Cotton grows is the most common textile fibre grown in the world. When grown non-organically, cotton growing uses an enormous amount of water and chemicals to produce a decent crop. By growing your own cotton, you will help reduce the impact industrial cotton growing has on the environment, and set yourself a fun and exciting challenge in the process.
Cotton is not normally grown in the UK. It is used to hot, wet and humid conditions and a long, sunny season in order to produce its fluffy cotton heads. However, it is possible to grow cotton in a greenhouse or polytunnel if you live in the south of the UK. For the best results, grow it in a good, fertile soil, and a warm, humid spot in a south-facing position undercover.
To grow cotton you need a well-prepared soil incorporated with plenty of rich, organic matter such as homemade compost or well-rotted manure. Dig the ground thoroughly, to at least 5cm below the surface of the soil. Remove all weeds and traces of weed roots, and any large stones. Add several forkfuls of compost or manure to enrich the soil with the nutrients needed to grow cotton successfully, and rake the soil level.
Sowing Cotton Seeds
Fasten a piece of string the length of your bed to two pieces of stick, or twig. Mark out a straight line along your bed, using the string as a pointer. Create a drill (small furrow) in the soil by dragging a swan-necked or draw hoe in a straight line along a the length of the string. If you are making more than one row, space them roughly 45cm apart from each other. Then water the drill before sowing the seeds.
You can also grow cotton in containers. Fill a large container with grit, soil and compost or manure and water the surface.
It’s important to check the soil temperature when growing cotton, as the seeds won’t germinate below temperatures of 14°C
(58°F). Use a soil thermometer and ensure the soil is warm enough up to six inches below the surface. If the soil temperature is sufficiently high, sow your cotton seeds 2.5cm deep in groups of three. Space the stations 10cm apart (if growing your cotton in a container, ensure adequate spacing or grow one station of three seeds per pot).
Watering Your Cotton Plants
After you have planted the seeds, you should not water them until approximately five weeks after the plants have emerged. From then on, water the young plants once every ten days.
Then, roughly 16 weeks after sowing the seeds, stop watering the plants altogether. This causes the cotton plants to dry up and shed their leaves. The pods, or cotton balls will then burst open, revealing cotton fibre, which should be left to dry.
Your cotton will be ready to harvest when all of the cotton balls, or pods have opened, and the cotton fibre inside has been allowed to dry so it is fluffy in texture.
Growing cotton in the UK is a challenging, but fun and worthwhile pursuit. As long as you have a south-facing position and a good greenhouse, you should try growing your own cotton.