Arizona’s Original Super Boll!

The Cotton Bowl is over, the winners declared. But in Arizona, where cotton is once again king, the real Super Boll is the cotton plant.

Raw Cotton Growing in a Cotton Field.  Closeup of a Large Cotton

Boll refers to the round ball of cotton that develops at the end of the cotton plant’s stem. Technically a flower, these bolls – bursting from dried shells that cut like knives – were once harvested by hand. This was a difficult, painful, and time-consuming process, and required an enormous amount of labor. But in 1794, Eli Whitney patented an invention he called a cotton gin, and suddenly labor was no longer an issue.


Cotton cultivation dates back to Egypt. In this century, the biggest growers are China and India – which are also the world’s most populous countries. The United States comes third in number of bales, but first in per capita production.


Closer to home, states growing the most cotton lead with Texas and end with Kansas. Arizona comes in 13th in production, but first in quality! This is because Arizona is a premier grower of the finest extra-long strand (ELS) cotton in the nation on a per capita basis. Known commercially as Pima cotton, these ELS fibers must be at least 3/8 inch longer than short staple cotton, or nearly an inch. Today’s Supima cotton (the brand name for premium Pima cotton) exceeds staple cotton fibers by up to half an inch.


According to the Cotton Growers Buyer’s Guide 2014, the West (Arizona, New Mexico and California) produce a boll whose strand length is 36.9 thirty-seconds of an inch. Equally as important, only California and Arizona are stamped for superior quality when grown for export.


The Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia) grow 30 percent of the nation’s cotton, but their ELS rating is only 35.3 thirty-seconds of an inch. Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma account for 37 percent of the nation’s cotton production (most of this in Texas), but again the ELS quality is only 35.5 thirty-seconds of an inch.


How did Arizona reach this peak of quality cotton production? In 1907, the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, established an experimental farm in Sacaton, in cooperation with the Indian Service. Their intent was to crossbreed existing wild strains of cotton with a cotton plant known as American-Egyptian, in hopes of creating a very long-fibered, strong cotton plant that could be grown in the harsh desert climate.


The name “Pima” comes from the tribe of Native Americans who lent their support to this project. These Pima had adopted an ancient (Hohokam) canal irrigation system and were skilled at growing cotton.


Today, thanks to a number of Pinal County seed companies, transgenic cotton – also known as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton – has been developed and released. This biotech miracle solves the problem of cotton pests like the pink bollworm, an obstacle to ELS cotton growing that became almost overwhelming in the 1990s, when climate change tipped the biosphere in favor of unpredictable weather and hardy insects.


As Brent Murphree, third generation Arizona cotton farmer, notes in his article: “The progressive cotton farmers of Pinal County continue keep pace with the world by breeding efficient new varieties, cleaning up the environment by using more earth friendly pest control measures, and utilizing the latest technology in electronics, water conservation and mechanization to increase their productivity.


“For many, cotton is still king in Pinal County.”



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Surprising Facts about Spinach

“I’m strong to the finish ‘cuz I eats my spinach. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man! Toot toot!”


stamp with Popeye & spinach

A stamp printed in Republic of Guinea commemorates the birth of Popeye, by Elzie Segar circa 1998 (photo: bigstock)


Most of us in the US are familiar with Popeye the Sailor Man; the cartoon character who eats his spinach straight from the can, and instantly grows powerful arm muscles so that he can fight his dastardly foe!


Popeye’s instant transformation was based on a research mistake about the amount of iron in spinach (3.5 milligrams, not 35). This mistake (and unintended marketing bonanza for canned spinach)  reportedly increased American consumption of spinach by 30 percent in the first half of the 20th century.


Mistakes aside, however, spinach is rich in iron and other nutrients. In addition to a low calorie and carbohydrate count (7 per cup and 1.1 grams), this leafy green veggie has more than half the adult daily requirement of Vitamin A, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA. Spinach also has almost 1000 percent of the required amount of Vitamin K, the bone-health vitamin!


Some other fun facts about spinach include:


  • Spinach originally came from Persia – an area now called Iran. It was originally considered a weed. Some people even insisted it was poisonous. It reached Europe in the 1400s as a (cultivated) leafy vegetable. From there, it traveled to the East Coast of the United States with settlers.
  • Spinach comes in two shapes, smooth or curly. A newer hybrid, semi-Savoy, combines smooth leaves with ruffled to make an easier-to-wash leaf.
  • Spinach has an energy rating! Slightly less than half a cup delivers 23 kilocalories (kcal). Most adult males burn 2000 kcals per day.
  • Spinach, unlike most leafy green vegetables, delivers more nutrition cooked than raw. That means you can eat it Popeye-style, but it tastes even better heated, and best of all when purchased fresh and then cooked.
  • Spinach consumption per person in the U. S. has fluctuated over the past 40 years, with fresh spinach ranging from 0.3 lbs in 1970 to 1.9 lbs in 2011. And even though fresh spinach is harvested year-round, many people are still eating frozen spinach (at a rate of 1.1 lbs per person).
  • Spinach production is highest in China, at 15.35 billion lbs. Chinese consumption, though, is lower than in the U.S. Figures for 2012 show per capita consumption at 0.396 lbs (China) versus 0.4 in the U.S.
  • Spinach recipes in the 19th century (1800-1899) called for boiling the leaves for 25 minutes! Apparently, some cookbook authors still thought it was toxic.
  • Spinach was the first frozen vegetable to be sold commercially. Thanks to the flash-freezing process, it was introduced by Clarence Birdseye in 1930 in Springfield, Massachusetts under the name Birds Eye Frosted Foods.


