Good for her, I say. Far less savory: in another tube, indications were that there had been four egg chambers, but there was only one cocoon; the other three chambers had small, dead grub-looking things in them!here
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On closer inspection, the singleton cocoon seemed dry and papery it made a crinkling noise like it was empty when I went to remove it , so I decided to open it, see what I could see. Sure enough, inside was another black, hard, dry grub. This is what Citizen Science looks like, folks! Normally, cocoons look like fuzzy, plump little raisins. I think my most interesting discovery was that every tube I opened was different. Generally speaking you are supposed to be able to ID the gender of cocoons by size: the males are small and the females large.
There are supposed to be males at the outside end with the rest towards the back being female, but by my observation, distribution was all across the board. One tube distinctly had a small cocoon all the way in the back, even though there were larger ones in the middle!
Was that a small female, or was it a male? Near impossible to know. Another time, a tube appeared to contain all females all large cocoons. At least none were close to the opening; there was a substantial air gap between mud cap and first cocoon. Almost always there was at least some air gap behind the mud cap and before the first cocoon. Actually, many times there were large air gaps no cocoons at either or both front and back, even though the tube was mud-capped.
Here we go through all this trouble to keep nesting tubes and boxes from getting wet while out in nature during the spring remember my fiasco? No I am not making this up. Stick with me here and learn as I did. Assuming you have separated all your cocoons from their nesting materials… yes, it is now time to wash them.
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Time to clean away all the schmutz — the frass, pollen mites and anything else that is not a fuzzy little cocoon raisin. What we are doing is more like organic farming. We are taking optimal care of our charges so that more of them survive to adulthood than they would in the wild. More will survive and thrive and help us and the plant world with their superb pollination skills.
But I digress. While decanting cocoons from tubes, I decided to separate out the little mud walls as I went along, and if a tube contained pollen mites or anything unsavory looking, instead of scraping the whole lot into my work pan I would flip the cocoons out one at a time, leaving the debris behind to be discarded with the tube. This sleep sac is made of silk and, you guessed it: waterproof! So you make a wash solution of 1 gallon of water to 1 tablespoon bleach.
Set a timer for two minutes, dump them in they will float , then swirl them around gently to disinfect and to dislodge as much junk as you can. When the timer goes off, take them out. A wire mesh strainer works best for getting them out in a timely fashion.
Very important next step: if you washed them in a bleach solution, you must rinse them. I ended up rinsing them twice. The bleach solution did not clean them thoroughly though it did disinfect. I strained them out, set them aside for a moment while I cleaned out the dishpan, refilled it with clear, cool water, dropped them back in and agitated them some more. After a couple minutes the water was getting gukky again I wanted clean cocoons, and they were stubbornly holding onto their frass!
Now they need to be dried. Spread them out in a single layer on paper towels. You may need to do this more than once too I did , transferring them to a fresh dry layer of toweling until enough of the main wetness has been removed and they can air dry. How long does it take for them to dry? All depends on the humidity in the room and how much water you blotted away before letting them sit.
Remember, at this stage in their lives they need to stay relatively cool. Your cocoons are now clean and dry. Time to bed them down for winter. Attention to moisture comes into play even in this last stage.
They need a little humidity, but not so much as to cause mold. And they need ventilation. They are living, breathing creatures, in hibernation but not dormant. Find a suitable container, something you can poke holes in the lid of, something that will contain the cocoons in a layer not more than two deep or so. Lay a paper towel on the bottom for them to rest on, then add a small dish into which you can place a moistened paper towel to provide humidity, something that provides a barrier so it does not come into direct contact with the cocoons.
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Store your container s of cocoons in the refrigerator, then remember to check on them every two weeks or so. Re-moisten the paper towel if it has gone dry, and inspect cocoons for mold. If you see signs of mold, Jerry recommends repeating the bleach-wash, rinse and dry steps, then repacking them to store as before.
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To satisfy my own curiosity, I spent a fair amount of time trying to count cocoons by tube and by gender. I did so as I was opening up tubes, as well as after cleaning but before storing. Whether cut or potted, herbs need water and don't like to be overcrowded. Their stems and leaves are delicate. Over-handling should be avoided to prevent damage. Pads can be rinsed with clean water 4 pads included. The carbon steel container is covered for less evaporation and can hold approximately 10 oz.
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