The Secrets of Raising Silkworms

If you're seeking an unusual hobby or part-time pursuit, consider raising silkworms—one of the world's most profitable insects after honeybees.

  • 057 raising silkworms 2 bag of pupae.jpg
    The product of a successful season raising silkworms. That paper grocery bag holds about 10,000 cocoons, each composed of 600 to 1,000 yards of thread—enough to produce about 5 pounds of raw silk or about 30 pairs of silk stockings.
  • 057 raising silkworms 4 stretching silk thread.jpg
    Marry Stock demonstrates a method of rolling waste silk into a strand.
  • 057 raising silkworms 1 life cycle.jpg
    The tiny black spots on the tissue are eggs, which will hatch into silkworms (shown munching on a mulberry leaf) in about three to ten days. After 30 days of grazing, these critters will encase themselves in robes of silk, producing cocoons a little larger than a quarter. Silkworm farmers may kill the fat, brown pupa (on the paper towel) that inhabits the cocoon, or allow the chrysalid to hatch into the silkworm moth (again, perched on the leaf). Such adults will soon mate, reproduce, and die ... thereby completing their life cycle (the entirety of which is shown in this photo!).
  • 057 raising silkworms 3 stretching silk thread.jpg
    Marry Cook skillfully spins a cocoon into thread.

  • 057 raising silkworms 2 bag of pupae.jpg
  • 057 raising silkworms 4 stretching silk thread.jpg
  • 057 raising silkworms 1 life cycle.jpg
  • 057 raising silkworms 3 stretching silk thread.jpg

If you're tired of the same old arts-and-crafts scene and looking for an exciting, different part-time pursuit, give some thought to the inexpensive, mysterious, Oriental practice of raising silkworms (aka sericulture or silkworm cultivation).

The knowledge needed to raise such tiny "livestock" has been handed down from generation to generation for centuries. Today the silkworm ranks with the honeybee as one of the world's most profitable domestic insects.

Mary Stock (who lives in Canton, Ohio) started a silkworm farm more than four years ago, and she's been kind enough to share her knowledge with MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers. In ancient China, revealing such silkworm secrets would probably have resulted in death by torture, and—even today—printed matter on the subject is hard to come by—most available texts are written either in highly technical terms or in Oriental languages!

The Egg and You

Ms. Stock says that—in sericulture at least—there's definitely no question about whether the moth or egg comes first. It's the egg every time, and these "silkworm seeds" are very difficult to find. In fact, so few folks raise the little silkmaking machines nowadays that Mary had to do a good bit of searching before she located a supplier—Marguerite Shimmin of Pasadena, CA—and bought 200 eggs from that lady for $2.00. It was all the money Stock had to invest to get her start in the silkworm business.

There is, however, one other requirement for successful sericulture: a ready supply of mulberry leaves. The most important variety—as far as hungry silkworms are concerned—is Morus alba, the white-fruited mulberry of China. This is a hardy tree that will grow in almost any soil, and worms fed on its leaves are said to produce the finest silk. Another popular species is the Morus nigra, or black-fruited mulberry, which is native to Italy and produces berries that make a great syrup or pie. You'll find, however, that the caterpillars will munch away on any kind of mulberry leaves you happen to have on hand.

Three-year-old trees produce the best feed for silk production, and a healthy mulberry should yield from 20 to 30 pounds of leaves during the time your worms are in their growing stages. (That's about enough greenery to supply 100 wrigglers with chow for the 30 days—more or less—that they'll need food.)

9/1/2019 7:10:09 PM

White mulberry is an invasive species that is crowding out our native red mulberry. A neighbor has a white mulberry and I am constantly pulling up saplings as the seeds are spread far and wide by birds and will take root anywhere and everywhere. These non-native invasive and aggressive species are a huge problem and yet people still promote them with no regard to the devastating impact they have on native habitat. Sad.

10/25/2018 12:38:09 PM

i need the silkworm as i live in Pakistan and don't know from where to get it?

8/3/2017 11:56:36 AM

Does anybody know of a virus that caused painted lady pupae to rot/disintegrate, back in early 2000's.



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