Saturday, June 2, 2012

Way, way, way too many silk worms

We have raised silkworms for several years now. Enough that I mistakenly believed we knew what we were doing. But this year, we learned something new. Well, a few new things actually.

Last year was the first time we raised silkworms hatched from the eggs of our own silkmoths from the previous year. I saved several hundred eggs at least, but only a dozen or so of them hatched. I'd followed what limited instructions I could find at the library and online about how to care for and store the eggs. I thought Id done everything right. So I assumed that this was a fairly normal result. Most eggs don't hatch. Some do. I filed that knowledge away in my little brain.

Then this year, we had saved all the eggs that those dozen or so silkmoths had produced. We hoped for a little better turn out, but would be happy with a dozen or so again.

Every single egg hatched.

I looked really hard for any duds. Every tiny shell was split open. Every little catapillar emerged.

I knew it was a awful lot of silkworms, but when they are so new, they are too tiny to count, and even a lot of them don't look like much of anything. They're the size of a comma at the start. But as time went on, and they grew - and ate, and ate - and grew, it became more clear by the day that we had a problem.

We managed to find other families to take some of them when we realized we were in over our head. We should have tried harder to give away more.

For several weeks, our chore, morning, noon, and night, was finding enough food for these caterpillars to eat. I developed a thick hide about the strange looks from passersby as my kids and I attacked any mulberry tree we could get our mitts on. It really stopped being fun very early on.

Once they had gone into cocoons, I did a count. There were 652 cocoons. That's way too many for one tired mama and a couple of slightly helpful kids to take care of. In case you were wondering how many to get for yourself. Aim for closer to the dozen than the 652 mark if you value your sanity. This doesn't even include the probably 70+ caterpillar we gave away or the ones that died without making cocoons. Unfortunately, there were more of those than I would have liked, but I wouldn't be surprised if some just didn't get enough to eat in the critical bulking up stage before spinning. We spent hours every week picking leaves, and still they would disappear in minutes. So I'd estimate we probably had over 800 hatch in the beginning.

It was insanity I tell you. Insanity. Don't do that.

Naturally, after my hair turned grey and we spent a solid week with no clean clothes or dishes because every spare moment was spent taking care of hundreds of insects, my kids announce they want to raise silkworms again next year. Of course they do.

But I am carefully counting how many eggs I save this year. Maybe 50 at most.

Maybe more like 10.