Commercial cotton crops are largely harvested by mechanical harvesters in the United States. However, small cotton plots for home use can be harvested by hand. Cotton harvest season begins in July in the Deep South and can extend into November in northern climates. Cotton is ready to be harvested when the bolls pop open and the fluffy ball is exposed. Ripe cotton is a pretty picture, but potential harvesters should know that cotton bolls are sharp and cotton seed is tiny. Before you harvest cotton, you'll need a thick pair of gloves, lower back strength and near-infinite patience.
Hand pick the cotton from the bolls. Grab the cotton ball at its base and twist it out of the boll.
Drop the cotton balls into a bag as you go. Leave any immature cotton behind for another day.
Spread the cotton balls out in a cool, dark place with ample air circulation to allow them to dry out completely.
Separate the tiny black cotton seeds by hand after they have dried. Keep a bowl handy to hold the cotton seeds.