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raising silkmoths (silkworms) - Sericulture, Moriculture, and the wild ones

 
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Still more hatching.  I think we must be nearing half hatched.

I'm a bit worried about the hatching being so spread out.  I understood it would be over three days, but we're on day four and there's a long way to go. Could it be because I have mixed eggs?  Different varieties of silkmoths take different times to hatch?  The first hatchlings will probably want to moult or whatever, today.  The size difference between the kego is HUGE!  I'm wondering if I might split the batch from early hatchers and late hatchers.  See if there are any other differences in how they grow.

I'm going to move them to a bigger tray today.

Wondering if unbleached parchment paper would be okay for the base of the tray.  
 
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There is a gorgeous Youtube channel Liziqi in a sericulture episode she dices up leaves for babies, and then throws armloads of leaves to the big caterpillars.  And it shows processing.

Lifestyle design like Jack Spirko speaks of would have this fantasy life Liziqi portrays on one end of the scale and Jerry Springer guests on the other end of the same continuum.
 
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r ranson wrote:  I understood it would be over three days, but we're on day four and there's a long way to go.  



I cant say it's not that, but it also could be the use of normal temps. It doesnt look like you've put them in a heated incubator. I put all mine in a constant 80 -81, night and day for 2 weeks, and I know temps affect their growth. There's very little variation when they are incubated. I think they like to be nice and warm throughout their growing time, so I've been working on a tall heated cabinet. I bought a premade pressboard cabinet, the kind with white vinyl covering the pressboard, but I cant get the wood smell out of it, so I'm redesigning right now.
 
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I know not everyone is comfortable with eating bugs, so I created a thread about cooking and eating silkworms.  
 
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Christina Doyle wrote:

r ranson wrote:  I understood it would be over three days, but we're on day four and there's a long way to go.  



I cant say it's not that, but it also could be the use of normal temps. It doesnt look like you've put them in a heated incubator. I put all mine in a constant 80 -81, night and day for 2 weeks, and I know temps affect their growth. There's very little variation when they are incubated. I think they like to be nice and warm throughout their growing time, so I've been working on a tall heated cabinet. I bought a premade pressboard cabinet, the kind with white vinyl covering the pressboard, but I cant get the wood smell out of it, so I'm redesigning right now.



That could be it.

This time of year, I expect this room to stay between 78 and 84 degrees F.  But this year is unseasonably cold.  We're staying between 72 and 76 degrees F.  I have the heat on so it won't go below seventy which is totally crazy for this time of year.  

The incubator is in use for chickens otherwise I would have tried that.  

Maybe these first hatchlings are less temperature sensitive.  Probably a good idea to try to divide into two batches based on hatch time... if I have space.  I'm still uncertain how much space two hundred worms will need.  
 
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r ranson wrote:I know not everyone is comfortable with eating bugs, so I created a thread about cooking and eating silkworms.  


lol! I didn't want to be the monster in the room saying "wow your new little sweeties are one of my favorite foods", but...... it's true.

 
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Tereza Okava wrote:

r ranson wrote:I know not everyone is comfortable with eating bugs, so I created a thread about cooking and eating silkworms.  


lol! I didn't want to be the monster in the room saying "wow your new little sweeties are one of my favorite foods", but...... it's true.



At what stage do you eat them? Ive seen pupae and worm both being eaten. They're..very smooth and plump. Hakuna matata!!
 
r ranson
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Jim Wineteer wrote:There is a gorgeous Youtube channel Liziqi in a sericulture episode she dices up leaves for babies, and then throws armloads of leaves to the big caterpillars.  And it shows processing.

Lifestyle design like Jack Spirko speaks of would have this fantasy life Liziqi portrays on one end of the scale and Jerry Springer guests on the other end of the same continuum.



Is it this one?



It's one of my favourite videos.  
 
Tereza Okava
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Christina Doyle wrote:. Hakuna matata!!


Yeah, I'm not sure i could do the ooey gooey stage. Mine were crunchy pupas.
 
