Something we don't often get, here!

I tried taking photos, but it’s hard to catch it:

Our second snow for the year in Dallas!

Our second snow for the year in Dallas!

You can see it a little better, when it’s moving:

The weather radio was saying we may have blizzard-like conditions in the morning, with more snow, high winds, and temps in the low twenties.  Whee!  I don’t think I’ve seen a white Christmas in Dallas since I’ve lived here.

Video from SOAR 09

When I go to a spin-in, I tend to reel silk.  I enjoy doing it, but it’s also a great way to share my enjoyment of silk with more people.

Ellen caught some video of me reeling, this is using the new Indian ReelBird reel.

AMNH: The Video

The Silk Road exhibit was SO COOL. I was able to get a couple of photos on Wednesday, when one of the exhibit folks took me on a behind-the-scenes tour, but I told her I wasn’t going to publish those. I’ll try to get the publishable photos processed soon.

In the meantime, the AMNH folks have posted the video edit – this is the video that shows every few minutes on the 48″ HD screen:

The Silk Road to New York

Chris and I are going to be heading up to New York City for the opening of “Traveling the Silk Road” at the American Museum of Natural History.   My silkworms and I were video’d this summer, and will be part of the exhibit video that visitors will see as they walk through.  We’ll be there from the evening of the 9th through the afternoon of the 12th; the exhibit reception is on the evening of the 10th.  Unfortunately, it’s an invitation-only gig, so I can’t bring friends to that – the exhibit opens to the public on the 14th.   I’m going to try to meet up with some of my fiber buds while there.  So far, we’re planning a get-together at Risotteria the evening of the 11th.  The only other thing that I know for sure is on the plan, is an afternoon visit to Habu. If you would like to say howdy while we’re there, drop me a line, and I’ll see what we can do!

Easter Egg Cocoons

This isn’t my photo, but I’m using it with permission because it illustrates so perfectly the variety of cocoons you can get from Bombyx silkworms.  There are six strains in these seven containers; they are all Bombyx mori, the colors, sizes, and shapes are genetic.  The names really only make sense to me, but starting with the back left, they are Avi’s Striped, MFW (Mulberry Farms White – before they changed hybrids), Howard’s Gold, Rosa Pink, more Howard’s Gold, Howard’s White, and Halla’s Peach.  My friend who raised the cocoons and took the photo enjoys raising the silkworms, but doesn’t work with the cocoons, so he sends them to me – and a package from him is always a welcome treat!

A variety of silk cocoons

A variety of silk cocoons

Caution: may pop

from Wikimedia Commons, photo by Oliver P. Quillia

from Wikimedia Commons, photo by Oliver P. Quillia

My long love affair with the American passionflower, Passiflora incarnata, started when I was a little kid.  When I was visiting my grandparents in Kansas, my grandpa brought me home some of these gourds that he found while out helping his farmer friend bring in the cattle.  They didn’t dry well.  Later, I found the stunning, bizarre purple flowers when riding my bike, and looked them up and learned about them.  I picked the fruits and ate them, juiced them, and made them into jelly.  The most amazing jelly I ever made was wild elderberry, with passionfruit juice substituted for the lemon.  YUM.

When I was grown up and had my own house, I discovered the many, many kinds of passionflowers that were available at plant nurseries, and I’ve raised, or at least attempted, over a dozen species and varieties.  Only a few stuck with me, more because of Dallas’s beastly hot summers, than for the winter cold.   For a couple of years, I had a good stand of the wild type, and enjoyed both their flowers and fruit.  The others that I kept going for some years were P. caerulea and P. x Constance Elliott.

When we moved to the new house, I was happy to see that it already has some small P. lutea plants – these produce a tiny green-yellow flower, but they’re cool.  I wanted to install some P. incarnata, though – and they’re not a plant you usually find in the nursery, so that meant a wander with a shovel.

I have often seen them on roadsides, and it’s an easy location to visit with a shovel and a bag.  They don’t get a chance to climb upward much, but they ramble sidelong like boysenberries.  I had thought I saw some when I was going from Old House to New House, but it’s in an inconvenient place to stop.  Today, I got my little shovel and some bags, and went visiting.

I ended up with about fifty plants, and a pound and a quarter of fruit.  I could have dug thousands without even putting a dent in the huge colony – the main limit was the number I could reasonably foresee taking care of.  The plants spread by underground runners, and they are designed such that the plant breaks off if pulled; by digging and then then turning them out, you get a tuber with the top growth.  These almost invariably grow, and are much more reliable and faster than cuttings.

The fruit, when full-sized, are roughly the size of hen’s eggs.  This batch had a lot of small fruit, I think because the hillside had been mowed and it set the plants back.  They are certainly tasty, though!  These should not be allowed to wrinkle as much as the tropical variety; they will rot.  They drop from the vine when ripe, so instead of picking them, I would lift and gently shake sections of vine.  What falls, is mine.

