The cotton plant likes loose, broken up ground. The soil is prepared by several successive irrigations, after which it is ploughed deeply. It is necessary to dress the ground beforehand with well-rotted manure. Following the first ploughing, the soil is harrowed several times until it is as loose as possible. The people of Sicily (Ciqilliya), who follow this method, harrow up to ten times. When this tillage has loosened the ground sufficiently the beds are laid out to receive the seeds.
The rainy season is the most favourable for sowing. If however the ground is not sufficiently moistened, rainfall must be supplemented by watering. In this case, one sows only when the water has had time to soak into the earth and has dried out again. Sowing is done as follows: Seeds are sown individually, or broadcast, so that each is about a span apart. In the latter case, the seeds should be separated from the down that surrounds them so that a uniform scattering can be achieved. To do this the seed is first dampened, then sifted with dry, powdered earth or manure. The seeds are thus separated from all their down and do not cling together. After sowing the seed is watered until the shoots emerge from the ground.
When the plants reach the height of a span, the ground is given a light hoeing to rid it of weeds. Then they are left to grow until they are three-quarters developed. Then irrigation is resumed up until the beginning of August, taking care, after each watering, to draw up the soil around the foot of the plants to guard against dryness. The plant is then at its peak. It continues to grow but expends its energy at the expense of its pods so growth is arrested by cutting off the end of each branch, which is lopped off with a very flexible switch some four spans long. This operation causes the sap to flow back into the main stem and stimulates the production of numerous buds which would not otherwise have developed.
Cotton is harvested in September, preferably on the coolest mornings. This however has the disadvantage in that the bolls may be damp when harvested, though this can be remedied by spreading them, after harvesting, in a dry and well-ventilated place until they are moisture-free.
|1||A span is about twenty centimetres, the distance between the tip of the thumb and little finger with the hand outstretched.|
|2||Casthos or Costus was the author of Kitāb al-Filāḥa ar-Rūmiyya (‘The Book of Greek Agriculture’) which was translated into Arabic many times (cf. Clément-Mullet, introduction to the French translation of the Book of Agriculture of Ibn al-‘Awwām, I, 71-72).|
|3||djoullanār : the flower of the male pomegranate or ‘balauste’; here the flower is used for the tree, the ‘balaustier’ or wild male pomegranate.|
|4||Arab philologist and naturalist who died in 282 / 895 (cf. Encyclopedia of Islam, I, 1004, sv. Al-Dīnawarī, art. of C. Brockelmann)|
|5||This paragraph of four lines is not by Abū ’l-Khayr, but from Ibn al-Ḥusayn.|
|6||This paragraph of 22 lines is not the work of Abū ’l-Khayr, but that of Ibn al-Ḥusayn.|
|7||The text of Cherbonneau reads ‘citron’ (atrondje)|
|8||Cherbonneau’s note: Abū'l-Khayr, in expounding on the usefulness of flax, says: “If in life wheat occupies the first place, flax, without a doubt, comes second; for the dead, no less than the living, cannot do without it”.|
|9||Cherbonneau’s note: the French word ‘couffin’ comes from the Arabic qouffa, ‘a basket without handles, made from the leaves of the dwarf palm’.|
(Translated from the French by A.H. Fitzwilliam-Hall, September 2010)