Cotton Picking Time

I was out and about this past week and realized the cotton fields are bare.  I'm usually more in tune with this season but somehow it slipped past me.  It may be because I didn't plant cotton this year but more likely it's simply that I haven't been driving past cotton fields.  

We grow a lot of cotton in this part of Texas.  Most of the big cotton fields are south of us.  I checked in with my county extension agent when I first started growing colored cotton to be sure there weren't any issues.  My 7' garden bins hardly grow much cotton compared with the huge farms but you should always check in if you want to grow cotton.  There are several cotton related pests, most significantly the boll weevil, that need to be dealt with.... or not.  In my case, my county extension agent verified that the closest cotton fields are 30 miles south of me in southern Colorado County.  They could have asked me to set up boll weevil traps or to please not grow colored cotton closely adjacent to white cotton fields.  Fortunately, 30 miles is plenty of distance so no issues.


Cotton is a big beautiful shrub that continues to put out cotton bolls from July through the late fall.  It is also a tender perennial.  That means as long as the winters are mild it will grow from year to year.  Our winters are right on the edge of that.  Most years we get enough cold to kill the cotton plants but some years my cotton plants made it through to produce more cotton for me the following year.

Perennial or not, this is never allowed to happen on the big cotton farms.  Because of the boll weevil and other pests and because the cotton plant uses up huge amounts of nutrients from the soil and therefore needs to be rotated, the cotton is always dug up and turned over to be sure it doesn't make it from one season to the next.  The other dramatically different farming approach between big farms and my tiny operation is picking the cotton.  In my 7' garden bins I pick the cotton as it matures.  I walk out and check it every 2 or 3 days and pick the bolls that are open and dry and ready to be picked.  The big farms figure out when they will get the best yield and then spray a defoliant on the cotton plants.  This drops all the leaves so the big combines can get in there and pick the cotton all at once without the leaves.  This makes perfect sense from the farmer's perspective.  When the cotton leaves get dry they get brittle and shatter into a million tiny pieces.  I think my picking each boll individually is the best way to have cotton unadulterated with tiny bits of brittle leaves.  But if you can't pick the bolls individually, get rid of the leaves before you pick!

So the fields are bare and the huge rectangular blocks of picked cotton have sprung up along the edges of the fields.  And I need to find some more cotton seed for bright natural colors.  I'll be planting cotton next spring!