Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Composting Worms "Worm Tea or Leachate"?

Freedom of speech?  I can't morally write what I'm thinking about worm bins with drain spigots. Suffice to say it makes me sick to see this sort of thing being marketed as educational.

So a worm farmer helped to design this contraption?  Wow. 

Here is a perfect example of "in my opinion" of a poor worm system and the operating/care instructions.  Aside from everything else, I'm going to focus on the drain spigot and its use.

To start with, their definition of "Worm Tea" is wrong. They say to pour water in the unit and through the castings which runs out the spigot.  This is leachate, not worm tea.

Leachate is any liquid that drains from worm bedding.  It contains nutrients, so does sewer sludge.  Leachate can/may benefit garden plants, it can/may also kill them and can/may contain harmful, disease and sickness causing pathogens that are anaerobic microbes which thrive in low-level oxygen mediums such as a saturated worm bin.  Leachate, in my experience and opinion is only good for one prohibit healthy wormery reproduction so that the worm population dies over time and more worms are needed by the poor consumer who got ripped off by hype for the sake of profit.  So yes, leachate is good for the worm bin companies who market and sale the spigot systems, who also sale worms or have affiliations with worm suppliers. 

Not saying that any particular company is definitely doing this sort of thing, just my opinion over years of seeing many people have the same problem issues with this type of system.  As long as people fall for the hype and buy, buy, buy, the manufacturers will sell, sell, sell!

True worm tea is made by aerating healthy worm castings in water, exactly like making compost tea and is how aerobic wastewater treatment systems operate.  Beneficial bacteria are multiplied in the aeration process as harmful ones are killed off.  Leachate can and will kill foliage when applied to plants, especially if it is anaerobic. 

As worm tea is aerated, beneficial microbes multiply. They also consume all the available food in the water and die.  Dead microbes become waste sludge and prime conditions exist for anaerobic microbes.  So good worm tea is made fresh, from fresh and used fresh.  A batch of brewing worm tea can be maintained by adding a spoonful of molasses every few days for a few weeks at the most, then is best to start a new batch.

Aerated worm tea from pure castings will never harm any plant, regardless of how much is applied.  It contains chitenase from the castings which help protect the plant from insect pests and all the nutrients in worm tea are available for plant use versus leachate, which must first become aerobic by contact with an oxygen rich environment for a period of time so that the anaerobic microbes die off and beneficial, aerobic microbes reproduce and take their place.

Honestly, I would really like to see these folks who market these types of systems run a batch of the worm castings from their systems through a mesh separator/harvestor.  They will of course have to allow the mud from their systems to dry enough to handle, then they will physically have to crush or rub the dry clods over the mesh to get their concept of "worm castings???".

Soon I will show you what good worm castings are.

I will never stop exposing the myths that these types of systems propagate.

Edit... How to make worm tea...

Put a pound of healthy worm castings in a five gallon plastic pail. Add three - four gallons of rainwater or otherwise purified or non-chlorinated water. Pond or creek water will even work fine. Aerate with an aquarium air pump with air stone 24-48 hours prior to use, foaming is normal and a sign of microbial reproduction.  Filter and use liquid as needed as a foliar plant spray or water directly on plant roots. Keep aerated at all times.       

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cricket Trap

Always there are crickets along the walls outside of my home.  I read in other places where people have build various traps along walls.  So here is my Wall Run Cricket Trap...

One could easily use rain gutter down-spout PVC or some other material.  I used green coroplast. It's 24" long, 3.5" ID.  The ramps are 3.5" wide x 9" long and covered with self adhesive sandpaper to allow crickets to climb in and jump onto the bait. Once inside there is no escape unless they make a lucky jump back to the top of the ramp but I'm betting they will simply crawl around inside.  There's a .75" opening for them to enter at the top of each ramp and a rod through so the tops are set and hinged and the bottoms will lift up to empty contents.  Will probably set one ramp firm and just use one for the door to empty and set bait.

People have used vegetables, molasses and even singing male crickets in traps for bait.  I'll try different ones, starting with a plastic snuff can full of molasses with small holes in the lid to allow the scent out.

Here's my original drawing, had thought to use PVC pipe with funnel ramps and a coupler in the middle fixed to one side and slip on the other to take apart and empty.  Still may make one just to see how it goes if the coroplast version works.

This would certainly be more durable but likely cost more to build and be heavier but not so much one would have trouble, or so I imagine.

Updates to come.

Update on 4/12/12...

This trap did not fare so well as I had hopes for.  It did catch a few random crickets with various baits outdoors.  The ramps came unglued during rainy weather and curled up.  It might do well inside a home if there is a cricket problem with a cereal and molasses bait.  My cat keeps all wandering bugs killed indoors so there is little need for even trying.

I have made a different trap that is working well outdoors and am currently  looking into marketing possibilities

Monday, February 27, 2012

Worm Bin Insect Pest Treatment

Today I received a nice surprise at work.  Inside the old dry sludge storage building where I used to vermicompost years ago, I have maintained a small wood chip/sawdust pile for dry shavings used for stray dog bedding in the city kennels during winter.

Some weeks ago we had a flood which rose enough to enter the building and so I knew the pile was probably moist at the least,a perfect place to find Woodlice, AKA Roly Poly's.  Bowl in hand, I set out to harvest a bunch of land prawns!

My hunch was correct at least in that the pile had gotten soaked during the flood.  Started poking around the edge and got a surprise.  There were several Eisenia fetida baby worms in perhaps a handful of the material.  The one on the left in the photo is an E fetida adult...

Worm on right is some unknown lumbricus species I think, just a common earthworm and only three of them in the whole pile.  I did find several woodlice but saving those for another article.  The next three hours were spent sifting through the pile to gather the red wigglers.  Probably have very close to a thousand, ranging in size from newly hatched 1/4" long to 3" egg laying adults and several cocoons. 

Now for the problem and solution.  Outdoor wormeries contain an abundance of every critter one can imagine. Most do not pose that big a threat outdoors if wormery moisture levels are kept right but we do not want to bring these pests, such as mites, ants, nematodes, centipedes, gnat eggs, etc., inside to infest what is to be a commercial operation someday, not to mention it is in my home at the moment. I saw quite a few mites in the gathering so...

Sitting here thinking and talking to my wife.  Had started to wash them over a fine mesh sieve but that proved to be a mess and tiny, wet worms are near impossible to pick up.  Had just taken the bucket back out to the garage with some added leaf mulch, deciding it was probably best to just use them in an outdoors wormery.  Wife asked, "will your diatomaceous earth kill the mites without hurting the worms?"

Hmmm. I thought just recently I had read DE would kill worms.  Well it does but not earthworms. It kills any insect and parasites.  Actually learned something I never knew about worm farming in a quick research, some worm farmers actually use DE for this very purpose and there is some solid research to prove it.

I'll give that bucket-o-worms a good dose of DE, wait about a week and give a close inspection for mites and report back.

DE will kill any insect.  It is made up of microscopic fossilized diatoms and food grade DE is commonly given to warm blooded livestock as an organic de-worm treatment for internal parasites.  People even consume food grade DE for various purposes.  In comparison, it would be like a human crawling across a sea of razor blades. DE cuts the insect exoskeleton and causes dehydration, resulting in death.  Need to be careful to keep it in the worm bins with attempting an insect farming operation.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grasshopper Trap

Researched a bit and learned of some known grasshopper attractants.  Canola oil, molasses and the color yellow.

Some insect traps I've seen consist of an illuminated plastic panel over a tub of water.  The insects fly toward the light, hit the plastic and fall into the tub.

Combining these ideas into my concept of a grasshopper trap...

