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Cotton in The Great White North  RSS feed

 
master steward
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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.
 
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The American cotton industry is too far north and only survives because of subsidy and import restrictions. Cotton would prefer to live in Egypt or Sudan where the best stuff comes from.

 Good on you for experimenting. I suspect that there are many other fibre crops more suited to our climate.
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R Ranson : Once you get into a project it is hard to let it go ! A cautionary tale, before the invention of the Cotton Gin it took hours of work

to Clean a Pound of Cotton ! Hand cramping/ mind numbing drudgery. Even just going for the cottonseed oil requires pretty cleaned seeds !

Heres one vote for Hemp - tho it probably never will get any Crop Subsidies For the craft. Big AL !
 
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I think you are to far north for a cotton crop. Since I live in cotton country I will describe the season here in the South. Planting of cotton occurs from the end of May through the middle of June. The crop flowers in July, bolls are set and they don't open until September, the crop comes off the fields starting at the end of September through October. The bolls are sharp when the cotton is ready to pick, many a hand has been shredded by the act of hand picking cotton. To separate the seeds from the cotton you need a gin which can be purchased as a hand powered unit or electric motor type, from there you have cotton fiber and lint covered seeds. (a gin is pretty much a lot of circular saw blades rotating in opposite directions, the blades look like a plywood blade (lots of teeth). A linter (the machine that gets the last bits of cotton off the seeds is the same as the gin but with the blades nearly touching) these things have been known to eat arms of the operator in the old cotton mills.

If you are determined to grow cotton that far north, you will need a dedicated green house or two, you will most likely also need heaters for those buildings. Glass would be the glazing of choice for the cotton to grow well and you will need a bee hive for pollination of the plants flowers.

This link should be pretty helpful to you in this adventure how to grow cotton
 
r ranson
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Making cloth from cotton from bolls is surprisingly easy... when you know the tricks of the trade. Most handspinners work with small batches, usually less than 4oz, which require very little equipment. If I was processing over a pound of cotton a year, I would probably go in for a gin, but there are several places to buy small scale gins, or cotton gin plans. Thankfully, I don't expect to grow that much cotton from my two little plants.

You guys bring up lots of great points about processing cotton. If you don't mind, I'll use your thoughts as inspiration for a some small tutorials on home processing cotton and linen. Depending on how much of my time the farm takes, I hope to have the tutorials finished in the next few days. Maybe we can discuss challenges that you've experienced processing cotton into cloth, and brainstorm solutions. If you like, I can include some information about processing bast fibres like hemp and linen. I'm big into linen and can wax poetic about bast fibres, their history, and their suitability for local, sustainable, clothing in the not too distant future.

But you know, got these cotton seeds from a boll I was working on. I can't resist a seed, had to plant it. It grew. Then discovered there was green cotton! How could I resist?

Focusing on the positive, and getting myself back on topic - the growing of the cotton!

Considering how daylight sensitive cotton is supposed to be, I'm very pleased with how well they are growing. It's just one of those old style, 10x8 foot, glass, unheated, greenhouses. You know the type, with one door and one tiny window at the top that opens half way - horrible for ventilation. The only thing going for it is it's slightly cute and has the traditional English country greenhouse look. Also, it's all I got, so it's what I use.

I'm glad to hear that harvest doesn't traditionally begin until September. I don't have to worry yet that the bolls haven't burst and given me fluffy stuff (I can't remember when they go from 'squares' to 'bolls', so I'm just going to be an ignorant Northerner for the moment and call the seed pod and the fluffy stuff bolls).

My plants started flowering at the last few days of May. That's about a month and a half since I planted them out in the greenhouse. I wonder if they were that early because of our day length, or because the plants were over a year old. I thought maybe the transplanting would have set them back, but nope. It was all grow, grow, grow. Considering how long the boll pods have been on the plant, I'm surprised that they haven't opened yet. But again, that may be a daylength issue.

Good point about bees Bryant Redhawk. Because I have the door and window open to the greenhouse during the day, there are lots of wild pollinators who come to visit my cotton. I read somewhere that the flowers are perfect (have both male and female parts) and can self-pollinate. I don't know how accurate this is. But I decided it wouldn't hurt to assume it had some merit, so I 'tickled' my cotton plants on days when there were very few pollinators. It's like what you do with tomatoes, which is to lightly jog them to loosen the pollen. I don't know if it did any good or not, but it made me feel like I was doing something useful. Any thoughts on the anatomy of the cotton flower? Are they actually selfers?

