It all starts here 8

It’s just thrills and chills galore in my continuing ag series, with the latest from the cotton fields by my house. These pictures are from, oh, maybe two weeks ago. As you can see, it’s getting close to scoopin’ time. Again, Eric and I were laughing (amid the crisp autumn chill) at how the movies show slaves picking cotton under a broiling sun, skin drenched, sweat dripping down. We can only figure that movie sets require the actors slicked with oil, heads soaked with water while they shiver in sweaters and coats waiting for their cue. Not to make light of slavery or even to suggest real slaves didn’t sweat plenty.

I’m still wondering where this cotton goes from here, thought about tracing its path but I never find Mr. Farmer tending the plot. Last Sunday, I’d planned to go visit Dosi Alvarez; he’s the only organic cotton farmer in the state of New Mexico. His place is in La Union, a few miles south of Las Cruces, just north of El Paso proper. It’s a waste of time to track his crop; anything he’s got is sold before it’s planted. I spoke with Dosi’s wife Norma by phone this morning. She says they have 750 acres in organic cotton this year and will start harvesting this week. She invited me down for a visit. I’m looking forward to it. She says the scooping thing makes for poor quality cotton. They won’t be using rakes and shovels to harvest theirs like my neighbor.

Speaking of agriculture, I’ve been having an off-blog conversation with /anne about her wattles comment and about seed embedded paper (you can plant the paper to grow things). I didn’t know what wattles were. She said they’re a flowering bush, practically a weed in Australia. She explains:

They’re quite beautiful. Australia’s national floral emblem. There’s even a Monty Python skit about it. When they flower, it’s incredibly bright.

The seeds need to be boiled to germinate – which is probably why they’re good embedded in paper; as long as the mushy paper is cold when you add the seeds, they won’t germinate! You could possibly also use a water-based glue and sprinkle the seeds on some nice paper for a similar effect. Some more technical information, they’re also nitrogen fixers. If you’re interested in organic agriculture, they’re used in Permaculture.

Living in the southwest, I said I was interested in drought tolerant plants and could I get some seeds? These plants like the heat; wattles germinate by the thousands after fires. She responded

Australia is the driest continent you know -we specialise in drought tolerant :-). If you find out if there’s any import restrictions into the US for seeds (and it’s OK), I’ll send you some :-) It might take a while, because I don’t usually go near anywhere that sells seeds, but you’re heading into winter now, so it’s not really planting season.

Wattle seeds are actually edible – they get used in some bush tucker stuff. Sadly, you can’t grow quandongs (which are really yummy), because they’re a parasitic tree (sort-of like mistletoe, only an actual tree). They’re parasitic on, usually, grass or something equally bizarre – it’s almost impossible to propagate them. I’ve eaten them because I’ve lived in the Mallee where they grow.

There you have it. Wattles and quandongs. You’ve learned your new thing of the day.

I’m just wondering if wattles are invasive. If so, it wouldn’t do if they misplaced domestic varieties. We’ve yet to rid ourselves of Russian thistle (the common tumbleweed) which was imported, mixed in with Russian winter wheat by German immigrants settling in the Great Plains around the turn of the last century. Which is why I always giggle when I see tumbleweeds rolling around in the old westerns. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for seeing dried up wattles blowing around on the movie sets in the next generation of western films. I’m wondering if wattles were those beautiful blooming yellow trees I saw in LA the last time I was there. There were also some pretty blue, purplish flowered trees. Nobody I asked knew what those were.

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  1. Wattles are usually called acacias in the US. They’re pretty common, and yes, they’re undoubtedly the ones you saw in LA.

    The trees with the purple flowers are jacarandas. Originally South American, but widely grown wherever the climate suits them because they are sooo pretty.

  2. dosfashionistas says:

    About those sweaty cotton pickers. I grew up in the 50’s,in Arkansas where they grow a lot of cotton. We picked it (by hand) in September and October. It might be cool in the morning when we started, but around noon it was plenty hot and we did sweat. It would feel sooo good to get back to the wagon and drink ice water in the shade.Then weigh your full sack and empty it into the wagon, sling it back across your shoulder and head down the next row.

    When the cotton bole is completely open, you can pluck the fibers out with a pinching movement of your fingers, taking very little leaf or other trash. We always called it picking cotton. When did it get to be “scooping”? The cotton bole you have pictured is about half open.

    They started picking cotton by machine about the time I went to college, in the early 60’s.

    Boy do I sound like an old fogy!

  3. kay says:

    Yes, you probably saw lots of yellow-flowered Acacia in Los Angeles. There are about 1350 species, quite a number of them native to Australia.
    Currently Acacia auriculiformis, A. confusa, A. farnesiana (which has as one of it’s common names “Ellington curse”), A. mearnsii, A. melanoxylon, A. paradoxa and A. parramattensis are all considered introduced weeds in one or another parts of the US.

  4. /anne... says:

    Ok, so I won’t send any of the registered weed varieties :-).

    Some of them have become weeds if they run rampant outside their original environment, but most of the ones you see in Australia are where they’re supposed to be – much of the Australian bush consists largely of gum trees (there are hundreds of varieties), wattles, banksias, and a few other assorted plants.

    Jacarandas are _beautiful_ :-). They’re also drought-tolerant – they flower heavily in Spring, then drop all the flowers to create their own mulch to protect themselves from the long dry summer. Very popular in Perth, Western Australia, which can go for 6 months without a drop of rain (almost all the rain is in winter).
    The only problem is, if you’re inland, I don’t think they like frost.

  5. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    I would really like to feel freshly picked cotton fibers. It would be really cool if someone could send some, but I don’t advocate anyone stealing from someone else’s field.

    In case anyone doesn’t know, gum trees are what we call eucalyptus trees.

  6. Grace says:

    I do love jacaranda season. Take a look at my two favorite jacaranda trees.

    “If you see a purple haze over the LA basin in June, it might be Jacaranda season. Or it might be smog or a linear combination of the two.”

    You might want to visit during coral tree season in the spring or chorisia (silk floss tree) season in the fall.

    In a land with very subtle weather changes, I measure the seasons by the flowering trees. Apple and other fruit trees followed by coral, jacaranda and trumpet trees, then crepe mrytle, acacia and chorisia.

  7. kay says:

    Anne, I used to work with a cotton systematist (working on cotton evolution). Fresh picked cotton right from the boll feels a whole lot like a cotton ball. Really rather boring. Cotton fibers are *very* close to chemically pure cellulose. Tree cottons, shrub cottons, wild cottons — except for coarser, shorter fibers in some cottons, my fingers really can’t tell the difference between a fresh boll (other than the seeds!) and drugstore cotton.

  8. Erin Larkin says:

    Arkansans represent!

    I too, was going to say that it may be nice and fallish in the Southwest, but here in the mid-South in Arkansas, we sweat and shiver alternately depending on what time of day it is. And from my time in Memphis, I saw much of the basic processing and baleing happen there, before they were sent down the Mississippi river on the barge system. That huge, watery highway is full floating bales of cotton, soy, and rice. The clock seems to turn back just watching them slowly pass.

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