Cotton is a plant that produces fibers , which are used to make clothes and other products, like towels , carpets or sheets . Clothes made out of cotton are especially light and comfortable .
What Cotton is Used For
Every part of the cotton plant can be used. The long cotton fibers are used to make cloth , the short fibers can be used in the paper industry. You can make oil or margarine out of the seeds of the cotton plant. The leaves and stalks of the cotton plant are plowed into the ground to make the soil better. Other parts of the plant are fed to animals.
Cotton bolls ready for harvest
Where cotton is grown
Cotton is a subtropical plant that grows in many warm areas of the world. It started out as a plant of the tropics but today it is grown in other warm areas that have at least 200 frost-free days. The most important cotton-growing countries are the USA, China, India, Pakistan and Australia.
China produces about 30% of the world’s cotton fibre, mostly in the eastern part of the country. In the United States cotton is grown in the southern states, the biggest cotton producer is Texas.
Cotton needs a hot, sunny climate to grow. The plant needs soil that is well - drained and a lot of rainfall during the growing season. During the harvest season it should be sunny and dry. Some areas grow cotton on irrigated land.
Cotton needs soil that has a lot of nitrogen in it. Farmers use chemical fertilizers to improve the soil .
Worldwide production of cotton
Growing and processing cotton
Cotton plants can reach a height of up to 2 meters.
After plowing the soil in spring cotton seeds are planted in rows by hand or machine. Three weeks after the plants come out flower buds begin to form. They produce white flowers that turn red and fall off . The flowers have a green fruit, called boll, which has seeds in it. White fiber of different lengths grows around the seeds . Cotton can be harvested when the boll bursts open and shows the fibers inside. The longest fibers are up to 6 cm long and are used for the best cloth . Most fibers, however ,are much smaller.
During the growth period cotton farmers must be careful that their crop does not get any diseases . They spray insecticides to keep insects away from the plant. Such insects destroy almost 15 % of the world’s cotton every year. Weeds also do damage to the cotton plants. They take away moisture that plants need so much.
Cotton is harvested about 150 to 200 days after farmers plant it. In industrial countries picking machines drive through the fields, harvest the cotton and transport it onto a trailer . In the Third World cotton harvesting is often done by hand.
Gins separate the cotton fiber from the seeds . Cotton is then combed , dried, cleaned and pressed into bales . Cotton buyers or brokers buy the raw cotton and then sell it to textile mills . There, spinning machines spin cotton into yarn . The yarn is woven into cloth, which is bleached and sometimes dyed .
Cotton gins in use today
History of cotton
Humans realized very early that the soft, fluffy cotton fibers can be used to make comfortable clothes.
Cotton was first grown in Pakistan and the Nile valley. about 3,000 years ago. Native Americans started growing cotton at the same time in North America. Europe was introduced to cotton through Arab merchants at about 800 A.D . By 1500 cotton was known all over the world.
When Europeans founded colonies in America they relied on cotton to make a living . In the early days, growing and harvesting cotton was a hard job that was done manually by slaves.
In 1793 an American, Eli Whitney, invented the cotton gin , a machine that separated seeds from fiber. This new invention allowed farms to produce even more cotton.
In the second part of the 20th century people started to produce synthetic fibers , like nylon and acrylic. The importance of cotton fiber began to drop . By the middle of the 1970s cotton made up only one third of all fibers worldwide . Many cotton farmers had to close their farms. Governments , especially in America, had to help cotton farmers during this economically difficult period .
By 1990 the demand for cotton clothes became bigger, simply because people saw that cotton was a natural fiber and very comfortable to wear. By the turn of the millennium cotton regained its importance .
Towards the end of the 20th century farmers started experimenting with organic cotton , grown without chemicals or pesticides . Such cotton, however , has turned out to be more expensive than normal cotton.
A.D. = anno domini = after the birth of Christ
bale = cotton that is tied together tightly to form a big block
bleach = to make something white by using chemicals
broker = a person who buys and sells things for other people
bud = a rolled up flower before it opens
burst = break
carpet = heavy piece of woven material used to cover floors
century = a hundred years
cloth = material used for making clothes
comb = to make straight
comfortable = something that makes you feel good or relaxed
cotton gin = machine that separates the seeds from the cotton
damage = harm, hurt
demand = need
destroy = to damage completely
disease = illness
drop = fall
dye = to put color into a material
economically = about finances and money
especially = above all
fall off = fall down from the plant
fertilizer = material that you put into the soil to make plants grow better
fiber = thin parts of natural materials
fluffy = soft like a feather
found-founded = to start something new
frost-free = temperatures that are above 0°C or 32° F
government = the people who rule a country
growth = when something grows
harvest = when you gather crops from the field
height = how high something is
however = but
importance = being important
improve = to make better
industrial countries = rich countries in Europe, America, as well as Japan and Australia
insecticide = a chemical used for killing insects
introduce = come to a place for the first time
invent = to make or design a new machine
irrigate = to bring water to land, or a field in dry places
length = how long something is
make a living = to earn money to survive
manually = by hand
merchant = person who buys and sells things
moisture = wetness
Native Americans = Indians, people who lived in North America before Columbus came
natural fiber = a material that grows out of a plant and is not made by people in laboratories
nitrogen = gas that has no color or smell; it is a chemical element that is used to make soil better
organic cotton = cotton that is produced without chemicals
period = time
pesticide = a chemical material used to kill insects and small animals that may destroy a cotton plant
picking machine = machine that harvests cotton
plow = to turn over the earth with a machine so that you can plant the seeds
produce = create, turn out
raw = natural
realize = to find out
regain = to get again
rely = depend on, need
row = line
seed = small hard object that is in plants
separate = divide
sheet = a large piece of thin cloth that you put on a bed to lie on
slave = someone who is owned by another person and works for them without getting paid
soil = the top layer of earth on which plants grow
soil = the top layer of earth on which plants grow
spinning machine = machine that makes cotton into thread by twisting it
spray = when liquid comes out of a bottle in very small drops
stalk = narrow part of a plant that comes up from the ground and has flowers or leaves on it
start out = begin
synthetic = not natural, made by man
textile mill = factory that makes cloth out of cotton and other materials
towards = near
towel = a piece of cloth that you use for drying your skin after you wash yourself
trailer = a wagon that you pull behind a tractor or truck
turn of the millennium = at the beginning of the next thousand years
valley = land between two hills with a river flowing through it
weave—woven = to make cloth or a carpet by crossing thin pieces under and over each other
weed = a wild , unwanted plant
well-drained = when water can flow away from the field
worldwide = around the world
yarn =thick thread made out of cotton