For the past few years at my workplace there has been a pet garden spider nesting on the facility generator or the generations of the original spider's offspring.  I find it fascinating to catch a grasshopper to place in the spider's web and watch it go to work.  All the insect research I'm doing has sparked my memory of things to incorporate into designing what I think will work well as a trap.

Many times I've seen grasshoppers fly straight into a pane of glass or wall and fall straight to the ground.  If they are attracted to the color yellow as I've read and to the odor of canola oil and/or molasses, this concept should make a good trap.

The yellow rectangular riser, set into a collection funnel, is hollow with mesh ends.  We should be able to soak a rag or something with the attractant and have it hanging inside the riser so the odor vapors can freely circulate out of the mesh.  I can just imagine a grasshopper flying straight into the riser, perhaps thinking it might land on a food source but find the surface is too slick to grip and it simply falls through the gap between the riser bottom and funnel, into the bucket.

Worth a try!

To form a steep side funnel needed for this concept, suitable for attaching to a five gallon plastic pail lid I just discovered that coroplast will not bend enough to form the funnel shape when cut, so another material will be needed.

In the meantime, here is how to form a funnel or cone shape out of flat stock...

The top portion is showing starting with flat stock.  A flat, thin piece of wood is used for a marking jig by drilling three small holes. 

The bottom or set pin hole will determine the center starting point by which the lines will be drawn to form the pattern.  A small screw or nail will keep it in place in the exact center of our 3' wide stock, 3" from the bottom edge at all times during marking the lines.

2.5" up from the set pin hole we drill another hole large enough to insert the point of a pen or marker and likewise 17" up from the set pin hole we drill another marking hole.

Set the set pin and draw the lines, starting from the bottom edge of the stock on either side and go all the way to the other side.  The stock will need to be at least 20" tall, a little extra won't hurt and make it easier to cut out the final shape.

We should end up with a 34" diameter overall with a 5" diameter center opening.  Mark straight lines from the bottom corners to 2.5" up from the bottom to the center opening line and trim off as shown in the bottom portion of the drawing above.

If we use a flexible, smooth plastic material other than coroplast.  It will bend and form a cone or funnel shape with overlapping edges we can secure with rivets or drill holes and insert zip ties, keeping in mind to run them diagonally to prevent spots which might provide foot-holds for grasshoppers.  We don't want any escapees!

We should then be able to easily cut a hole for the funnel in a plastic pail snap lid. 

I will update this post when there is something to show and tell. :)

Ok here's an update of the built prototype as of 3/3/12...

Instead of using the original art concept I decided this configuration would provide more surface area and at the same time give a better opening below for any hopper that decides to fly headlong into the walls where "decoys" of yellow duct tape have been applied.  Will be trying this soon as hoppers start hoppin as it warms up.  Plan on using a canola oil spray as attractant. It's supposed to stimulate a cannibalistic feeding frenzy according to research.  

A view from above.  The bucket lid, funnel and decoy walls are all attached with zip ties.  A screened opening was made onto the bucket for viewing and ventilation.  Three holes are drilled at angles through the bottom and lower sides of the bucket to secure the whole unit to the ground with tent stakes in windy conditions. 

Entomophagy; People Eating Insects; Eating Pet Foods

So you want to try eating bugs?  Many people are and more by the day.  Entomophagy is here to stay. I wonder how many people consider, what did that bug eat?

I'm learning about raising insects and Entomophagy as I go.  By no means am I the Entomologist or Entomophagy expert but I do somewhat pride myself as having a bit of common sense. 

Do you know what bait farmers feed their livestock?  Was that cricket you just ate raised on dog or cat food?  What's in the cat food?  Do you care? I do.

People should be just as concerned about the insects they intend to eat as if they were going to buy meat at the grocery store.  There has been alot of talk about beef cattle fed chicken manure. Pork swine which were fed chickens which were given growth hormones and the like. 

The bait farmer is going to feed whatever is the cheapest.  If I were you and I was going to buy insects to eat, I would want to know.  Even people who feed insects to their pet lizards care what the insects were raised on.  It means the difference in particular insect nutrition which in turn results in the health of the pet.  You are worth more than a lizard are you not?

Bait is bait and is raised to be bait. Bait is for fishing, not for eating. People should not eat bait.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Investing In Composting Worms

It seems like that's what worm farmers are asking you to do when purchasing composting worms. Looks like the days of buying several thousand worms for $10 are long gone!  These are prices for Eisenia fetida, red wiggler composting worms or otherwise manure worms that can be found in abundance in nature, in cattle or horse pastures with moist conditions...
Garden's Alive! – Price: $39.95 for over 500 worms; $49.95 for over 1,000 worms
Red Worm Composting – Price: $35.00 for 1lb of red worms
Local Harvest – Price: $24.94 for 1 lb; $44.95 for 2lbs
Uncle Jim's Worm Farm – Price: $16.95 for 500 worms; $17.95 for 1,000 worms
*Tip: You can get Uncle Jim's Worm Farm 1,000 red wigglers for $15.85 on

The red wigglers are the "cheap" worms.  I've seen E hortensis, European Nightcrawler prices online high as $47 per pound but most are within a $25 to $35 range , depending on size that's about 250 - 400 worms per pound.

If you want a high reproduction rate and lots of worms in vermicomposting, get E fetida, red wigglers. If you want a bigger worm, more suitable to temperature swings/extremes and as a bait worm but with slower reproduction rates, go with E hortensis, European Nightcrawler. 

There is an argument as to which is the better worm.  That depends on the desires of the individual. Where a red wiggler can eat its body weight or more of food per day versus a European Nightcrawler eating up to half its body weight per day...when put up next to each other, the adult European Nightcrawler is five times larger so the argument on which processes more is pointless to me.

In my experience, E fetida is a poor bait worm in comparison.  Show the two in cups to a fisherman and they will pick E hortensis nearly every time, unless they are specialty fishing, matching the hatch or some other specific purpose.

I do not intend for this article to seem as bashing worm farmers for their pricing.  Personally I think they are all high priced but they control the market and set their prices according to supply and demand.  As long as people will pay what they set per pound they will keep producing and selling them at those prices. 

The main problem with E hortensis and producing them for market is the same now as it was nearly 20 years ago.  They lay average of one egg capsule (cocoon) per week with an average of two baby worms per cocoon, or less and hardly more than, which takes about 40 days to hatch under good conditions and then 60-90 days before those babies grow enough to start reproducing if I remember my worm lifecycles correctly.  It has been such a popular worm though that farmers simply have a hard time keeping up with demand and at least one major E hortensis farmer in the US that I'm aware of has stopped worm farming due to old age I suppose.  As much as I prefer E hortensis, I may also have to use E fetida in my Clean Bug Systems simply to keep up with insect reproduction rates.

Whatever worm one chooses, it should be considered an investment, whether it be the time invested in turning over cow patties or online purchase.  Worm farming can be very lucrative but make no mistake, it can be back breaking hard work if not well planned and thought out.  This writer has herniated discs and every physical action must be pre-considered.  My designs are products of necessity moreso than functionality or practicality that may better fit some other individual but I try to make everything as practical as possible also.

I've seen many a hopeful worm farmer come and go over the years, lured by marketing tactics which seem to promise them riches and overnight success much like a few unscrupulous network marketing individuals I could name.  You can make money raising worms, odds are you will not unless you do it well.  Doing it well takes alot of time, hard work, patience and money to invest unless you are a master of making use of alot of junk and making it look good to keep the neighbors from complaining haha!

