May 22, 2011


cup of blaze, and deblazed cocoons

 All the silkies have now started or finished their cocoons.  Whoo hoooo!!!!!  The endless feeding and cleaning rituals that have taken up 2-3 hrs of every day the last 2 weeks are over.  Now, I just have to figure out what to do with all of those cocoons.  I have started removing the blaze.  Those are the first fibers the worms spin.  They act as a support structure for the cocoon. 

I plan on selecting a few of the best for breeding and will let all of the colors emerge.  However, I am hopful that my jr. sericulturist wil be open to the idea of stiffeling most of them.  Somehow, the concept of 150+ moths emerging and doing what they do does NOT sound appealing.

Cocoon with blaze still attatched.

Variation in size and shape of cocoons.

Color Variation L-R: natural, Glowing Cyan, Magic Purple,
unknown mix of Purple and Cotton Candy or Cyan ?,
Cotton Candy

L-R natural, Glowing Cyan, Magic Purple, unknown mix of
Magic Purple and Glowing Cyan or Cotton Candy,
Cotton Candy
65 natural cocoons in a "rearing container".

May 17, 2011

Color Wheel of Silkworms and the Begining of the End

Color Wheel of Silkworms

The most recent pictures of my candy colored fellows.  I have now tried 3 different colors of chow.  Glowing Cyan, Magic Purple, and Cotton Candy.  Although, the manufacturer doesn't recommend feeding different colors of chow to the same silkworm, I just couldn't resist.  So far, none have exploded, well not unless you count the "gut dump" which is just beyond disgusting, but that is another post entirely. 

BTW, it is interesting to note the "gut dump" of the colored fellows tends to coordinate with their bodies or surprisingly, to me, is a pastel shade of their body color.  Ick!

Clockwise from center top: Cotton Candy, Magic Purple/Cotton Candy, Magic Purple, Magic Purple/Glowing Cyan, Glowing Cyan, Glowing Cyan/Cotton Candy. Natural in center.

This little guy is by far my favorite.  He makes me think of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.  I fed him Glowing Cyan for several days, then switched to Cotton Candy for a day.  It may be hard to tell in these photos, but his body is lilac, his belly periwinkle and his feet and tail are pink.  

What a sweet face.(mask)
I promise I'm not squishing him.

Again, I am not squishing him.  No matter how horrible this photo seams, he was not harmed in any way.

 The Beginning of the End

My first voyage into silkworm rearing is coming to a close.  The "big kids" are all spinning cocoons and only about 60 worms are left.  I expect most if not all of those will be ready to spin tomorrow.  

about 6-8 hrs of work

 This is one of my Glowing Cyan silkies and a cocoon that one of his Cyan buddies finished.  The color is very slight in natural light.  I still don't know if it changes under a black light, but I'm curious to find out.

Magic purple silkies are spinning up a pinkish color and the Cotton Candies are lagging behind and haven't started spinning yet.  I'll take some pictures of those later .

Glowing Cyan Silkworm and cocoon

May 14, 2011

Do you need a sure fire way to scare solicitors from your doorstep and ensure they never return?

Offer them some candy. 


Candy colored silkworms that is.

"Glowing Cyan", Au Natural, "Magic Purple"
Nope, these are not an experiment in genetic engineering gone wrong.  Nor are they the latest in a series of failed attempts by the Easter bunny's cousin, Earl, to replace Jelly beans.  These lucky fellows get their lovely hues from a special chow that has dye included in it. 

Before you go get the food coloring out of the cupboard, you should know that not just any old dye will work.  Reasearchers have spent quite a bit of effort figuring out exactly what dyes will and won't do the trick and they aren't very keen on sharing their secrets.  But you can check out these links to learn more:

If you're shaking your head thinking what a waste of time it is coloring silkworms when the world has greater problems, then put your mind at ease.  The dye passes from the silkworms into their silk resulting in silk fibers that don't require dyeing.  That translates to a savings in water, energy, time and chemicals reducing the carbon footprint of the silk industry.  Scientist are also looking into possible uses in the medical field.  Antibiotic silk bandage anyone?   

