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Categories: FARM CROPS

Although cotton was cultivated on the Eastern continent before America

was discovered, this crop owes its present kingly place in the business

world to the zeal and intelligence of its American growers. So great an

influence does it wield in modern industrial life that it is often

called King Cotton. Thousands upon thousands of people scan the

newspapers each day to see what price its staple is bringing. From its

a vast army of toilers, who plant its seed, who pick its bolls,

who gin its staple, who spin and weave its lint, who grind its seed, who

refine its oil, draw daily bread. Does not its proper production deserve

the best thought that can be given it?

In the cotton belt almost any well-drained soil will produce cotton. The

following kinds of soil are admirably suited to this plant: red and gray

loams with good clay subsoil; sandy soils over clay and sandstone and

limestone; rich, well-drained bottom-lands. The safest soils are medium

loams. Cotton land must always be well drained.

Cotton was originally a tropical plant, but, strange to say, it seems to

thrive best in temperate zones. The cotton plant does best, according to

Newman, in climates which have (1) six months of freedom from frost; (2)

a moderate, well-distributed rainfall during the plant's growing period;

and (3) abundant sunshine and little rain during the plant's maturing


In America the Southern states from Virginia to Texas have these

climatic qualities, and it is in these states that the cotton industry

has been developed until it is one of the giant industries of the world.

This development has been very rapid. As late as 1736 the cotton plant

was grown as an ornamental flowering plant in many front yards; in

1911, 16,250,276 bales of cotton were grown in the South. In recent

years the soil and climate of lower California and parts of Arizona and

New Mexico have been found well adapted to cotton.

There are a great many varieties of cotton. Two types are mainly grown

by the practical American farmer. These are the short-stapled, upland

variety most commonly grown in all the Southern states, and the

beautiful, long-stapled, black-seeded sea-island type that grows upon

the islands and a portion of the mainland of Georgia, South Carolina,

and Florida. The air of the coast seems necessary for the production of

this latter variety. The seeds of the sea-island cotton are small,

smooth, and black. They are so smooth and stick so loosely to the lint

that they are separated from it by roller-gins instead of by saw-gins.

When these seeds are planted away from the soil and air of their ocean

home, the plant does not thrive.

Many attempts have been made and are still being made to increase the

length of the staple of the upland types. The methods used are as

follows: selection of seed having a long fiber; special cultivation and

fertilization; crossing the short-stapled cotton on the long-stapled

cotton. This last process, as already explained, is called

_hybridizing_. Many of these attempts have succeeded, and there are now

a large number of varieties which excel the older varieties in

profitable yield. The new varieties are each year being more widely

grown. Every farmer should study the new types and select the one that

will best suit his land. The new types have been developed under the

best tillage. Therefore if a farmer would keep the new type as good as

it was when he began to grow it, he must give it the same good tillage,

and practice seed-selection.

The cotton plant is nourished by a tap-root that will seek food as

deeply as loose earth will permit the root to penetrate; hence, in

preparing land for this crop the first plowing should be done at least

with a two-horse plow and should be deep and thorough. This deep plowing

not only allows the tap-root to penetrate, but it also admits a

circulation of air.

On some cotton farms it is the practice to break the land in winter or

early spring and then let it lie naked until planting-time. This is not

a good practice. The winter rains wash more plant food out of

unprotected soil than a single crop would use. It would be better, in

the late summer or fall, to plant crimson clover or some other

protective and enriching crop on land that is to be planted in cotton in

the spring. This crop, in addition to keeping the land from being

injuriously washed, would greatly help the coming cotton crop by leaving

the soil full of vegetable matter.

In preparing for cotton-planting, first disk the land thoroughly, then

break with a heavy plow and harrow until a fine and mellow seed-bed is

formed. Do not spare the harrow at this time. It destroys many a weed

that, if allowed to grow, would have to be cut by costly hoeing.

Thorough work before planting saves much expensive work in the later

days of the crop. Moreover, no man can afford to allow his plant food

and moisture to go to nourish weeds, even for a short time.

