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It’s Cotton Pickin’ Time!

by Jane Windham on October 20, 2012

field of cotton ready to be picked

It’s cotton pickin’ time in the South, and the fields located near our house are snowy white with cotton that’s ready to be harvested. This scene above is one that I’ve taken for granted because I’ve seen it all my life.

box of cotton

But I’ve discovered that so many of you are interested in cotton, and that discovery started with this box of cotton that I sent my friend Ann from On Sutton Place. She had mentioned in a post that she wanted some cotton bolls to use in decorating, and I boxed up some and sent them to her. You can see how she used them in her kitchen and in making a cotton boll wreath.

And I was intrigued to learn that so many people had never seen cotton growing in a field, and that you wanted to see and feel some of it yourselves!  So I thought I’d do a post about it because cotton and I go waaaay back!

Cotton is a product that we use from the time we wake up in the morning and dry our faces with a cotton towel to the time we climb into bed at night between cotton sheets. It’s hard to make it through a day without using numerous cotton products, including food, soaps, and cosmetics.  Cotton is, without a doubt, the most important plant known to man.

dirt road in a cotton field

So I thought I’d take you down this road and share a little of  my history with this plant that’s sometimes called “white gold.”

my grandparents

My grandparents on both sides of the family were cotton farmers. Pictured above are my mother’s parents, and I picked cotton in their fields a few times when I was a little girl.  Back in those days, cotton was hand-picked and hard work. The local schools even had a fall break in order for children to help pick the cotton. I remember trying to pick some to earn money to attend the fair.  After a short while, my brothers found me napping between the rows! So much for my cotton picking career!

Today cotton growing is all mechanized from the planting, weeding and insect protection, to the harvesting. My brother used to sell some of that big and expensive farm equipment to farmers in the central part of the US.

cotton square

So I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the growth stages of the cotton plant. Cotton is planted in the spring after the soil warms up, and the foliage on the plant is quite attractive.  Buds called “squares” eventually form on the plant and  develop into flowers.

flower

 Cotton is a member of the mallow family, along with okra, hollyhocks, and Rose of Sharon. You can read a post I wrote last year about fried okra in which I  showed the flowers of each plant.

bolls

The flower will pollinate itself, change color, and fall off the plant, exposing a small green boll which is shaped like a football. The boll is considered a fruit because it contains seeds. As the fibers grow and thicken within the boll, it will split open along the segments exposing the ripened cotton.

defoliated cotton plants

A final step before the cotton is harvested is the defoliation of the plant. This allows the grower to hasten the gathering of the cotton. Then machines move through the fields cutting the plants, and the cotton is either stored in huge modules in the field or in round bales at a gin.

round bales of cotton

Each one of these bales weighs about 500 pounds. A bale of cotton can make about 325 blue jeans or 1,200 T- shirts.

dirty cotton

At the gin, the seeds are removed from the fibers and the cotton is cleaned.  The lint will be transported to textile mills and the cotton seed will be taken to a cottonseed oil mill to be used in making mayonnaise, frying oils, cosmetics, and many other products. Leftovers from the oil extraction process are used as livestock feed, and the sticks and burs are tilled back into the fields by the farmers making all parts of the cotton plant useful.

cotton plants

After all this recent interest in cotton, Leo and I had the idea that perhaps we should plant a few cotton plants next year to serve the decorating needs of our blogging friends. But in my research, I learned that that was not a good idea. Farmers don’t want the dreaded boll weevil insect that devastated the cotton crops years ago to get started up again. I’ll just leave the cotton growing to the experts. And by the way, I’ll be supporting our American farmers even more by trying to buy cotton products produced in the good ole USA.

cotton wreath

So what did I do with the cotton that I picked lately? Well, I made a wreath, of course!

opened bolls of cotton

 My grandparents would be disdainful of me using cotton to decorate. Cotton, to them, was a means of making money.

cotton bolls on wreath

But to me, cotton is a gift of nature to be admired for its beauty as well as its usefulness.

