Can you grow cotton in containers in the Midwest? Well as you can see by the photo to the left I did grow cotton in Northern Illinois during the 2014 growing season. In the the fall of 2013 somebody sent me a few cotton seeds in the mail. Now I knew nothing about growing cotton so I did some reading up on it and thought I'd give it a try.
I had to start the plants indoors early in the spring since cotton needs about 150 days of warm weather. Cotton grows best in temperatures about 60 degrees F. I thought a 5 gallon grow bag should give the roots enough space to grow (and I was right). For the soil I just used regular top soil from a big box store and mixed it with sand at a ratio of about 5:1. The sand I got for free from our lake in Wisconsin. When the seedlings were about 4" tall I transplanted them into the grow bags.
Despite having a cooler than normal summer in 2014, the plant did excellent. I watered it every 3 days or so and the only sort of fertilizer I used was adding a little Dirt MD to the water every 30 days. It took about 6 months to grow and I'm sure it wouldn't have made it had I not started it indoors. As the buds dried at the end of the season, the cotton starts to spring out. I actually had plenty of closed buds after the plant died and they all opened up.
For the harvest I cracked the plant off at the base. Then to my surprise the stem and the roots are like a hardwood and very tough as you can see from the photo below.
The cotton bolls open up into 4 or 5 sections of cotton and each section has about 8 seeds. Below is a close up of one of the bolls.
What I learned is that the seeds are extremely difficult to remove from the cotton by hand. It's almost as the the seeds were covered with glue and pushed into the cotton. You can see just how hard it is to remove the seeds from the video I included in this article. The first hand cranked machine to remove seeds from the cotton was called a "churka". The churka was simply a set of wooden rollers that would squeeze the cotton when being put through the rollers and the seeds would pop out. This machine was not very efficient. Then in 1794 the cotton gin came into use. The cotton gin had spikes on rollers that would force the cotton into slots that were too small for the seeds and the seeds were 100% removed. I ended up removing by hand to see how many I could get off of one plant.
While I was investigating how to pull the seeds out of the cotton I came across some startling information. Growing cotton at home is not legal in all states. Growing cotton in your garden is illegal in the states that consider it a cash crop. This is due to the Boll Weevil Eradication Program. Pictured to the left is a boll weevil and is the cotton plant's worst enemy.
Here are the list of states where growing cotton in your garden is illegal: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
I think for my 2015 Wisconsin garden I'll attempt to grow 5 plants or so with the seeds I collected. Although in Wisconsin we have a shorter growing season. Below is the video I created showing my harvest of the cotton. Thanks for reading!