|Cotton picking machine|
Cotton must have a long growing season —200 days without frost. For that reason it grows only in warm climates.
The people of India raised cotton more than 3,000 years ago. The Indians of Peru and Mexico had fields of cotton in the days of the Spanish explorers. Now the United States raises more cotton than any other country in the world. All the southern states are cotton states. Arizona and California raise cotton, too.
Cotton seeds are planted in early spring. After the plants are fairly large, "cotton choppers" thin out the rows. Most cotton plants grow to be about three feet tall. Their flowers are white at first but soon turn red. Each flower forms a seed ball called a boll. The boll becomes about as big as an egg. When it is ripe, it opens. Then it looks like a snowball. In a cotton field ripe bolls, green bolls, white flowers, and red flowers can all be seen at the same time.
Much cotton is picked by hand. But cotton-picking machines are being used more and more. After the cotton has been picked the seeds must be removed. Until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793 the seeds were taken out by hand. The "iron fingers" of the gin do the work much faster.
The cotton is baled for sale. Cottonseed oil is squeezed from the seeds. It is used in such things as salad dressing and soap. The crushed seeds become cottonseed meal, a good food for cattle.
Cotton plants have many enemies. One of the most harmful is a beetle called the cotton boll weevil. The weevil lays its eggs inside the bolls.