So I thought I’d leave you with a little song about the boll weevil performed by a South Carolinian who grew up on a cotton farm not too many miles from here.

Come join me here:

Meet Me Monday@You’re Talking Too Much

Wow Us Wednesday@Savvy Southern Style




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{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

Gee October 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Oh wow!!! I luved this post. I have learned so much. I did go and research last week. But your post was /is way more interesting that anything I came up with. The pictures of the fields are wonderful.
I too over the years have switched to American grown cotton. Was a BIG thing for me after using Egyptian cotton sheets and towels most of my life. But I know better now :-)
So true.. we do live a life totally ‘encased’ in cotton. Towels to sheets to clothing! As I type I am wearing jeans and a cotton tee. American made of course.
Thanks for the good read!
Cheers, Gee

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Keeping it Cozy October 20, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Jane, this is such a lovely post! I so enjoyed reading it… and smiled when I thought of you as a little girl napping between the rows! Oh, and your wreath is gorgeous. Have a great weekend.

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Kim October 20, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Such a great informative post. Yes, we do love decorating with cotton bolls now and I do appreciate Leo picking some for me.

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Joan October 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Lovely! They really look like fields of snow right now. I stopped to take pictures of them recently as well.

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Lavender Dreams October 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm

What a wonderful post! We love seeing the fields of cotton on our trips from FL to NC. I did a post once and showed myself next to one of those huge rectangle bales of cotton. I’ve learned even more about it reading your post! Thanks! Happy Fall!

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Leo at Cottage at the Crossroads October 20, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I hope our readers will take the time to listen to the Brooke Benton song. By the way, he’s from Lugoff, SC.

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Barbara F. October 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Jane, I am so fascinated by this post. The field of cotton is gorgeous. I have to take a trip down south again to see a field! xo

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Mary October 20, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Jane~ I love seeing the cotton and your grandparents! My paternal grandparents lived in Mississippi and were surrounded by cotton. We always visited in the summer so I never actually saw those beautiful blooms, I would have never guessed it was cotton! It amazes me to see those yellow giant bales these days~ such a difference from 40+ years ago. I love your burlap and cotton wreath!

I’ve been seeing yours and Leo’s smiling faces everywhere from the SBC! Looks like a fun time was had by all :)

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Donald Parnell October 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

Great Job On The Article Jane -Growing Up On A farm Not Far From Leo–I Know About The Cotton Fields ,Never Could Pick Very Much=LOL—You & Leo Look Great ,Will Be Checking Back Later To See Any New Post That You & Leo Post–Than
k You Very Much

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Linda@Coastal Charm October 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Jane,
You did a wonderful job on this post…so much info. Lovin’ your cute wreath too.

Blessings,
Linda

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Joani October 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Arizona used to be a cotton growing state. Am not sure if it still is. I so enjoyed reading all about the cotton and its journey. Thanks for sharing.

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Donnamae October 21, 2012 at 7:45 am

Thank you so much for writing this! I learned so much! One of these days I’ll have to plan a trip south before the cotton is harvested, so I can see for myself! The fields are beautiful! ;)

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Leonard October 21, 2012 at 7:53 am

When I was growing up in Union, SC, as soon as you left the city limits you ran in to cotton fields. Both my grandparents had it planted right next to the house. Now none is grown in the upstate. Only in the Midlands and low country. Saw some last year in truckload size bales being prepared for export.

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Eileen October 21, 2012 at 8:35 am

What a wonderful post! I’m around cotton fields, I know, I just can’t find any. I’ll have to chase down one of the farmers for a few boles. Great with arrangements. Thanks so much.

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Barb @ The Everyday Home October 21, 2012 at 9:01 am

Jane – I love cotton too. The fields here are bright white too. I used to have an ample supply of it when our best friends farmed cotton. Not sure why they have planted it in past years other than price. A big crop around here is also millet. I think I am in love with that too. Coming from a agriculture farm, I know what you mean about using it for decorating. My dad has come not to question it but my grandfather would give me a tongue lashing. LOL

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Rebecca October 21, 2012 at 9:42 am

Loved this post! I love decorating with cotton and you explained it perfectly to those that aren’t familiar with cotton. I also went back and listened to the Brooke Benton song after reading Leo’s comment. It is playing as I type! You two are so much fun! Love, Me

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Carlene @ Oganized Clutter October 21, 2012 at 9:52 am

Loved your post Jane. I too am a northerner and not familiar with the cotton plant.

