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Monday, 22 August 2011

Surviving the Heat

For the last 3 days we've been sweltering in heatwave conditions over here. It's been 43 and 44 deg. C. in the shade every day.  It's surprising though just how much wildlife there is around.  I found a really interesting-looking spider this morning which had made a massive web between two water butts :-

I don't know the name of this spider (maybe someone out there does?), but I call it a scribble spider because they always have a scribbly bit above and below where they sit on the web.

(Apparently, it's an argiope spider - thanks Ken!)

Then this little charmer came to have a look at me while I was watering the garden :-

There were lots of green preying mantis amongst the grass, and this one was the same colour as the house wall :-

Oh, and then this character turned up to see what I was doing :-

It's a hard life!

Luckily, he didn't notice the preying mantis, otherwise he'd have eaten them - nice juicy little snacks!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The End . . . Or just the beginning?

The project's done and put to bed
The last of the silk moths is now dead
The eggs are laid and put to rest
The Inn has seen it's final guest

The silk awaits its final spinning

It's not the end, but a new beginning :-

Hope to see you next year.

Please forgive my crummy verse
But at least it rhymes . . . it could have been worse!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sky Blue Blues

Well, the first skein, which was left in the dyebath for an hour, then hung up to air and dry, turned out a bit pale and patchy :-

The second one I left in overnight :-

Still quite pale, and lighter in places, but not as "blotchy" as the other one.

I should get another harvest of leaves later on so I'll try once more.  I'll maybe put the first skein back in again to see if I can get a darker colour.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Blue Skies, Sky Blue

This afternoon (fabulous weather - 34 deg.) I decided to pick some woad from the two plants I bought at the wool festival Le Lot et La Laine.  They'd certainly come on from having only about five leaves each.  I picked 12 oz!  The leaves were duly processed, and as I speak, the wool is sitting in the dye bath. I've decided to leave it overnight, hoping to get the most out of the dye.  Let's hope the blue of the wool will reflect the blue of the sky we had today.

Photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Eggs for Breakfast


This is her actually laying the eggs :-

This morning the two moths had separated, and, although the male was trying to latch on again, she was having none of it.  So I took him out of the box to give her a bit of peace and quiet.  Within about 5 or 10 minutes, she'd started laying lots of tiny little yellow eggs.

Lots and lots and lots of tiny yellow eggs!

Apparently, after a while, the fertile ones will turn grey.

Monday, 8 August 2011

All Change

When I checked this morning, the two moths were still attached, but an hour later this is what I found :-

The flighty little madam has swapped partners!  The first male had a black mark on it's back.  I think I'd better separate these two from the others, otherwise she's not going to have the energy to lay any eggs!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Action at Last

Well, the four moths spent all day yesterday studiously ignoring each other, so obviously they were all males.  I'd put the unhatched cocoons into a different box, and this morning when I looked, another one had hatched.  I put this one into the box with the previous four and chaos immediately took over.  All four moths were crawling around the 5th, literally like moths round a flame.

The female is the one clinging tightly to her cocoon, whilst the males throng around her :-

One by one, the males are starting to give up :-

I think the moth in the centre is trying to muscle in on the action :-

And finally, the happy couple :-

It's a messy job - look at the state of the nice clean white paper!

There are still cocoons to hatch, so who knows, tomorrow there may be more females for the remaining males.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Yes, that's "moths" plural.  When I got up this morning and had a look, there were three more.  In fact one had only just escaped from it's cocoon and hadn't plumped up it's wings.  The first one's still alive too, so at least I now know that they'll live for 3 days without food and females.

This one looks different,  it's wings aren't as developed as the other three, and the yellow stripes could be eggs.

As this was the last one to emerge, I thought at first that maybe the wings just hadn't finished plumping, but I waited a while and they're still the same.

These are definitely males :-

At the last viewing, they're not doing anything, just all sitting separately, although one of the males has just started to vibrate his wings - perhaps he can smell the female.

More later . . .

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Dyer's Chamomile

I have lots of dyer's chamomile in the garden as it has self-seeded all over the place.  I regularly pick off the flowers and dry them in paper bags then store them.  They make a really lovely bright yellow with alum.  But the one thing I'd never tried was dyeing with the leaves and stems.  Apparently it's possible to get green from them, but I didn't quite manage that, it's a sort of slightly greenish yellow.  More experimentation needed.

The silk moth is still alone - no more have emerged yet.  Yesterday I cut off the stained bit of the cocoon, and emptied out the contents :-

Lovely colour inside the cocoon.

and this is what was inside - the old skin, plus, I think the other bit is the old face from the silkworm.  They shed their faces as well as their skins.

Correction : it was the whole worm skin, all squashed up.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Beginning of the End!

Just checked the cocoons, which I'd almost given up on, and look what I found :-

My very first silk moth!  I think it's a female, for two reasons : firstly, it's fat, so probably full of eggs; secondly, it's just sitting there, very quietly, not moving much - the males flap their wings a lot and generally just fuss about. You can see the cocoon she emerged from alongside, and the brown stain is what they exude to dissolve the silk strands to enable them to escape from the cocoon.  I have no clue how long she will live without a mate, but hopefully for 3 or 4 days, as it may be that long before the others emerge.

Apparently they hatch at dawn, so she'd probably been sitting there for a couple of hours before I thought to look.

I find it absolutely fascinating and amazing that a 3" long, fat, black and white stripy worm can change so completely into something so beautiful. Don't get me wrong, I normally don't like moths in the least, especially with all the wool we have around the house, but this one is so pretty!

Keep your fingers crossed for me that the rest hatch out so she gets a mate.
I can't imagine what it must feel like to be the only one of your kind, in this location anyway.

P.S.  After searching the internet all morning for photos, I've finally decided it's a male after all.  Apparently they only flap their wings and get excited when there's a female around "scenting".

P.P.S.  The other thing I got wrong was the stain - it's not the enzyme they use to dissolve the silk, apparently it's the stuff they use to plump their wings up after they've emerged.  When they've done that, the rest is jetissoned as waste.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Lazy? Who, me?

As it's over a week since I last blogged, here is what I've been up to, just to prove I've not been completely idle.

This is gradually changing colour :-

A heap of these

were bottled yesterday for pie fillings

This . . .

is turning into this :-

This afternoon, these will be made into jelly :-

for the winter.  When my Mum was young, her mother used to make blackberry jelly each year and cook it down so it set really well.  Then they would dilute it for hot drinks when they had colds.  So I thought I'd do the same, especially as it's her jam pan I use (I'm the 4th generation to use it).

And finally, another ball of camel wool was added to the growing hoard for the sweater I promised to make for Sarah.  Only another 400g to go!

So, I'd better get on with the blackberries before they walk to the pan themselves.