How to Farm Your Own Mealworms!

Are you thinking about growing your own mealworms?

Want to try your hand at starting your own home mealworm farm?

Mealworms are a healthy, nutritious snack full of protein. You can grow your own mealworms for a fraction of the cost and know that you’re doing your part in the earth-friendly farm-to-table movement.

What Are Mealworms?

Mealworms are the larval stage of the Darkling beetle insect. These critters are typically found in dark, dry places like flour or stored chicken feed. They extract the nutrition and water they need from the grain that they live in.

Adult female beetles can lay up to five hundred eggs during her lifespan of five to six months. After an average of twelve days, the eggs hatch into larvae known as mealworms. These critters will molt their exoskeleton several times before they reach the pupa stage at around three months of age.

Don’t be alarmed – the pupas might look like dead mealworms. While dormant, they are transforming into adult Darkling beetles. During this time, they do not eat. This stage will last for two to three weeks before hatching. Darkling beetles are brown for their first few days in their new form, but they gradually turn a black color. Their total lifespan is around five to six months.

Why Grow Your Own Mealworms?

I often joke that in the movie The Martian, Matt Damon would have been better off growing bugs instead of potatoes on Mars. In addition to being nutrition powerhouses and super sustainable, insects have incredible potential in urban farming. They take up very little space, can be grown virtually anywhere (with the proper setup), require less feed than traditional livestock, and do not consume much water. Efficient little machines!

Protein is one of the most expensive supplements to buy, so why not grow your own? There’s a reason why mealworms are a great choice for raising healthy chickens. And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be eating them ourselves.

How To Farm Mealworms

If you don’t enjoy D.I.Y. projects, it is possible to buy mealworm farm kits online:

Step 1: Find A Container

The first step in building your mealworm farm is determining the container which you will use to grow them in. You can use a plastic storage tote, old aquarium, or [other]. The recommended size is around 12 inches x 24 inches x 12 inches deep.

Your container will also need a lid or screen mesh to put over the top (make sure it allows for air circulation.)

If you’re a handy craftsperson and looking to build something a little more exciting, you can check out this guide on how to make a multi-tiered mealworm farm.

A multi-tiered farm might also be preferable because some suggest keeping the four stages of this insect (adult beetles, eggs, larvae, and pupae) separate. Adult beetles can dine on pupae or eggs.

Step 2: Prepare The Container

Make sure your container is clean and dry. You need to find a good location for the mealworm farm – somewhere dark/low-light and warm, ideally around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter months, you might invest in a heat mat like those made for reptiles.

Note: The ideal temperature to grow mealworms in is between 77 – 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Mealworms do reproduce in temperatures ranging from 65 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but temperatures above 86 degrees and below 62 degrees may negatively impact growth.

Step 3: Add The Feed

After the container is all set up, you need to fill it with feed (substrate) for your mealworms. You should fill the container about two to three inches deep with feed.

Many use wheat bran, rolled oats, chicken mash, or cereal crumbs for the feed. [Note: if you use chicken feed, make sure it does not contain diatomaceous earth as this will kill mealworms.]

When you’re growing mealworms for human consumption, stick with super duper clean feed. Wheat bran, rolled oats, dried grass, herbivore manures… just know what you’re feeding them. They get most of their moisture from vegetable scraps so put in peels and rinds from fruits and veggies like carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, apples, etc. Avoid fruits that will rot quickly and make your habitat moist. This is a no-mold zone.

Feed like wheat bran is not terribly costly, and you should be able to buy some for less than one dollar per pound [link.] It is important to sterilize the feed before adding it to the container to ensure that no pests are present. To do so, spread it out on a cookie tray and bake it in the oven for twenty minutes at 130 – 150 degrees Fahrenheit. After the feed is clean, add three inches of it to the container. Make sure that the feed is kept dry to keep a mold-free mealworm farm.

Step 4: Find Mealworms

You can buy mealworms online or at a local pet store. It is important to find a trusted mealworm supplier – especially if you intend to eat your mealworms. Like most insects, mealworms quite literally are what they eat.

I recommend:

Step 5: Add The Mealworms

Finally, you can add your little critters into your carefully prepared farm. As they say – the more the merrier! Aim to start with at least 500.

Gently pour your mealworms into the container and apply the cover (which exists to keep things out rather than to keep the mealworms in.)

Step 6: Feed The Mealworms

Now that the setup is complete, all you need to do is keep your farm fed and watch them multiply. You may feed the mealworms as much as you like – more food means more mealworms. Just be sure to feed them at least every few weeks to maintain a depth of around three inches.

Step 7: Harvest The Mealworms

In a few months (the complete lifespan from mealworm to Darkling beetle is five to six months) you can start collecting mealworms to eat. Make sure to leave the pupae and beetles in the farm to reproduce.

You will not need to worry about removing the dead beetles, as the larvae will take care of that for you. The only cleaning you will need to do is remove any bits of moldy food.

I’ve learned from some helpful sites (listed below) that one trick for easily collecting the mealworms is to add new feed. Place a vegetable such as a carrot into the container and leave it for five minutes. You will find that the mealworms will have latched onto the carrot. Now you may pull the vegetable out and shake it over a separate container to collect your meal…worms.

If you are fortunate enough to have more mealworms than you know what to do with, you can store extras in a freezer in plastic bags.

What To Expect When Growing Mealworms

Building a mealworm is inexpensive, can be completed in a matter of days, uses around 1.5 square feet of space, and can produce about 1 – 1.5 pounds of mealworms a week.

According to Instructables, here’s the timescale breakdown:

  • A Darkling beetle reaches maturity just a few days after it has emerged from its cocoon. During the 2 to 3-month lifespan, a female can lay hundreds, if not thousands, of eggs.
  • The egg takes between 4 and 19 days to hatch (average of 12 days).
  • It hatches as a tiny, whitish larva, which is hard to see at first.
  • The larva will go through several molts (up to 20), shedding its exoskeleton as it grows. The last molt occurs about 3 months after it has hatched from an egg, whereby it will be golden brown and between 1” and 1.4” long.
  • If you don’t harvest the mealworm at this stage, it will then pupate, encasing itself in a cream, hard case that doesn’t move much or eat.
  • After 6-18 days, a beetle will emerge. It will be pale brown and weak at first, but will darken to a black, shiny beetle after a couple of days, and the cycle can begin again.

I have no clever ending for this post… so happy farming! Would love to see any progress you make on Instagram! Tag @bugible – let’s be friends.

Sources:

  1. The Happy Chicken Coop
  2. Instructables
  3. Sialis

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