Cotton burr compost is one of my go-to products. I use a lot of compost. Compost is my choice of fertilizer most of the time. Being confined to a rather small urban lot, I don’t have room to create and maintain huge compost piles. This impediment forces me to the garden center on a regular schedule to purchase compost. Fortunately, living in West Texas, I am in the heart of what might be considered the king of compost in my book.
West Texas produces a huge amount of cotton every year. It is a major contributor to the agriculture economy in West Texas. If you know anything about cotton production, you understand that after the cotton is harvested and ginned, all of the hulls (the part of the cotton boll that protects the developing cotton fiber and seeds), seeds, stems, and leaves are removed from the cotton fiber. The seeds are captured and the rest is considered trash. One innovative company here has turned that trash into bagged money.
Back to Nature, Inc is a local company that composts cotton seed burrs into some of the best compost I have found. I am not in the business of promoting one product over another, but I do like to support local businesses. Back to Nature’s composted products are my first choice when I am shopping for my garden.
Why am I so enthusiastic about cotton burr compost? There are several reasons.
What Makes it so Good?
Cotton is one of those plants that require huge amounts of nutrients to develop properly. Some of those nutrients leave as cotton fiber headed to mills all over the world to be turned into some of the finest cotton cloth you can buy. The rest, the plant stalks, stems, leaves, and burrs have traditionally been treated as waste and of not much value. We know now that locked up in that trash is a wealth of nutrients just waiting to be made available again.
Once properly composted, cotton burrs are loaded with nutrients. Cotton burr compost is usually a more coarse compost material than manure or other products. The coarser texture makes cotton burr compost better at adding tilth to the soil. Cotton burr compost is especially good at breaking up heavy clay soils and improving water retention and infiltration.
Using Cotton Burr Compost
We add cotton burr compost to the soil when we build new raised beds. My usual blend is one third cotton burr compost to two-thirds topsoil. I also add 5 lbs of worm castings and 5 lbs of dry molasses for every cubic yard of soil I am preparing. Mix the ingredients thoroughly before filling the bed.
I also use cotton burr compost as a top dressing on our existing beds. Every other year or so, we find that we need to refresh the wood chip mulch layer in our beds. We keep a 3 to 4-inch layer of woodchip mulch on our beds year-round. Keeping such a thick layer of mulch on our beds has necessitated a change in our gardening routine. We now sow very few seeds directly. Most of our plants are started very early in the year in the greenhouse and then transplanted. You can sow seed directly into beds that are kept mulched, but it requires a bit more work to get the seeds established once they germinate.
However, back to cotton burr compost. Each time we add more mulch to our beds, we apply a one-half inch to one-inch layer of cotton burr compost on top of the old mulch. I also sprinkle alfalfa pellets on the compost. The alfalfa pellets add some green material to the mixture. I sprinkle worm castings and some dry molasses in as well and then add 2 to 3 inches of fresh wood chips to the top.
I do the same for my turf twice a year. I use a heavy-duty compost spreader to lay a relatively thin layer (about ½ inch to ¾ of an inch) of compost to my lawn in the spring and the fall.
Composted cotton burrs also make excellent compost tea, which can be used as a drench on your landscape or garden beds, or as a foliar spray anywhere and on anything. You can learn more about making and using compost tea in our article here.
However you use it, composted cotton burrs are a rich and safe means of adding nutrients to your soil. Unless you pile it on so deep that you smother your plants or your turf, it is almost impossible to get too much. It won’t burn plants like salt-based synthetic fertilizers, and it doesn’t leave chemical residues that may reside in your soil for years.
Links and Resources
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