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Sharon Calvert October 21, 2012 at 10:00 am

Thanks for this very informative post. Having recently moved to Alabama’s Gulf coast, I’ve seen some cotton fields in our area but haven’t been ‘up close and personal.’ From what I’ve heard growing up, hand-picking cotton is a thorny, bloody business; thank goodness for technology!

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Kathleen October 21, 2012 at 10:03 am

I remember hearing that song when I was a kid.
I had part of a cotton plant I used to teach my class about cotton. They were amazed! It kept forever in a plastic bag in my desk drawer, a fabulous teaching aid!
Very interesting post, Jane!

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Tina October 21, 2012 at 10:29 am

Love your wreath.
What a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.
We have a farm right next to our neighborhood and they were out there last week picking the cotton. So many people stopped with their kids and the farmer was nice enough to stop and talk to them. It was a great site to see.

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Kris October 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I really enjoyed your blog post on cotton and find it very interesting. When we lived in Tyler, TX, My next door neighbor’s parent’s used to be cotton farmers and I remember her mother talking about the cotton gin and how hard the work was. When we make the 12 hour drive home we pass cotton fields and I always think that are beautiful to look at. I like the way you used the cotton bolls on your wreath. I think like you do…they are not only beautiful but useful as well. :)

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vikki October 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Love your wreath. My sister sent me some cotton bolls a few years back since I had never seen them growing either. She lives in Alabama and sees it all the time too I guess. Now I know what to do with the cotton bolls she sent me. Pinning this idea for sure.

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Jean Windham October 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Jane I love the wreath you made with the cotton. This blog brings back lots of memories for me also. My grandfather was a big farmer with 100+ acres of cotton and tobacco. As a child, my brothers and I would help our grandfather pick the cotton to make a little cash for fun purposes. Some of my favorite paintings of the south are of fields of cotton being picked painted by Elizabeth O. Verner. Great job on this blob post. I hope to see you soon.Jean

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joanne nixon October 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm

loved loved loved this post ! have forgotten about the “boll weevil” song… nice to hear it…we here in arizona have cotton fields that are harvested every year. city of goodyear was named after goodyear tire company who planted fields of cotton for the tire treads. i love to see the fields snow white with cotton too. your post was so informative…facts i did not know came to light….thank you for sharing this wonderful posting

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Judy October 21, 2012 at 7:05 pm

THANK YOU! This brought me back to the best music there ever was. Also reminded me of the Breeze!. Love everything you and Leo write about the Crossroads.

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Olive Cooper October 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm

From one South Carolina gal to another-extremely well done post on King Cotton. I grew up on a street that was paved in Beech Island S.C but it ended in a dirt road flanked by what seemed like unending fields of cotton. We also have cotton growing near us in Georgia. I have a cotton branch tree at Christmas. xo, olive

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Susan in SC October 22, 2012 at 6:44 am

Jane – cotton is in our blood I guess! My Uncle Fred ran the cotton gin in Townville. I bet your mom knew him. Aunt Bert taught school, was she one of your teachers?

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MariaElena October 22, 2012 at 10:13 am

Love, love this post! Such interesting and great information! Thank you for sharing it! I really learned things I didn’t know.

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Fairfield House October 22, 2012 at 10:33 am

Jane,
Thank you for sharing all your first hand knowledge on cotton with this Yankee, it is truly appreciated. That first picture is breathtaking. Some of the farmers here still use manual labor. Your cotton wreath is perfection.
Your Friend,
Deborah

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Carol October 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Absolutely fascinating. And the pictures were so informative, too!
Cotton blossoms are beautiful. And cotton being related to mallow- hollyhock, Rose of Sharon?!
Wow.
Thank you!

