Farm-to-Closet Initiative - Month Three

Last month, the cotton flowers began to blossom. The farm became spotted with yellow and white flowers and we started to understand how bountiful the harvest will be. Each of these flowers create a fiber-coated seed that will eventually become cotton fabric. As the flowers pollinate, we have been preventing pests and providing nutrients to the crops.

Farm-to-Closet Initiative - Month Three

One of the women who helps with farm labor standing between rows of cotton amongst the green gram

The First Flower on the Farm

Christy Dawn started on the Farm-to-Closet journey to connect with and heal the soil. There are endless rewards of working directly with Mother Earth, but learning the rhythms of nature can be daunting. Farming is risky: there can be too much rain or not enough, bugs, blight, non-ideal temperatures, and the list goes on. We can’t foresee how this all plays out or the yield of the final harvest, but any result will ultimately be a positive one, giving us so much knowledge that we can use for the seasons to come.

The uncertainty is ever apparent during this first year working with this soil. We do not fully understand the soil’s history. We do know that land left fallow, like this farm, will have many surprises. As we bring life back to the soil that was so long void of it, there will always be a struggle between life and death. We are using numerous traditional and regenerative farming methods to set the cotton up for success. The more resilient the cotton is, the more likely it is to thrive this season.

In early winter, we were anxiously awaiting the cotton flowers to bloom. At the same time, we were finding more and more mealybugs on the cotton plants. They feed off the cotton plant’s nutrients, which kills the plant if not controlled. A couple of the plants were in pretty bad shape from the outbreak, so the farmers started removing them.

There was one plant that was severely affected by the mealybug. Its leaves had turned brown and the stem had started to wilt. But when Kuppasamy went to remove the plant, he noticed a small burst of yellow. This plant—on the verge of death—had produced the first flower on the farm!

This plant’s ability to bloom, even while devastated by pests, shows us that we are heading in the right direction. As we add nutrients and life to this recently barren land, the cotton is getting stronger. Moments like these remind us that although there is uncertainty in this process, our intention to heal the Earth will produce bounty and strength.

Notes From The Field

A cotton flower coming into bloom

Cotton Flowering

In the past few months, the cotton plants have been growing; they are now a few feet tall and have a big canopy of bright green leaves. Among some of the leaves, the cotton flowers began to form. Small buds opened to produce white and light yellow flowers over the course of six weeks.

The flowers and leaf canopy create the perfect recipe for the cotton bolls. The cotton flower self-pollinates with help from local pollinator bugs and begins to form seeds. The seeds will eventually create a fibrous layer: the fluffy white cotton bolls. This process takes a lot of energy in the form of carbohydrates, which the cotton leaves store before the flowers form. During the flowering stage, the leaves give their carbohydrate supply to the flowers to produce seeds.

The group of women who helped plant the green gram and control the weeds

The group of women who helped plant the green gram and control the weeds

A cotton plant with a small hole in the leaf where pests have eaten through

A cotton plant with a small hole in the leaf where pests have eaten through

Pest Management

Although we see some critters on the farm as a sign of prosperity, others threaten the cotton’s ability to thrive. This last month, as the cotton’s canopy grew, so did the pest population.

Cotton is notorious for attracting pests, so we were ready to prevent them from harming the cotton. We focused on unique methods to target each individual pest to make sure we are not harming the beneficial insects. We are using systems that work harmoniously with nature, as to not pollute the water and soil and support biodiversity.

Throughout the entire process, we have been managing pests. Below are the five main techniques we used this month.

Step One

Picking the weeds in and around fields

Picking the weeds in and around fields: For the past few months, the farmers have been managing the weeds growing on and around the field. These weeds are fed to the neighboring cows whose urine and dung we then use to enrich the soil.

Step Two

Removing affected cotton stalks and plants

We removed all the cotton crops that have become homes to large populations of pests so that they do not spread to nearby plants.

Step Three

Legume intercrop

We planted legumes called green gram in between the rows of cotton because they have many benefits, including distracting pests from the cotton.

Step Four

Organic pesticides

We use mixtures of local ingredients that either deter or kill the pests. Our two go-to mixtures are Agni Asthra (cow urine, green chili, ginger, garlic and tobacco) and Turmeric powder.

A green gram plant. These small legumes provide numerous benefits to the cotton.

A green gram plant. These small legumes provide numerous benefits to the cotton.

Inter-cropping

Now that we have finished weeding, there is exposed soil between the cotton crops that the farmers planted green gram in last month. Green gram has many beneficial qualities for the soil and the cotton plant

1: It is a legume, meaning it has small nodules in its roots that convert atmospheric nitrogen into the soil. Cotton uses a lot of Nitrogen when it is growing, so reintroducing it to the soil using a nitrogen fixator like green gram is crucial.

2: It protects the nutrient-rich topsoil between cotton rows from eroding.

3: It makes it harder for weeds to grow.

4: It distracts pests from the cotton crop.

5: It reduces water evaporation from the soil/ makes the farm more water-efficient.

What’s Next

Next, the cotton will be ready to harvest! We are so excited to see how much fiber the cotton will yield. Although we can make estimates, we do not know how many dresses the farm will produce until after the harvest. The farm is covered with flowers, so we are hopeful it will be an abundant harvest.

Photographs by Ashish Chandra
Contributing Writer Mairin Wilson

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