Then there are the commercial composting worm bin companies.  I can get really upset on this subject if I'm not careful.  I watched these companies form and break into the market before there was such a thing.  They did it, it's now established and it will always be a thorn in my side. What they have done to vermiculture and those wishing to vermicompost kitchen waste in my mind is nothing short of what I will call the worst thing to ever come along.

Not all of them are as bad as some and some are even ok.  The ones to steer clear of are those promoting the collecting of liquid from the bottom of their product that some call "worm tea".  They know fully well that these conditions will lead to population reductions and even complete worm death in time.  That means you have to start over and buy more worms from guess who? Them or their buddy suppliers. 

They do not want you to have a healthy worm population that reproduces.  All they want and care about is selling you more products.  So, if you hang with me I will teach you how to properly raise worms and get the most benefit from them in every way.  Even if you bought a commercial worm bin with a drain spigot I can and will be happy to help you make the best of it, just ask.

If you ask this ole country boy and want an honest answer, get yourself a bucket in spring and go to where there is alot of shade and piled, fallen leaves. Creekbanks that flooded and piled rows of debris up high are usually good.  E Fetida is commonly called the manure worm but it will happily inhabit rotting vegetable matter piles as will many species of worms suitable for composting.  They are there for the taking and free.  Many months rent were paid by doing this very thing and selling the local native jumper worms as bait but which are also great composting worms to the same people who could have gone to the same creek I gathered them from.

Make yourself a pile under a shade tree in your yard or use fencing to make a cylinder of sorts to put leaves and grass clippings and keep it wet.  You will always have worms if you do this and keep it up.  :)

We Have Composting Worms & Mealworms!

Not available for sale...yet!

Ordered my starter stock of European Nightcrawlers and Mealworms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  Other than the long wait for shipping, going through, they arrived this morning.  Only one dead earthworm I could see and no mites or otherwise pests. 

They are shipped in dry peat moss and have lost some body mass which is expected and are added to the Clean Bug System worm bin and spread out...

They head directly into the wet cardboard bedding without delay.  This is a sure sign the bedding is to their liking.  If not, they won't go in at all and will try to escape immediately.

The mealworms are shipped in a breathable cloth bag, same as earthworms but in bran.  They have eaten a hole through the bag during shipping and many are loose in the box.  Good thing it was taped well!  Some old fashioned oats were sprinkled on the enclosure's screen bottom prior to adding all the mealworms in.

Mealworms are poured in and more oats are added to about 1 inch depth.  Most of the bran is falling through the screen already so after the surface of the composting worm bin was dusted, a tray was put beneath the screen to catch the rest of the falling bran.  We don't want to overfeed the composting worm bin, especially right away since the worms need a couple of days to acclimate, get used to their new home and start surface feeding.  Overfeeding more than they can consume in 24-48 hours may lead to sour bedding.

A couple of apple slices are put in, peeling down to help prevent getting the mealworm bedding too moist and causing mold problems that will kill them.  Within a minute of adding the apple, the worms must be able to sense them and head straight for a drink of apple juice!  As Gourmet Bugs expands, we will be trying many culinary herbs to provide the mealworms with moisture and see if they take on the flavors.

This is a good example of the Clean Bug System in action.  All this excess bran was forced through the screen bottom by mealworm body action.  So will their frass be falling through the screen and out into the composting worm bin.  So we can't feed very small particles of feed with this size mesh but that's ok.  Mealworms love oats and will do well on them.  Will search around for some other, various larger particle feed source possibilities to give them variety of nutrition.

We need to keep a close watch on this system in both enclosures, particularly starting out.  When the mealworms begin to morph into pupae, they are helpless without their hard exoskeleton and need to be removed quickly to prevent the others from eating them.  They usually surface and become motionless for a day or two before shedding the last exoskeleton and a trained eye can spot and remove them quickly to solitary confinement.

Same with the pupae morphing into beetles.  Pupae are motionless. A newly morphed beetle is thirsty and will eat the pupae if left in with them.  The beetles need to be removed to their screen bottom enclosure immediately and given some apple slice or other moisture source as well as new feed/bedding.

Since we do not have or actually know at this point in time what size mesh would be suitable for newly hatched mealworm larvae, the tub under the beetle bin will be a solid bottom until such time as the mealworms grow sufficiently to be added to a Clean Bug System enclosure or at the very least the bedding can be cleaned frequently by sifting over a fine mesh screen such as a grease splatter screen used over skillets when cooking bacon.  All this will be figured out as we go until mealworms can spend their entire lifecycle in a completely Clean Bug System.

I Ate A Bug, And I Liked It!

Hey Katy Perry, I ate a bug and I liked it!  You should try bugs, not quite cherry chapstick but delicious and way more better for you than kissing girls haha!  Now if Katy Perry really were to see this and like it, that would be cool. 

This was never the way I planned, not my intention

I got so brave, bug in had, lost my discretion

It's not, what I'm used to, just wanna try you on my tongue

I'm curious for you, caught my attention

I ate a bug and I liked it

The taste of crunchy almonds

I ate a bug just to try it

Now bugs are all that's on my mind

It felt so wrong, it felt so right

Don't mean I won't have steak tonight

I ate a bug and I liked it, I liked it

No I didn't even know its name, it doesn't matter

Was my experimental game, just human nature

It's not, what people do, how they should behave

My head, gets so confused, hard to obey

I ate a bug and I liked it

The taste of crunchy almonds

I ate a bug just to try it

Now I want bugs all the time

Those bugs, are so magical

Crunchy, yummy, so eat-a-ble

Hard to resist, have a mouth-full

Too good to deny it

Ain't no big deal, boil it-fry it

I ate a bug and I liked it

The taste of crunchy almonds

I ate a bug just to try it

Get your own, these are mine

I ate a bug

Friday, February 24, 2012

Raising Wax Worms

There's quite a few video's out on small scale wax worm farming, mostly from people raising them as reptile feed treats.  They are high in fat and so are said to be treats, not to be fed alone as a main source for reptiles or other pets.

I bought some wax worms along with some meal worms a week or so ago at Petco, to ease my urge to start up something buggy while waiting for some larger quantities of stock larvae purchased through Amazon.  The box quantity stated "50" but I got extra at 62.

So I read the "best" way to raise wax worms is to put them into a mixture of bran, honey and glycerine. I could not find bran like they show in the video's and glycerine is available but I decided to try my own experiment instead and bought a box of Honey Bunches of Oats breakfast cereal at the dollar store.

Crunched up about a quart of the cereal, added maybe 1/8 cup of dark honey and some water until it was moistened.  This was put into a 2.5 gallon water container which I covered one side of on the outside with aluminum foil to provide some darkness.  The lid was modified by cutting out a big hole and some fine screen placed for ventilation.  A crumpled piece of wax paper was placed in for my hopeful wax moths to lay eggs on.

Added the wax worms and placed in the top of my bedroom closet with the light on for added warmth since they need around 85 degrees F to do well and observed for the last several days.  The top of the cereal seemed to dry out pretty quick so I misted it with water as needed to keep it moist but not saturated.

Did not notice any molding of the cereal.  Four visible dead worms were removed, they turn black. The rest seemed to be doing fine and yesterday I first noticed them coming to the surface, making cocoons over themselves!

Now if these morph into moths and lay eggs, I suppose I should probably proceed with finding some bran and doing it right but I've never been known to follow protocol haha!  I like Honey Bunches of Oats cereal and so I think the wax worms are either going to learn to like it or else!  Will stick with it, at least long enough to find out if a new generation of wax worms can be raised to maturity. 

Glycerine?  It's supposed to keep the food/bedding from drying out. Is it necessary? I have no idea.  Some sources say yes and some omit it completely from feed recipes.  It doesn't seem to be necessary to get them from larvae to cocoon stage.