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Angie@Echoes of Laughter October 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Great post Jane! Very beautiful pictures! Thank you so much for sharing….I live in Canada and have never seen a cotton field for real….lovely! Angie xo

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Eva October 22, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Hi Jane…I saw you over on HomeTalk (is that one word or two?). I like your blog! This is the first post that I’ve read but I like learning what influences our blogs, and your cotton post was very good.

Nice photography, too. Have you been blogging long?

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for the love of a house October 23, 2012 at 10:23 am

Great informative post Jane! I agree, there is something magical about seeing a cotton field ready for picking. Would you believe we’ve been seeing little cotton plants (or what looks exactly like them here in NH!- a sweet reminder of the south.) I think you are wise to leave that mean boll weevil to the professionals;)
Happy Fall to you and Leo!
all my best,
joan

p.s. Jane- what is Leo doing when you are driving the fertilizer golf cart?!!!! :)

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Shirley October 23, 2012 at 10:28 am

Jane un campo hermoso de algodón, gracias por mostrarnóslo, yo hasta ahora lo conozco.
Saludos

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Diane October 23, 2012 at 11:00 am

Jane,
What a great post today! It was fun to learn so much and also to enjoy the history that you and your family had with cotton. It really is a pretty plant and I like the way you used it in the wreath too.

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Shirley@Housepitality Designs October 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I think that cotton fields are the most prettiest of all …. I love the cotton when they are tight in the “boles”…?…Last weekend while we were driving by cotton fields and me wanting to get out and pick some without the threat of a angry farmer…I was told by a friend that another friend has cotton fields!!!…what???…How did I not know this!..so a quick phone call on the way back home from Florida and the next evening I was picking up a batch of cotton from my friend!!…I was so cotton pickin’ happy!!!

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Shirley@Housepitality Designs October 23, 2012 at 5:24 pm

P.S…Jane, I loved the “story” of cotton and your wonderful memories of how it was so important to your family….

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Danni Baird October 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Oh I love this! I learn so much on blogs!! I saw my first cotton field just a few years ago, but it was already harvested. How interesting to see all of the stages!

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Kelly October 23, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Hi Jane, your post was very interesting on cotton. Since I moved down to SC over a year ago, I see a lot of cotton fields too. In fact, I wanted to take some photos over the weekend of some of the cotton fields coming back from Asheville, however it was too busy on 95. Thanks for sharing!

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debra October 24, 2012 at 6:47 am

I remember Ann’s post. As a person living in Western PA who has never seen a cotton field your picture drew me right in. What a lovely photo it is! This was a very interesting post..I am glad that you did it! :)

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Hope @ Fairhope Supply Co. October 24, 2012 at 10:37 am

It’s cotton time here too! I love the fields of white. Your photos are so pretty and you have great information.

Thanks! (via Savvy Southern Style)

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Connie Bishop October 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Who knew that a post on cotton would be such a hit! You’re pictures are great. I’m a Ga. girl and we all know that cotton has made a big comeback in recent years. It went up 400% on the national commodities market last year. If you have a field, you’re really living in “high cotton”.

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Beth October 24, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Your cotton field post brought back wonderful memories of playing hide and seek in my grandmother’s small field. And then when I clicked on the song link, I almost cried! I had forgotten about that song which my aunt had in her “45″ collection. Such fun memories! By the way, did you know that the city of Enterprise, Alabama has a statue of a Boll Weevil in their town square? They “honor” the pest for forcing south Alabama farmers to expand into other profitable crops instead of relying only on cotton for their livelihood. I think it is probably the only statue of an insect in the world!!

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Jeanne Lowery October 25, 2012 at 7:26 am

This post has answered so many questions that I have had since moving to central Georgia.
Watching the fields in this area as the cotton is planting and harvested has been fascinating. Now I fully understand the process of its life each year. THANK YOU!!
The “Boll Weavel song was the perfect ending, I remember the song from my childhood days, as it traveled across the radio air waves. Blessings to the two of you as you enjoy and share your lives. e

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Deneen October 25, 2012 at 4:18 pm

love seeing cotton grow! pretty pictures too!

