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

 
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two worms hatched this morning!
 
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     I have long wanted to raise silk worms.  But from some of the information I have read Silkworms will only eat the leaves of the white mulberry tree (Morus alba), or will only really thirve well from the white. If given the leaves from black or red mulberry many will die or be much smaller.   Too much confusing info out there.
    And we are band from growing them  around me. Or at least it is strongly discouraged.  They are considered invasive and not allowed because they do not want them to cross polinate with native varitites.   I would not really want that either since I really like the red mulberries.  Although I have read both have good yet distinct flavors.
    Has anyone actually raised silk moths on mulberries other than the white (Morus alba)?  
 
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I have about 6 kinds of mulberry.  the worms don't seem to care which one they eat so far.

my white ones weren't big enough to provide much food last year.  Time will tell if it makes a big difference, but I suspect it is one of those things that have grown into mythic status by being repeated so often, people stopped not doing it.
 
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My little guys are coming along nicely.

For the first batch (yes, that means more than one), I counted out 50 eggs.  They are up to 9 leaves a day and growing rapidly!

Yesterday I took some more eggs out of the fridge.  I measured out 1/8 tsp.  I might have too many.  
 
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r ranson wrote:I have about 6 kinds of mulberry.  the worms don't seem to care which one they eat so far.

my white ones weren't big enough to provide much food last year.  Time will tell if it makes a big difference, but I suspect it is one of those things that have grown into mythic status by being repeated so often, people stopped not doing it.



Thanks for letting me know.  When Iget a place where I can grow some mulberries, among other things ... I will be trying this.   Good Luck with all your doing!!!  Take Care.
 
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Ok, so I have long wanted to create my own yarns from scratch, and to that end have at least looked into all that is involved to do so from animals like sheep and alpaca. I'm now thinking I want to get into angora rabbits for the limited space requirements and ease of getting the raw fibers. I'm getting older and don't think I could manhandle a larger animal for it's fiber. But now I see that r ranson is raising silkmoths and this intrigues me. I am very familiar with mulberry trees as we have a mostly fruitless variety that is planted around here in droves, pruned hard each year and basically useless for anything but shade and a source of compostable leaves. I have learned that mulberry is also a good food source for ruminants like the goats we hope to have in the future. But....

Just how the heck does one process silk? I have yet to look into this but figured I might inquire within here. And if I only need some mulberry trees, that could prove just "too easy". So, please, either direct me to a more appropriate thread, or educate me here!!

I will say up front that at the moment my situation is minimal, in that I live in a tiny mobile home in a park in a city in southern california. Soon enough that will be changing to relocating to western WV on some acreage, with the plans of chickens, ducks, goats, bees, likely some cattle eventually, maybe some fish in a stocked artificial pond, and my angoras. But there is so much to learn ahead of the move, to be prepared at least somewhat, for the critters and their needs.

Thanks in advance.
 
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Cindy Haskin wrote:Ok, so I have long wanted to create my own yarns from scratch, and to that end have at least looked into all that is involved to do so from animals like sheep and alpaca. I'm now thinking I want to get into angora rabbits for the limited space requirements and ease of getting the raw fibers. I'm getting older and don't think I could manhandle a larger animal for it's fiber. But now I see that r ranson is raising silkmoths and this intrigues me. I am very familiar with mulberry trees as we have a mostly fruitless variety that is planted around here in droves, pruned hard each year and basically useless for anything but shade and a source of compostable leaves. I have learned that mulberry is also a good food source for ruminants like the goats we hope to have in the future. But....

Just how the heck does one process silk? I have yet to look into this but figured I might inquire within here. And if I only need some mulberry trees, that could prove just "too easy". So, please, either direct me to a more appropriate thread, or educate me here!!

