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Category Archives: Cotton

West Dallas Community School Visits Our Garden

School Gardening With Jim, Abbe, Jan, LindaFifth grade students from  West Dallas learn about root crops from Jim and Abbe.  Did you know that the turnip or white turnip is a member of the parsley family, Brassica rapa var. rapa?  It is a root vegetable known for its bulbous tap root which is high in vitamin C and grown as a food crop for both humans and livestock.  Turnips are easy and quick to grow (35-70 days) and can be eaten raw (roots) or cooked (roots and leaves).  Turnips like well-tilled soil and constant water.  Both of these conditions are provided in our raised organic beds via our home-made compost and drip irrigation system.

The Interesting Story Of Cotton As Told By Dallas County Master Gardener, CarolynCarolyn demonstrates the technique of hand-spinning cotton thread to the fifth grade students .  Did you know that cotton is the most important non-food crop in the world?  Cotton has been spun, woven & dyed since prehistoric times.  Today, industrial uses for cotton are just as important as the cloth that originally was woven.  These products vary widely from cloth-based such as diapers, bandages, and paper to cosmetics, soap and oils; dynamite and plastics; and that sidewalk scourge, chewing gum (cellulose).  There are 39 different species of the genus Gossypium, 4 of which were commercially grown since all cotton was domesticated in antiquity.  The variety G. hirsutum became known as “upland cotton” and comprises 90% of the world’s cotton crop.

A Student's Introduction To VermicultureA 5th grade student  from West Dallas Community School gets up close & personal with a “red wiggler” worm.  During our Vermi-composting lesson, he & his classmates learned that this little ‘Eisenia fetida’ is one of approximately 2700 different kinds of worms of a large variety of species.  Did you know that “red wigglers” (aka brown-nose or red worms) work best in container/bin composting.  That’s because they are non-burrowing and move horizontally through the soil.

Annette, pictures by Starla

Cotton: From Plant To Fabric

“Cotton is family.  We sweat in cotton.  It breathes with us.  We wrap our newborns in it.  In fact, we pay cotton the highest compliment of all, we don’t go out of our way to be nice to it.  Look in your closet.  The crumpled things on the floor are most probably cotton- soiled shirts and khakis, dirty housework clothes and muddied socks that rise up in dank mounds ready to be baptized with detergent and reborn in the washer, fresh and clean as new snow.  ……Cotton is the fabric wool would be if it were light enough for summer and didn’t shrink to toddler-size in the dryer; it’s what silk would be if it gracefully absorbed sweat; and what linen might aspire to if it didn’t wrinkle on sight.”

                            —–Cotton The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber  by Stephen Yafa (Penguin Books, 2005)

       Twenty Five children from  Grace Academy  and their parents learned how cotton goes from plant to fabric.  Under the shade of the Gardens’ white and brown cotton plants, they saw cotton growing on an actual plant, removed some seeds from the cotton bolls by hand, and watched a demonstration on how cotton is spun on both a tahkli hand spindle and a book charkha cotton spinning wheel from India.  Each child got to pick and take home their own cotton boll from the Garden’s plants and were reminded that as recently as 105 years ago sharecropper children, no older than themselves, worked in Dallas County’s cotton fields from dawn to dusk, enduring hardships that we can not imagine today.  

Grace Academy Students Learning About Cotton At The Demonstration Garden


Cotton Spinning Demonstration

Cotton Spinning Demonstration For Field Trip

Left to right:

      • Cardboard box that the book charkha spinning wheel came in from India.  It is covered with khadi cloth, a handspun, hand woven cotton cloth, and sewn with handspun cotton thread.  The address label is written on the fabric.
      • Bowl with tahkli hand spindle
      • Cotton carders (red) to comb the cotton to straighten the fibers
      • Book charkha cotton spinning wheel from India.   In 1947 Mahatma Gandhi in his non-violent campaign for India’s independence from England said “Take to spinning to find peace of mind.  The music of the wheel will be as balm to our soul.  I believe that the yarn we spin is capable of mending the broken warp and woof of our life.  The charkha (spinning wheel) is the symbol for non-violence on which all life, if it is to be real life, must be based.”


This was one of four learning stations visited by our Grace Academy visitors on September 11, 2012.  Keep following our blog to see more pictures and descriptions of this field trip to our Demonstration Garden.

Vegetable Lambs

Plant Born Sheep, The Medieval Idea Of Cotton           

     Have you seen the Demonstration Garden’s flock of “vegetable lambs?”  Tended with loving care by Dallas County Master Gardener Jim and other DCMG volunteers, they thrive in the Garden’s raised beds.  Though we now know these “vegetable lambs” by their contemporary name, cotton, during the medieval period in Europe, cotton was an imported fiber and the actual plant that produced it was unknown.  So, noting its similarities to wool, people imagined that cotton must have been produced by plant-born sheep.  In 1350 John Mandeville, after a trip to Tartary, wrote: “There grew there (India) a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the ends of its branches.  These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungrie (sic).”   Later in 1791 Dr. De la Croix in his work Connubia Florum, Latino Carmine Demonstrata  wrote of the vegetable lamb:

  Upon a stalk is fixed a living brute,                       Early Understanding Of Cotton Plants

  A rooted plant bears quadruped for fruit.

  It is an animal that sleeps by day

  And wakes at night, though rooted in the ground,

  To feed on grass within its reach around.

     Today’s scientific classification of cotton is, of course, much different from the zoophyte (i.e. an animal that visually resembles a plant) classification of the medieval period.  The name of the genus derives from the Arabic word goz, which refers to a soft substance. 

It is particularly interesting that cotton is in the Mallow family and is related to hibiscus.  This resemblance can be seen easily in cotton’s flowers.  Cultivated cotton is a perennial shrub.  However it is grown in our area as an annual.  Plants are around 3-5 feet tall with broad three to five lobed leaves.  The seeds are contained in capsules called a “boll.”  The many seeds found in a boll are surrounded by two types of cotton fiber.  The longer fiber can be spun into thread and ultimately cloth, while the much shorter fibers, called “linters,” are spun into low quality fiber, giving rise to the term “lint.”  Cotton requires a long growing period, full sun, moderate water and likes heavy soil.  If this sounds like a perfect plant for the Dallas area, it is—- and is why cotton fields used to be numerous throughout DallasCounty.  There are several different naturally occurring colors of cotton (white, brown, and green) and the DemonstrationGarden grows brown cotton and several different varieties of white cotton.

White Cotton And Brown Cotton Grown At The Demonstration Garden

     So the next time you visit the DemonstrationGarden, try standing by the cotton plants, closing your eyes, and just “Believe.”  If you listen closely, maybe you will hear the vegetable lambs say “baaaa.” 

       ***this is the first of several articles on cotton: the plant, its history, spinning and dyeing



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