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Helen October 25, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Hi Jane, thanks for this terrific post. Much of my youth was in North Alabama and there were lots of cotton fields. When my son was in pre-school, his class went to a cotton field and I loved going with them. So fun to see the little ones explore the field and realize what it was all about. Thanks for the fun memory reminder! Helen

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Carol October 25, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Great post, Jane! I’ve never had any to use in decorating even though it’s quite a large crop here in AZ, too. It’s harvested in Sept. here, I guess the dry heat speeds it along….lol! I really like your wreath.

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laura@Top This Top That October 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm

thanks for the lesson in cotton! I am featuring this in my weekly wow’s on Sat.

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jean October 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I just came across your article about cotton. Thank-you so much!!! Coming from the North, this was very informative. The pictures were beautiful and reminded me of snow!

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Grace @ sense and simplicity October 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm

That was so interesting. I had no idea that there was so much cotton on each field. I saw cotton in a field once, but there wasn’t nearly that much (maybe it was after harvesting as it was about 40 years ago and likely when it was still hand-picked). I also had no idea it was bundled into rolls like hay is. I love your boll that is slightly opened on your wreath. What a great way to celebrate your heritage and where you live by putting some cotton on a wreath on your front door. This kind of post is why I read blogs – you get to know a little bit about how others live around the world. Thank you.

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Samantha Gray October 28, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I did part of my growing up in very rural Virginia, so last year when I found black-flowered cotten at my local nursery here on Long Island I went for it. Firgured it was safe, as nobody on Long Islan d grows cotton. Now if it could spread cauliflower or oyster “weevils” we’d be in trouble around here… I remember traditions such as cotton on the door of a newly bereaved family, keeping some for “snow” for the little villaeg under the Christmas tree, mom running out of cotton balls and pulling a few from the nearest part of the field… Things have changed a lot in the 50 years since I was 10. So, as Bob Hope might say “Thanks for the memories!”

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Diane Whiting October 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm

OK. I’m jealous. I’m a SC girl born and bred (Lexington County) transplanted to Florida by way of Virginia first. I had to move with my husband as his career grew. Dag nab it the cotton branch I have sticking out of a brown clorox bottle is so dingy, dirty and ugly that I can’t bear it. I have been in Sitka Alaska for the past two and a half weeks visiting my Coast Guard Son, Daughter-In-Heart and 3 boybarians (love those boys). Matthew 12, Chance 3, Logan 1. I had the time of my life but I didn’t read any of my blogs while I was gone. I am catching up and low and behold I found this post. Butter my butt and call me a biscuit. This is right up my alley.

I have got to have me some South Carolina cotton. Can y0u help me? I would gladly pay for the postage/packing/whatever. I picked my cotton branch with bolls when I went home 5 years ago for my sister’s funeral. I only have old, old uncles, aunts, and cousins left now in SC so I don’t get home often.

Let me know. I’m sure I’ll love the cotton as much as I love your blog.

Diane Whiting
Emily Taber Public Library
14 West McIver Avenue
Macclenny FL 32063

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Susan (Between Naps on the Porch) October 31, 2012 at 1:22 am

Jane, thanks for all that wonderful history! So fascinating! I love cotton clothing and cotton sheets…couldn’t live without them! It’s really cool how all the parts get used in some way. I wonder how they get the foliage off before they remove the cotton? Amazing they have come up with machines to do all that stuff. We used to sing a boll weevil song in school, but I think it was a different one. :)

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Diane Whiting November 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I admit it. I’m stalking the cotton post. I’m cottoning for come cotton. Since you are Southerners I’m sure you know the expression “I just didn’t cotton to that idea”.

I try to teach my 9 year old grandson that lives with my husband and myself (plus his father – long story) that there is a real difference between need and want. I’m having a hard time with that right now. I NEED some cotton and I WANT some cotton.

What’s a girl to do.

Thanks for listening.

