Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘slow textiles’

Cotton, Loofah, Watermelons & Walnuts

I’ve spent all day today busy in the polytunnel and garden as ever juggling growing and propagating space, I always grow too many plants. In the polytunnel I adopt a policy of polyculture and try to keep all the beds filled throughout the growing season. I grew a lot of plants in pots in the polytunnel when we first started because the soil is very hard to work. It’s a fairly heavy clay so we’ve got a long term project to improve it. At the end of each growing season I add the remains of the straw bale garden, and from this year the hot beds, to the soil.

Most plants do quite well in the soil beds even without improvement because for all its faults the heavy clay soil does contain a lot of nutrients, but it is a nightmare to dig and as the Summer progresses gets so hard it’s like trying to work concrete. We’ve got several direct planting beds that have been improved enough to work on now though and that’s where I was planting this morning.

First for planting were my cotton plants. This is part of the slow textile project I blogged about recently The cotton project . I put the cotton in my heated propagator because they need a temperature of 25 C to germinate. I achieved a 90% germination rate which I was pleased with.

Here are some of my cotton plants ready for planting. As you can see I use root trainers for my seedling. It means I can fit a lot of plants in a small area, move them around easily and use less compost.

I’ve planted all the cotton in one bed. I might add some other crops as under planting depending on how quickly the cotton grows. I haven’t done much research into pests. I’m hoping that there won’t be too many as it’s not a native plant though I’m sure slugs will have a nibble if they can.

After the cotton I decided to plant out another of my experimental crops Luffa or Loofah squash. This is the plant that Loofah sponges come from. The squash are dried and then you get a loofah sponge. I’m hoping that I get enough sponges to add them to the Christmas hampers I make with homemade soaps for family and friends.

Here’s a picture of the Loofah squash seedlings

 Next on the planting list were Watermelons and Melons in the beds that currently have Elephant garlic in. We’ve started harvesting the Elephant garlic so there will gradually be more room for the Watermelons and Melons. Last year I only had three melons but they were delicious so I’ve planted 10 plants this year. I’ve planted the same number of Watermelon plants but this will be m first attempt at growing Watermelon. From what I’ve read success for both hinges on a long enough, warm enough growing period together with plenty of watering. Hopefully I’ll be able to achieve that in the polytunnel.

Finally I was very pleased to see the first of my Walnuts has germinated. Here it is.

I wrote recently about our Mini Tree Nursery Project The Sweet Chestnut, Oak and Silver Birch that I planted in recent months have all germinated well and the Alder and Staghorn Sumac I planted last year have survived the winter. Our plan is to add more trees to Hooters Hall over many years. I want to grow lots of trees from seeds and also then take cuttings. We’re mainly growing trees that we can use for fuel, use for projects on the smallholding e.g. fencing and natural dyes.

We’re going to fence off an area at the back of the polytunnel, cover it in weed suppressant fabric and use this for bringing on our tree seedlings until we’re ready to plant them out. I might also dedicate part of it to a small coppicing area.

The cotton project 2017

I always like experimenting by growing different plants. In the past few years I’ve focused on growing different edibles but I wanted to try something different this year. When I’m not tending to my plants in  the polytunnel I’m usually busy with some kind of fibre craft. I spin the wool and mohair from our sheep and goats, knit and weave. So I decided to try and combine growing plants and fibre craft and came up with the idea to try growing and processing my own cotton.

I found some seeds online from Jungle Seeds Cotton needs a temperature of 25C to germinate so I started the seeds of in my heated propagator. I planted them a week ago and they’ve almost all germinated. Here’s a picture

From what I’ve read online the cotton plants will need about 150 days frost free growth to get a harvest. The plants should reach about 3 feet tall and have hollyhock like yellow and maroon flowers after about 45 days. The flowers then wither and form bolls. Once the bolls have formed you stop watering, the plant starts to dry, sheds its leaves and the bolls split open to reveal the fluffy fibre.

The next step sounds the most fiddly. You have to remove the seeds from the fibre by hand or with a cotton gin. I don’t have a cotton gin so I’ll be doing it by hand. Once the seeds have been removed you can either spin the cotton straight from the cloud without further processing or for a stronger, smoother yarn hand card the cotton fibre to make punis and then spin these. From what I’ve read the carding process is basically the same as for carding wool.

There are lots of resources online about small scale cotton growing and processing including you tube videos. If everything goes to plan I’ll be writing some more blogs about growing, harvesting and spinning my cotton. I planted 20 seeds this year. If it goes well I might expand that next year and also explore the different varieties of cotton. There are varieties that produce green and brown fibre

The ultimate goal is to be able to grow enough cotton that I can process into yarn to make some fabric. I’m not sure I’ll get there this year it depends on how much fibre I can harvest but I’ll spin as much yarn as I can and add to it each year until I have enough to make some fabric. Very much a slow textile project and very different from commercial cotton production.