I’ve read (somewhere) that the fruit got its name from the fact that the vines would pop out of the ground in late spring.  They’re a hardy herbaceious perennial, coming back from the root every year.  Anyone who has harvested them, knows that the real reason for the name, is that you almost invariably tread on some of the fruit, and they make a little bang as they burst.

Inside, they are not quite as gooey as the tropical version.  The seed capsules are quite distinct, and if you don’t press them, you can handle them almost like pomegranate.  They’re DELICIOUS.  To say that the flavor is tropical, with hints of pineapple and banana, is like saying that garlic is like onion with a spicy aroma.  But you get the right idea.

The seeds are quite hard and brown-black like iron, with little dimples.   They don’t start as easily from seed as from roots, but they’re easier to share.   After I got home and took pictures, I walked the neighborhood, eating the fruit and spitting the seeds on every vacant lot.  Call me Johnny Passionflowerseed.

Let me know if you want some seeds – I’m going to have BUNCHES.

Looking for Fortune Tellers!

Sammons Center where I work is putting together a Paranormal Forum for October 30, and we’re trying to find people who will do fortune-telling for about an hour to an hour and a half… whatever format, cards, palm-reading, etc… we’ll pay $50 flat rate for the evening. I need people who can be light-hearted and relaxed about it; this is party fortune-telling, not Serious Consultations on Matters of Deep Import. I have gotten so disconnected from the Dallas pagan scene that I don’t know any of the folks who would be likely to be interested… do you know anyone you could recommend? Would you be interested in reading Tarot or palms for an hour or so?

We will have a presentation from an author who has written a book about haunted North Texas; we’re going to have a panel with him and another ghost-hunter who does investigations with all the infrared cameras; the Shakespeare folks are going to do the Witches scene from Macbeth, the Chorale is doing a medley of songs from Wicked… I don’t have all the final details on schedule nailed down yet.

Please let me know if you have anyone you could suggest who might be interested!

One caveat: I will personally be out of town for this event. I’m going to be teaching in Oregon for SOAR. I’m helping with leg-work on this, and then I’ll turn it over to other staff members.

In Print!

Yaay, it’s finally here!  The Fall 2009 issue of SpinOff has my article on raising silk.  I’m so excited.  I may have to go stand next to news-stands at local yarn shops and point to it.  IMG_9029

Things are not always what they seem in this place…

I often bring in accidental travelers when I gather leaves to feed my silkworms.  I get leaf hoppers, the occasional spider or caterpillar… and so I don’t worry too much when I notice something crawly coming out of my leaf bags.

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Today’s immigrant seemed not-quite-right somehow.  It’s a tiny little ant – or is it?  It runs like an ant… it wiggles its little antennae like an ant – but then every once in a while, its disguise slips.  It seems just a little too happy to be an ant alone – and it just didn’t move quite right.  It was hard to tell, because it’s so small and moves so fast – but eventually I got it to declare itself – I tipped my hand sideways, and it promptly caught itself mid-fall with a rapelling rope and climbed back up.

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He is SO a spider.  Perfect mimic – I really did have to catch him in the act to be sure. I’m guessing, with a brief Google search and a flip through BugGuide.net, that it’s a jumping spider called Peckhamia picata.  I think theirs is bigger, though – mine is maybe 2 mm long.

I kept him in a little plastic container so I could get some photos and to show Chris.  You can see how he built himself a little web nest:

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Voltinism

Voltinism refers to the number of broods that a silkmoth strain (or species) will have per year.  Most of the silkworm strains in cultivation are univoltine (or monovoltine) – meaning they have one brood per year, and the eggs laid by the moths of that brood will go into diapause to hatch the next year.  Some strains are bivoltine, and have one generation that overwinters, and one that has non-diapausing eggs.

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This strain from Thailand is multivoltine, meaning that it has multiple generations per year.  This makes sense in a region that has a very mild winter, and allows rearers to take advantage of the long growing season.  The first generation in spring lays eggs which hatch without diapause, and they continue to do so until the light cycle tells the worms that summer is drawing to a close, and then the moths will lay diapause eggs.  Some strains never diapause, like the Cambodians – but because of that, I wasn’t able to keep up with the strain.  I don’t have fresh mulberry in December.

The non-diapause eggs don’t mature the same way that diapause eggs do.  Instead of turning from pale yellow to brown and then gray, they stay pale yellow.  The only indication that they are fertile (and about to hatch!) is when you can see the head of the developing silkworm through the eggshell; it’s called “blue eye stage,” and it usually means you have a day or two before hatch time.

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Fortunately, these moths are beginning to get the feel that summer is fading – they are laying some diapause eggs amongst the non-diapause.  I think that this is actually the work of multiple moths, one laying diapause eggs and one laying non-diapause eggs, but I wasn’t segregating them and can’t be sure.

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The diapause eggs are tan colored, and will shift to dark gray, indicating they’re developed and in diapause – at that point, they can be refrigerated for storage until spring.