Diane Whiting
c/o Emily Taber Library
14 West McIver Avenue
Macclenny FL 32063

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Sharon November 4, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I was so glad to review your site here, so interesting and so much down my lane as they say!!! Leo is following me on Hometalk and that made me happy to see. Loved your story on Cotton, did not know all you shared. So glad to realize they use machines now and people re not getting their hands all bloody and all, see in the movies…..must b like thorns on them huh??? Thank u for sharing and following me and I cannot wait to review all u do. Love the red chair and am looking forward to reviewing all……..Sharon

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Annette November 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Thank You for this article and pictures about the growing of cotton. I always wondered how cotton grew. The pictures were very helpful in understanding the process. It’s so sad that we have allowed alot of the work we need in this country to go to other countries. Many Mills have been closed because of it. Thank You again, I really enjoyed reading this.
Annette

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Jane Briggs May 12, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Your photos are so beautiful! We’re driving from Asheville to Savannah in late September and would love to know where you took these pictures. We’re coming over from the UK and are having difficulty locating cotton fields to photograph….can anyone advise us please?
Thank you

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jan October 14, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Jane,
Loved your website on cotton! My son is getting married next June and our rehearsal dinner will be decorated with burlap, white linens, silver and centerpieces using cotton. Can you tell me how to preserve cotton, so that it does not turn yellow before next June?

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Kelly October 24, 2013 at 11:01 pm

It should be ok just to leave it out. I have cotton bolls from last year in a bowl on my kitchen table & they are still pretty a year later. Also I just saw on Pinterest a brides flowers with cotton bolls in it. The guys used cotton bolls for their bootineers… Beautiful! I use cotton all over my house all year long. Ours is still in field & I took over 300 pictures today just walking around looking how pretty it was in the sun. I asked my husband if we could leave it in field this year but he didn’t quite like the idea.

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Kelly October 24, 2013 at 10:47 pm

I’m 4th generation cotton farmer. Another great idea is I leave cotton bolls in my favorite bowl in middle of kitchen table. I also use it in vases & baskets around my house & at Christmas I use as picks in my tree with red berries & burlap of course “A Southern Christmas” & right now all around my house its our annual “Southern Snow”

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Beautifully Misunderstood January 20, 2014 at 11:24 am

I found this post to be very informative. As the descendent of sharecroppers & slaves, I was looking to visit an active cotton field. I wanted to touch the plant & compare it to the stories my grand-relatives shared with us as children. My quest continues in search of an in-person experience with my family’s history. I’d also like to know if you’d be interested in selling me a cotton boll to frame for my office? Moreover, Great post!

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Dawn Israel May 19, 2014 at 5:15 pm

As cotton farmers, we developed a line of camo clothes made from cotton pictures. The pictures were taken in out own cotton fields by our daughter. Our logo shirts are a big hit with women. We do love cotton and hope you will give us a look. We are on facebook too!

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Tom Beasley June 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Hi! I enjoyed your post about cotton plants. I am working with a group that will be performing ‘The Color Purple’ as a charity event. I purchased a dozen cotton plants to be used in the scenes about the laborers in the field. My problem is how can I preserve them so they will hold up to being moved on and off the stage. The plants are about a year old and are very dry. In other words “HELP!!!”

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Hattie Thompson Small July 1, 2014 at 5:48 pm

I so much enjoyed reading your information concerning the cotton field. When growing up as a y0ung child I lived on a farm in Blackstock, S.C. where I worked on the farm picking cotton, and picking everything else for many years. I had to get out of bed early every morning at the rising of the hot sun in order to go to the cotton field. My mama and daddy and my sisters and brothers and me. Didn’t even have an alarm clock to wake us up . We woke up by the sounds of the loud crowing roosters Every morning the same loud sound “Cock-a-doodle dooo!” Mama and daddy my sisters and brothers and me. I wrote a beautiful poem about that cotton field of many moons ago. The title is “The Cotton Field Of Carolina.” May I send to you a copy? Sincerely, Hattie Thompson Small

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