I will say up front that at the moment my situation is minimal, in that I live in a tiny mobile home in a park in a city in southern california. Soon enough that will be changing to relocating to western WV on some acreage, with the plans of chickens, ducks, goats, bees, likely some cattle eventually, maybe some fish in a stocked artificial pond, and my angoras. But there is so much to learn ahead of the move, to be prepared at least somewhat, for the critters and their needs.

Thanks in advance.



You might want to buy some silk moth pods/cocoons and try doing those first before you go to all the process of raising the silk worms and see if you enjoy Making silk fiber.   YOu can soak the pods and then they come aprt easier. This degums the cocoon.  The hard part that protected the silk worm.
    I have a small electric spinner and have done it this way  you can also make batts out of the pods and either use the batts or spin those as well.   You can also just get a drop spindle if you want to try a traditional method. There are many youtube vids out that can show you the process.    I believe I got my silk cocoon on etsy.   You can also just get silk fiber and see if you like spinning that. IT is a little different than spinning wool.  And I like to combine them also.  There are silk Hankies/thin batts   to spin from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVD4Fdf-w3U    
You can get the pods/cocoons without the silk worm in it.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_OpFgQ4HTk...  hers still has the worm in it       , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fodb-MHWmrY
The silk worms do not have to be killed to use the silk cocoons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDE1kgUIFls    you can let them hatch and then use the podsThere are a
  There are also vids to show you how to dye the fiber. either as roving or in hankie form or as yarn after spun.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yht3OhektYg ,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRbSOsBxITI

Goo luck with what ever you choose to do. There are many more vids out there an some books as well.
 
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r ranson wrote: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.  



Good to know that. I raised silkworms many times when I was a kid.  Almost every kid had some silkworms to raise and we knew the location of every mulberry tree in town. Every time I was so fascinated to see them molting or weaving cocoons. When I went to college, one day I talked to my dormmates and was surprised to find out they never raised silkworm in childhood!  So I asked my friend in a different university specialized in agriculture to send me some eggs. I easily located several mulberry trees in the campus and raised dozens of them in the dorm. There was no AC or fridge so I managed to keep leaves fresh in wet sands. Anyway, I made it to the end with a bunch of beautiful golden cocoons.

It was very fond memory and I wanted my children to have the fun too. I planted two paki mulberry last year for this purpose. If the silkworms also eat local red mulberry leaves besides alba then it will be much easier for me.

Thanks for sharing and keep us posted.
 
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My first batch are starting to cocoon - 5 weeks!  A week late.  But they did have a cold start.

My second batch is scaring me already.  They are only on their second instar and wow!  I have way too many worms.  

Not sure if I should just kill the extras now so I have enough mulberries to feed the rest to maturity or ...?
 
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Cindy Haskin
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r ranson wrote:I was wondering how long it takes for each stage - I found this fun picture:



So, according to this image, you should be able to raise several generations in a single summer? Assuming there is plenty of food. (I'd like to see this beetroot silk someone else mentions.)
I haven't read the entire thread yet, so I don't know if you have managed another batch from your adults, assuming you allowed some to complete their life cycle. I've already learned that one loses 80% of the "harvest" to allow the adult moth to eat it's way out. I think I would have to allow perhaps 2 dozen out of 200 to have the chance at breeding to keep the supply coming without another purchase of fresh eggs, though maybe after a few generations one would want to introduce some new blood.

On with my self-education of so many new concepts here on Permies.com!! So far, all the fiber art skills I am learning feel just so very right to my hands and my soul and I look forward to learning to grow and spin my own fibers. One can't go without clothes out in public, so when the SHTF and it's TEOTWAWKI, someone will need to have the skills to pass along. I hope it will be one of my grandchildren that I can pass my learning on to!!!
 
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Yes, you can do more than one cycle a year if you have the mulberries.  I'm taking a chance and hatched out a second set of eggs so that they are about 3 weeks behind the first batch.  It's going great so far.

As for letting the moths hatch.  I'm of two minds on this.  I know there's a lot of talk on the internet about the poor moths being killed/stifled. But... Oh, I don't know how to say this.