I got my exotic colored silkworm chow from Nancy at . 

I highly recommend giving her a try.  She is a super sweet lady who loves silkies,  and has been super helpful with excellent customer service and prompt shipping. 

I started my colored guys with Glowing Cyan, and Magic Purple.  At first, they wouldn't eat the colored chow.   I mixed it with their regular chow and gradually weaned them over.  Since then, I have done a few experiments with the colors and tried to keep track of how they  develop. 

The cyan color develops slower than the Purple.  It took 2 days and 1 day respectively for the worms to show a hint of color, and another 2 days for them to copletely develope. 

I also tried switching colored food after the color had developed, feeding the cyans some purple and the purples some cyan.  The cyan picked up a purple tinge after 1 day, where the purple being fed cyan took 2-3 days to develope the same color.  Those have all been fed blue for the last 2 days and the color has been constant.  I just got a batch of "Cotton Candy" /pink and will let you know how that turns out.

Silkworms on plain and colored chows:  Au Natural, fed 1 day on "Magic Purple", fed "Magic Purple" for 4 days, fed "Glowing Cyan" for 4 days followed by "Magic Purple" for one, "Glowing Cyan" for 5 days.

Checking the spinning wheel to see if it's "up to snuff".

May 5, 2011

A Wee Yeasty Beasty

Meet Henry, a.k.a. George.  This is my sour dough starter I've had for a couple of years now, but he's been around much longer.  He's actually a descendant of Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter.  You can learn more about Carl, his starter and his friends here:

Henry/George was sleeping in the garage fridge when we lost power.  Since a friend had asked for a start of the guy, I figured the power outage was the perfect time to wake him up.  He's looking pretty lively now!  Just in time to make some pita bread to go with our Greek extravaganza tonight.

Silkworm Growth Update and the "Blues"

The silkies in these pictures are the most advanced.  They have been among the first to molt and I suspect/hope will be the first to cocoon.   About 2 days ago, I tried using the Cyan colored chow with this group.  The chow is supposed to color the worms, and if fed continuously up to cocoon, it should also color the cocoons and the resulting silk.  The longer they eat the food, the more intense their color should become. 

Day 1 of the colored food was not good.  They refused to eat and as a result, did not grow.  Then, I got smart and mixed the colored and regular chows together.  They ate like champions.  Over the next few days, I will attempt to wean them over to the blue chow exclusively and see what happens.  This bunch is under the ownership of my oldest son.  Ownership means he gets to name them all.  I am calling them the Blueberry Gang since he named one of them Blueberry.

I also have a group that I am going to start on purple chow.  My daughter is the owner of that group.  I'll post pics of their progress later.

Day 16

Day 17
Day 19

One of the "Blueberry Gang" with a regular fellow on Day 19.

May 4, 2011

An Unexpected "Adventure" Part 2

Like most other families in North Alabama the morning after the storm, we found ourselves with:
  • No power (estimated to be out 4-5 days)
  • No land line phone
  • A cell phone capable of getting an occasional weak signal on a very busy network.
  • A fridge of food that was getting warmer.
  • A freezer full of thawing food. 
  • Bored and weather weary kids.
However, we were very fortunate.  We had our lives, our home, and the ability to make the best of things.

The first order of business was the fridge.  This actually went hand in hand with breakfast as we fed the kids things that were defrosting, like frozen waffles and toaster strudels.  Anything that was spoiled or not worth keeping got tossed.  Every cooler we own was filled with ice packs and the most perishable items.  Frozen veggies now served as makeshift ice packs, and prior to going into the coolers  ice was placed in large Ziploc bags just in case the situation arose where we'd need to resort to it for drinking water.  

Lunch was leftovers from the fridge.  For dinner, there was chicken breast that I'd been meaning to cook for 2 days.  To that, I added a bag of not-so-frozen veggies, and a cobbler made from a bag of not-so-frozen raspberries and blueberries. 

