Maybe one day I'll try boiling it, but right now my cotton is heading directly from the wheel to the loom.

Most of the seed I got came with a bit of fluff.  Here are some comparison photos of the green and the brown.  Neither fibre has been finished.





The cloth for the background is made with a handspun weft (half the yarn is handspun) - some from what I grew, mostly commercially prepared fibre.  

With the green, the fibre around the seed is really green, but the fluffy stuff I use for spinning is off-white.  Losing that much colour in one generation, could I suppose, be genetic variation.  But to happen for several different kinds of cotton from different sources?  I think there's something in my environment that's changing the colour.  But hopefully, it will get stronger when the cloth is finished.  
 
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I was wondering about cross pollination possibilities.  Everything in books I've read so far says it's a selfer with a low chance of cross-pollinating (about the same as tomatoes).  But I hear about laws against growing coloured cotton in some places because it could contaminate commercial crops.  

this is interesting

At the time, I didn’t realize the distance that was needed between varieties so they wouldn’t cross and I had them separated by only 100 feet. The isolation distance recommended for home use is 650’ and for commercial production a half mile or more. I was only growing it for fun and concentrating on learning to spin, so at first I didn’t notice just how much mixing was going on in the garden when I planted back the seeds I saved from one harvest to the next. Once I took notice, I realized that my original colors that you see in the name tag I wove from my early cotton would be lost if I didn’t pay attention.



Most of my colour problem is from the first generation after commercial seed.  I haven't compared the second generation yet because they all look off white now.  

What is interesting is I'm growing mixed varieties in a tiny greenhouse with lots of pollinators.  This means I have a much higher chance of mixing genetics than I had hoped.  This is great because a landrace would be a great path to find/create cotton that will thrive here.  I've already shown it can survive to reproduce, now we discover if I can make the plant thrive!  

The plan next year is to make one greenhouse purely naked seed brown varieties (the seeds are incredibly easy to remove from the cotton compared to the fuzzy seed ones).  The other greenhouse a mix of seeds I've saved with over half being naked seed.  
 
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r ranson wrote:I was wondering about cross pollination possibilities.  



Studies that I've read measured cross pollination rates in cotton at around 1% to 13% for adjacent plants, and estimated that a 30 foot isolation distance was sufficient to maintain purity.

So yup. Seems like there is plenty of potential for landrace cotton. Especially if the naturally occurring crosses happen to have hybrid vigor and out-perform their self-pollinating peers.
 
r ranson
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Thanks Joseph, that's good to know.

Reading back through this thread, it seems I've come across a lot of contradictory information on how cotton procreates.  We have some sources saying the pollination happens before the flower opens.  Others say half mile isolation.

I think I need to just stop reading about it and start dissecting flowers.  Which means I might need to increase the amount I grow this year so I can really play around with it.  
 
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With all the side trips to look at other websites, it took me a couple of hours to read through this short thread!  I plan to try growing cotton once we are moved to Kentucky (don't think it would work very well here in the high desert).  

Does the fiber from the 'naked seed' cotton differ much from the fiber from 'fuzzy seed' cotton?

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