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I don't know if this will work, but here is a youtube play list of videos related to home silk production.  There are even a few about moriculture in there (growing and propagating mulberry trees)
 
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There is a Canadian weaver living in Japan on a sericulture farm. Brian Whitehead has taught here in Vancouver at Maiwa's program many times. His website has lots of interesting info: http://japanesetextileworkshops.blogspot.com/

 
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Hi!
An awesome co-worker shared this forum with me because I am starting to raise silkworms too! I ordered some as adults and have 17 total right now, about 13 of them seem to be in their 5th instar and the rest are in either 3 or 4, not sure. I have had them for about a week and it has been so fun and fascinating Looking forward to sharing and learning more here!
 
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Emma Massick wrote:Hi!
An awesome co-worker shared this forum with me because I am starting to raise silkworms too! I ordered some as adults and have 17 total right now, about 13 of them seem to be in their 5th instar and the rest are in either 3 or 4, not sure. I have had them for about a week and it has been so fun and fascinating Looking forward to sharing and learning more here!



Go figure here is where I'd find other weird people also doing the weird things I do. 😆

Are you planning on breeding them?
 
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Today was the first day I left them alone all day.  Wage work pays the bills.  

I didn't move any of the hatchlings today, so there are all the overnight and early morning hatchlings still in with the eggs.  I just kept putting more leaves on top.  I gave the older ones three leaves instead of the usual one, just in case I was late home.  They didn't eat all that much, so I think this will work for tomorrow.

I also tried something new today.  I picked a bunch of leaves last night and put them in a plastic container in the fridge.  That way I could feed them breakfast before I had got out of my PJs.  I imagine eating an hour earlier in the day makes them happy.  But I really have no idea what worms are thinking or saying.  They seem so alien to me.  Not at all like chickens.  
 
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The hatchlings seem to like to crawl upwards.  I found one of them had crawled out of the hatching container and was entering the big-worm container yesterday.  I need to keep a close eye on them in the mornings as the upward instinct is stronger than their ability to find leaves.  Once they find the leaves, they are much better.

I think there's still a quarter or so of the eggs grey which makes me think they are still viable.  New hatchlings every morning.  Next year I might wait until later in the summer.

It's been far too cold this week.  I can't believe I have the heat on in JUNE!  I'm keeping it so it doesn't dip below 72F at night.  I'm wondering if one of those under-pot grow mats for starting seedlings would work.  That's supposed to keep things at about 22C.  But no temperature control, so I don't want to risk it this year.

I got to watch some of the bigger ones shed their skin yesterday.  I was worried because they were very, very still for over a day.  Like the one in the picture below.  Then suddenly, one of them got up and walked out of his old 'pants', just like it says they would.  Isn't it lovely when things come together?  or... um, in this case, come apart.  
IMG_6822.JPG
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getting ready to shed
 
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I can't really count that high, but I suspect I may have a lot more than two hundred.  I think I can hear them eating.

I may need to give some moths away when they get bigger and I run low on mulberry branches.  But that means interacting with humans... shudder.  Better that than feed the extra worms to the chickens.

The mulberry tree I heard about in Fernwood isn't where they said it would be.  I don't know where it is.  But I do have some friends with trees... except that may mean a boat ride to get there.  Maybe an advert in the local Used Anywhere for leaves later on.

I wonder... once upon a time, someone told me there was a map of wild forage trees in town.  I wonder if that still exists.  
 
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crazy thought - do worms respond well to music?  My chickens love having music when they are young.  
 
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Or you could do what Teresa suggests and eat the extras.  Though you will see that will be difficult because you do get attached to those baby Kegos.
I wouldn’t be able to feed them to the chickens either. Not after all that work.  
Too bad you don’t live closer.  I have 6 trees and I know of 6 others nearby.
Good luck on your quest.  
 
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This morning I found a kego in a sealed bin where I'm stashing my extra silk supplies.  He was lethargic but alive.  I put him on a mulberry leaf.  