Catching Grasshoppers With A Hopper Net

This hopper net was inspired by the Laotian fella in my previous article...

I have the hopper net built. It's not very pretty though so I might show it later in a picture and I might not haha!  Here is some art though with tutorial on what was done to make it.

Can't really make the net without first knowing the size of bag one will have to make use of. So I have a fairly large bag but mis-judged in forming the net hoop so it's not a perfect fit.  Anyway, find a big plastic bag and go from there.

The item in the above picture on the right is how I formed the bag.  Cut the lower portion at angles on the sides, forming a funnel or cone shape and sealed with a seal-a-meal, a little at a time until each seam was complete.

At the bottom I left an opening large enough for a wide mouth mason jar ring to fit inside.  A cylinder of vinyl window screen was formed, also in the seal-a-meal so it would fit on the jar ring. Both the screen cylinder and bottom bag opening were fastened around the jar ring with zip ties and then taped with duct tape to make sure they stay attached.

Could probably have drilled alot of holes in a plastic jar and attached it.  Whatever is used, we need something there to allow air to pass through while working the net so hoppers will be forced into the bottom of the net.

The net handle is a section of 1" aluminum tubing that was a net for cleaning out swimming pools at one time.  The hoop was formed from a length of flexible plastic water service tubing.  The plastic and aluminum tubing are gathered into a length of 2" PVC water pipe to hold it all together and the void filled with expanding foam in a can to make it tight.  The plastic bag net was attached to the hoop with duct tape strips, completely as possible around the hoop.

The net handle extends to the top of the hoop and is fastened with two screws to give the hoop support while working the net.  The whole thing might weigh 2 pounds at the most.  Very light and easy to swing through the grass but it's still too cold for hoppers to be out.  I'm ready for them though. :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eating Woodlice, AKA Roly Poly

My list of eaten bugs got bigger today.  I ate about a dozen Roly Poly's after boiling them in water in a small aluminum dish over a propane torch.  They smell like seafood cooking, probably because they are actually land dwelling crustaceans and not insects.  The flavor reminded me of sweet crab meat or crayfish.  I'm really getting into eating bugs!  Here's an article with recipe and video.

Indoor Vermi Tumbler for Vermicomposting

This is my concept art for an indoor Vermi Tumbler.  Should be pretty simple to understand. Same as the large Vermi Tumbler as for having #4 mesh on the tumbler so vermicast, vermicompost and cocoons can fall through when rotated and the casting screen directly below will need a little shaking to separate the castings.

Vermicast or worm castings are pure worm manure.  Vermicompost is material or bedding broken up and partially processed by the worms but is not quite pure castings.

Some people will look at this in awe and wonder how in the world it could possibly work.  I'm betting those same people are the ones brainwashed by the commercial worm bin industry into believing that liquid is supposed to drain from the worm bed, otherwise known as leachate.

Simply put, if your worm bin is dripping anything, you are over-watering or over-feeding too wet of material.  So no, the Vermi Tumbler will very likey not work unless proper bedding moisture is maintained. 

I have never in all my worming had to pre-dry castings and rub the lumps on a screen to make loose castings.  If one has to do that, the castings were mud turned to dry mud and was likely anaerobic so all of the good beneficial microbes are dead and it smells like something out of a septic tank or worse.

Proper moisture in the bedding will allow the castings to remain loose and they will simply fall out of the tumbler when rotated and go right through the screen.  You can take a handfull of them, squeeze hard and they will somewhat compact but remain friable and loose, moist castings, full of beneficial bacteria.

An indoor worm bin such as this is likely to be used for vermicomposting of kitchen scraps.  Most all leftover kitchen scraps are going to be too wet and should have some shredded cardboard added to soak up the excess moisture.  Remember the squeeze test?  Squeeze a handfull hard and just a few drops of liquid come out.  The material is plenty moist for worms but retains some absorbing qualities and will not drip, leach or saturate the bedding to anaerobic conditions.

For this unit, I'm thinking coroplast construction with a tyvek strip on the lid to allow air exchange but keep even the tiniest bug out.  Indoor bins are sometimes infested with gnats and/or fruit flies. If that happens we make a soda bottle gnat trap. :) 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gourmet Bugs Are What They Eat

Who likes to eat dog food, cat food or otherwise or worse...poop!?  Not me.  If you plan to eat bugs, you should know what they had to eat!

What makes a bug a Gourmet Bug and not a bait bug or a reptile feeder bug?  The difference is in what we feed them.  Gourmet Bugs should only be fed something you would eat and not be allowed to live in their frass, at least I think so.

We're going to take it a step further, starting with mealworms and find out what culinary herbs these insects might like to eat as supplements to their moisture intake.  Common items added to mealworm bins are slices of potato, carrot, apple, etc.  The mealworms are said to take on the flavor of what they eat and so with other insects, so what if we could create Lemon Balm or Basil Crickets, Thyme Grasshoppers, or perhaps Lavender Mealworms?  Just tossing out ideas and it will of course depend on finding specific herbs that a specific bug will eat.

We might create healthier bugs by giving them certain herbs such as the common yard weed, Purslane, which contains high amounts of Omega 3.

The possibilities are endless.  I believe what is to be called a "Gourmet Bug" should not only pertain to how it is prepared in the kitchen but the whole life of the bug.

A common practice is to "purge" insects before preparing them, either by not feeding for a time or feeding with clean, known vegetable matter for a few days.  Hasn't anybody ever heard of accumulation of substances?  If a bug has been fed dog food containing preservatives or chicken mash with antibiotics or whatever all of its life, I seriously doubt a 24 hour fast or even several days of clean lettuce is going to flush possible accumulated substances or whatever from the bug body.

Every Gourmet Bug I produce for human consumption is going to be treated as if it were a bug I myself would eat without worry or hesitation. 

That's all I have to say about that! :) 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Worm Bin ~ Harvester Hybrid... "Vermi-Tumbler"

Maybe not so pretty to the casual observer who knows little or nothing about raising worms but this contraption is the product of a question asked long ago to a group of seasoned worm farmers and their answers over quite a discussion. 

Don't remember the exact wording of my question but it pretty much involved "What do you like the least about worm farming and what are some common problems you would like to see solved?".  Everybody pretty much agreed that harvesting was a pain, aerating or changing the bedding ranked pretty high also.  There were others.  The concept drawing of the perfect worm bin in the previous blog article was made and lost but not forgotten in an old computer and is now a reality about to be put to the test.

Made mostly from salvaged scrap except for the #4 mesh, zip ties and a few staples.  To my knowledge at this time it is the only worm bin/harvester hybrid in existence.  Posts have been set in the back yard today for its enclosure that should be finished in a few days, weather permitting.

The worm farmer should be able to take one look at this and smile, for the rest, here is a basic explanation.  It's a rotating worm bin, the center spindle ends will rest in drilled holes in the outdoor enclosure and allow the whole unit to be rotated.

Mesh is #4 or 1/4" galvanized hardware cloth, 2' wide, the sides are 3' diameter, 5/8" plywood.  Notice the high-tech door haha!  Inside bottom half is lined with shower stall plastic sheet, glued to the wood and zip tied to the mesh.  This is the main "at rest" position of the unit where the worms will spend most of the time doing their thing, eating and breeding.  There's small openings for drainage at the bottom and around on the plastic just in case we should accidentally overwater and to allow some air into the bedding while at rest.

Depending on the amount of worms and how fast they process material, the unit will be rotated by hand ever so often.  Worm castings, small particles of unfinished vermicompost and worm cocoons (eggs) and possibly some small worms will fall through the mesh and into a tub.  I used  #4 mesh for this very purpose as this particular unit's main purpose is to house breeder worms and nothing else.  It will be the bin from which many other conventional tub-type bins will be stocked for other purposes.

