THE COTTON BELT 32. The cotton crop.—Cotton is one of the best of all crops. It is easy to grow, it is easy to keep without spoiling, it is easy to send long distances by train or ship. When ripe it is not eaten by moth or bug or mouse.
Since nearly every people uses some cotton, it is easy to sell. Cotton is the main crop and the chief source of wealth in a large part of our southern states. This crop is so important that the region where it grows is often called the Cotton Belt.. It is one of the largest and richest natural regions in the United States.
Figures 28 and 29 show that cotton grows in several countries, and the Cotton Belt of the United States is the greatest producer of them all. It grows more than half the cotton of all the world. Which states are entirely in the Cotton Belt? Which are partly in it? (Fig. 21.) 33. Bounds of the Cotton Belt.—What is it that causes the bounds of this Cotton Belt to be where they are? The answer is climate. Cotton needs two hundred days between the last frost in spring and the first frost in autumn. It needs a warm, moist summer for growing, and dry, sunshiny weather for ripening. Look at the cotton map (Fig. 30) and see how the line of two hundred frostless days, almost seven months, bounds the Cotton Belt on the north somewhat like an imaginary fence. Notice that this line is not straight. The warm weather of the lowland near the sea pulls the line up into Virginia, but the cooler weather of the plateau brings the line down into the central part of North Carolina, while the still cooler weather of the Appalachian Mountains pushes the cotton line down into Georgia.
The climate of the highland and of the lowland has the same effect upon the cotton line in Missouri and Arkansas. (Fig. 30.) We may say that the northern boundary is a cold line, because to the north of that line the cold weather of spring or autumn injures the cotton so often that it does not pay to grow it there. Such lines are not sharp, but are several miles in width because the weather is uncertain from year to year.
The western boundary of the Cotton Belt is a dry line. West of this line cotton does not pay, unless irrigated, because the droughts keep the plants from growing well. How much rain falls at the western or dry edge of the Cotton Belt? (Figs. 158, 494.) Why should a south wind bring rain to east Texas and drought to west Texas? Look at the rainfall map (Fig. 158) and you will see that the rainfall grows less as we go west through Texas. The eastern part of that state, with the heavy rain, has thick forests and swamps, but the western part is dry, with few streams, thorny cactus plants, scattered bunches of grass, and low bushes. One side of this state has so much rain that it is in the Cotton Belt, and the other side so little rain that it has only large ranches, with few farms, and few people, except where water can be hadtoirrigate the land. We shall learn the cause of this dryness later. (Secs. 59-71.) The Cotton Belt is a cotton belt because it is warm and has rain every few days. These two climatic conditions are the best for agriculture, because they enable people to grow things that are needed.
34. Cotton growing.— In February, March, and April, the farmers with their horses or mules are busy plowing and harrow ing the ground and plant ing the seed. In the early part of the summer, men, women, boys, and girls may be seen with hoes, chopping out the weeds and some of the young cotton plants. The re maining plants stand about eighteen inches apart in the rows. All summer the mule-drawn cultivators keep down the weeds. In the autumn, the round pods, called bolls, begin to burst open and show the white cotton. Cotton-picking time, the busiest season of the year, has come. It is easy to grow more cotton than can be picked. Everybody who can goes into the fields to pick, even the cooks from the kitchen. From August until cold weather the pickers, with sacks hung upon their shoulders, go up and down the rows, pluck ing the white cotton, of which more than half the weight is seeds.