Silk – The Fabric Of A Forgotten Culture

Recently we sent a request to advertise our Silkworms in a local agricultural newsletter. We received a curt rejection stating:
‘Silkworms are just pets for children…What do Silk-worms produce anyway?” 

Actually, Silkworms produce a lot more than just their famous Texan-Horn-and-Silk-armchairhigh value fabric which is strong, beautiful, soft and insulating.  Silk-worm pupae are also edible and the worms produce neat pellets of fertiliser.  Agriculturally speaking Silkworms definitely are ‘childs-play’. They and their hardy food source, carbon-building Mulberry trees, are very easy to grow and harvest. Silkworms are probably the most domesticated protein source on the planet.  The worms grow to 70 times their body size in just a few months. They are easy to handle using simple tools and require no fancy farming machinery.

chinese-pedlar-ming-dynasty-chicago-museumSilk was one of the first agricultural products known to man. The silk route facilitated trade from far eastern countries to the middle east and Europe as early as the dark ages. Whilst silk was quietly being made by farmers for Royal families in Asia, European hunters were chasing the brutal undomesticated forefathers of sheep, cows and horses.  Silk is still considered one of the best fabrics for high fashion products such as suits. In Asia, the trade secrets are heavily guarded and recent technological innovations have made it much easier to process the silk.

Why has Silk been forsaken?

  1. Fossil fuels now produce silk-substitutes such as nylonchicken-finds-worm and synthetic polyester.
  2. Fossil fuels have also changed the way we farm. Fossil fuels enable farmers to cheaply transport, shear and process high fibre yields from larger animals such as sheep.
  3. Many small products like silk, tea, cacao/chocolate and coffee beans are labour-intensive and hard to mechanise.

What’s So Great About Traditional Knowledge?

Gene’s can be altered but not created. Why let any genetic material be lost forever? Many people have fought to retain valuable genetic material in the hope that this genetic material will be valuable for future generations. Furthermore, it is easier and cheaper to keep producing living seeds than to store them in a seed-bank.  Bio-security controls also make it risky to move species from one bio-region to another. If you have a genetic strain in your bio-region , this strain has probably adapted to your area and could be hard to replace even if you were able to import it from another region.

In the same way we are losing gene material, we are also at risk of losing traditional knowledge.  Many ancient crafts, techniques and recipes are distant memories.

One of the most powerful principles of Permaculture is to build diversity. By encouraging diversity we broaden our options and we foster resilience in our own designs and in our community.  Silk farming is one little example of thousands of years of research and living in harmony with nature.

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10 Amazing Tree Powers

Specialist Trees

There are some amazing specialist varieties of treesDartmoor-Tree that are very powerful. These super-trees produce diesel nuts, have leaves that can burn wet, produce abundant fruit, support a web of life, a big enough to live in, provide timber that never rots, live for thousands of years, support a wild-life of fungi underground, hold the steep slopes of mighty mountains and others can communicate for miles underground.

There are at least 10 types of trees that we can depend upon: Fuel, Food, Oils, Forage, Structural, Conservation, Carbon sequestration, Soil managers, animal barriers, and Fungal & Microbial Habitat.

  1. FuelYou can choose from solid fuel and flammable leaves, bark, oil and ‘diesel’ nuts. Solid fuel from trees can be collected either as natural droppings (cones from nut pines, fallen wood) or as planned cuts (thinning, or felling of short term forest for soil creation). David Holmgren writes that solid fuels are the most useful energy resource globally because: we can plan for their harvest, they are easy to cut, require little training to use, convert easily to energy, hard to steal or vandalise, and renew themselves. Some timber ie. Eucalyptus leaves will even burn wet.Diesel and Petroleum treesburn like candles.
     http://mfujioka.web.fc2.com/diary/ph047.html
    from ◇筑波大・藤岡アングラ> ◇写真と日記

    The Brazilian tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii commonly known as Capaiba (Tupi Indian word cupa-yba) is a legume and known as the diesel tree. It can be tapped sustainably like maple trees. More powerful is Pittosporum resiniferum. This oil can also be distilled into a very pure form of n-Heptane.
    BioGas fuel can use coppiced tree material
    with animal manure for conversion of biomass via composting for methane collection.
    One of the biggest challenges for the conversion to natural energy use is finding a form that is compatible with the system we already have. Nicole Foss talks about our limitations due to the current dependence on particular forms of energy. At the moment, mankind is dependent on electricity from an aging grid network and liquid fuel or gas for transport. Biogas and other energy transition technologies allow us to convert existing equipment such as gas cookers and tractors.

  2. Food & Alcohol (more than 80% of the world’s food species came from the photo taken at australian tropical foods nursery QLDrainforest). The permaculture food forest usually intercrops fruit and layers of nut trees. We use strong food trees to support vine crops and short-lived trees act as nurse trees to maturing species. Tall evergreen trees are positioned in the shaded corner of the orchard and often used as wind-breaks.
  3. OilsThere are a myriad of herbal, medicinal, culinary and cosmetic oils from trees including Eucalyptus, olive, and Neem.
  4. Forage/Fodder. This is an excellent resource that is often overlooked by conventional modern farming. Many trees provide excellent, nutritious fodder for animals. They can be grown as living fences,(applied at Avonstour) hedges or as shade trees in the corners of paddocks. The cattle fertilise the fodder trees and the run-off is filtered well by the abundant layers of forest shrubbery beneath. Forage Examples include: Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush)
  5. Structural/Shelter – Many trees were known to be big enough to shelter a traveller. Even Plato wrote about trees too big to put his arms around.
  6. Conservation/Wildlife Habitat The preservation of habitat makes good economic sense as much as ethical sense. If nothing more, we can keep healthy forests as a bank of diverse genetic material because most of it we have not yet recognised it’s full value to us. We may be able to create clean air, water, soil and find nutrients but we can’t recreate genetic material.
  7. Carbon Sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change. Long living trees are excellent guardians of carbon. Many trees live thousands of years (including olives) however, clonal colonies of trees have the potential to be immortal. Pando, an 80,000-year-old colony of Quaking Aspen, is the oldest known clonal tree.
  8. Soil Management- able to hold banks of steep slopes, trap centuries of silt, create their own rain and micro-climate. Trees have been shown to seed the clouds to help make rain.
  9. Animal barrier systems -, Hedges can be stronger, longer lasting and more durable than fences. Not all hedges have to be chaotic, some can be trimmed to sit up off the ground, allow small creatures to pass underneath and larger animals/people and cars to stay out.
  10. Fungi & Microbe Incubation is an amazing new discovery for conversion of sugars into energy sources. Paul Stamets shows how mushrooms can save the world.

What-I-love-about-trees