There may be a flat, finer mesh screen directly under the unit, set at an angle to allow finished castings to separate from the vermicompost and cocoons, well, just count on it!  There are much more involved drawings of other units based on this concept we will visit at a later date.  I'm working on a smaller enclosed unit that would be suitable for indoor vermicomposting. 

So if I've forgotten anything just leave a comment.  


Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Wormy Past Meets A Buggy Present...

... And my prediction for the future, should we be allowed to remain on this earth as it is. 

First I'm going to share a bit about my past which has allowed me to look at the present and see an instant solution to what I see is a common problem, what has prompted me to start Gourmet Bugs.

Guess it's the way my brain is wired, I can't help it.  When I take an interest in something it starts and I have no control over it, even if I try.  Visions of ways to create or improve on existing methods or conditions come like a flood, so much so at times I can't sleep or hardly think of anything else until closure is reached by accomplishing whatever it is that's taken up residence in my head...or something of greater interest happens to step in.

More often than not, the completion of a certain goal is hampered by lack of funds required to finish and that is often followed by long periods of  depression and boredom.  I've had some great completions of visions and given away many ideas that have benefitted alot of people over the years but I don't feel the least bit bad about that and in fact I get great satisfaction just knowing I helped at least one person somehow.  Seems to make it worth the trying.

There has been one constant over the years I can think of that I do know well how to do and at this very moment in time I'm thinking hey, I'm nearly 49 years old and it's time to settle down from the jumping on every idea that comes along that in reality I have very little if any certaintee of succeeding in and settle down with something I know for a fact I can succeed in doing.

Regardless if raising insects works out for me or not, I know worms...and something is telling me that raising insects while using worms in the process are a match made for each other.

I looked at Entomophagy, the practice of people eating insects for food very hard over the last several days and everything I would consider as something on the very verge of exploding in a business sense is there. It just makes sense to me given the current state of things and is inevitable. I believe the efforts of those who have promoted this practice over the last 20 years or so to us spoiled westerner's is about to pay off and big, for some who had the foresight and prepared, it already is.

Honestly, I have never been what some would probably consider "a good business man".  I think everything costs too much and I genuinly feel bad about charging people a price for something that I myself would not want to pay.  Even over twenty years ago when bait shops charged $1.25 for a dozen worms in a cup, people came to my house and dug their own worms from one of my twenty outdoor refrigerator worm bins for $0.01 each.  They were happy and I was happy to be able and provide that service.

See, I did not have much invested in that worm farm.  The junk refrigerators were free as were the newspaper and cardboard bedding.  I did not supplement the worm's feed, they happily ate cardboard and got fat & happy on it. Only other thing added was a handfull of sand to each bin for the worm's gizzards.  Matter of fact I believe I paid $10 for a few thousand worms from a farmer in a not-so-far away town and within two years they expanded from one bed into twenty beds and those were nearing critical mass due to breeding.  I could not get rid of them fast enough.

Those were my wild years. My yard was a mess, I knew it but didn't care.  One day upon returning from work I discovered my hedge had been ripped open, all my worm bins had been loaded up, hauled away and there was a letter with a bill for services rendered from the city for cleaning up my yard and I was ordered to finish what they started or face further fines.  I was pissed to say the least but was in no position to fight the city and they along with everybody in town knew it.  I was not exactly a law abiding citizen and will leave it at that. 

Some years went by and my life took a turn for the good, back to bad and then sort of just leveled out with life as it was.  Started working for the city, the same city which "stole" my worms.  Funny how things work out sometimes eh?!  My first license acquired as a city employee was Class 1 Wastewater Operator.  My first day as a full time employee was spent wading in the bottom of a plugged up clarifier, waist deep in the lake of death. Yes I was in shit! 

Where there is a sewer treatment plant, there is always sewer sludge, commonly known today as "biosolids".  My duties with the city over the years and my job performance, of which I am at least a little proud, led to my increased time and involvement with wastewater treatment.  The invention of the internet and my learning to use it was a great thing to say the least and I soon learned of using worms in composting of biosolids as being an acceptable method of sludge bio-remediation by the EPA and some cities were already doing it.  I ordered 20 pounds of E hortensis, European Nightcrawlers (ENC's) from an online friend and began using them to turn sewer sludge into worm castings.

There is also a seasonal wild nightcrawler native here in Arkansas, not sure of the correct taxonomy but believe it to be the same as the Georgia Jumper.  Between that and the ENC's, it was not long I would estimate roughly to have had close to a million worms working rows of sludge, really just getting started good when the worst thing imaginable happened.  We had what the old timers here called a "100 year flood".  What worms did not drown or got carried away were no longer confined to the sludge rows but scattered over the whole property.  I still see some from time to time here or there around the work place but that flood knocked the wind right out of me.  There just seemed no use to even try again and just as well, we have had several floods since that one, seems yearly now that will cover the area alloted to me for worming.

A new treatment facility built in 2008 put an end for the possibility of using worms in bio-remediation anyway.  Sludge is dewatered now using a cationic polymer emulsion that is toxic to some aquatic species and yes I tried, worms will not even stay in the bedding with this sludge.  I applied for a government grant to purchase commercial composting equipment and do away with the dewatering polymer but was denied.  So I gave up trying.

Still through it all over the years I never stopped thinking about raising worms and seem to have come full circle.  I know how and can do it well.  They do the work and have babies, all we have to do is keep them moist, not too hot and not too cold, give them something good to eat and they do what they do.

If I had to blame one single person, it would have to be Daniella Martin, the star and host of "Girl Meets Bug", link at the top of my list.  She just has a way of making bugs look good!  No way I'm going to be sqeemish about eating bugs when this woman is piling waxworms on taco shells and munching down!  So I tried some packaged bugs...delicious.  Led to research, here we are in the present, Gourmet Bugs is born.  I'm not completely sure what I'm doing yet but I'm having fun learning haha!

I promised a prediction for the future... Those who look at this whole trend of Entomophagy over the last couple of decades here in the US, the news reports, the studies of insect nutrition, etc., couple it with the bait and pet feeder industries concerning earthworms and insects and/or their larvae/pupae then toss on the green movements and vermicomposting...well those who look, see and position themselves somewhere in the money flow are going to be among the next generation of wealthy. That is my prediction for the future. 

Americans might be hard headed concerning Entomophagy but they are coming around, it's picking up steam quickly.  Americans are and will always be pet fanatics and those pets need food.  Americans love to go fishing and need bait.  The latter two, nobody can argue and Entomophagy is likely to put a burden on the bait and pet feed industry once people finally figure out that bugs taste good!

I suppose my occupation has alot to do with my intent on farming insects like I'm set on doing.  I want my bugs and the bugs I offer to anyone to be as far away from their frass (fecal matter) as possible.  I do not want to eat mealworms that spent half their lives crawling around in their own frass, nor do I want to eat crickets from a stinky enclosure.  I just hate shit, period!  I hope to create a movement as big as Entomophagy itself and see people adopt similar practices of producing clean as possible insects.  I don't care how long you cook a turd, it's still a turd!

Sure hope my idea for vermicomposting directly under insect enclosures works out.  Somebody may already be doing it, would not be surprised. Good for them!  Get ready, here I come! :)

   The ultimate outdoor worm bin concept. An idea resulting from worm forum discussions involving many good people from my past some seven or eight years ago is finally in pieces in reality in my garage, about to become a working unit.  It's a bin/harvester hybrid that solves all the problems associated with vermicomposting.  Stay tuned for more about this in future articles.

