Cotton-pickin’ hands-on

Our lengthening growing season may push this Southern staple’s territory farther north

by @ Lee Reich
July 15, 2010 10:17 AM | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
photo of earlene’s green cotton by lee reich
photo of earlene’s green cotton by lee reich

Summertime and the livin’ is easy; fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high… I don’t know about the fish in this hot weather, but yes: The cotton is getting high – high for New York’s Hudson Valley, that is. My cotton is now about ten inches high.

The yellowing old pages of my Farmer’s Encyclopedia of Agriculture, published in 1914, states that cotton “is successfully cultivated in the United States as far north as southern Virginia.” I’m banking on today’s hotter and longer summers for a cotton harvest this far north. Not that I’ve invested much in my crop: only four plants, started from seed sown in April and each now in its own two-gallon pot.

Any cotton would be special grown around here, but I’m growing the especially special variety Earlene’s Green Cotton (from With a 150-day maturity, the bolls – naturally olive-green! – should be ready for picking sometime in September. Neither the boll weevil, made famous in song and sculpture, nor any other major cotton pest should be a problem around here, so count my production in with the more than quarter of a million bales of organic cotton now being grown worldwide.

If yields are sufficient, I’ll perhaps try to process the harvest into a small handkerchief. At the very least, I’ll enjoy the pretty flowers, which look similar to okra and hibiscus: two of its relatives. And I’ll be carrying on an agricultural tradition that stretches back thousand of years with the growing of various species of cotton in Central and South America, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, India and Pakistan.


The thermometer reads over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The forecast is for days of almost the same. It’s hard to believe that the weather will ever cool off. But it will, and I’m planning on it. So much of gardening is not living in the moment!

The peas finally petered out. They’ve been cleared away and their bed sprinkled with soybean meal, mostly for nitrogen, and topped with an inch of fresh compost, for other nutrients and all sorts of other good things. In the relative cool of morning, tomorrow, I’ll plug into the ground broccoli transplants that I started from seed about a month ago. The plants should grow large through summer and then explode into giant, tight buds ready for harvest during cool weather that brings out the best flavor in this vegetable.

Planting also continues in other beds. I pulled up all the turnips, which, for the first time this year, I planted in spring. Turnip is another vegetable that thrives in cool weather, but I figured that it would be nice to have some in early summer also. We had plenty; they tasted awful. They are in the compost pile. Carrots, from seed, or kale, from transplants, will make better use of that space. I’ll put off planting turnips until the middle of August, which experience tells yields delectable roots in October.

Without any basis at all, I’m banking on warm weather now boding for warm weather into September. One more planting of bush beans, from seed, and cucumbers, from transplants sown early this month, will capitalize on that late-summer warmth.


Every garden year has its themes. Last year’s themes were late blight of tomatoes and rain, which – with cool weather, which we had – go hand-in-hand. This year’s themes are shaping up to be heat, drought and squirrels.

There’s nothing to be done about the heat and drought except garden early morning and late afternoon, and water as needed. As for the squirrels: Don’t they know that they’re supposed to eat acorns and other nuts? They enjoyed many of my peas and almost all my gooseberries, and cleared one old apple tree of green apples. Now they are working on the raspberries and eyeing the blueberries. Other gardeners have been similarly lamenting their losses to squirrels. In desperation, I may investigate a remedy that goes beyond the usual and obvious remedies of dogs, cats, traps, artillery and chickenwire enclosures.

Rats, according to recent news reports, were keeping tourists from exploring the historic sewers of Vienna until someone came up with the idea of having bagpipe players accompany tour groups. The bagpipes, the sound of which keeps away the rats, might do the same for our “tree rats.” I am no fan of bagpipes but, as I said, I’m desperate.


Two workshops coming up: There may still be room in the “Backyard Berry-Growing Workshop” in my garden on July 15 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. We’ll cover the ins and outs of growing blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, lingonberries and strawberries – and, of course, taste whatever’s ripe. The cost is $40; contact me by e-mail at or call (845) 255-0417, if interested, for details and to find out if space is available.

This summer, the Northeast Organic Farming Association is offering four advanced, accredited workshops in organic land care. I will be offering the workshop “Edible Landscaping with Fruit” on July 21 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at my garden. This workshop will include everything from site assessment and soil preparation to plant selection and maintenance. For more information and to register, go to

@ Lee Reich

Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at and I’ll try answering them directly or in this Alm@nac column. Check out my garden’s blog at
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