Picking Ornamental Cotton – How Do You Harvest Homegrown Cotton

Hand Harvesting Ornamental Cotton
picking cotton
(Image credit: worklater1)

Many people are trying their hand at growing crops that are traditionally grown by commercial farmers. One such crop is cotton. While commercial cotton crops are harvested by mechanical harvesters, harvesting cotton by hand is the more logical and economical course of action for the small home grower. Of course, you need to know not only about picking ornamental cotton but when to harvest your homegrown cotton. Read on to find out about cotton harvest time.

Cotton Harvest Time

Try some of the “old-time” homestead crops our ancestors used to grow. Gardeners growing small plots of cotton today may be interested in learning not only about picking ornamental cotton, but in carding, spinning, and dying their own fibers. Maybe they’re doing it for fun or are interested in creating an organic product from start to finish. Whatever the reason, harvesting cotton by hand requires some good old-fashioned, back-breaking, sweating type of work. Or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe after reading accounts of actual cotton pickers who put in 12- to 15-hour days in 110 degrees F. (43 C.) heat, dragging a bag weighing 60 to 70 pounds (27-32 kg.) -- some even more than that. Since we are of the 21st century and used to every convenience, I’m guessing no one is going to try to break any records or their backs. Still, there is some work involved when picking cotton.

When to Harvest Cotton

Cotton harvesting starts in July in the southern states and may extend into November in the north and will be ready to harvest over time for about six weeks. You will know when the cotton is ready to be picked when the bolls crack open, and the fluffy white cotton is exposed. Before you begin to harvest your homegrown cotton, arm yourself appropriately with a thick pair of gloves. The cotton bolls are sharp and likely to shred tender skin. To pick the cotton from the bolls, simply grasp the cotton ball at the base and twist it out of the boll. As you pick, crop the cotton into a bag as you go. Cotton isn’t ready to harvest all at one time, so leave any cotton that isn’t ready to harvest for another day. Once you have harvested all the mature cotton, spread it out in a cool, dark area with plenty of air circulation to dry. Once the cotton is dry, separate the cotton seeds from the cotton by hand. Now you’re ready to use your cotton. It can be used to stuff pillows or toys or dyed and carded and spun into fiber ready to weave. You can also replant the seeds for another harvest.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.