Things in my mind
- if we let the moths hatch, then the moths die a conscious and slow death by dehydration.  NOT a nice way to die.
- stifling takes active effort from the human so I can see why this seems like murder and why people would worry about it.
- stifling happens during a dormant stage while they aren't 'awake'
- stifling is quite a quick death compared to starvation/dehydration which is their natural death.
- how many people who complain about killing moths haven't eaten food grown in industrial agriculture or worn clothes that aren't made locally by hand?  I think maybe there are bigger losses of life going on that would be worth investing energy into improving.

But you know, it's a difficult decision and each person has to choose their own path.
 
Cindy Haskin
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In thinking about what I would transfer my little silk caterpillars to for them to cocoon on/in, that maybe I make from scratch,  what does anyone already doing this think of woven branches (maybe mulberry), vines (think grape)? What is the important attributes of this bit of equipment? I'm seeing a lot of split bamboo basketry.

My purpose for planning to keep so many to adults is the base breeding population. Wider range of admittedly a restricted genetic range... thoughts?

I have no problem "stifling " pupae for increased harvest. Creating hankies to sell seems well worth the effort. Its going on my list of skills to acquire in the near future.
 
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Last year I used egg cartons.  This year I'm trying an old steamer to see if it makes it easier to keep the poo off the silk.
 
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Cindy Haskin wrote:In thinking about what I would transfer my little silk caterpillars to for them to cocoon on/in, that maybe I make from scratch,  what does anyone already doing this think of woven branches (maybe mulberry), vines (think grape)?



Bundles of straws would work too.
 
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Today I tried making silk hankies out of the hatched cocoons but it wasn't a great success.  I need to make some modifications to my frames and it took a long time to simmer before the silk started to get soft.  The pre-soaked cocoons were better, but I think the big issue is that I was using just water and no soap or alkali.  The results were very stiff when dry.

 
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I know that was probably frustrating, but I learn so much from you sharing your learning processes! Thank you!
 
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The weather has fallen and it's less than 70F for most of the day.  So I've had to move the worms into my bedroom and turn on the heat.  IN JULY!

I wish there was summer.  
 
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Okay, I think I have about a thousand worms who have just entered their final eating instar.  It's like living the book Hungry, Hungry caterpillar!
 
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Is it possible you source some mulberry leaves locally, like posting on craigslist?

Btw, the mulberry leaves (not for fruit) growers in China do the pruning in late Dec to early Jan. They also use other techniques like bud thinning and topping to shape the trees and control height.
 
Cindy Haskin
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R Ranson - any updates on the silk worm front? I realize that they are likely hibernating in their little egg casings if you have anything going on at the moment. Will you be continuing your venture later this year? This is really something I want to do after I get to WV and get some mulberry trees planted and going! I've been looking into your source for the eggs and her other products. She will be quite close to my eventual landing zone!!
 
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Definitely still on for this year!

Spent much of the winter observing my mulberries.

Learned a lot about how not to store cocoons - Things happened and I didn't take enough care at the drying stage.  So I get to learn if it's possible to rescue them.

Very excited for this year!  2021 is giving me a lot more time to focus on fibre arts than I've had in years.  
 
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Something I am considering is selling eggs within Canada.  
Is there any interest?  

I need to look into what licencing and other stuff I need to know.  
 
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I'd be interested if I could figure out some way to feed them lol. Never seen a mulberry tree here in Calgary, I'm assuming its a little too cold for them.
 
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I woke up this morning excited about silkworms.

It's so far away until the mulberries leaf out.  But I have plans.  Oh YES!

I want to grow enough this year for selling.  And just look at all the things they sell on ETSY - https://www.etsy.com/ca/search?q=silkworm
 
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SO CUTE!!!

https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/782670245/silkmoth-art-poseable-toy-felted





It's amazing what people can do with needle felting.
 