Also Thanks for the link. I found this part especially helpful.
9. Stop watering 16-18 weeks from sowing when bolls have been formed, so that the plant begins to dry and shed their leaves, and the bolls will split open to form a fluffy ball


If you guys are interested, I can post some updates later on. I would also love to hear from anyone who has grown cotton north of the 49th (well, 48th and a little bit, but who's counting?) . I hear rumours there is someone in Ontario who's had luck with the plant, but they get proper summers in Far Eastern Canada.
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Cotton growing in CANADA! Cool, eh?
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Seedpod.
 
Dale Hodgins
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My place gets much hotter than here in Victoria. We went over 40 C in the shade many times this summer. It's south facing slope, 8 miles from the ocean, near Nanaimo. It might be fun to try it. In June, our days are 16 hours long. This might bugger with the plant's natural rhythm.

Nigh lows may be a problem. Even on a hot day, Vancouver Island gets cool ocean breezes most nights. This more than day temperature, is the reason why many hot weather plants do poorly in Victoria, while they thrive in Port Alberni and Nanaimo.

Milk weed down is the most insulative natural fiber. Many Canadians can gather it wild. Have you ever tried to spin it?
 
r ranson
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So true Dale. Then again, what was that thing about the banana farm in Oak Bay, Victoria, BC, Canada?

Sounds like your place will be great for a trial of cotton. I think, maybe, because their frost-free-days-thingy is so long, maybe starting the plants indoors would be useful. Looking at last year and this year's cotton growing, I have a strong suspicion that the age of the plant allowed it to produce so many flowers and bolls in the (relatively) short summers we get. Do you have anything you could use to capture the heat of the day and radiate it back to the plants at night? Big rock thingy, or maybe some buckets of water painted black put a little to the North of the plants? I don't know. We should be able to brainstorm something.

Cotton would never be a viable commercial crop this far north, but I would love to find a way to grow some plants for personal use. I find cotton cloth so lovely for those in between seasons we get. That short sensation of spring, and the not-quite-cold-enough-for-wool evenings that precede fall. Between the linen, wool, and native silk moths we have here as prolific textile sources, we can easily clothe ourselves. However, cotton has this certain jenesequa, that is just so comforting. It would be a marvelous Transition project to find or breed a cotton plant that would put up with our long summer days and woefully short nights.

By the way, did you notice I said Native Silk Moths? Yep, we got em. Pretty things too. Did I peak your interest? Perhaps a fun discussion for another thread.
 
r ranson
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Dale Hodgins wrote:

Milk weed down is the most insulative natural fiber. Many Canadians can gather it wild. Have you ever tried to spin it?


You must have snuck this in while I was replying. Haven't tried it yet, but am keen to! You got some?
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Bryant RedHawk
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Hi R Ranson,
One of the curious things about the cotton plant is that can be grown as an annual (the way cotton farmers do) or it can be left alone in which case it is perennial in nature.
If you just spread seed and forget it, I knew a cotton farmer that told me that if you didn't use the machinery to harvest the plant will produce year after year.

Cotton comes in several colors, the green sounds really cool.
 
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r ranson
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Some interesting things about growing cotton in the 'far north' that I stumbled on today.

First, in the book The Practical Spinner's Guide - Cotton, Flax, Hemp by Stephenie Gaustad suggests that anywhere that we can grow red tomatoes we 'should' be able to grow cotton. This is very promising as tomatoes grow like crazy here. However, the book also says that they like warm evenings (which we do not have being so close to the ocean) and a frost-free season of 180 to 220 days (ours is somewhere between 100 and 150).

However, this does give me more hope for my greenhouse crop. Starting the plants early indoors, maybe as early as Christmas, I should be able to give the cotton plant everything it wants in the unheated greenhouse over the summer.


A video of cotton grown in Down Town TORONTO!

Her growing season is a great deal shorter than mine but far hotter. She's growing it as an annual and the bolls open AFTER the frost kills the plant. I didn't notice if she started the plants indoors in the spring, but it's probably a fair bet.

Toronto is considerably further south than I am, so the day length must not be such an issue as it is here.


Finally, a short but interesting discussion about growing cotton in the far north. Apparently, there is a fair amount of cotton growing in Russia... then again, Russia is huge and extends much further south than most people think. Then again so does Canada.

This person suggests that the furthest north we can grow cotton is the 47th parallel. I'm at about 48.4 degrees North which is stretching it a bit... but maybe not. We grow bananas, perennial palm trees, and all sorts of things that absolutely cannot ever even in our wildest dreams grow this far north.



This is definitely close enough in range that it's worth continuing my cotton growing experiment a few more years.

Year one: I showed it can grow, flower and set bolls (even if they did not open) outside in our summer.

Year two: I showed it thrives in my unheated greenhouse on very strict water rationing. Let's hope this year also shows a harvest.