The next time you sit down to a plate of spinach salad or a colorful, healthful platter of spinach stir-fry, rest assured that spinach’s hero, Popeye, is not forgotten. From his first appearance in 1929 (in the comic strip Thimble Theatre, by Elzie Segar), to his emergence as an Internet icon, Popeye remains alive and well, and so does the popularity of spinach!


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Fun Facts about Cotton

When I say “cotton”, most of you will think of blue jeans.

Stack of clothes with a sprig of cotton

Ubiquitous, comfortable, sturdy but sexy, these garments have remained true to their 18th century origins – all cotton, all blue, all the time.


The name of the cloth may come from a French town, but the product itself is as American as apple pie. Invented for California gold miners, these tear-and-puncture resistant ‘waist overalls’ have the advantage of copper rivets to keep the pockets from tearing away.


The inventor was Levi Strauss. The cotton came primarily from America’s Southern plantations. That has changed. Today, some of the world’s finest cotton comes from Arizona. Developed in the early 1900s, this ELS (extra-long staple, American-Egyptian) cotton was named after the Pima, a Native American tribe that grew the experimental cotton for the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, in Sacaton, Arizona.


As of December 2014, cotton was again Arizona’s leading export, with fresh vegetables running a close second. Some other interesting facts about cotton include:


  • Improved seed varieties have decreased pesticide use to almost zero, so wear your “blues” with pride.
  • Not all cotton is white. In Peru, the Mochica tribe grows bolls ranging in color from deep chocolate to mauve and even purple, and protects the secrets of colored cotton almost religiously.
  • Cotton is accused of being “a thirsty crop”. From boll to closet, a simple t-shirt reportedly uses 713 gallons. However, modern farming techniques can (and do) reduce that to 284, and improve yields by about 30 percent.
  • Arizona cotton farms produce enough top-grade cotton to make one pair of jeans for every single American, including the littlest ones.
  • Cotton is the world’s largest non-food crop. Cottonseed oil is used to make cooking oil and margarine, and in cosmetics. It is also high in antioxidants like Vitamin E.
  • Cotton fiber is the “background” for such diverse fabrics such as velvet, corduroy, and flannel.
  • Cotton sheets and pillowcases are currently graded by thread count, which is a marketing lie. The best sheets are made from ELS, or pima cotton, and woven via the “percale” method. (Yes, that is where the word comes from).
  • Cotton goes a long way. One bale (500 pounds, or as heavy as a grizzly bear) can make 215 pairs of blue jeans, 680,000 cotton balls, or 6.5 million cotton swabs.
  • Cotton has been cultivated in Egypt for centuries. At one time, only the High Priest was allowed to wear it.
  • Cotton makes up about 40 percent of the world’s fiber production.
  • Cotton also makes up 75 percent of the U.S. “greenback”, or folding money. The rest is linen. No paper is involved in making “paper currency”.
  • Cotton can be made wrinkle-resistant by adding a chemical finish, or by layering individual fibers (which then act as support for one another when folding or putting weight on them).
  • Cotton exports put the U.S. at number 1!
  • Cotton, as clothing fabric, has been around for 3,000 years; cotton farming has been around for 5,000.


Cotton, dubbed “The Fabric of Our Lives” by an advertising campaign, certainly lives up to its billing, doesn’t it?



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Little Known Facts about Olive Oil

Golden and fragrant, with a distinctive taste, olive oil is one of the old known cooking oils in the world. At one time, about 6,000 years ago, it was literally worth its weight in gold. As a result, cultivation of the olive tree spread rapidly, from Crete (and Greece) in 3,000 BC to Egypt a thousand years later.


olive oil over spoon

photo: bigstock


Eventually, Franciscan monks moving north from Mexico discovered that land in the far southwestern part of the North American continent, from Arizona to California’s Central Valley, was ideal for growing olive trees.


Arizona’s first working olive farm and mill is located at Queen Creek, which operates as both an orchard and a commercial mill. It also offers a country store and restaurant. In fact, at the Queen Creek Orchard and Mill, one can take advantage of events and tours, an associated winery, and online ordering capability.


Olive oil rapidly became a big industry in the United States, as people discovered the benefits of olive oil. Farms sprouted up everywhere the tree thrived. Mills to process the olives into olive oil were fewer but highly important to growers for their ability to turn the small, black fruit – yes, the olive is a fruit – from solid to liquid form.


