Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A hundred million cocoons.

There comes a time in the life of a silkworm (if he has not already succumbed to pebrine or other vermin) when he feels compelled to climb. Silkworms climb as high as they can, and last year, when I kept silkworms of my own, I found they would would frequently climb out of their tank, and sometimes out of the airing cupboard altogether. It is as though, at this stage, the silkworms are remembering what it is to be wild.

The solution the southern Chinese silkworm farmers have invented is ingenious. Whereas other people simply put in branches or rolls of paper, these farmers have developed special purpose-made supports. They are held vertically and lowered so they are close enough for the silkworms to reach.

Then, since cell in the support is the perfect size for a silkworm's cocoon, the silkworms generally start spinning exactly where intended.

What is left behind on the floor is silkworm litter - a mess of half-eaten mulberry leaves, silkworms that for some reason either didn't start to spin a cocoon (or gave up once they did) and silkworm chaff.

This is useful. It can be used to fertilise soils or can be fed to fish.

After a couple of days the cocoons are ready and have to be removed, and Wang led me to another house in the village

Inside a group of villagers were quietly and intently working. Removing silkworm cocoons is an oddly satisfying task, I found (although maybe after the first few thousand I suppose it may lose some of its appeal). It is the sort of pleasant and useful sort of thing you can do while chatting to friends

or maybe when there's something good on the television

or sometimes when you prefer to be alone - entertained, perhaps, with memories.


Blogger Kay McKenzie Cooke. said...

I have found the records you post of your trip to China make absorbing reading Clare. Just love how you tell it! Thank you.

Thu Mar 04, 12:51:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

And thank you for reading, Kay! It's very kind of you.

Thu Mar 04, 01:23:00 am  

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