Backyard Cotton

by Daisy on 07/12/2011

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I was born in the proverbial land of cotton, but have little experience with anything but the finished product.  I do remember as a child my mother teaching me how to pick the seeds out of middle of the dense bolls to eat them, but the plants themselves were no more than a green, then brown-and-white, blur along the roadside.  I wanted to get personal with this important plant, so I grew it this year for the first time.

I have seven cotton plants of two varieties, Nankeen and Red Foliated White.  The Nankeen cotton, an old-fashioned, light, reddish-brown, has green leaves, while the Red Foliated White is self-explanatory.  The leaves of the Red Foliated White remind me of the red heirloom okra I grew last year, as do the blooms, pinky-red, delicate and crepe-y in texture.  Surprisingly beautiful.

They took some cajoling to grow.  I needed to re-seed once, some seeds refused to grow, and they needed lots of water in the heat, but I have bolls!  I like to go out and grab them and imagine the explosion of cotton poised within the tight spheres.

Gorgeous, really.

I’m watching for pests, but none so far, fingers crossed.

What I’m going to do with the cotton I don’t know yet.  I’ve read it can be spun right off the seeds.  I may have to take a spinning class.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’ll keep you posted if and when the bolls open.

Anyone spin their own cotton?


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Keystone July 12, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I spin cotton. I seed it first, then draft it. I’ve never spun it from the seed, but it looks like it can be done. Just a word of caution, it’s fragile, and my singles can and do break.

Anita July 13, 2011 at 5:22 am

You can eat cotton seeds?? I’ve never seen cotton grown in my area so I had no idea the seeds were edible. I always thought the seeds were a throw away product from harvesting the cotton for spinning into cloth.

Tomato Lady July 13, 2011 at 7:22 am

Anita–Yes, they taste kind of like sunflower seeds if I remember correctly. And then there’s cottonseed oil, too.

Diane July 13, 2011 at 8:35 am

I’m a spinner, and I could suggest a bunch of things to do with your cotton. You could get a set of hand cards and card then spin it, or you could sell it/swap it for someone else to spin. I and many spinners will often spin fiber for others in return for a portion of the yarn.

I have used this website for reference before: it has lots of info on techniques.

Takhli spindles are the best for spinning cotton if you don’t have/want a wheel, here’s one place to get one: (and of course there are tons of videos on youtube).

The other way cotton is traditionally spun is on a charka (think of what Gandhi used, the wheel pictured on the flag of India), and you can build a working one out of cardboard, believe it or not. That would be a great kids’ project. Here’s a link:

Careful, spinning is a totally fun and addictive hobby. I can’t wait to see how this turns out!

Denise July 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Being from the north, I never knew cotton was so lovely! So glad you decided to try this and post the photos.

Pacy July 16, 2011 at 12:28 am

Where did you get the cotton seed? I’ve been wanting to try growing it.

Tomato Lady July 16, 2011 at 6:51 am

Pacy–I got mine from here:
They also have some neat medicinal herbs.

LynnOliver July 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Cotton generally has such a short staple length, it can be difficult to spin.

I suggest learning to spin with wool first, to get the hang of it, then move on to cotton. There’s an awful lot of coordination to get… coordinated. Once you’ve got the basics down, then venturing on to cotton would be good.

Just don’t start there, or you might frustrate the living heck out of yourself before you really get a shot.

My $0.02.

Tomato Lady July 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm

LynnOliver–Thanks for the warning. I believe I’ll take a spinning class (of course it will be wool) and go from there. Maybe by the time the cotton is ready, I’ll be ready to start failing at spinning it!

TJ September 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm

We live in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both of my parents are from the South and insisted that we try to grow cotton in our garden to feed their nostalgia. Amazingly, cotton grows easily and loves the heat. I love the pretty flowers. My wife uses the cotton for her makeup and I typically give a batch to an area fashion design school for the “city kids” to see raw cotton. I wish someone made a hand-powered small cotton gin for us urban cotton growers…Eli Whitney, where are you?

Ginamonster October 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm

TJ- Try googling it. I am pretty sure I have seen table top gins and instructions for making your own. I was going to plant cotton but I think the growing season is too short up here in Reno. It’s snowing on the foothills right now. I haven’t had much luck spinning cotton (hence my desire to grow it!) but I followed the links and will have to try again. 🙂

Sydney Ramsdell February 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Hello! I am looking for generous hobbiers who would like to spin raw cotton, grown in our own Vegas Roots community garden here in Las Vegas, into yarn to be used as return revenue for the non-profit Garden. Spinners would get a portion of the finished goods of coarse. please contact me with any information or leads. Greatest Thanks!

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