Monday, December 5, 2016

Late Fall Frosty Weather Gets You into the Holiday Spirit to Hand Pick Cotton in Valley

Cotton fiber resting on an open boll.
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
Yuletide buzzing being sung by a bee.
And field scouts dressed up like harvesters.
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the cotton picking season bright.

Cotton picking? In December?

Yes, after a brief Thanksgiving hiatus, field scouts Jenna Mayfield and Carlos Silva returned to the fields last week to hand pick colored cotton fiber grown by Windfall Farms on the westside of the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
It was frosty, not snowy weather for hand harvesting cotton.

 As we mentioned earlier, they are hand harvesting two small fields of colored cotton fiber planted by Windfall Farms. They finished picking the smaller field before Thanksgiving.

Last week, they were back picking on the larger field, which Jenna estimates is six rows wide and about 150 feet or so long. They have finished one row and have five more to go and anticipate wrapping up their harvest before Christmas, weather permitting. The fiber has all been sold to a small specialty yarn company, Quince and Co. who produce cotton, wool and other natural yarns.

“We have been lucky with the weather,” Jenna says about the absence of major storms putting a damper on their harvesting. “It is a lot of work picking by hand.”

It’s probably safe to say they are working the last standing cotton field in the Valley – if not the entire state. Growers have pretty much finished harvesting the 218,000 acres of traditional upland/acala and pima cotton planted this season in California.

Field scouts Carlos Silva and Jenna Mayfield picking cotton.
The last of the harvested fields are being plowed under to prevent pink bollworm infestation. Other crops such as alfalfa and almonds are buttoned up for the year, too. Jenna points out there is a buzz of activity in almond orchards with farm crews preparing for next year by pruning trees, clearing leaves from the ground and knocking off mummy nuts.

Workers driving by and spotting Jenna and Carlos sitting on buckets picking cotton by hand are doing double-takes. “They’re probably thinking what’s going on. There’s still cotton around,” Jenna chuckles.

Bugs, too, are probably wondering the same thing. Jenna and Carlos are getting a close-up look at the wonders of nature as bugs search out what food sources remain as winter approaches in a couple weeks.

“There are still flowers on some of the plants,” Jenna says. The sweet fragrance is attracting plenty of bugs, including bees. You might say the little cotton field is no food desert for bugs. More appropriately, we should call the small cotton field a food dessert. The field is also next to the extensive perennial hedgerow at Windfall Farms which adds to the diversity of insects, birds and plant life in the remote area. 
Naturally brown cotton fiber from Windfall Farms.

While most farmers start their day before sunrise, our two cotton pickers are waiting to start harvesting around mid-morning because of the cooler pre-winter temperatures. There has been lots of frosty weather in the past week with overnight lows hovering in the 30s.

Indeed, frozen cotton bolls are hard to pick. Moreover, the cotton fiber needs to thaw out and dry out a bit before picking. “You don’t want the cotton to get mold during storage,” Jenna says.
Weather forecasters call for more Jack Frost-like nighttime temperatures this week. That’s one way to help Jenna and Carlos to get into the holiday spirit while working the field this week.

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