No hatchlings overnight, but lots of grey eggs still.
 
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Hi Raven,

Do you have the eggs in a separate container from the baby Kegos? For the the eggs I would just give them a fresh leaf 2 times a day. Just to give them incentive.  Keep the container they are in with maybe a sheer curtain on top with an elastic around the brim.  Those babies are little too precious to lose.  It’s amazing how they can wander if they are searching.
Keep us updated on their antics.  Keep up the good work.  
 
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More heat equals more hunger!

Three days ago I had the heat on to keep the room over 70F.  Yesterday, the weather shot up and it was 80F overnight and hotter during the day.  We had to take measures to keep the room below 85F.  Crazy!

But even more crazy is in the first two hours after 'breakfast' yesterday, the worms were hungry.  By noon they had eaten two days worth of food.  I'm glad I had someone check in on them otherwise I would have had a mutiny.

We already have some that have shed their skin twice.  Maybe third instar?  Or possibly forth?  I don't know.  
 
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very hungry Caterpillar is right.. Their appetite is almost doubling daily!  

 
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Yesterday morning there was a pesticide drift from the north.  Second time in under a week.  I think it's something they use on their horses as it smells like seven.

The problem is, my back-up mulberry trees are on the north property line.  These trees are growing in a STUN situation so they aren't' as tender as the leaves from the trees that are growing next to the chickens.  I was saving these mulberry trees for last because the bigger worms can eat tougher leaves.  But now...

... I don't know if it is safe to use these leaves.  I don't know enough about sprays.  Can the leaves just be washed off?  I'm hoping I won't need them for a week, but would a week be long enough for the chemical to dissipate?  

 
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Raven,
Wash a few leaves in a bowl of water with a tsp of baking soda.  Rinse well and dry well.  Try it on a few worms now.  Better now on the small ones than to lose the bigs ones later.  
 
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My early hatchers are getting pretty big now.  Most of them are in their final instar.  It's terrifying how much they eat.  
 
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I began the harvest of the emergency backup mulberry trees last night.  I have less than a week of leaves left.  Starting panic.



Four of the worms were acting weird and yellow, so I put them in a new container with some eggs cartons.  They immediately tried to climb out.  I've never seen these guys move so fast.

But I left them there overnight...

... and this morning I have one worm making a beautiful cocoon.

and three more making ugly cocoons on the edge of the carton.
IMG_7092.JPG
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beautiful cocoon
IMG_7094.JPG
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ugly cocoon
 
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Congrats this is the start of your silk business!  So what are you going to make?  You will have to choose your biggest and best cocoons for laying eggs and mating. So I  can order eggs from you next year.  Are you making a blanket, like in the beautiful video?  Or are you going to spin the thread.  I took a workshop doing that, very interesting but also very time consuming.  
 
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I kept three batches of a dozen moths to reproduce.  I have so many eggs.  it makes me happy.

The silk looks lovely.

More updates later.  But for now, the goal is to clean all the equipment then put it in the sun to kill any pathogens.  
 
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Just wanted to let you know I'm watching your progress, trying to figure out how long it will take me to grow the mulberry trees, to start doing this, myself - and watching you will help me decide whether it's even something I really want to attempt - But, I'm intrigued, and highly interested!
 
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I'm totally fascinated too... I'm glad you're guinea-pigging this process for us!! I'd love to see a pic of gobs and gobs of cocoons if you ever took one!
 
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I ran across someone else who found another book on Sericulture / Moriculture who is geeking out on mulberries. She is Eliza Greenman of "ugly apples" fame (see this permies post for more ugly apple links).

