We recently visited Australia’s first commercial silk farm. The relatively new Margaret River Silk Road business is owned by Rob and Amanda and they are currently producing about 20,000 cocoons. Although not enough to be a sustainable business yet, they are continually expanding and hope to double their cocoons in the next twelve months.
Mulberry trees are grown in a hothouse type environment, allowing continual production of leaves throughout the year.
The first stage of silk production is the laying of silkworm eggs when the females lay about 300 eggs at a time.
After about 10 days of incubation the eggs hatch into larvae about 1 cm long. After about six weeks of feasting on mulberry leaves the larvae grow to about 10 cm, during which time they shed their skins four times.
The silkworm is now ready to spin its silk cocoon and are placed into boxes with compartmented frames. Here the silkworm spins its silk filament creating a cocoon around itself. Sericin, a liquid secretion, is also produced and this strengthens and protects the very fine threads.
After a time the silk moths hatch from the cocoons, reproduce and lay their eggs and so the cycle begins again.
The different coloured cocoons are produced by different species of silkworm.
The cocoons are then sent overseas to Cambodia to a silk mill where the cocoons are boiled, coloured, spun and woven into fabrics.
A lovely range of garments, scarves and accessories are sold in the shop.
As the silkworms only eat the leaves, the mulberry fruit is made into yummy jams and chutneys.