Little Dixie Cotton

My 30 Years Experience Growing Cotton In Missouri's Little Dixie



Cotton before fall picking at Thompson Villa, Arrow Rock, Missouri. 

In the foreground is the historic 1850s Watts House. 





Thompson Villa, built c. 1857-1858, Arrow Rock, Missouri.  This is the home built

by local merchant, lumber dealer, slave owner, and land speculator John C. Thompson.   



     Young cotton plants, Cooper County, Missouri.  




Cotton at Harbor Farm, Cooper County, standing at 4 ft and 10 inches.









Cotton blooms and bolls in September, Saline County, Missouri.











Cotton before picking in early October, Arrow Rock, Saline County, Missouri.  








Raw cotton drying after the first pick in November.


Types of cotton I have grown in central Missouri.


Mississippi Brown (Upland)


Upland White



Working replica of Eli Whitney's cotton gin used

in the ginning of my cotton.







This is me working my gin at the annual Crafts Festival held in Arrow Rock, Missouri. I use my gin in public demonstration so I can talk about the cotton culture that once existed in Central Missouri.





Eli Whitney's cotton gin invented and patented in the early 1790's. Whitney's machine used rows of wire teeth placed on a cylinder to pull the cotton through slots and leaving the seeds. A few years later Whitney revised his gin and adopted the more popular circular saw blade process as a replacement for the wire teeth.




Growing Upland Cotton in Central Missouri
By Gary Gene Fuenfhausen


Upland Cotton, Gossypium Hirsutum, is characterized as a short staple variety with a seed that adheres tenaciously to the fiber. The seed of the upland variety is also known as "green seed," compared to the smooth black seed of "sea-island." Both sea-island and Egyptian cotton, Gossypium Barbadense, are a "long staple" and are limited to cultivation along the sea board of the of the Southern coastal United States. The more tropical sea-island and Egyptian cotton have a silky fiber that does not cling to the seed. Other varieties of green seed cotton include Xylon Herbaceum.

Today's cotton is the result of cross breeding to obtain the optimum product for a region's environment, such as its soil, temperature, and humidity conditions.

Planting and Harvesting Cotton

Planting cotton begins as early as February in Texas, while in Missouri planting can last as late a June. For central Missouri, the best yields result in planting beginning as early as the middle of April when day time are averages are in the 60s or above.  After May 15th, significant decreases in the harvest can be expected. Cotton requires between 150 to 180 days for maturity.

Harvesting cotton begins in July in South Texas and in October for Missouri and other northern areas of the Cotton Belt. Harvesting may last well into November in Missouri.

Average Growing Season in Missouri

Average growing season in Missouri
186 days - Saint Joseph, Buchanan County
190 days - Central Missouri
190 days - Springfield, Green County

Average date of last frost in Missouri
April 11 - Saint Joseph, Buchanan County
April 12 - Central Missouri
April 13 - Springfield, Green County

Average date of first frost in Missouri
Oct. 14 - Saint Joseph, Buchanan County
October 17 - Central Missouri
October 20 - Springfield, Green County

Blossom - A creamy white flower of the cotton plant that turns to yellow, pink, and finally red before withering and falling off.

Boll - After the flower turns color and begins to withers, a green rounded pod will appear. This pod is the cotton boll.

Cotton Belt - In the United States, there are 17 cotton-producing states that make up the "Cotton Belt." The 14 most important cotton producing states where cotton is a major product are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Other states that cultivate some cotton are Florida, Kansas, and Virginia.

Cottonseed Oil - The crushed oil of the cottonseed used for making shortening, cooking oil, and salad dressing.

Staple - fiber length

Gin - A machine that uses circular saw blades with small sharp teeth to pull the fiber from the seed. Hogden Holmes of Augusta, GA patented the first circular saw gin, in 1797. Eli Whitney patented the first gin that used wire brushes in 1794.

Picking - Cotton was customarily hand picked three times, "bottom," "middle," and "top" crops. The middle picking will furnish the largest and best quality product. Cotton was first picked and placed in baskets, or on large sheets near the row. During the late Victorian period after the Civil War, picked cotton was put in large bags that were strapped on the picker's shoulder.

Harvester - A mechanical device, either the "Stripper" (Texas & Oklahoma only) or "Spindle Pickers" (used in the rest of the Belt), used in removing cotton from the plant in the field.

Lint - cotton fiber that has been ginned

Linters - The fuzzy down left on the cottonseed after the ginning process. This lint is removed and used in many products, such as cellulose for the making of plastics, explosives, and paper.

Middling - The best cotton picked from the middle part of the plant. Middling now refers to harvested cotton that is of a superior grade.

Modules - A big rectangular mound of picked cotton that is the size of a truck trailer bed, approximately 12 bales. The module has replaced the cotton bale, which often averaged about 500 pounds.

Square - The flower bud of a cotton plant.

"Chopping out" - The thinning of young cotton plants to obtain the optimum number of plants per foot.

Topping - Because of the fertility of central Missouri's soil, "topping" or trimming may be required during the later months of the cotton's development. It is not unusual for a cotton plant to grow 4-6 feet in the area if well watered and fertilized. Since the majority of the upper sections of the plant will not fully develop, the plant can be topped. Topping was historically done in certain areas of the Cotton Belt, while today, this method is not practiced.

Trash - Foreign objects that are cleaned from cotton before it is ginned, such as burs, dirt, stems, and leafs.

Planting and Cultivating Guide for Central Missouri

Soil temperature - Cotton requires a temperature of greater than 60 degrees F for germination. A good morning soil temperature is about 65 degrees F. Depending on the year and air temperatures, planting can begin as early as late April or the first week of May.

Planting rate - Plant 4 seeds per row foot with a final population, after chopping out, of 3 plants per row foot.

Row spacing - Space cotton rows 30-inches apart. (Close spacing of cotton increases the fruitfulness. If you increase the row spacing, or reduce the rate of seed per foot, the result will be a lower yield.)

Plant cotton in shallow ridges, or beds, in most areas and use "level planting" when soils are light and sandy.

Growing Hints

* Sun should reach all parts of the cotton plant for proper boll development. The cotton branches of nearby rows should not interlock.

* Let the first frost kill the plant leafs so they drop. After leaf drop, harvesting can begin. This practice keeps your cotton clean.

* Do not leave your seed cotton in the field if temperatures are to drop below 20 degrees.  Although, I have had seed survive on the ground all winter in central Missouri and sprout the following spring.  

* During the first months of plant development it is crucial that you kept weeds at a minimum. Later in the season, the leaves of the cotton plant will fully shade the ground and suppress weed development.

* Cotton plants love sunshine and humidity, just what Missouri offers during the growing season. Plenty of rain is needed for plant emergence and early development, something that is not always reliable in central Missouri.

*Cotton grows best between 65 to 85 degrees F.

Cotton Development Schedule

Planting - April 15 through May 15

Seedlings Emerge - 5 to 14 days, an average of 12

First Square - On average about 1 to 2 months after planting, or 48 days.

First Bloom - On average about 10 weeks after planting, around the 4th of July. The blooms take about 3 weeks to open after square development

First open boll - Bolls will open 50 - 70 days after the first bloom, beginning around late September. Bolls will then open over several weeks, from late September through mid to late October.

Harvest - Late September through November.

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 Copyright  2009

Research and Photographs by Gary Gene Fuenfhausen.  All published materials on this site are fully copy written and may not be used in any manner without the written consent of its owner.   

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