My dear husband dug out a fire pit, which we lined with left over pavers since the ground was so wet.  We also build a wind break from rocks and dirt.  Hubby also started a fire for me, and even though he had never made a cooking fire before, he did an excellent job.  This turned out to be a wonderful place to cook and someday I hope to make a few minor improvements to make it a permanent fire pit.

Open Hearth Cooking's answer to the George Foreman Grill.  The chicken is under the foil on a griddle.  I placed a griddle on top of hot coals, marinated chicken went on the griddle, covered by aluminum foil.  I then placed the lid from my dutch oven on top of the foil.  It still has the coals and heat from where I cooked the muffins.  The dutch oven base is off to the side cooling.  The veggies are in the mucket toward the back.

Not wanting to let hot coals go to waste, or start more than 1 fire a day, I decided to cook the next day's breakfast along with dinner.  I made banana bread and date muffins.  The kids roasted leftover Easter marshmallows as an appetizer, and we shared the extra food with neighbors.

Our hand crank radio, that proved invaluable, and date muffins.
 (The brown sugar, I sprinkled them with, got a little too "caramelized")
 After dinner, the kids provided entertainment with an improvised play.  They are masters of slapstick, but could do with some education on the importance of plot.  We set them the task of coming up with a play early in the day.  It occupied them so we could take care of things like the fridge, trying to learn the latest news from the radio, washing all the dishes by hand, and taking stock of non perishable food items.  Turns out, we had enough food to make it another 4 days if we had stayed, and the stores had not opened.   

May 2, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Child

I found this artwork on the "drawning board" on the back of our kitchen door right before we left town.    Most of the Yellow is from the previous weekend.  The big kids had tests at school and Easter.  It was a very fun weekend for them.  In Blue, is the majority of the artwork from the day of the storms.  It speaks volumes to me.

"Tornados in Madison County"

"Happy Clouds are light Purple."

I don't know if that is an ark, a boat, or our house, but that sure is alot of rain.

In Small Things Forgotten

With all the excitement/tragedy of the last few days, many less important, less urgent things have fallen to the wayside as they should.  However, now as our community is moving from emergency mode into recovery mode, I'll take a quick moment to update on a few "small things forgotten".

Most all of the silkworms have survived our powerless days.  In truth, we only had 2 days without power before escaping to family in an area unaffected by recent events.  Still, no power = no incubator and temps were quite cool after the storm.  My solution to keep our smallest family memebers safe, heat packs. The kind you use for a sore back that heat when exposed to air.  Luckily I had one in our emergency kit.

These are the oldest most advanced worms at 14 days.  They have just started their 4th instar and seem to grow by the hour.
To date, I have only had 2 fatalities.   I posted previously about having 3 deaths, then Lazarus returning to life.  Turns out another that I thought had died, also returned to life.  He has been dubbed tiny because he is the smallest of our brood and definately behind everyone even his hatch mates.

Two things are becoming abundantly clear to me. 
1. My skills as a coroner are rubbish!
2. The zombie theory is starting to sound less far fetched.

  The second and most recent death was the result of an injury as we returned home yesterday.  My husband accidentally dropped the incubator.  About a dozen silkworms in an open container went flying across the floor.  Which was problematic as they blend into the carpeting very well.  We spent some time trying to find them all.  My husband was very upset with himself.  While I am sorry the little guy didn't make it, I am amazed that I have as many as I do still living. Last rough count was about 160.  YIKES!  :o)

May 1, 2011

Let their be Light!

Whoo hoo!  Today we came back home to tough it out in hopes the power might be back tommorrow night.  We left the kiddos with their grandparents.  As luck would have it, 20 minutes after we got back home, power was restored to our neighborhood. 

Thank you TVA and and all those who are helping us out.  We saw utility workers from near and far hard at work on the way back into town. 

Unfortunately, most of the folks in the area are still without power tonight.  And many are without homes and loved ones.  They are in our thoughts.