George is one of my silkworms. These greedy-samas (sama is the Japanese honorific title added at the end of the name, like 'san' but with more respect) are going to help me transform leaves into cloth.
These are my very first silkworms and I want to give a shout out to Peggy at Flourishing Filaments who helped me with the research and found a way to send silkmoth eggs to Canada. At the time of writing, it is legal to import Bombyx mori into Canada and to export from the USA without a fancy certificate (but check with the government before attempting it for yourself because things change).
While researching silkworms online, I noticed that a lot of people name their worms. They grow attached to these little guys. I didn't want to feel left out, so I named them. I named all 200 of them George except for the big one, his name is Harold.
Over the last nine years, we've planted a couple of dozen mulberries on the farm. These are marvellous trees, willing to grow without irrigation (but they do grow better with), on land that wouldn't grow anything else. These perennials are willing to be bush or tree, have deep roots to combat erosion, leaves that feed all manner of livestock, including silkworms, produce a paper or cloth from their bark and are an excellent investment for timber. Oh, and they make tasty berries which are shaping up to become the next superfood in about five years.
Moriculture - the growing of mulberries - is as old as silk. We have five thousand years of history interacting with this plant. Unlike the silkworm who is wholly domesticated and dependant on humans to survive, the mulberry tree is delightfully wild. It has to be because any chemical aid we may apply to give it a boost or protect it from leaf munchers destroys the silk crop. Pesticides kill caterpillars. Silkworms are caterpillars.
Being domestic, silkworms are hugely sensitive to any changes in their diet. Even dusty or damp leaves can kill them, and the residue from car exhaust along a busy street is enough to give them the trots. Just about anything and everything in the modern world is out to kill silkworms.
Growing mulberry trees was never just about the trees. Mulberries do best when they are intercropped with other plants. Two rows of mulberry trees, a wide swath of annual plants like beans or a mulch crop, another two rows of mulberries. Tilling between the mulberries loosens the soil and allows the moisture and air to penetrate to the roots. But tilling is a lot of effort just for trees, so plant something in the freshly turned earth. The trees protect the annual crop by preventing erosion and providing shelter for helpful wildlife like pollinators and pest-eating birds.
To learn more about how to grow silkworms, check out Wormspit's article on Bombyx mori
Before I moved to the farm, I lived in the city. Right at the heart of downtown, in a cement cube with south facing windows surrounded by other people also living in cement cubes. But living in the city had its advantages.
All that concrete and asphalt absorb the heat from the sun and holds onto it. This creates a warmer climate than the rest of the area, bumping us up one or even three climate zones. In the city, we can grow things that we cannot in the surrounding countryside. Banana and palm trees are popular choices - in Canada!
What I wish I knew at the time is that we can grow cotton too. Cotton grows in the same condition as tomatoes. Cotton loves the warmth and isn't adverse to being kept in pots. In a pot, you can bring cotton inside for the winter. Another thing the city gives us that I don't have on the farm is limited daylight. Cotton is daylight sensitive so on the farm, I have a challenge getting it to set bolls this far north because our days are just too long. But in the summer, the buildings act as a false horizon, cutting off the sun from the earth early. Warmth plus limited daylength.
There are lots of other fibre crops and animals we can grow in the city. Linen can also be grown in pots so long as you don't sow the seeds to densely.
Within walking distance of my condo were several mulberry trees on public land. Two of them are in gardens specially designed for public harvest - food forest community gardens. I know more than one person who kept silkworms hidden away in their pet-free apartments (caterpillars don't count as pets, right?). They snuck out each morning, about 5am, to harvest mulberry leaves, being careful never to take too much and to always ask permission first. There was an abundance of wormfood available.
There was a great article in Spinn Off a few years back explaining how easy it is to grow silk. It was the same one that introduced me to cotton and got me wondering what non-sheep plants and animals can grow fibre in small spaces.
Don't have mulberries, try wild silk moths. There are a hundred or more different kinds of moths that produce silk and chances are some of them are native to your area. These wild silk moths produce various colours and textures of silk and in my opinion, they are even more beautiful than bombyx silk. The best thing about them is if they are native to your area, then their food can be found in abundance. Many wild silkmoths consume a variety of different fodder. The Polyphemus moth that is native to my area eats a dozen different trees, so I don't have to go hunting for mulberries. Wormspit's website is the place to go for more information on
Bunnies take up a bit more space than silkworms. Angora or any fluffy bunny produces warm and soft fibre. Comb the bunny each day and spin the fibre into lovely lofty yarn.
Wildcrafting fibre like nettles or kudzu is another option. Talk to your local parks department to see what you're allowed to harvest. This is also a good source of dye materials.
Of course, if you absolutely must have sheep, you can always try to sneak some on the roof.
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