Making Coroplast Boxes

Coroplast is the material we see in yards during election time.  Sheet corrugated plastic, it has a double wall with the corrugations inside.  Strong, lightweight and fairly inexpensive at around $11 per 4' x 8' sheet in my area.  If you can't find it locally there are online sources.  Coroplast will degrade over time in direct sunlight unless painted and become brittle so keep this in mind when attempting to use salvaged pieces and it's also a good idea to work with any coroplast in a warm area so the plastic will be pliable when forming. I advise to not use painted coroplast if making composting worm bins, at least for the inside of the box.  It's ok though to use colored coroplast sheets that are made as such far as worms go and probably best to use a dark, opaque color such as green for worm benefit since they are sensitive to light but it will still degrade if left in direct sunlight. Krylon Fusion paint is made for plastics and would be good to use for painting the outside of wormery boxes if they are going to be exposed to direct sunlight.  Wormeries need to be shaded if hot but there may be times, such as a greenhouse during winter that sunlight may be of benefit.

I like coroplast because it gives me the option to build boxes to my specifications and not have to rely on finding the "just right" plastic tub.  Sadly I could not find anywhere online showing how to actually do this so here we go with a custom coroplast box tutorial...

Any size you need can be made using this method. For tutorial purposes we are going to build a box with a 2' x 2' square bottom with 1' tall sides.  We start with a coroplast sheet section exactly 4' x 4'.

A straight line is marked corner to corner.  Measure 1' in from each side and mark to the lines.  We now have a 2' x 2' box bottom marked.

Next we mark in four places, shown in red below, to cut all the way through for side flaps which will form the walls and secure the sides together.  These are the only places we will cut completely through the sheet.  All other marks will only be cut through one layer and folded over to create corner seams.

If you're like me and want a perfect box which is easy to form and will have straight sides, pay close attention to the cuts which will form the folding side flaps or rather the line between "A" & "B". You will notice they do not exactly line up with the lines drawn for the box bottom.  This is because when we have all the cuts made and flap "C" is folded to form a wall, we will have the thickness of the coroplast sheet sticking out.  So this flap line is cut to compensate for the thickness of the sheet and will wrap around the side forming a flush corner to the side walls, keeping the box wall straight.  If we don't do this, the box will have slightly bowed sides instead of  perfectly straight.  I have no way of knowing what thickness the particular sheet will be that you get so I have not added precise measurements. Not all sheet is the same thickness so you will have to compensate.

Use a sharp box blade or exacto knife, take your time and make straight cuts along all the seam lines to be folded, taking care to only cut through one side of the sheet.  Some cuts will be easy since you will be cutting along with the direction of corrugations (flutes) and some will cut across them but it's fairly easy with a sharp blade.  It is not necessary to cut completely through the flutes when cutting across them but do cut most of the way.  The cut flutes will completely separate when folding the flaps.  

After making all the cuts, flip the sheet over and completely fold over, pre-bending all the flaps one at a time to form corners and bottom seams.  This is where solar degraded or very cold coroplast may snap and break.  By doing this, the corners and walls will then form easily, making a straight, perfect box.  The four flaps marked as "A" above fold around and attach to walls "C".  We can use double-sided adhesive tape, plastic glue or whatever to secure the flaps and it will not be in contact with any worms or otherwise critters we have in the box.  Another option some might consider is heating a small metal rod with a torch to poke and melt holes about 1/2 inch apart all the way through the flaps and sidewalls which will in itself semi-secure the coroplast together, then installing small zip ties through the holes to make a permanent join.

Hope this proves helpful to someone.  I'm fairly certain you can't find a plastic box this size for the price that will be any better. One could get a 2' x 6' box with 1' tall walls for the cost of one sheet and I can pretty well guarantee you can't beat that. I think they will hold up well enough, unless perhaps one is planning on allowing them to fill completely with substrate which will probably cause the sides to bow out. Some form of top edge support would probably be needed.  I don't plan to let mine get that full.

Also think these would be great for burying out in the yard for designated flower beds or in-ground wormeries that would keep weeds or some creeping grasses from invading like my yard is full of haha!  The corners are not water tight so they would drain unless one makes them so with something like 100% pure "Silicone 1" which is safe for use in aquariums.  All other silicones will kill fish, worms or whatever if it's treated with anti-mold chemicals, a good to know bonus factoid!

I will use this same method of cutting/folding coroplast strips to make enclosure walls for Clean Bug System of raising mealworms which will fasten to screen bottoms with silicone or melting/fusing permanently to the screen (another article coming soon).  

Have fun, save money and don't cut yourself! :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trapping & Catching Live Insects

A few links to online ideas I was able to find...

I like the plastic net method used in this video and have one in the works to use in the field behind my house...

Think it will be fairly easy to get quite a lot of stock to fill a hopper enclosure doing this.  I also like the red light in a box trick for crickets.  This is going to be a fun year! :)

Humane Killing of Food Insects?

Who decides what is the socially acceptable "best" method for killing of bugs we intend to eat?  That answer to me is simple...YOU! 

I'm pretty sure not everyone will agree with this philosophy and that is probably depending on where one lives, how they were raised, so on and so forth.  I'm from the South, probably a Redneck by some accounts and have never worried over the social cares such as this.  To me a bug is a bug and I really don't care if people freeze them or plop them squirming right into a pot of boiling water or a frying pan or crunch them raw.  Whatever makes one feel better about themselves and how they go about it, to me, is up to them.

At this point in time in the US, I really am not sure of any set standard or mandatory regulation concerning this for insects meant for human consumption as there are for animal livestock in those industries like cattle and chickens.  Until I see something saying I have to do something a certain way, I'm just not really concerned over how insects are killed to eat them.  I don't sympathize with any person or organization and have no problem sticking a worm, larvae, live cricket or grasshopper on a hook and drowning it in a pond or lake as fishbait.

If I were to select a method based on morals, my personal choice would be the fastest, most efficient way that would quickly end the suffering of whatever creature one is killing but I really don't believe insects have the capacity to suffer and it is only in our minds and we are the ones suffering over the killing of them.  In my mind, if I consider it, freezing is worse of a death than instantly dying in boiling water.  The only thing I have to relate that to is myself and the times I have spent out at all hours working in freezing weather.  Cold freaking hurts!  Stepping into an overheated hot tub doesn't feel too great either so, and thus there will probably be never-ending debates concerning insect death as Entomophagy grows in the US.

A bug is a bug.  Kill it and eat it however you think best which bothers you the least.  I really don't care! :)

Friday, February 17, 2012


Escamoles, an ages old traditional Mexican dish, made from the eggs and pupae of the black ant in that region...

Added a link here to a survival site showing how to harvest ant eggs from the wild.  I will be trying this soon but with a canvas tarp specially rigged for such an event.  Thinking about a sewed flap with openings for the sticks, closed on one side, open on the other so when the ants do their thing of hiding the eggs, we just tip it up and let them roll out the open end into a container and hopefully with not so many ants.  I think they will mostly be attached to the tarp.

Ants have gotten really bad in my area over the last few years...or is it they have gotten really good?  We'll soon find out!  An early inspection of one local hill revealed the eggs are still young and very tiny.  I have seen them at least as large as the ones in this video.

Raising Grasshoppers Free-Range...Sort Of

Don't need a drawing for this one and it won't require composting earthworms but might just help lessen yard mowing chores!

Make an open bottomed screen enclosure or purchase one of those screen yard tents and make a sturdy frame base for attaching the bottom edges to and also allow it to be anchored in case of high wind...