The rows should be from three to four feet apart. The width depends upon

the richness of the soil. On rich land the rows should be at least four

feet apart. This width allows the luxuriant plant to branch and fruit

well. On poorer lands the distance of the rows should not be so great.

The distribution of the seed in the row is of course most cheaply done

by the planter. As a rule it is best not to ridge the land for the seed.

Flat culture saves moisture and often prevents damage to the roots. In

some sections, however, where the land is flat and full of water,

ridging seems necessary if the land cannot be drained.

The cheapest way of cultivating a crop is to prevent grass and weeds

from rooting, not to wait to destroy them after they are well rooted. To

do this, it is well to run the two-horse smoothing-harrow over the

land, across the rows, a few days after the young plants are up. Repeat

the harrowing in six or eight days. In addition to destroying the young

grass and weeds, this harrowing also removes many of the young cotton

plants and thereby saves much hoeing at "chopping-out" time. When the

plants are about two inches high they are "chopped out" to secure an

evenly distributed stand. It has been the custom to leave two stalks to

a hill, but many growers are now leaving only one.

The number of times the crop has to be worked depends on the soil and

the season. If the soil is dry and porous, cultivate as often as

possible, especially after each rain. Never allow a crust to form after

a rain; the roots of plants must have air. Cultivation after each rain

forms a dry mulch on the top of the soil and thus prevents rapid

evaporation of moisture.

If the fiber (the lint) only is removed from the land on which cotton is

grown, cotton is the least exhaustive of the great crops grown in the

United States. According to some recent experiments an average crop of

cotton removes in the lint only 2.75 pounds of nitrogen, phosphoric

acid, potash, lime, and magnesia per acre, while a crop of ten bushels

of wheat per acre removes 32.36 pounds of the same elements of plant

food. Inasmuch as this crop takes so little plant food from the soil,

the cotton-farmer has no excuse for allowing his land to decrease in

productiveness. Two things will keep his land in bounteous harvest

condition: first, let him return the seeds in some form to the land, or,

what is better, feed the ground seeds to cattle, make a profit from the

cattle, and return manure to the land in place of the seeds; second, at

the last working, let him sow some crop like crimson clover or rye in

the cotton rows to protect the soil during the winter and to leave humus

in the ground for the spring.

The stable manure, if that is used, should be broadcasted over the

fields at the rate of six to ten tons an acre. If commercial fertilizers

are used, it may be best to make two applications. To give the young

plants a good start, apply a portion of the fertilizer in the drill just

before planting. Then when the first blooms appear, put the remainder of

the fertilizer in drills near the plants but not too close. Many good

cotton-growers, however, apply all the fertilizer at one time.

_Relation of Stock to the Cotton Crop_. On many farms much of the money

for which the cotton is sold in the fall has to go to pay for the

commercial fertilizer used in growing the crop. Should not this fact

suggest efforts to raise just as good crops without having to buy so

much fertilizer? Is there any way by which this can be done? The

following suggestions may be helpful. Raise enough stock to use all the

cotton seed grown on the farm. To go with the food made from the cotton

seed, grow on the farm pea-vine hay, clover, alfalfa, and other such

nitrogen-gathering crops. This can be done at small cost. What will be

the result?

First, to say nothing of the money made from the cattle, the large

quantity of stable manure saved will largely reduce the amount of

commercial fertilizer needed. The cotton-farmer cannot afford to neglect

cattle-raising. The cattle sections of the country are likely to make

the greatest progress in agriculture, because they have manure always on


Second, the nitrogen-gathering crops, while helping to feed the stock,

also reduce the fertilizer bills by supplying one of the costly elements

of the fertilizer. The ordinary cotton fertilizer consists principally

of nitrogen, of potash, and of phosphoric acid. Of these three, by far

the most costly is nitrogen. Now peas, beans, clover, and peanuts will

leave enough nitrogen in the soil for cotton, so that if they are

raised, it is necessary to buy only phosphoric acid and sometimes