COTTON! (and more)

We’ve had such a good day in and around Natchez and Vidalia. We came for Frogmore Plantation and cotton, but we also saw rice, an armadillo not in a zoo (ok, it was dead on the roadside, but still not in a zoo), mounds created by native peoples of the Mississippi Valley, giant poison ivy, lots of kudzu … such fun. And it was my turn to drive, too.

We began the day at Frogmore, which offers a wonderful tour of an old plantation, reconstructed from original buildings donated by other plantations.  

The tour started in the 1880s steam-powered cotton gin, where hand-picked cotton was processed to separate the seeds and fibre.      

From there we walked to the edge of the cotton field(!) and I picked cotton for the first time. (It’s an Egyptian long-staple, by the way.)

 
The cotton is sprayed with a defoliant (I think we’d call it a dessicant in the UK) to kill the leaves, which otherwise may stain the cotton during harvest; the modern stainless steel screws that harvest the cotton are less selective than human hands. The edge of the field near the museum was not sprayed and some of the plants are still flowering even though the harvest has begun.


 We walked through the slaves’ quarters, including the wash house, which displayed a cotton wheel – basically a small great wheel – cotton cards, a loom and  quilting equipment and samples. The wheel had all its bits but was fragile and not set up correctly.     

Look at the wear on the treadles, the hand-smoothed polish on the wheel. 

There’s a small lecture room with more information about cotton.

  
The Café du Monde cooks its beignets in cottonseed oil.

We then drove about a mile east to visit the modern gin, the only on in Louisiana. Perfect timing: they began processing the harvest early this morning. Already bales from other growers are waiting in the field; they’re ginned here, then the clean bales are sent to await buyers in the warehouse in Concordia.   

 

In a process reminiscent of that I saw at the BWMB Bradford depot, the bales are opened, the cotton pulled off and sucked into the ducts that supply three immense computerised gins.

 
A waterfall of cotton cascades into a trough  at the front of the machine while a hail of seeds is visible below it. The Tanners, who own the gin, do not charge money for processing cotton: they keep the seeds and the value of the seeds pays for it.

 

A stream of cotton flows down to the baler, which compacts the cotton and kicks out a bale.

 

that is tagged and weighed before being trucked down the road to Concordia.
Replete with information, we set off into the farmland north of Frogmore, where we saw the armadillo, rice, cotton, bayous, more cotton before returning to Natchez to visit the Grand Village of the Natchez. The mounds are peaceful in this last week before the school tours start, and we walked the nature trail (giant poison ivy with stems as thick as my wrist, river cane, horsetail 6′ tall, pecan trees…) before returning to the museum where I bought a small but very beautiful woven river cane basket. 

But the cotton is the prize.

 

P.S. A. says I should clarify the New Orleans cockroach situation: the things on the sidewalk ARE cockroaches, but they’re probably the wild ones known as palmetto bugs that live free in the greenery while their relatives live indoors.

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About sarahw

A zoologist who draws, a spinner who weaves, a person who thinks.
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