Put hoppers in.  As they eat that spot bare, move the enclosure by sliding it along the ground so to keep the hoppers inside.

That's all I have to say about that. :)

Edit...Now that I think about it, I do have some more to say about it haha!  This is probably a good idea but it has drawbacks. 

If one knows for sure what type of grass(es) they will be ranging the hoppers on, ok.  There might be undesirable, bad tasting or worse plants the hoppers might eat and they say insects will taste like or otherwise, they are what they eat.

They will mate and lay eggs on the earth in any given spot so one might then be contributing to pest hoppers on the loose.  Your neighbor might not be too happy if they ravage his garden!  Perhaps this idea is not so good.  Oh well.  Win some, lose some.  I'll leave it up and think about it some more. It might spark further, more constructive ideas in someone else. :)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Raising Grasshoppers continued...

Concept Grasshopper Hutch...

Imagine with me ok!  Grasshoppers like light and they like it warm so this is a simple drawing of my idea.  A post & 2 x 4 lumber frame out in the yard, covered on the top, sides and back with clear plastic.  It can be any size we want...

Inside along the back wall is the mesh covered hopper cage, any size we want. You have to imagine cage access doors and whether it is attached to the posts or hanging from chains, however you want.  Below is the worm bed with grasses planted that grow up into the hopper cage to feed them, or it could be trays or tubs of planted grasses sitting on a shelf.  Personally I want worms in either choice.

We want to be able to water the grasses but keep the hopper cage dry as possible.  We also want to be able to access the worm bed so the hopper cage suspended from chains or on a cable with pulley system might be in order to raise & lower as needed or the whole worm/grass enclosure can perhaps roll or slide out.  Lots of options.

I don't see why this would not work.  A roll-up front cover or something may be in order for blowing rain also. 

Or I also had the thought of an open-ended hoop style greenhouse with plastic covering.  One could do alot inside one of those with this general concept or if one had sufficient funds, one could probably make the entire greenhouse frame screened in and have a huge grasshopper enclosure.

Would be seasonal outdoors of course.  Seems from what I've been able to find on breeding/rearing practices it would not be all that difficult to get quite a number going in a season.  They lay eggs in the soil or damp sand and hatch out in the spring.  Some varieties might lay many times during the summer but I'm not quite the hopper expert yet. 

I'm not sure how one would go about doing this indoors unless it was perhaps a dedicated room with grow lights for the grasses.  A 1,000 watt metal halide lamp will illuminate a 10' x 10' room fairly well and generate quite alot of heat. Hmmm...

When I was a kid, we used to gather at the local grocery store parking lot at night to play frisbee.  I remember the huge grasshoppers that would gather up under the parking lot lights. We used to just walk up to them and pick them up without them trying to escape to use for fish bait so I'm guessing that night harvesting of caged hoppers might be the same???

Now there's no reason for there to not be grasshopper farmers in the US!  I suppose I will build one like my drawing out in the back yard and just see how it goes.  Probably 4' x 8' with a 2' x 2' x 6' cage.  Think I will have the worm/grass bed buried in the ground and the hopper cage suspended on a pully/cable system, really depends on how light I can build it so chains or ropes suspending may be sufficient. :)

Raising Grasshoppers?

Hmmm.  Doesn't seem to be anyone in the US raising or supplying live grasshoppers.  I wonder why?  They seem to be pretty high on the desirable list of bug eaters, as well as people raising reptiles and I know they're excellent fish bait.  Found a video about a restaurant in California being made to stop selling grasshopper taco's...

Added some of my grasshopper research links here and am making a prediction...whoever figures out and successfully raises and supplies grasshoppers in the US will be very well off!  There is absolutely no competition I can find, not to say there is none for sure, I just can't find any!

Why not a screen enclosure on all sides with a worm bin underneath that has wheat grass and alfalfa growing in it?  As the grasses grow up into the bottom of the enclosure the grasshoppers would keep it cut by the eating of it and fertilize the worm bed beneath with their frass?  Seems like a plan to try along with everything else this year. :)

Random Gourmet Bug & Worm Thoughts...

Update on the "Clean Bug System".  Wire mesh in the sizes I want costs alot, no way around it.  Could be that standard aluminum window screen will suffice as long as it is in good shape and the openings uniform...meaning the wires are not all spread out in the mesh.  My experience with mealworms is minimal and so I do not yet know what mesh sizes to really even consider. 

The way I imagine a finished system is a 2' x 2' wide x 1' tall, well made, straight and square coroplast box for the composting worms.   Properly maintained bedding will mean no need for drainage.  On top of that, the first mealworm box is a fitted screen bottom coroplast enclosure with the screen edge border being 1" x 1" wood frame, sandwiching the screen so the bottom fits over the earthworm enclosure snug and the top wood frame pieces give something to attach the coroplast wall for that section, everything keeping square and flush and so on upward with more sections which house different sizes of mealworms according to age until we reach the beetle box on top.

I'm not sure this is feasable and is depending on the duration of the mealworm life cycle for my particular conditions, temperature being the kicker.  Cooler temps mean slower growth and visa versa. I had hoped to design it so that by the time I harvest the tray directly above the earthworms, each tray could then be emptied into the one beneath it, keeping the size of mealworms in each tray pretty much the same so it would do away with the need for sorting and sifting so much.

After studying the mealworm life cycle somewhat I think regardless of the number of trays, the beetles are going to way out-produce eggs for the system to keep up with my imagined system or the number of trays would be reaching the ceiling!  This is a good thing but kind of kills my original design thoughts.

Still, the basic same concept can be done.  It will just require a separate system of breeding beetles on screen bottom enclosures to be placed over solid bottom enclosures for a period of time and then changing the bottom enclosure.  This should keep the mealworms close to the same size for a given enclosure and they can be emptied onto a screen bottom enclosure over a composting worm enclosure when they get big enough to not fall through the screen and can at least spend the remainder of their life being clean bugs versus living in their own feces.

Mealworms I believe are also going to way out-produce my number of composting worms, at least in the beginning.  What's needed is for the mealworm population over a given composting worm bin to produce enough but not more than enough frass so that the earthworms can consume it all as it is produced and not have buildup of frass or fallen mealworm feed grains in the composting bin.  So a balance is going to have to be established between the two.

Will just have to eat alot of extra mealworms until the composting worms breeding cycle kicks in to critical mass!  That's when you have more composting worms than you know what to do with and can begin selling them. It will happen.  Once started with a pound of worms and had impossible to figure amounts over a couple years time. Of course the more one can afford to start with, the faster things will progress.  Current European Nightcrawler prices online dictate I start slow and also my available space in a spare room at home.  I would be in trouble quickly starting off with too many.  This year as I go along with the experimenting and such will also give time to build a well insulated outdoors shed specifically for bugs & worms.

For the future I vision all kinds of different insect enclosures setting atop of composting worm bins. Since I'm all into this concept of producing clean gourmet bugs, why not design an adult cricket enclosure that can go straight from the bug shed, into the freezer and from there into a boiling stock pot without ever having to open the cage? 

So many bugs, so many ideas, too little time. :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mealworms & European Nightcrawlers. Building the "Clean Bug System".

Here we go!  While waiting for my mini livestock, might as well prepare the prototype "Clean Bug System".  Not too fancy a name but I think it gets the point across.  I want my bugs clean!

First, a mini education in starting an indoor worm bin, wormery, whatever one likes to call it, not by any means the only way but is how I have done it with success.

Lots of materials can be used for worm bedding.  My favorite choice is shredded cardboard.  Over the years I have done many things in trying to find a good, easy way to shred this stuff but short of having the right equipment I must honestly say there is no way I have found I would call good or easy!  Good thing somebody has already done it and at the right price...