Other interesting but little-known facts about the olive include:

  • Olive trees live between 300 and 600 years.
  • It takes 15 years for an olive tree to reach first harvest
  • The oldest certified olive tree just celebrated its 2,000th
  • Because olive oil contains vitamin E and polyphenols, baked breads, pastries, and the like will last longer if you substitute olive oil for butter.
  • Putting olive oil on salad helps the body absorb nutrients. Good to know since Yuma, Arizona is considered the Country’s Salad Bowl in winter because of all the leafy greens it produces!
  • It takes about 11 pounds of olives to make one quart of extra virgin olive oil.
  • The olive branch itself is a symbol of peace dating from the Biblical Flood, when a dove returning to the Ark carried an olive branch as proof of land and Jehovah’s forgiveness.


Olive oil has many uses, but the one where it truly shines is as a salad dressing. There, the pungent, slightly bitter fragrance and taste – enhanced by balsamic vinegar, garlic, lemon, honey, basil, or a blend of herbs (fines herbes) – makes salad into a gourmet spree!


But you don’t need to save this golden oil for salads. Fill Your Plate has pages of recipes, from savory but familiar Minestrone soup to exotic Catherine’s stuffed nasturtium leaves and Brent’s Honey Bacon Green Bean Bundles.


For dessert, try zucchini and squash spice cake using mesquite flour. Interesting!


Fill Your Plate can also turn you on to the best locations for in-season, farm fresh produce, fruit, and meat. Whether your recipe – or your menu – calls for wine, nuts, buffalo meat, goat’s milk, or barbecue sauce, you can find it quickly and easily on Arizona’s menu-planning Internet site. Fill Your Plate allows you to do just that, quickly, simply and affordably.


Buen appetito! Bon appetit! Velbekomme! Gochisōsama deshita! En Guete! Eat hearty!



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Top 10 Apps for Arizona Gardeners

For people who love gardening, and who are equally fearless using apps, there are a number of standalone software programs available that can streamline plant care. (An app is, as you may have guessed, a software application that typically runs on a mobile device like an iPhone or an iPad).

Landscaper's Companion

photo: Landscaper’s Companion

In fact, using an app is probably ten times less challenging than gardening in Arizona, where climate, soil, moisture, (and water availability) create unique conditions. If you’re an older gardener – one who is not entirely comfortable using electronic technology – you are more likely to find the perfect app than you are to find a petunia that survives a Phoenix summer.


  1. Exclusively for Arizona growers, the 75-year-old Desert Botanical Garden organization, offers a Garden app for a mere $1. This is not only a guide to the garden, but helps you care for similar plants in your Arizona yard and garden via plant information and images. Follow the organization on Twitter for news, updates, and even more images.
  2. On Pinterest, which is not really an app but even more fun, follow Gardening in Arizona. These are also real people, in near-real-time, and the information is priceless. The only problem? Pinterest is not as immediately interactive as iPhone, for example.
  3. For beginners, Landscaper’s Companion is ideal. Gently blending electronic technology and gardening, it provides an extensive encyclopedia of plants and plant care, either by name or by category. Choose a plant by its (new) USDA zone, amount of sunlight needed, size when full grown, need for water and bloom time. You can even start your own encyclopedia, of plants from your Arizona yard, and add unique growing details and photos. The publisher also offers an electronic reference exclusively about flowers, called FlowerPedia Lite. For mobile apps and the web, at about $5.00, it’s more than a bargain.
  4. Into-gardens is a sort of Pinterest for plants. Take pictures of plants in your yard, add little notes describing the height and flowering season, for example, and post online for your fellow gardeners to admire. Simple, streamlined and – best of all – free, which makes it a good choice for IT beginners.
  5. Sunset Publishing, known for its beautifully illustrated gardening information books, offers an electronic, interactive version called Western Garden. This app, which enhances information found in the print version, allows users to access regional gardening calendars and how-to videos. Not as rich in info as some gardening apps, it makes up for the lack with gorgeous slideshows and information that “syncs”. Send from your iPhone to a friend’s e-mail without losing a single byte! $20.00, and upgradable.
  6. Critics complain that Eden Garden Designer’s images are so low-res they look antiquated. Welcome to the Internet circa1989! Fortunately, it offers design capabilities for gardens that are solely flowers. Most apps incorporate flowers with trees, shrubs, and/or vegetables. At about $2.00, it’s a no-risk investment.
  7. If you want to get serious about design, Garden Plan Pro is your best bet. At almost 40 MB and a mere $7.00, it offers software upgrades and interactive red highlights that caution where the same plant has been planted before, and failed.
  8. For vegetable gardens, select Garden Tracker, another planning app for more experienced growers. For the iPhone, at $2, this downloadable program lets you plot your garden space(s) and then plug in plant descriptions and images from a scrolling list. The guesswork, about whether said plant will grow or not, is still your job.
  9. For beginners, the Garden Compass offers the ability to contact a real person. Ask about the requirements of a plant you already have, or one you are considering growing – or even pests and “weeds” – and get a “real” answer, if not necessarily in real time. Free.
  10. Finally, via Garden Web, the Internet’s biggest gardener community, there is GardenID. This app allows you to input your location and access location-specific tricks and tips. For iPhone, it’s a mere $2.

Why have a garden app? Because two heads are always better than one, even if one of them operates via bytes instead of brain cells!

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