I think most people have experienced the adventure of keeping silkworms, if not personally, possibly through friends, neighbours and or other family members.
So what are these little white grubs all about and how does one go about keeping them?
These amazing creatures are a native of China and have been bred for 1000’s of years for their beautiful delicate silk thread, which they produce once they have matured.
The Silkworm when ready spins its cocoon using its fine silk thread, this silk thread can be anywhere from a white, cream to bright yellow and golden in colour.
Modern silkworms can no longer live in the natural world due the fact that they have virtually no usable wings, making them an easy target for predators.
All they need is a box with a lid. I use a large shoebox. They prefer a dark location, hence the lid.
Keep spiders away from your box and don’t use chemicals near them such as, fly spray, hair spray, cleaning products, incense, air fresheners and so forth.
Silkworms eat predominately mulberry leaves but I have heard that they will also eat beetroot leaves rendering their silk pink or a slight reddish colour when they come to spin their cocoon. They can also apparently eat lettuce leaves but I haven’t tried this with ours.
Don’t overfeed your silkworms; just add leaves as they need them. Wait until have consumed what is already in their box before adding any more.
Once they have spun their cocoon and pupated in there, they will hatch out as the beautiful creamy white silkworm moth.
The moths only live a few days and in this short time they will mate, lay a collection of eggs and then die.
Kind of sad in way that, these beautiful creatures that produce such a magical substance don’t have a more magical existence.
The eggs that have been laid will be pale yellow in colour and if fertilised successfully will turn a dark grey shortly after hatch. If you are panning to collect up the eggs the best option is to make sure you line their box with paper before they mate. This makes for easier egg collection and storing. Collect your egg-covered paper and pop into a snap lock plastic bag into a plastic container.
And then into the fridge they go. Remove your silkworm eggs 10 days before you wish them to hatch.
Harvesting the silk
This is a process for the patient. Firstly you need to simmer the cocoons in hot water.
Once they have stopped fizzing (you may have to push them down into the water with a spoon to get them thoroughly wet)
Next is finding the one thread that the silkworm started the cocoon with. I know right!! Use a toothbrush and it’s a bit like pulling apart a ball of wool with a fork in a way.
Once you find the main thread the process of unreeling is quite extensive and this where I will tell you to pop along and do some googling to see what people use and how they go about it. I am yet to take that journey again as an adult.
Be aware though that cocoons are simmered with the silkworms inside, rendering them dead.
Did you know there is more than one type?
Zebra, Tiger and White seductress are all variations of the Bombyx Mori Silkworm breed.