Year three...? Maybe experiment with different kinds of cotton plants. There seems to be a lot of different types (outside the highly industrial system), maybe there are some types from high altitudes that are use to cooler nights? I have so much more to learn.

 
r ranson
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We've had a few nights with the temperature going below 10 degrees C (50 USA temp?). I read somewhere I can't remember where, that below 10 degrees C, Cotton plants start to loose their leaves. Even with the greenhouse mostly shut up and some buckets of water as a heat sink, there are some cold patches in the greenhouse.

The pods still haven't dried or opened. They are still green. Wondering if I should cut out the watering all together? Or maybe it needs more water? What are the 'normal' conditions for cotton growing parts of the world at this time of year?

Next year I hope to dedicate an entire greenhouse to cotton instead of squeezing it in between the peppers and loofahs. I've already started some seeds for next year's crop to see if the age of the plant actually does make a difference in how well they produce a crop.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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In the south (USA's main cotton growing region) the months of August and September are generally rain free.
If your bolls are still tight in the husk you might try cutting back on the water, cotton is a drought tolerant plant and it does like dry conditions to Open up the bolls.
Wait until the husks are completely dry before picking the cotton boll and do watch out for the razor sharp edges of the husks, they shred fingers nicely.
 
r ranson
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Thank you Bryant. Very helpful info.

Hopefully the next post I put in this thread will be about a cotton harvest.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Is this harvest that green cotton ? if so I would love a photo, I've never seen that variety, around here it is all white cotton.
One guy I know planted an Egyptian variety this year and it is doing awesome on his farm I'm told.
 
r ranson
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Still patiently awaiting my cotton harvest.

One plant has dried back, and has lost it's bolls. It still has a few small leaves near the base, but the rest of the plant has gone dormant. It's also in the drafty part of the greenhouse as I can't close the window because the luffa squash have decided that the window need never be moved again. So some parts are getting cool at night, and some nights have been down to 8 degrees C.

The other plant is verdant and still blooming. It has about half a dozen large bolls but none of them have dried yet. Although I haven't watered them in weeks, I suspect that the root system is strong enough it's getting water from the ground outside the greenhouse. Oh well. If I remember right, the video of the woman in Ontario who grows cotton, had to wait till after the frost before the bolls started to open.


In the meantime, the cotton I started inside is growing well... for the most part. The green cotton growing from seeds I got off etsy, is thriving; however, the younger cotton seedlings I am growing from seeds that came with my crafting cotton fibre are suffering from too much fungus gnat affection. The soil needs to be moist to get the seedling started, but this means it's the perfect environment for fungus gnats. Now that the seed leaves are showing, I can keep the soil dryer, but I wonder how much damage these little flies have done.




These cotton plants have provided an excellent educational opportunity for some young kids I know. For 'entertainment' at a birthday party, I got out some cotton bolls (dry ones from the florist with white fluffy stuff in them. We took this apart and I had the kids (ages, 3, 4 and 8 ) separate out the seeds. Then I got my big box of cotton for crafting, and they keep themselves entertained for half an hour separating the seeds from the fluffy stuff. I got some soil and pots ready and they each planted some seeds - it's all about seeds with these kids. We made some yarn, talked about clothing, did a little game called 'what else is made with cotton', and generally just played/learned in a way that was kid-guided with a bit of me being mildly educational at them. At the end of the day, we went out to the greenhouse to see a plant growing. Right away, the 8 year old could see how the unopened bolls on my plant become the fluffy ones we started with. It's really nifty watching kids enjoy themselves while learning about something that is important to me.

I would love to be able to grow these cotton seedlings so that the kids can each have one come Christmas - but I wonder how can I do this. The cotton plants seem naturally dormant in the winter, loosing their leaves unless I provide artificial light. I worry if I grew these here, then sent them home with the kids at Christmas, that the plants would grow sad, then overwatered, then dead - thus making the kids sad and less enthusiastic about growing things. Any thoughts on how to make this successful?


The other thing I wanted to mention was that I received some cotton seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I got the Red leaf cotton and the Nankeen Brown Cotton (as well as some flax I hope may prove useful for breeding my own fibre flax, perennial landrace). An extra bonus for me was that the seeds still had some of their fluffy stuff on them. The red leaf cotton is very soft and white, while the brown cotton fibres were shorter but a lovely deep brown. The brown cotton was also the first cotton I've come across where the fluffy stuff isn't solidly attached to the seeds. The seeds are smooth and slick, and the fibres fall right off them. This is excelent. If I wanted to start working with cotton as a main fibre or for plant breeding, this is a trait that I would definitely cultivate. Because the seeds are slick, one can use a roller gin which is a lot like a pasta maker, or even a metal rod and a rolling pin like action to remove large amounts of seeds at once. Roller gins are much gentler on the fibre and people, than the more common saw gins. This can create a stronger, longer wearing fabric with less blood stains.

