S is for Silkworms
When I was a kid, springtime was the time for silkworms.
Shoeboxes and mulberry leaves became currency in the neighbourhood.
To successfully raise silkworms and thereby become one of the cool group, one required a shoebox of reasonable size. Shoeboxes were perfect because they had lids which could have air holes poked into them.
There was always someone who had, at the end of the previous silkworm season, had the foresight to seal up their shoebox tightly, so that the eggs would remain viable until the following year. These were the entrepreneurs of my childhood. They would sell these eggs to their friends at reasonable prices, and to anyone else at exorbitant prices e.g. a teaspoonful for two shillings (a whole week’s pocket money).
With a shoebox and a some silkworm eggs in hand, one then went in search of mulberry leaves, the favoured food of silkworms.
Anybody who happened to have a mulberry tree in their garden immediately became the popular kid in school. Silkworms eat voraciously. New leaves are needed everyday, so a ready source is vital. The elderly couple who lived next door to us allowed my brother and I to take the leaves from their mulberry tree to feed our silkworms with the proviso that we didn’t eat all the mulberries while we were there.
Our silkworms thrived as long as we remembered to supply them with fresh leaves.
Soon the fat little chaps would begin to spin their silken cocoons.
Then, eventually, the moths would hatch out and lay more eggs.
Nobody really knew what to do with the cocoons. Some people boiled them to get the silk off, but most of us just tried to unwind the silky golden threads from the cocoons. The aim was to get enough silk to cover an entire pencil which could then be proudly displayed on one’s desk at school.
My cousin, Greame, and I conducted experiments with different leaves for our silkworms. We were successful in getting pale green threads by feeding our worms lettuce and reddish threads by feeding them beetroot leaves. These achievements were hailed as works of genius by our school mates and afforded us hero status for a day or two.
The keeping of silkworms seems to have become less popular, maybe because people don’t have mulberry trees in their backyards anymore. It was a fun thing to do and let us see a complete life cycle in quite a short time.
All hail the Silkworm!