Found this product, "Natural Critter Care" in the pet isle at Walmart for a little over $5.  Doesn't look like much but it's compressed and really fluffs up when water is added.  It's nothing but pure shredded cardboard and a big plus, it's sanitized. 

Now you can go and use peat moss that is acidic and needs adjustment or leaf mulch that may need it depending on the leaf species but make no mistake, any natural product one uses should be sanitized or at least pasteurized for use in an indoors wormery.  The worms you purchase will provide the beneficial bacteria that will stabilize the bedding as far as the microbial war is concerned but you do not want to introduce any mite or otherwise pest eggs into the system at all if it can be helped and starting clean will most surely help.  A thorough inspection of the livestock upon arrival should also take place to make sure there are no tiny pests, hard to find clean worms anywhere and I'm hoping for a good shipment.  If there are pests we will deal with it.

Shredded cardboard is the perfect bedding in my experience.  The worms will eat it all by itself as a feed source and it won't compact like many paper based beddings.

So I've used twelve packed cups of dry bedding and added about four cups dechlorinated tap water which is important.  Chlorine over time will kill beneficial microbes in the bedding which is a main source of nutrients for the worms.  Our city water contains small trace amounts of chlorine which is easily evaporated out by leaving the lid off a container for 24 hours.  Other water sources may contain other chemicals.  When in doubt use rain water or bottled or otherwise purified, non-chlorinated water at all times in the worm bed. 

Four cups water to six cups packed bedding hydrates perfectly for worms.  You want to test this by squeezing a handful hard and just getting a few drops of water out.  Maintain this bedding hydration at all times for a healthy wormery.  Too wet will cause anaerobic conditions, resulting in worm mass exodus, worm death, foul odors, killing beneficial bacteria and attracts pests.  Too dry will of course cause the worms to dry out.  Proper hydration is the key to a successful wormery.

My prototype Clean Bug System wormery container is a plastic bin, washed with soap to remove any manufacturing oil residue from the molding process and then wiped out with alcohol just to be sure and allowed to dry.  The bedding is hydrated and fluffed up by rubbing it between my palms, so we have a couple to a few inches of bedding ready for worms.

Have some inquiries out to wire screen manufacturers to source different mesh sizes for my vision of the future Clean Bug System.  For now and in hopes the mealworms I receive are at least small adult larvae, standard aluminum window screen will work.

Again from my local Walmart comes part of what was an adjustable window screen.  It is made of two screens of the same size which slide apart for adjusting and are held together by some cheap plastic parts that come off easily.  So I got two screen frames for about $5, a screen spline tool at about $3 and already had some aluminum screen in the garage to replace the fiberglass material in the screen frame I'm using since mealworms can chew right through that, or so I read. Not wanting to chance it so I'm using aluminum.  Replacing a window screen is pretty easy and can be seen how on YouTube.

Actually picked up the screen first and then went to the plastic tub section and found the tub to fit the screen and went from there.  I wanted the screen to at least cover the top edges of the tub to help prevent worm escape.  The mealworm enclosure is a 3.5 inches tall wall of coroplast, fastened to the screen with a bead of silicone along the outer edge.  The whole thing is setting inside an old wooden box I will put some powdered cellulose into the bottom just in case of escape.  If the worms go into the powder it will coat them and they will not be able to climb out of the safety box...and if I can get to them in time, before they dry out, they can be put back into the wormery without harm.

This is pretty much a completed first prototype I know will keep frass from building up in the mealworm enclosure.  Small bits of mealworm feed will also fall through and it will all be eaten by the worms and converted to valuable worm castings which have no foul odors.  The future Clean Bug System for mealworms will have a few more upper layers with different mesh sizes to enclose various sizes of mealworms and will all stack neatly.

Notice I typed above, "to help prevent worm escape"?  Worms are masters of escape and can likely squeeze right through that window screen if they want to but for now it is what I have to work with.  Would like to have at least #20 or perhaps a bit smaller mesh for that layer in later prototypes, and will. 

Keeping worms happy is the key to prevent escape, especially difficult to do in plastic enclosures with plastic lids.  Condensation is the culprit in these cases when one opens the lid to find worms crawling up the sides and being all under the lid.  Nightcrawler species of worms are moreso famous for this versus the red wiggler, E foetida,  which most poeple use in indoor vermicomposting wormeries. I think having the screen bottom mealworm enclosure will prevent condensation on the sides and make escape harder for the worms, hopefully impossible.  A daily or perhaps less frequent misting of the worm bedding should keep moisture levels good and the worms happy.

Another option to help prevent worm escape is leaving the light on in the room, if one should poke its head out somewhere.  Not sure how light will affect mealworms as I have read varying opinions.  If it's a problem, it will be easy to have a cover on the topmost container which will house the egg laying beetles and the rest of the lower layers will be shaded enough by screens.

All for now until the worms and mealworms arrive.  See ya!

Welcome to Gourmet Bugs, a journey into Entomophagy.

Custom designing, building and using our own ideas to farm gourmet bugs, edible insects for human consumption, known as Entomophagy.  There will be some by-products such as worms used for fishbait, castings produced by vermicomposting insect poop and other things.

Have many years interest and activities with raising worms.  My favorite is Eisenia hortensis, otherwise best known as the European Nightcrawler.

So this whole concept of Entomophagy is pretty new to me other than a couple of worms at the bottom of tequila bottles many moons ago!  Christmas of 2010, my daughter along with her husband gave me some joke gifts of edible insects they purchased online.  At the time, I thought to save them and if they had to be eaten it would mean we surely had fallen on hard times.  Well, off and on since then I have seen video and read articles about people eating bugs.

So a few days ago I broke down and just did it...I ate the bugs!  Much to my surprise they were delicious.  Crickets taste like sunflower kernels with a bit of almond tossed in and mealworms much like fried crispy bacon fat.  Did not care for the chocolate ants or the mystery various other chocolate covered bugs and it's pretty plain they were old so I'm looking forward to fresh, homegrown gourmet bugs I grew myself in a system unlike anything else I can find in the big world of  Entomophagy or even raising insects for bait or pet feed. 

I tried raising mealworms a few years back inside my home but the odor was not pleasing and crickets, which I plan to add later smell horrible after a few days.  I believe this is due to the method of raising them and my system will completely remove all frass (feces) from within the bedding or otherwise insect enclosure.

This idea is far from original.  A fella on YouTube, username HALLIBU77 I believe, created a video about a mealworm system of a screen-bottom tray for his Darkling Beetles so the eggs would fall through to the larvae tray.  He and I exchanged a few comments and ideas which led to my indoor attempt but it was not too long before my better half complained of the odor so the whole project was abandoned until now.

Rabbit farmers have been raising rabbits for years while incorporating composting earthworms under the hutches.  This greatly if not completely reduces odors and in turn reduces pests and neighbor complaints, not to mention is healthier for the livestock.  I'm taking the screen bottom idea another step by building a modular stacking system, using varying sizes of wire mesh so not only will the insect's fecal waste pass through the beetle tray, but will also pass through the larval trays and ultimately fall into a vermicomposting earthworm bin at the bottom.

If this proves positive, there will be no offensive odors and my gourmet insects will not wallow in their own fecal matter.  The system will provide ventilation throughout, including for the vermi residents in the bottom while also prohibiting their escape.  Once set up, I see very little need for maintenance to keep things running smoothly.

So here's where we are.  The modular system prototype is being built.  Have 1,000 mealworms and one pound of E hortensis worms on the way.  We will just have to see how it goes!    

I own the domain,  that will have a website to go with it later on.  Stick around. :)