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
bounty 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
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