Nowadays, there is a lot of people who are trying to use hydroponics to grow crops that they use in their everyday life. Most of these crops are food that they can eat in their diet, but there are other crops like cotton that are used to produce clothes which made me wonder, is it possible to grow hydroponic cotton?
So, is it possible to grow hydroponic cotton? Yes, cotton can be grown in several types of hydroponic systems, just like many other plants. However, there are some doubts about how economically viable hydroponic cotton can be.
People might not get it, but we, hydroponic enthusiasts, like to experiment and try growing new things frequently. Although some crops might not be economically viable when compared to growing in soil, we will grow them anyway.
Apart from growing leafy greens and other crops that were famous for being grown hydroponically, I have written several posts about weird crops that were rarely being grown in hydroponic systems.
Crops like apples, oranges, and onions are all crops that I have written about despite being less popular among hydroponic growers. The weirdest hydroponic crop that I have written about is rice, so check it out here.
In this article, I will talk about hydroponic cotton and the exact process of growing it from seed to harvest.
Is Hydroponic Cotton Economically Viable?
As I have mentioned before, there are some doubts about hydroponic cotton’s economical viability which means that you cant expect to turn profits from growing it.
How Much Cotton Can Be Produced Per Acre
According to California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, it takes 24 ounces of cotton to manufacture one pair of jeans. Moreover, a t-shirt would require around 8 cotton ounces.
On the other hand, one cotton acre can produce up to 800 ounces which means that every acre can produce up to 33 pairs of jeans. Not bad for an acre of cotton, but still these numbers cannot be reached when using hydroponics.
Why Does Cotton Have Low Economic Viability?
The low economic viability of hydroponic cotton comes due to many reasons.
The first one is that it requires around 6 months to reach the harvest stage. This is a considerably long growing cycle when compared to the 45 days of lettuce. This is why lettuce is considered one of the most profitable hydroponic crops
The second one is that cotton is a bulk crop which means that it must be grown in large quantities to be economically viable.
When using soil, cotton was grown on thousands of acres. In the harvesting season, advanced machinery is used to collect all of the cotton buds. This process is easy while using soil, but this is not the case for hydroponics.
To grow thousands of acres using hydroponic systems, you will face some difficulties in maintaining and harvesting the hydroponic cotton. To this date, there is no hydroponic advanced machinery like the ones used in soil fields to harvest bulk quantities of cotton.
Building an indoor hydroponic growing facility will require a huge initial investment. Growing lights, hydroponic systems, and monitoring systems will cost a fortune at the beginning, and the recurrent electricity costs will severely affect cotton profitability.
Using vertical farming can increase the yield production per acre significantly compared to soil, but still, it can’t make up for all of the initial and running costs that were caused by hydroponics.
Of course, all of the previously mentioned causes will not hold us back from growing our cotton hydroponically, because as I have mentioned before, enthusiast growers like us tend to try and grow new crops for the sake of fun.
Now let’s jump into the optimum growing conditions required for cotton to grow hydroponically.
The Growing Conditions For Hydroponic Cotton
The following growing conditions should be maintained to the optimum levels throughout the year to maximize the yield as much as possible.
Some of these conditions might get messed up due to weather fluctuations or other factors. This could be normal as long as the growing conditions return back to their normal levels within a short period of time.
The Optimum Temperature For Hydroponic Cotton
Cotton is among the crops that grow well in warm weather. The optimum temperature for cotton is 70°F to 100°F. It can withstand warm weather up to 110°F.
So, make sure to monitor the temperature regularly especially on cold days where the temperature is too low.
Very low temperatures can stunt the cotton growth rate and lead to the prolongation of the growing cycle. On the other hand, extremely high temperatures above 110°F can lead to a plant’s stress which will severely affect its activity.
According to your area and its climate, you will need to invest in a heater or a chiller to be able to grow 2 cotton-growing cycles per year.
The Nutrient Solution Of Hydroponic Cotton
The nutrient solution of hydroponic cotton should have a pH of around 6-6.5. The nutrient solution temperature should be constant at around 80ºF to 100ºF.
Any decrease in the temperature of your hydroponic cotton’s nutrient solution will result in a significant decrease in the plant’s activity. I advise you to keep a spare water chiller ready for any emergencies when the temperature drops.
You have to keep the nutrient solution level not high enough to avoid the development of root rot. The exact nutrient solution level of a deep water culture system can be found in this article that I have written before.
The Light Requirements For Hydroponic Cotton
If you had asked anyone from whom who has grown cotton, they will tell you the same exact thing, cotton needs full sunlight to reach the harvest stage.
Full sunlight means that cotton needs a 10 hours minimum of light per day to be ready for harvest. Choosing hydroponics as your way of growing, you will have to decide whether your source of light will be artificial or natural.
There is nothing better and more natural than growing plants using sunlight, but indoor growing has its perks too. Using LED grow lights can boost your yield significantly when compared to sunlight.
Moreover, it will give you the freedom to grow your cotton indoors, which can be life-changing as indoor gardening tend to reduce pest infections.
When growing hydroponic cotton using LED grow lights, you have to take care of a very important aspect, which is the height of your growing lights.
Cotton plants tend to increase significantly in height during their growing cycle. If the cotton has grown high enough to reach your growing lights, there will be a huge risk of fire taking place inside your home. This is especially the case when the cotton buds have opened where they can catch fire easily.
How To Harvest Hydroponic Cotton
As I have mentioned before, cotton tends to have a growing cycle of around 6 months. This cycle can be significantly decreased because of the fast growth rate that hydroponics tend to provide.
But still, you will have to be patient so that you can get your hydroponic cotton at the end of the road. Harvesting cotton from your hydroponic system is way easier when compared to soil.
When you are using soil, you are probably going to grow large quantities of cotton, which means that harvesting these quantities can be a huge hassle.
On the other hand, hydroponic cotton will always be grown in small quantities due to its lower economic viability, this means that you will have less work to do during the harvesting season.
While harvesting your hydroponic cotton, you will find some buds which are still closed. If you tried to open these buds yourself, you will end up getting cotton with much less quality and consistency than that from already opened buds.
What I advise you to do, is to harvest these buds and leave them to open naturally. This process can take up to 2 weeks but it is worth the wait.
Every plant can produce up to 3.75 ounces of cotton per growing cycle. So, you would need to grow around 7 plants to produce enough cotton for the manufacture of one pair of jeans.