Monday, 27 September 2010

The Silk Worm Diaries - chapter one:

silk worms of the Chinese Oak silk moth

Begun this day, Monday 27th September; each chapter will appear as a weekly installment. The catalyst is my crazy spur-of-the-moment decision made yesterday at the Malvern Autumn Show to make my own silk-paper to incorporate into tiny fabric keepsakes. For the prologue to this project, please refer to my journaling blog - yesterday's post on purchases (final paragraph). From that you will see how one thing led to another and I am now the proud owner of twenty silkworms; not exactly a silk-worm farmer (yet) and if I ever arrive at the silk production stage, it will be a miracle.

you can just see the tiny 'Eri' silk worms in the lower box

Well, they survived the night in their plastic boxes within the confines off the motorhome cab. This morning they appeared totally comatose and I could not tell if they were alive or dead. They certainly weren't moving, nor eating the leaves that had been supplied with them; privet for the beautiful Samia ricini (Eri silk moth) and hawthorn for the less exotic-looking Antheraea pernyi (Chinese Oak silk moth).

the Eri silk moth (can be fed on privet) - more beautiful than this in real life
and the Chines Oak silk moth which can be fed on hawthorn, amongst other UK hedgerow plants

Back home, after feeding Raymond (husbands come first), and then the hens, I prepare a new home for the older and larger Oak moth - from now on I'll refer to it as that. I plod down the garden in the rain to cut hawthorn twigs, ploughing through a forest of wet nettles and goose-grass that deposit their clinging burrs onto my jersey. The clipped twigs are inserted into a jar of water, plugged with kitchen towel so the caterpillars (worms) do not fall in and drown themselves. Over this I place a defunct liquidiser jug and stand the whole contraption on the window cill. I transfer the torpid creatures onto the new leaves. They are supposed to eat themselves into cocoon stage within six weeks; I hope the hawthorn leaves in our hedgerow have not all dropped by then or I will have wasted my investment.

Just hope these 'oak' worms don't escape!

The Eri caterpillars are so tiny and look completely shrivelled. They go into a larger plastic sandwich box with fresh privet snipped from under a dripping willow that deposited water down my neck. That box too is placed on the window cill. The mustn't get too hot; little chance of that; our kitchen is always icy cold, even in the depths of summer. Half an hour after moving the thread-like creatures into their new home, half of them have migrated onto the fresh privet stalks. There are supposed to be 20 but I can only count 14; I don't intend to investigate. The 'oaks' have either found an appetite or prefer their semi-unconfined surroundings for they look as if they intend to go walkabout (which the man assured me they would not, unless they are hungry). Maybe they don't like my hawthorn; they stick their faces into the air and sway from side to side, as if mesmerised, but do not seem to be eating. I think I had better swathe their feeding jug in fleece or muslin overnight for there's no knowing where they might end up in this rambling house if they decide to migrate. I only have ten of these; can count eight ???

I'll be adding to this diary regularly, detailing how things progress; and hopefully - eventually - reporting the production of my first silk. Meanwhile, I guess the internet will reveal more on the care of silk worms. I just hope I am more successful than I was aged seven with my classroom mulberry/lettuce gobbling silkworms in 1944! It's two hours since the worms had their new home and time to prepare our own supper, but hurrah - they're all eating theirs: the 'Oaks' dispersed amongst the foliage, the 'Eris' clumped together as a crowd, one whole privet leaf consumed. And with all these mouths to feed, we dare not go away again!


  1. Oh, how interesting! We will be following to see how your silk worms progress.

  2. I think this is an utterly unique project. I had to smile at the container with its "microwave safe" designation!
    In my house any insect which is unwitting enough to come in from outside is stalked by my cats. I hope your silkworms don't escape. I suppose they don't eat houseplants...? Or make holes in clothes?

  3. I have just had a catch up of your blog wonderful ...those moths are amazing. I haven't done anymore on my FH blog but keep up with my week by week one. I am really boring as I have never changed my format since I started ... others seem to change every few months ..Im not good with change.

  4. It will be interesting to see how your silk worms progress. We had stick insects when the boys were young. We kept them in an old glass aquarium with a muslin cover, as they were good at escaping! They chewed their way through masses of bramble and rose leaves.

    We tried to grow a young King James Mulberry, but it gave up the ghost after a few years. A shame as they are beautiful trees and I was keen to try some silkworms.

  5. Dear Ann,
    I will be following your Silk Worm Diaries with great interest...I felt I was there, you so nicely described the gathering of greenery and all that you had to do for the silkworms. It is all very fascinating. As I sit here in my kitchen in the Virginia countryside, I am thinking of your kitchen in England with the little places you have setup for your silkworms...and wishing you all success and good days.

  6. What an unique undertaking! I'll be following this with great interest. Oh, and I, too, they don't escape! ;-)

  7. This is really beyond cool...will have to check in and see how it goes. Fascinating.

  8. An award from you - from Susan not at SuNpoursdown but my other, less frequented blog.