Early this spring I opened a zip-lock bag full of cotton seeds, planted them and thus becoming a cotton farmer. The bag came from my friend Anita and included seeds from some of the many bolls of cotton that she had grown and spun. There were several different types of white cotton seeds as well as seeds from green and brown cotton. I tossed all the seeds into one of my round garden bins, spread them out evenly spaced and poked them into the ground. They sprouted! I have little enough experience planting anything that any time a seed sprouts I consider it a success. And they grew. As the plants got larger I thinned out the weakest looking ones so they didn’t get too crowded. And they kept growing. This is so cool.
The big operations always treat cotton as an annual. When the cotton bolls are ready to be picked, the fields are sprayed with a defoliant so the leaves don’t get mixed in with the cotton. Once the cotton has been harvested, the plants are plowed under. I think the reason is to reduce the chance of perpetuating boll weevils, nematodes and other pests. Cotton is actually a perennial and if you don’t strip all the leaves off can live for several years. Our occasional very cold winters can kill them but they can take a mild winter in stride. I saw my first mature cotton plant at the Museum for Contemporary Craft in Houston last year. It is a gorgeous plant with wide glossy leaves and flowers of pink and white. The plant produces flowers throughout the growing season so you can pick ripe bolls throughout the late summer and fall. How cool it that?
The big cotton producers are not happy with little growers like me who plant cotton, particularly the colored varieties, near their fields where the wind can cause cross-pollination of different varieties. It’s one of the many reasons to check with your agricultural extension agent before you plant cotton. If I lived further south, closer to the big cotton farms along the coast, I would have done that before I planted. Since I’m at least 50 miles from the closest cotton production, I figured I was fine. I was a little tardy in calling my extension agent, but I did call. She says I’m fine. There are only three large cotton producers left in this county and they are all pretty far south of me. And she gave me some great references to check. One of them was this great article about all the insects that live on cotton plants that are actually good to have - lady bugs and spiders and wasps and all manner of creepy crawlies that will kill and eat boll weevils and other cotton pests. I itched for three days after looking at the pictures.
So I’m legal and armed with lots of great information. And now I have cotton. I started picking cotton a week ago. I check the plants every couple of days for more ripe cotton. I should have paid more attention to where I planted the different varieties. I ended up with only a couple of colored cotton plants. I probably thinned out a lot of them over the summer without realizing it.
I guess it’s time to learn how to spin cotton…..