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How much do silkworms eat?

One of my tests is “how much do they eat”. My batch of 11 worms, nearing their final week, are eating 2 to 3 large leaves (about 4” across, 6” long) 6-8 times a day. I check in on them every couple of hours.

Say 3 leaves times eight…24 massive leaves a day. Maybe 30 medium ones. That would be about 50 leaves of my regular mulberries.
 
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First batch
Eggs out of fridge June 17th
First hatch June 27th
First cocoon July 22nd
 
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Batch 1: just about finished cocooning.  Anyone not in a shroud by this afternoon is getting fed to the chickens.  

Batch 2: very poor hatch rate as I used mostly 2019 seed/eggs.  But most of them are in their second instar.

Batch 3: I just got out 3/16th of a Teaspoon of seed out of the fridge.  Biggest batch yet.  Not sure if I'm crazy.  But there are lots of mulberry leaves still on the trees.

I am going to have to start watering the mulberry trees if only to wash the dust off the leaves.  It's very dry and dusty.  They also get some soil water every day when we rinse out the chicken water up hill from the trees.  
 
Cindy Haskin
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So 10 days to hatch, then 3-4 weeks of voracious mulberry leaf consumption before a week of cocooning up.

How long before you perform the "harvest" ritual?
 
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Cindy Haskin wrote:So 10 days to hatch, then 3-4 weeks of voracious mulberry leaf consumption before a week of cocooning up.

How long before you perform the "harvest" ritual?



Good question.  Memory says about 5 days, but I need to look it up again.  I'm not too happy that I'll be having the oven on during the heat wave, so I might have to do them at night.  

I would go with 3-5 weeks for the consumption of mulberries - from what I've seen so far.  The weather has a huge effect and the number of worms per bin.  The ones where I had 10 worms in a bin were ready almost a week earlier than the ones hatched the next day.  
 
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From here http://www.wormspit.com/bombyxsilkworms.htm

Cocoons should be stifled after the worms have changed to pupae (about 6 days after the start of spinning) but before the moths would begin to hatch (about 2 weeks after spinning). Hatched cocoons can be used for spun silk, but are no longer useful for reeling. Reeling produces the most regular, lustrous, and desirable silk.



and

First, the blaze is separated from the cocoons. This is the first thread that the worm spins when beginning the cocoon. It is called cocoon strippings, blaze, floss, or keba. It is useful in making spun silk. Any cocoons that are soft, stained, or irregular are sorted out. Some will be discarded, others will be added to the silk used for spinning.

The way that I prefer to stifle the cocoons is to bake them in a 180'F oven for 30 - 40 minutes, and repeat the treatment a couple of times over two or three days to fully dry the cocoons. If your oven won't go below 200'F, be careful that the cocoons don't scorch. It is also possible to freeze the cocoons to stifle them, or to place them in hot sunshine. The reason that I prefer the oven, is that it dries out the pupae so that they will not rot and smell bad. They do tend to smell, but the smell of the under-baked ones is really rank. If you choose freezing, make sure to keep them frozen until it's time to reel them. For information on how to reel the silk, click here. April 21, 2004. The stifled cocoons should be stored in mesh or fabric bags, not in sealed plastic, to help prevent molding.



Wormspit really is the best resource for all things silk on the internet.  
 
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Lol! Who ever would have thought moth copulation would be CUTE???
 
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This guy is interesting.  Cleaning his moth bin and talking about moriculture


 
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r ranson wrote:First batch
Eggs out of fridge June 17th
First hatch June 27th
First cocoon July 22nd


first adult moth Aug 5th
 
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today
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Cindy Haskin
pioneer
Posts: 210
Location: So Cal - Inland Empire
45
foraging rabbit books fiber arts medical herbs homestead
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Will you be allowing some to breed and lay eggs for next year?
 
If you have a bad day in October, have a slice of banana cream pie. And this tiny ad:
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/45/pmag
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