Sunday, January 27, 2013

DIY: Raising Mealworms (Part 1) ~ Plus a GIVEAWAY!

by Rebecca Nickols from the garden-roof coop

I'm not only crazy about my colorful, entertaining backyard flock of chickens, I'm also passionate about the native birds in my backyard. My husband and I have a small business (Rebecca's Bird Gardens) where we sell birdhouses and bird-feeders at our local farmers' market. Even though I all about "feeding the birds" you can actually attract twice as many birds to your landscape by creating a garden that provides their natural food sources: nuts, seeds and fruit from native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

I recently gave a presentation for the Master Gardener chapter that I'm a member of on creating a backyard habitat that will attract birds to your landscape. However, offering a variety of birdseed in an assortment of bird-feeders will give you those up-close views of the birds everyone enjoys. As a follow-up to my presentation, I'm now conducting a workshop on DIY bird-feeders--utilizing natural sources, recycled materials and re-purposed items. In addition to offering birdseed, suet and fruit to attract an assortment of birds to your landscape, providing a feeder filled with mealworms will entice insect-eating birds including: wrens, robins, jays, sparrows, cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, chickadees and my favorite: bluebirds! Mealworms can be offered either dried or fresh, but of course - fresh is the preferred choice of the bluebirds that visit my feeders and... my backyard chickens!

Mealworms, however, are a bit pricey (especially the fresh variety) and between the mealworms that I provide for both the wild birds and the domesticated birds that reside at my property, I am spending more than I like for a treat. I had read about raising your own mealworms, but I was always a little leery of taking on this project. The worms don't really bother me, in fact (unknown to most family and friends) I've had red wigglers in a container in my laundry room for years. These composting worms have a voracious appetite and the kitchen scraps that I don't give to my chickens (coffee grounds, egg shells, etc..) go into this container. It's the beetles the mealworms evolve into that kinda gave me the creeps. And the fact that they cannot survive in temperatures less that 55°F (that means they would have to live in my house!). Also, most of the DIY tutorials I read involved sifting through the beetles and worms and keeping them in separate containers. Here is a link to an in-dept DIY: Raising Mealworms: Everything You Always Wanted to Know (and more)

Image from Enchanted Learning
A few months ago I ran across a method of raising mealworms that seemed like something I could undertake. This chicken keeper used one container and never separated the worms and beetles. Here's the link to his DIY--great instructions and photos! How to Raise Mealworms

So... back in September I took the plunge and purchased 1000 live mealworms and began my adventure in raising these tasty treats. However, this project is taking much longer than I thought and instead of waiting until I was harvesting my own "homegrown" worms, I thought I would share with our readers the set-up, steps and progress of my DIY project.

DIY: Raising Mealworms (Part 1)

The Set-up

  • A plastic or glass container. I happened to have a 10 gallon aquarium with a screen cover (left over from some former critter-pet of one of my daughters). As the chicken keeper suggested in the tutorial, you want a slick or smooth sided container that the worms can't climb up and the lid should not restrict the airflow.
  • Wheat bran (bedding and food). I bought a large bag at a feed store (50 lbs for $13.00). This was way too much. I wish I would have bought a small box from a grocery store or health food market. It would have cost more, but I wouldn't be stuck with storing a huge bag. You will want about 3 inches of wheat bran in the bottom of your container, but first put the bran in the freezer (especially if you purchased it at a feed store) for a few days to kill any hidden eggs from unwanted pests... 
  • Food to feed the larva. Vegetable scraps such as carrots or potatoes. Fruit can also be given, but I found that it attracted fruit flies; so I advise not to feed them fruit... Never offer water, they receive moisture from the vegetable mater. If you do have a kitchen scrap with a large water content (such as a tomato) elevate it on a plastic container lid to keep the water off of the bedding. Only feed them what they can consume in a short time and remove any uneaten food.--It's crazy how much they eat!
The Mealworms (I purchased mine from Wild Birds Unlimited; 1000 for $15.00).

  • Add the mealworms to your prepared container. The larva and beetles need a temperature above 55°F--so at this time of the year they're living in my house... I did have them in the mudroom, but my daughters stated that they didn't want to explain my latest endeavor to visiting friends.--Understandable; I moved them to my bedroom (ugh).  
  • Feed the worms (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, broccoli, etc.).
  • Wait. The lifecycle: The mealworm undergoes a complete metamorphosis. An adult female darkwing beetle (Tenebrio molitor) lays an egg (she can lay up to 500 in her lifetime!) which takes from 4 to 19 days to hatch. Next the larva (grub) or mealworm emerges from the egg and eats, grows and molts (9-20 times) before entering the pupal stage (the larval stage can last 12-54 days). The pupa then morphs (after up to 20 days) into...

The last stage of the adult beetle can last up to 3 months and that's the stage I seem to be stuck in... 
I have probably 1000 of the healthiest beetles you've ever seen, but still not a single mealworm. The entire life cycle and metamorphosis requires patience - so, I'll wait. And I'll update this post when I have a bountiful harvest of mealworms to offer the wild birds and my beautiful hens!

*All treats should be offered sparingly; all things in moderation... Too much of a good thing is just that: "too much".  Also, there have been some studies that link asthma related illnesses to mealworm exposure. As a nurse I'm not too worried though, there are studies that link illnesses to just about anything, but if you are raising mealworms on a large scale I would definitely take precautions (wear a mask, practice good hand-washing, keep the area clean).

If you raise your own mealworms, leave a comment below describing the set-up that you use. If you'd rather not undertake a DIY project that involves a thousand-plus beetles living in your home, but you love to spoil your birds with their top choice in treats, then I have a great giveaway thanks to My Pet Chicken! Just leave a comment below (including your email address) and in two weeks a winner will be randomly chosen and My Pet Chicken will send the gift your way!

This treat is 100% natural, and your flock will go bonkers for it! Whole-dried mealworms offer protein in a taste that chickens love without the inconvenience of storing and handling live worms. 


To view what else is happening at our Southwest Missouri property visit the garden-roof coop
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