Garden Journal: Week of 9/12

Hello everyone!

My name is Emily Paul and I am from the little town of Hartville, Ohio! I am the other first year intern for the TJ Demo Garden. In fact, Lily Cartwright and I are roommates and without knowing it we both hopefully applied to this position. I am so ecstatic to be a part of this wonderful endeavor and I look forward to following the garden’s progress!

Already I am feeling quite sentimental toward the nasturtium as it’s the first plant I will be able to watch from planting to mature growth. Even in these first few weeks they have grown remarkably!

It started out as a tiny plant and now has spread!

Last Friday, Rachael and I worked in the garden and found a few surprises—mold, in fact. I hurried to scrape up the yellow, sloppy mess at her request and it wasn’t until after I had disposed of it and washed it from my gloves that we realized we hadn’t taken a picture. I did find a picture online, however, that’s pretty similar.

Beautiful, isn’t it? From an aesthetic point of view, let’s hope it doesn’t return.

Apparently, it’s fairly common to find such mold after recently putting down new mulch. According to a Virginia gardening forum, most gardeners say it isn’t harmful to plants, comes from the moisture of the new mulch, and is just another example of the decomposing processes of nature.

Other items on the week’s to-do list included cleaning up dead leaves–especially on the sesame, checking the aphids (which seemed to be less rampant), weeding, and watering.

We've got aphids! Things are looking much better now than they were back when this photo was taken (on 8/30/11).

After completing all of these necessary maintenance duties, we stopped to admire the cotton plants. Rachael and I were discussing the possible output of the beautiful, fluffy new cotton bolls versus their ugly, rotting counterparts. In the name of scientific inquiry and following in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson, I set out to count—yes, count—all the cotton bolls. I divided them into five categories: the unopened bolls; fluffy (my nickname term for the bolls with beautiful, soft cotton spilling out); ugly (the ones that were dying and looked brownish and rotten); blossoms that were pink; and blossoms that were white. I should clarify that the bolls I counted as “unopened” were past the bud stage and at least an inch wide; the rest I disregarded.

Here you can see a number of unopened bolls.

An example of an "ugly" cotton boll (though it is still lovely in its own way).

What I deemed a "fluffy" cotton boll.

A white cotton blossom--younger than its red counterpart.

A beautiful red cotton blossom.

At first it seemed a time-consuming adventure but within only a few minutes I had a procedure down pat. First, I divided up the cotton plant plots into sections. Section 1 is in front of the marshmallow room. Section 2 is in front of the Joseph’s coat and to the left of the main entrance to the garden. Section 3 is the row behind the sunflowers and corn and runs alongside the road. Because of its length, I divided Section 3 into parts A and B; A was the first half before a concrete divider and B was the second half, closest to the woods. I started counting by marking about an arm’s-width-length of cotton plants in my mind’s eye (or using landmarks such as other plants behind it or stakes). First, I would circle that area and count all the unopened bolls and record the figure, then the cotton-filled bolls, and so on.

This is what I considered to be Section 3 along the road; A is on the right and B is on the left of the concrete in the middle.

Pencil in hand and eyesight keen and ready, I began to count! I used tally marks but soon they overwhelmed the page. The results are below.

Rachael caught me in action counting.

Area Unopened Bolls “Fluffy” Bolls “Ugly” Bolls Red Blossoms White Blossoms
Section One 93 14 47 6 7
Section Two 245 35 90 6 1
Section 3-A 177 13 116 0 1
Section 3-B 261 3 81 5 5
Totals 776 65 334 17 14

In total, I counted 1,206 bolls and blossoms! It seems an astounding number but the work was actually fairly entertaining and enhanced by the fact that the sun came out and warmed the day during my little study. As you can see with only a preliminary glance, the rotting bolls far outnumber the fluffy bolls—in fact, there are a little over five times as many brown bolls as there are beautiful bolls producing fluffy cotton.

It was interesting to me that the roadside cotton seemed to have many more leaves; these plants were thicker and fuller but had less fluffy bolls. I’m hypothesizing that the tall corn and sunflower plants have blocked the sun and stunted full growth like the other sections; also influential is that that side receives the setting sun’s rays, whereas Sections 1 and 2 receive the majority of the rising and daytime sun. Supporting this is the fact that many more fluffy bolls were on the front sides of these sections, facing away from the garden and toward the driveway–or toward the rising sun. In any of the sections, when there were less fluffy bolls, there were also less ugly bolls, an interesting relationship. Another observation I can’t clearly explain is that the majority of the fluffy bolls grew low to the ground instead of higher up. This could just be the sequence of maturation; we will have to keep an eye on things and see!

This one plant in Section 3 held pretty much all of the fluffy cotton bolls on that side!

Perhaps another day I will recount and compare results or add in the factor of bolls, whether unopened or otherwise, dropped on the ground.

Only time will tell if the cotton will produce more beautiful bolls to harvest or not. It makes you appreciate the slaves of Jefferson’s era who had to sort through all those plants just to harvest my termed “fluffy” bolls. This was only just the beginning of the long process that would end in cotton garments. The facts are simply astounding that I found on this website: http://extension.usu.edu/aitc/lessons/pdf/king_cotton.pdf

To make a men’s shirt you would need 48 bolls or about 2/5 of a pound of cotton—these statistics, however, are for ginned bolls, which have had the seeds and fiber separated. So with our garden, we could make one shirt for sure and have some left over for a pair of socks which take about 14 bolls. Maybe by the end of the fall harvest we will have enough for an entire outfit!

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3 Responses to Garden Journal: Week of 9/12

  1. nice job Em! very cool! hope you’re having fun!

  2. I didn’t know that cotton blossoms look like little roses! I believe that mold on the mulch is commonly known as “dog barf fungus!”

  3. Pingback: Useful Plants Workshop #2: Plant-Based Textiles with Pat Brodowski | Thomas Jefferson Demonstration Garden

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