Monday, April 7

Cotton Crop 2008

Our season starts a bit late this year. Down in the valley everything is blooming. Up on the hill, our perennial plants are just waking up.

This year we added a bit of organic matter and sand to beef up our output.

What's this? A volunteer poppy wanders into our cotton bed.

The proud gardener prepares to tamp the bed's edges for stage one of water control.

One pot gets some early seeds. We cover with the cutoff milk carton bottoms and heavy rocks to save them from the wind until they germinate.

When those seeds come up the rest of the seeds go in. We put 3 seeds in each hole and weed them out as they come up. This can be good later if we get holes in the main beds. Seeds are planted to a depth of about 2-3 times their size using a pencil eraser, covered well and hand tamped. The sacrificial seeds we put in were green cotton. It is the fastest to germinate for us.

Each year we put in a few plants of each type of seed that we have just to keep the seed stock alive. I wish I knew more about how to store it to keep it good for years, but I just keep it planted up each year. We usually have a main plant bed and an auxiliary area. The main bed gets Pima this year and the smaller bed gets green. The green was prolific last year and I still have a lot to spin. While the Pima plants were nice, they just don't make as much cotton fiber as the green or brown. I was really hopeful for the Peruvian brown seeds from last year - they came up so nice and red. But they just turned the dark chocolate brown after boiling, so I think I will stick with my much longer brown. It looks tan in the boll but dark brown in the skein.

Cleaning Cotton Yarn

After spinning up bits of the fiber from the leftover dehydrated cotton, I boil it with a tad of baking soda and Dawn dish liquid. I use a tiny squirt and about a teaspoon, but this is a small batch. See the color develop? I boil for an hour if the color is strong. The water is totally brown when I am done.

The rest of the skeins are just whatever was left on my bobbins throughout the house. Mostly spun from the seed or ginned but not carded. I prefer spinning mixed colors and plying them together. I used to gin, card and make punis, spin very even and 3 ply the yarn. But now I rough spin, or just spin from the seed or ginned cotton with no carding. It works on my homegrown since the cotton is very clean and fluffy. It wouldn't work on field picked cotton as there is more leaf trash. I spin by holding 2-3 seed's worth very lightly and spin a spiral or woolen draw. You know, you pull your hand back, get slubs, let more twist in while still drawing back and the slubs pull out to the same thickness as the rest of the yarn. My seed spun yarn is a bit lumpier as you are always joining on new seeds.

I ply with 3 strands to bring up the grist in the yarn and to cover for any thin or fragile spots. Only on one of the following did I use 4 ply to make it extra thick for washcloths.

The general goal is a fingering to sport weight yarn that will pass through a knitting machine. I get so much cotton every year that I just sort by grist at the end of the year and save up for the big projects. I do hand knit most of it, but if I want to machine knit in the future, I will have a good supply. There is a great machine knit tuck pattern that gives a waffle stitch and is superb for washcloths.