Shawnee News-Star Gardening Oct 31st 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg The weather forecast for today, Halloween, is predicted to be cool and wet.   This should not deter true Halloweenophiles who will still trick or treat disguised in rain gear, rubber boots and water-proof coats, visit haunted houses or wear scary masks to parties, drink cider or […]

Shawnee News-Star Gardening Oct 31st 2018

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The weather forecast for today, Halloween, is predicted to be cool and wet.   This should not deter true Halloweenophiles who will still trick or treat disguised in rain gear, rubber boots and water-proof coats, visit haunted houses or wear scary masks to parties, drink cider or dunk for apples.

Halloween inspires creative family members to craft stunning costumes their young relatives can wear while out for a night in the neighborhood. They become real princesses, super heroes, ghosts, witches, or even Harry Potter characters. The costume fabrics may be synthetic or natural. Cotton is a natural.

The cotton crop was ready for harvest during my road trip.   Through Arkansas the fields were white.   In North Carolina, the pickers were at work.   Fluffs of cotton lined the road.   At one hotel fluff had piled up was along the driveway.   Excited, I bent down only to discover it was dryer lint with hair. Cotton fiber is almost pure cellulose and grows as a boll around the seeds.

The genus name for Cotton is Gossypium.   It is housed in the mallow family along with okra, hibiscus, hollyhock, cacao (yes, chocolate) and the Baobab tree with its incredibly massive water-storing trunk and can live hundreds of years.   Wild cotton is found in many tropical and subtropical areas of the world.   The most diverse populations of wild cotton can be found in Mexico.

Cotton fibers were discovered in Southern Asian copper beads over seven thousand years old.   After the invention of the cotton gin, cotton became the most widely used natural fiber. Before the gin, hand-held rollers were employed.   These devices, as well as the spinning wheel, were created over fifteen hundred years ago in India.

In 1902 seven cotton gins operated in Shawnee.   Today 24 cotton gins are in action across Oklahoma.   The US continues to be the largest exporter of cotton although China grows the most.   Cotton is measured in 17 cubic foot bales each weighing 500 pounds.   Long staple cotton (LS cotton) is desired for its strength and higher quality.   The heirloom cottons tend to have short fibers more difficult to spin and dye.   Natural cotton fibers come in a variety of colors:   white, green, blue, yellow, pink and brown.

This breathable fiber was a historical Southern crop.   Most of the pre-Civil War cotton was produced through slave labor that enriched Southern landowners and Northern merchants.   Sharecropping after the war allowed all races to grow and profit through the sale of cotton.   Picking cotton provided money for many Southern families.   My father picked cotton for a time.

As we neared Oklahoma on our return, the cotton pickers were in the fields, but this time as machines.   The early mechanized pickers could only harvest one row at a time, but replaced 40 workers.   Today the automated harvesters can pick six rows at a time. The cotton is flattened into mats which are fed into module builders.   This builder rolls the cotton into 8-foot wide, 5,000-pound modules (some harvesters can form larger 25,000 pound modules) wrapped in brightly colored plastic like loaves of bread.

The cotton plant is a perennial, but usually cut and tilled after a season to prevent diseases.   The pink bollworm (boll weevil) is a native of India that reached the South in the 1920's.   The larvae not only chew up the lint, they eat the seeds. Cotton is grown in 17 states, but pesticide use is often extensive. Cotton is heat and drought tolerant. Four predominant species are cultivated which include about 12 cultivars and heirlooms.

Want to make your own cotton clothes?   Fill a container with potting soil 2 inches from the top.   Place three cotton seeds and cover with another inch of soil.   Place in sunlight and keep moist.   Cotton requires a long growing period of 150-180 days, so start your seeds quite early in the spring.   Cotton plants can reach 3 to 7 feet tall.   Wait for the bolls to split open before harvesting, but bolls that open after a frost are usually damaged or too young. Many states require a waiver or permit for cotton production and seeds may not be shipped to certain states.   Let the extension agent be your guide.

By the time we reached Oklahoma, the Arkansas river bottom cotton fields were being harvested.   Gigantic tubes of pink, yellow and green filled with white cotton decorated the fields. The end of the cotton along I-40.

The end also for this year's Wednesday gardening section.   Our Master Gardener team"Tom Terry, Linda Smith and myself"hope you have enjoyed our articles as much as we did writing them.   See you next spring.

Happy Halloween!