Eliza's Instagram image from a Moriculture book which apparently is titled Illustrated textbook on Sericulture, translated to English from Japanese.
With the photo, Eliza writes:

I'm in so deep with mulberries, there is no saving me. There are, like, hundreds of different harvest methods to learn for harvesting #mulberry leaves at different times of the year for different nutrient levels suited to the life cycle of the silk worm and your site. Moriculture/Sericulture is the most evolved and sophisticated human- [perennial] plant relationship I have ever encountered. Every pomologist should study mulberries, as everything I know about apples was covered in the first 10 pages of this book. #hogtree #agroforestry #silvopasture #mulberryfedmonogastric


Here's Eliza's blog:  https://elizapples.com/. I think she mentioned writing a book on mulberries! In a social media conversation, Loren Luyendyk of http://sborganics.com/, also mentioned writing about mulberries.
 
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I was looking around, trying to find information on how to get my tussah silk to dissolve better, (in the lye, for my soap making) and somewhere in that world-class rabbit hole, came across this kit. It's 9 forms of silk, just to play & experiment with. I know I'd love to have it - or something like it, but thought, "I'd rather share the idea with r. ranson, and see if she might like the idea, as part of her cottage industry! I'd rather buy it from her, anyway!" So, here's a marketing idea for you, lol:
https://woolery.com/silk-fiber-fun-kit.html
 
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Did you ever try processing any of the cocoons ?  ANd are you going to do this again this year ?
 
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I didn't process this batch yet, but I've processed silk cocoons into hankies before and it's easy, if stinky.  

Definitely growing more silkworms this year.  The plan is to stagger the hatching so that it has less pressure on the mulberry trees.
 
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Hi r ranson. I’m totally fascinated by your silk worm experiment. How much mulberry leaves did you need to feed your worms? I’m trying to understand the worm/leaf ratio in terms of feed. Also: would any kind of mulberry do, or do they need specific varieties? I happen to live in a region where they used to grow silkworms in the Middle Ages here, and there are still mulberry trees growing wild in the forest as a result of that industry. I was thinking of trying to grow some mulberries from of those trees. Could that work?
 
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The literature says that alba leaves are best for silkmoths.  But by the end, I was feeding them any variety I could get my hands on.  I think the alba recommendation is because the leaves are so big and tender for the early stages.  But I don't think it's a hard and fast rule.  Like only using paste tomatoes for making pasta sauce - yes, paste tomatoes are best, but when I'm hungry, I'm not that fussy about tomato type.  

I don't have good numbers on the leaf to worm ratio yet because I ended up getting something like 500+ worms instead of the 100-200 I thought I was getting.  It was all I could manage to keep them alive and quite a few didn't make it because I ran out of leaves.

This year I'm planning on making a separate dish with just ten worms and weigh the leaves.  That should give us a baseline to guess how much we need. That's the plan.  I don't know if it will survive my attempt to make it a reality.  
 
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Raven, how many trees do you have for those 500 worms? How many times per year can you remove leaves? How fast do they grow?

I live in a dry place and mulberry trees grow here. I am also interested by eating some worms and feeding hens, but I want to know if it is worth it! Maybe mealworms and BSF are better for hens, and silk worms for me and having silk!

Also, I could not get quickly how much time between hatching and making the cocoon.... it seemed like a month no more?
 
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I had 6 young trees of their second year in the ground here, only three years old total.  I also have two older trees that aren't doing well due to their location and another dozen one-year-old trees.  

I needed at least three times that.  But the trees are growing well and I coppiced the older ones this year so I'm hopeful we can raise 3 batches of 100.

It can be as fast as one month, but up to six weeks depending on temperature and food quality.
 
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I was so excited that the leaves are almost big enough to get the eggs out of the fridge and see if they survived.  The only problem is that last year it was way too cold when I did it, I had to keep the heat on.  So I cam here to find out when I started and wow!  it was a month away!  oh, man.  Another month of waiting?!?

But I haven't been idle.
Last year I took cuttings from the twigs left over by the worms and got a pathetic strike rate of 5%.  But I got six new plants and they went in their final home yesterday.  I coppiced several of my larger bushes and pollard one of them.  The rest I left leggy.  I'm going to see which produces best, but I am hoping for pollarding in the future as the geese enjoy eating young mulberry shoots.
 
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I took my silkmoth eggs out of the fridge today.  
 
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