Of course, cotton isn't ever going to be my main fibre crop, but I still love learning about the plant and all it's variations.

 
r ranson
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Here's what I saw in the greenhouse today.
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cotton plants still hanging on
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Could it be...? My first cotton harvest?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Those are maturing nicely! won't be long now, maybe one more month. The nice thing about growing cotton the way you are, you can pluck the bolls as they fully mature instead of waiting for the whole set of plants to mature.
The commercial farmers here tend to loose a bit of the early opening bolls since they machine pick, they have to wait for all the bolls to fully open before they harvest.
 
r ranson
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2015 has given me my first cotton harvest.



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

The bolls in the bowl burst open on the bush. The rest I brought inside after the leaves fell off the plants, and dried before the fire. The longer these things dry the softer and fluffier the fibres.

Just two plants and all this lovely fluffy stuff to play with. What's more, I now have seeds from plants that successfully grew in my conditions. It's the first step to creating a cotton plant for The Great White North. Not there is any plan to make it a commercially viable crop. I just want to do it because so many people told me it can't be done. Or that if it is possible, it's far too much work to be worth the bother.

Tell me it's impossible... and watch out.


2016 - the plan

Later this month or early Feb, I will start some cotton seeds indoors. I bought some cotton seeds from Baker Creak, which came with their fluff still on. I especially like the ones with the smooth seeds, as the fibre comes off them very easily. I also have some generic white cotton seeds from that pound of unpicked cotton I got off etsy. Then there are the seeds I've saved from last year. I'll plant two of each kind of cotton I have, and then after the frost is finished pot them out in the greenhouse. If I have extra seedlings, I think I'll try some outside, in a sheltered corner of the yard to see if I can get a crop from them too.

But first, I want to get my Linen in the ground.
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Cotton from The Great White North
 
r ranson
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Here we are, past the middle of November and my cotton isn't drying down.  I don't think it's been cold enough here yet.
The bolls are just rotting on the stem.

What can I do to get a harvest?
 
r ranson
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So I brought the unopened bolls inside and they have been drying near the fire for a couple of months.  Roughly 98% opened, and of those maybe 85% have produced lovely fibre, the rest still need time to dry. 

That's the second year in a row that I have a harvest of both fibre and seeds!  FANTASTIC!

Considering that the world tells me that it's impossible, I say HA!  Now, to adapt the cotton to my climate.

A recap of the seeds I planted this year:
-seeds from my green cotton grown last year
-seeds from bakercreek.  I planted the red foliated cotton (which has the longest days to harvest, but grew best of all, produced the most bolls and longest staple cotton) and see island brown  Nankeen Brown Cotton (which as far as I can tell, did not produce seeds or fibre)
-generic cotton seeds from some fibre I got

Of all the seeds I planted, only the brown cotton was a smooth seeded variety.  Eventually, I want to select for smooth seeds as they are easier to process mechanically in a roller gin.  But at the moment, I'm concerned with survival more than anything else.  If I can find or create some cotton that can survive in our conditions to reproduce, then I'm going to be happy-happy.

It's just about time to plant next year's cotton seeds.  I'll start them inside, under lights again.  I'll do a mix of last year's, this year's, and commercial cotton seed.  This year I'll dedicate two greenhouses to the project, however, to reduce bug problems, I'll plant some hot peppers in there too. 

I did, however, start some seedlings in the greenhouse over the summer.  Of these, I choose two and am overwintering them inside with no artificial light.  If they survive, I'll plant them in the greenhouse after the last chance of frost to see how they do.

As for the greenhouse.  One I've planted a cover crop of miners lettuce, weeds, and other random veg seeds.  The other I've planted chickpeas, lentils, wheat.  The cover crop isn't doing well at all because when it snows, the chickens get to hang out in the greenhouse and devour any seeds or plants they find.  With any luck, they are depositing fertility into the soil while they munch on my green manure. 

.
 
r ranson
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One thing I really want to know for this coming year is if cotton is a selfer, outbreeder or a mix.  I want to know how much hand pollinating I should be doing to get the maximum mix of genetic diversity. 


Another thing that is on my mind is I now have enough seeds to start sharing.  I want to find 3 to 5 people on the left coast of Canada who would be willing to grow cotton this year and report back in this thread how it went.  If they save seeds, they send some seeds back to me. 
 
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I'd be interested in growing some of your cotton seeds. What a great thing to grow. We have quite a few fiber artists here, so this might be a good crop for me to grow. Do deer bother it? If I could grow it outside the fence, I could get it into a really good place with lots of sun. Otherwise, it's into the garden with the rest of the stuff.

How big do the plants get - if I know that, I'll know how many I have room to grow.
 
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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.
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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.



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. 
 
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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. 
 
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Some more photos from 2017 harvest.



And spinning

 
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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
 
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