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 Silk Worm Culture

Silk For several years the experiment of silk culture has been most successfully tried. The mulberry tree grows luxuriantly everywhere, and the climate, except, perhaps, immediately along the coast, where cold and damp in summer, or in the mountains above the altitude of three thousand feet, is most favorable to the health and working of the silkworm. Progress in the culture and manufacture, however, has not been commensurate with the importance of the matter or the seeming profits claimed for such enterprise. Under the stimulus of a bounty offered by the State, a number of agriculturists entered upon the production of mulberry trees and the rearing of silk-worms, and their success was highly marked. One of these reported that he fed the leaves from throe and a half acres of land covered with two-year old morus multicaulis trees, grown where they stood, from cuttings. They had been cut back, the preceding winter and spring, close to the ground, and the tops used for cuttings, so that they did not famish much over one-half the foliage they would have done had they been pruned with an eye to that purpose. The result was 485 ounces and 13½ pennyweights of eggs, sold at $4 an ounce, $1,946.70; value of eggs retained, $1,897.50; perforated cocoons sold at 75; or a total value of 13,020. The expense for labor, etc., was #472, leaving a net profit of $3,448. The feeding commenced on the 1st of June, and on the 25th of July the eggs were all made. Here is a profit of $l,000 per acre from the second year of planting the trees, and not two months' time occupied in feeding the silkworms or gathering the harvest. This, however, was at an exceptional period, when the demand for eggs in France was great and the price high, but it nevertheless demonstrated the adaptability of the country for the culture. During the month of August of the same year the same gentleman, from the same trees, fed a like number of worms of the Japanese trivoltine variety, and produced a large quantity of cocoons.

Another silk-grower, in Yolo County, reports that from the tenth of an acre of two-year-old trees he gathered 600 pounds of leaves, or at the rate of 6,000 pounds per acre. From these leaves and some he obtained from another source, he fed the worms from one ounce of eggs of the French variety. It took 1,500 pounds to bring them to maturity. They produced sixty ounces of eggs and twelve pounds of cocoons, after being perforated by the moths. These, at $4 an ounce for eggs, and seventy-five cents per pound for the cocoons, (export prices) would be worth $249. At this rate, an acre would bring $996. This was in 1859, an exceptional year, the worst ever known for the business in California. The cost of cultivating an acre of two-year-old trees, and picking and feeding the leaves to the worms from four ounces of eggs, would not exceed $200, leaving a clear profit from one acre the second year of $796.

A Sacramento gentleman reports that he fed the worms of a little less than three ounces of eggs, picking his leaves from the trees on an acre of land. Some of the trees were four years old; most of them, however, wore two. He produced 280 ounces of eggs and forty-eight pounds of perforated cocoons. The eggs were sold in the year 1869 at $6 an ounce, bringing $l,680 for eggs and $30 for cocoons, a total of $1,716. Deducting expenses of feeding, $175, it leaves a clear profit from an acre of $1,541. The experiment of silk culture has also been made at Nevada, at an elevation of 2,800 feet in the mountains, with equal if not greater success; also, in Santa Barbara, in the southern part of the State, near the sea; so we may say that the capacity of California for the production of silk is unlimited. The principal efforts of the silk culturists have been in the production of eggs, to supply the ravages of disease in Europe. That demand becoming less, and the State bounty being withdrawn, interest in the culture declined. Two silk manufactories having been established, a market is offered for cocoons, or reeled silk, and as the production is the simple work of the household, it is particularly inviting to the small farmer.

This branch of agriculture requires but little land or capital, and labor but for a few months of the year, light, and which the women and children of a family can perform. In years of drought, to which the State is subject, and which are so disastrous to the great wheat-grower and grazier, the small area required by the silk culturist can be easily irrigated, and no danger from such cause need to apprehended. The many thousand little valleys in the foot-hills of the Sierra Nevada, or of our other mountain ranges, are specially adapted to this purpose. There a fertile soil is found; irrigation, if needed, is convenient; the climate is most equable and free from severe winds; but few acres are required, and the product is as easily transported to market as was the gold which originally enriched the secluded ravines. By this moans the impoverished placers can be enriched, and from the exhaustion and disfigurement of the gold washing, made perpetually productive with that which ornaments and improves while it produces.

Such lands are open to occupation as a free gift, or purchased at a trifling cost, and ten thousand families could make comfortable, yes, luxurious homes upon them. The market for silk, or the eggs, is unlimited, and while a judicious Government protects the cultivation by a tax upon the luxuries the wealthy indulge in, so long will the production be highly remunerative. The worm in California is found to be healthy, and the silk of the best quality known. Knowing all these facts, how great is the inducement to immigration, and to our present population to enter upon this branch of agriculture! When we contemplate that the silk industry of France has risen to the value of $170.000,000 annually, and that our climate and soil is more favorable, we can appreciate the importance of the culture to California. The failures of former years, or the decline of the excitement, cannot be hold against the practicability of successful culture, as that has been fairly proven, and the importance is everywhere acknowledged.

California Gazetteer | AHGP California

Source: Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1876-78, Compiled by Henry G. Langley, San Francisco, 1875

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