To harvest cotton, you can either use your hand or a cotton-picking machine.

Although the hand-picking method is the historical harvesting method, when you use the cotton-picking machine, it makes the process easier and faster.

For instance, you can handpick almost twenty plants in ten minutes, but while using the machine, you can pick up about 1200 plants in just thirty seconds.

If you want to pick using your hands, do well to pull the cotton out of the bill. And if you want to use the cotton-picking machine before you operate it, do well to read the instruction manual.

Here are the following ways to take on how to harvest your cotton using your hands;

1. When the boils open and expose the fluffy cotton, it is time to harvest the crop

When the pieces of cotton are not yet ripe, the cotton balls close up, and they look like large seeds. They have a greenish-brown color and are usually solid.

But immediately, the plant goes into bloom; white, fluffy cotton grows out.

  • Perhaps you are using a cotton picker; to maximize your yield, you would have to wait till most of the crops have exposed cotton balls.

2. If you live in climates that are warm, start your cotton harvest in July

Ideally, cotton is planted in April. And from the planting date, it takes about 150-180 days for it to be ready for harvest.

So if you live in an area that has a warm temperature, you should start to harvest your cotton by the end of July.

  • This you can do only if you live in an area with a warm temperature

3. If you live in cold climates, harvest your cotton in November.

The rate of growth of cotton (either it will grow faster or slower) depends on the area where it is planted.

If you notice that your cotton is ready for harvest by July, wait patiently till the boils open, and there is fluffy cotton before you harvest.

  • This is if you live in an area with a cold temperature like the mild spring or the summer weather.

4. Wear thick gloves to save your hands

Cotton can injure your hands as its bills are very sharp and pointy. So wear gloves to protect your hand if you want to handpick the cotton.

5. Pull out the cotton at its base and then twist out its bolls.

Cotton is one of the easiest to harvest. You can turn your hand in a clockwise manner to harvest the fluffy white cotton on the plant.

6. Separate the cotton from the bill if there are remnants of the plant

Normally, when you remove the cotton, the bill still stays on the plant. But if the boll cuts along with the cotton, you can use your hands to remove it.

  • This will make it easy for the cotton to be used after it dries.

7. As you harvest the cotton, place them in a basket or bag

Do well to carry a bag or a container with you as you harvest the cotton balls. This way, you can keep your cotton clean and fresh, away from debris.

Also, you will be able to take note of all the cotton you have harvested.

8. Lay your cotton on a clean, flat surface and get rid of the leaves

After harvesting your cotton bolls, sort them out in your bag or in a clean and flat surface and remove any leaves, branches, or debris on them.

This will ensure that your cotton is clean and neat, and now, you can use it for your different purposes.

Now that we have considered ways to harvest with your hands, what about using the cotton picker?

Here are some guidelines:

1. Before operating the machine, read the user’s manual carefully

Each cotton-picking machine is a little bit different when it comes to its setting and the location of the button.

So reading the user’s manual will be helpful as you will know how you can start up and operate the machine in the right manner.

  • It is very important you read the manual. And if you don’t, you are risking your safety.

2. Sit in the driver’s place and buckle up your seatbelt

A cotton-picking machine is very large and is used for harvesting cotton with ease and with little time. So using a seatbelt is also a safety tip you need to take to while operating the machine.

3. Move the lever into the neutral position and switch on the key

Put in your key in the ignition, and then push the lever down with a little force in the middle spot. Move your key first to the “Start” position but after starting the engine, move it to the “Run” position.

  • When the lever is in a neutral position, the automatic brake system engages
  • Next to your right hand is the multi-function lever and also, the armrest control module

4. To start up the machine, adjust the original settings on the cotton picker.

First and foremost, on the armrest control module, choose your RPM setting. There it has three options: fast, slow, and normal.

To start, you select the slow speed, and after, you can adjust it as you like. You find help to adjust the settings by reading the user’s manual.

5. Select the “Field Mode” setting and select your speed setting

Before moving your machine, make sure to press the “Field Mode” setting button; the “Field Mode” setting has both slow and fast harvesting speed settings.

  • When you select “1”, it means you want the slow harvesting setting.
  • When you select”2”, it implies that you want the fast harvesting speed to harvest your cotton.

6. To harvest all your cotton, travel across your cotton field

Automatically, the picker harvests the cotton for you. All you need is to travel across your field by moving from a row to another till you harvest your cotton.

7. When the basket is full, dump the cotton into the boll buggy

After you have harvested your cotton, select Eject on the lever to open the back of the picker and dump the cotton. Use your lever to adjust your picker to the level of your boll buggy till it can dump the cotton in the boll buggy.

  • A bill buggy is a container used for storing harvested cotton
  • To stop the machine, select the “Stop” or “Off” button, then turn off the key and remove it from where it is inserted.

8. Defoliate your plant

When you defoliate, you remove the leaves of the plant. Defoliation is done when the growth cycle of the cotton ends, and it is done to encourage new growth.

Defoliation is either done by hand or by spraying defoliation chemicals.


When you properly harvest your cotton either by hand or a machine, following these tips, you will have it for your beneficial use. And you will have it again to harvest for the next year! 

Thank you so much for your time reading this article; if you have questions about this, please kindly leave your comment below, and I’ll be happy to write back to you.