Rich in American history, Nankeen has been grown since the Civil War.
Nankeen is a naturally brown cotton with short fibers. The lint doesn't fade like some colored cottons. Plants should produce a dark copper colored lint that can become brighter after washing. Nankeen Branches tend to be longer & thinner, with leaves that are more lobed than other cottons.
It is reported to grow well in poor dry soil. In my experience, I don't feel this holds true. I had a early summer drought & while it did survive, growth was stunted until the rains returned. Once rainfall levels returned to normal, the plants finally started to put on thicker folliage, height, & flowers.
Nankeen is also reported to be hardier & with slightly better insect resistance than other cottons. I noticed no difference regarding aphids on my Nankeen plants verses any of the other heirloom cottons that I have grown. In my experience, they all get aphids & they all survive with them as long as they are not overrun when they are still small. I do not have problems with any other pests in my area (I am not in the cotton belt). To deal with aphids & the ants who milk them when the plants are young, I use diluted neem seed oil. Note that if you put undiluted neem seed oil on your plants, they will likely cook in the sun just like food in a hot pan of oil. The plants may survive such harsh treatment depending on how big & healthy they were before you applied it.
Nankeen likes to drop it's branches as they gain weight with bolls which are high in water. What I mean by drop it's branches is the branches tend to peel off at the trunk. Some hang on by a thread & will survive, others do not. I often prune these branches because it makes maintaining the grass that grows between my rows difficult to maintain if I don't. If you don't need to maintain the space between your rows, you may wish to let them lie. Keep in mind that when folliage touches the ground, it encourages bacteria, so be sure to keep an eye on your plants health.
In order to deal with Nankeen's fragile limbs, I stake my plants with small metal fencing stakes (3-5' usually work well) rather than traditional garden stakes. I can get pretty high winds in my area. The fence stakes keep the plants from being being badly damaged during severe summer weather.
After dealing with an early summer drought, I later had a early frost. The drought dramatically slowed the growth of my Nankeen plants and the early frost caused further problems as it was too early to harvest. The plants needed several more weeks of growth that the frost was trying to prevent. I did manage to harvest the bolls, but yields were very low & I personally am not a fan of the very short fibers that have resulted. I often say, each year after growing a particular cotton that I am unlikely to grow it again. I sometimes think it's just due to farm girl exhaustion. By this time of year, the days are getting much shorter, temps are dropping & I'm still bringing in the harvest after six months of straight back breaking labor.
With all that said, I don't think I will grow this cotton again. Sea Island Brown has been one of my favorite brown cottons to grow. For green, I am partial to Arkansas. If you are curious about growing Nankeen don't let my lackluster harvest results sway you. We all have different micro climates. You may find that Nankeen is one of your favorites!
During the Civil War Battle of Sabine Crossroads (Mansfield, LA), Confederates told the story of the Nankeen shirt. The story was first printed in the ‘Mansfield Enterprise’ & later in the monthly 'Confederate Veteran,' VOL XXXIII – May 1925
"The plan of General Banks was to assemble his army at Grand Ecore and either cross to the north side of the river to join General Steele & march their united armies against Shreveport, or to march through the forest via Mansfield which was much the nearer. It was important that General Dick Taylor should know which route the Federals would take, hence the story of the 'Nankeen Shirt.' According to the story, an officer on General Taylor's staff visited Natchitoches & Grand Ecore just before the arrival of the Federal army & laid a number of plans to get this information at the earliest moment. He finally approached an old doctor, who too old for service was practicing his profession in that vicinity. The doctor was more than anxious to do all he could to help the cause & thought it would probably be easy to see what route the Yankees took when they marched away from Grand Ecore, but it would be a different matter to get a message to General Taylor's headquarters at Mansfield. However, he mentioned that there was a fifteen-year-old boy at his home going to school whose father was in the army. Before he left for the war he had moved his slaves from the lower part of the State to a place in Sabine Parish only sixteen miles from Mansfield. The Negroes were being looked after by a Captain John P. Youngblood, a maimed Confederate soldier who was a true patriot. The doctor was unwilling for the boy to play the part of a spy, but suggested that when the Yankee army marched from Grand Ecore he would send the boy with a verbal message to Captain Youngblood to move the Negroes into Texas. He took the officer into the boy's room & laying a number of nankeen shirts on the table said: "There are the boy's shirts. You will see that some are decorated with braid down the front while others are plain -- that is without braid. Now when I send the boy with the message to Captain Youngblood, I will see that he wears a shirt with braid on it if the Yankees are crossing to the north side of Red River, but if they are marching over the road to Mansfield he will wear a shirt without braid, so by a glance at his shirt front you can tell which way the Yankee army is moving.” A thorough understanding was had between the doctor & the staff officer & the latter went to Captain Youngblood & arranged that as soon as the boy arrived, Captain Youngblood was to put him in a buggy & whisk him to General Taylor's headquarters at Mansfield. The plan worked to perfection: the officer looked the boy over & questioned him a little, but he knew nothing more than that he had been sent by the doctor to tell Captain Youngblood to move the Negroes to Texas. However, General Taylor knew definitely of his opponent's movements & prepared to fight him before he got out of the woods while his army was so scattered that his superior numbers gave him no advantage. The result is written in three consecutive defeats of the Federal army at Mansfield, Chapman's Peach Orchard, & Pleasant Hill."
Information provided by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Cotton is an annual plant that requires a long, warm growing season to mature properly. It needs full sun. In zones 8–10 it can be sown directly after the last frost. In zones 5–7, treat like tomatoes, start seed indoors & transplant out 4–8 week-old seedlings after last frost. Seed germinates in 7–21 days at 70°F. Plant 20–32" inches apart in rows 6' feet apart. Plants start flowering in mid-summer. Bolls take a few more months to mature; warm late summer weather is necessary for a good crop. Plants grow to 4-5' feet tall.
130 - 180 day Annual
Direct Sowing: Sow seed in a light, well drained, slightly acid to neutral soil. Supply soil generously with compost or other organic matter, especially in clay. Sow no deeper than 2 - 4 times the seed diameter. Do not sow in waterlogged soil or heavy clay. Harvest in 180 days.
Transplanting: Use a good quality sterile seed starting mix. Sow pots or flats 4 - 8 weeks before transplanting. When several leaves have developed, harden off the seedlings by placing them outdoors in direct sunlight for no more than an hour. Gradually increase the outdoor exposure over a period of several days. Transplant to the garden after the last frost. Harvest in 130 days from transplant.
Harvest: Wait for bolls to split open before harvesting.
Seed Savers: Isolate varieties by 1/8 mile for home use, or 1/4 to 1/2 mile or greater for pure seed.
Weeds & Water: Weed barrier fabric helps to both suppress weeds & keep more moisture in the soil where the plants need it. I have tried a wide range of weed barrier fabrics from free to more expensive & have found this 12 year fabric by Dewitt performs the best.
"Conventional cotton is considered the world's 'dirtiest' crop due to its heavy use of insecticides, the most hazardous pesticide to human and animal health. Conventional cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world's insecticides, more than any other single major crop.
Aldicarb, parathion, and methamidopho, three of the most acutely hazardous insecticides to human health as determined by the World Health Organization, rank in the top ten most commonly used in cotton production.
All but one of the remaining seven most commonly used are classified as moderately to highly hazardous.
Aldicarb, conventional cotton's second best selling insecticide and most acutely poisonous to humans, can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin, yet it is still used in 25 countries and the US, where 16 states have reported it in their groundwater." - Organic Trade Association
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