How Many Homes Have Mealworms?
Let’s take a look at a very special kind of ‘worm’ you can grow at home – the ever popular Mealworm.
The Mealworm isn’t actually even a worm, but a Darkling beetle in its larval form. This beetle goes through four life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The mealworm is the second phase – a small (about 1″ long) yellowish segmented larva that doesn’t do much but burrow around in its little home, doing bug things like eating, growing and wriggling around. It’s pretty easy to raise mealworms. Keep them dry, well-fed with bran, a nice juicy carrot to hydrate with, and these guys will be happy!
Throughout history, people have consumed mealworms, particularly in Asian countries. You can find them in food markets, roasted or fried into tasty snacks, or ground into a dry additive for baked goods. They are composed of 46% protein and 37% fat, along with potassium, copper, sodium, iron, zinc and selenium. They also contain essential linoleic acids, with a good vitamin content and several important amino acids.
If for some reason you get caught in an emergency or a food shortage, you can survive by eating these high protein worms. Some reports indicate that by 2030, insects will be one of the top foods eaten on planet, including in North America
That alone may be a good enough reason to raise mealworms. These days the future looks unpredictable. Let’s do what we can to be prepared.
What Eats Mealworms?
Mealworms are commonly used as pet food for reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds. There is a large market in supplying pet stores. They always need the mealworms for a variety of small critters in the store, and for pet owners to purchase and take home. Talk to the pet stores in your town. Why not purchase from you?
Small farmers frequently add mealworms to their poultry feed. The high levels of protein encourage hens to lay big beautiful eggs, sometimes two a day!
Ducks, geese and turkeys love to eat mealworms as well. You can also package and freeze mealworms to use later.
In the spring, be generous to your wild bird friends by adding some mealworms to their feeder. This delightful snack will help the new parents nourish their tiny young. The added protein makes for stronger chicks.
Some fishing enthusiasts use meal worms for live fishing bait. Check with your local bait and tackle shops, as you may be able to supply them.
Restaurants are beginning to offer mealworm dishes. They are becoming popular because of their wonderful nutty taste, and they have more protein than most meats.
Many aspiring mealworm growers have found that a rotational system works best, with a multi-bin tower and one large separate bin for finishing multiple batches of mealworms together, plus a smaller bin for pupae.
The top bin in the tower will be your beetle Breeding Bin so it will need a simple modification. Cut the bottom out of the center, leaving about 2 1/2″ around edges. Spread 1/8″ hardware cloth over the new opening, nice and tight. Hot glue it on, making sure that the glue squeezes up through the screen before setting.
After attaching the screen, load the Breeding Bin with 2″ of oatmeal. This is the only bin we use oatmeal for, because less falls through the screen than if it was bran.
Place your newly purchased starter beetles in this bin. For beetle hydration, add a carrot on top of a section of cardboard egg carton. The carton holds the carrot up out of the oatmeal to prevent mold in your new beetle habitat, and the beetles will happily chew away on the carrots there.
After the male has injected a sperm packet into his chosen female, she will incubate the sperm for a few days, then burrow into the soft bedding and lay about 500 eggs. The newly laid eggs will plop through the screen into the collection bin below, which has been prepared with 3″ of wheat bran.
I have written a printable sheet detailing the movement of bins in your four bin tower. Download to your computer, then print out and hang it on your wall close to your mealworm operation, so you can refer to it when needed.
Check your collection bin every day. When you start to see movement, write the number of days till hatching starts on the blank lines in the printable form. Now you will have a base timeline for your bin movement, that is suited to your area, your humidity, and the average temperature of your mealworm tower.
A farmer in Florida will have a faster hatch time than a farmer in Nova Scotia, Canada, which is that much further north. Mealworms love heat and humidity, and it speeds up their reproductive process. That is why it’s necessary to establish this baseline for your personal operation.
Moving the bins systematically will help you keep things organized. After a few cycles of the bins, you’ll find a rhythm that suits your locale, your operation, and your personal schedule.
Monitor the progress in all bins daily.
Throughout your mealworms, as they approach the 60-day mark of life, some worms will be going into pupae stage to make more beetles. Your main breeding beetles only live for about five months, so you do need to let some larvae pupate, to make more beetles.
Sift through your meal worms with this pupae sifter, which is designed to let the meal worm slip through the crack, but captures the pupae, making it easy to move it to another environment. This need only be a small tub, with an inch of bran for soft bedding, nothing more. They do not eat or hydrate when in this stage, just sit there looking like trussed up mummies for two weeks! then they slowly metamorphose into a beetle.
After they change into a beetle, move them up to the beetle bin. Check the beetle bin every second day for dead beetles, and remove them. It’s good to keep as clean an environment as possible, to raise healthy worms.
You have new, happy, breeders. The circle is complete!
A Bit More Mealworm Maintenance
Now in your Finishing and Harvesting Bin, you should always have a good amount of mealworms to use. Make sure they have lots of bran to munch on and carrots to hydrate with, and they will grow quickly and soon be ready for eating. While they are growing, make sure to change the substrate about once a month, or more if needed.
I found a great sifting system from Amazon, that works a treat for this task. They fit over a five gallon bucket. Various screens, from large to tiny. Probably use the top three, to sift through bedding and single out beetles, pupae and larvae. The “frass” or poo, falls into the 5 gal pail. Keep this valuable waste as it is awesome organic fertilizer for your plants. Place sifted beetles and pupae in their proper bins.
Following the process I’ve outlined above, you have now created your own mealworm farm! You’re actually growing mealworms in an organized, manageable system! This is an exciting project!
Mealworms! Let’s Have Dinner!!
I wonder if you could take a cup or two of larvae, put them in their own tub of bran and sprinkle spice, like powdered garlic, into the tub. Within a week would you have garlic flavored mealworms?
This question and more will be answered as you experiment and develop your own special way of doing each step and becoming a successful mealworm farmer!
And for those of you who are brave, and of the adventurous soul, you will take your meal worms and create delicious dinners and snacks with them, and never lack for food !!
More Ways To Use The Mealworm
I hope this article has helped you know the steps involved in Mealworm farming, and inspired you to start your own farm! That would be a wonderful thing, in my opinion. We need more pioneers in this industry, stepping out there and making mealworms a viable option for our own tables! how about mealburger patties for your BBQ!
Remember, you can dry, freeze, or toast the mealworm. You can grind the mealworm and have a flour like crumb that you can spice and use for making burgers, sausages, wieners, smokies.
I’m just letting my imagination have way here, but I do know that this little worm could be one big factor in surviving food shortages, and in leaving the ocean alone for a couple decades until it can replenish stocks of fish that have been decimated due to the dog food industry, and the greater and greater demand for bulk protein to make the millions of sacks needed to feed dogs here on this continent, and around the world.How about such products as dog food, cat food, commercial fish food for fish farms. healthy pellets, or crumbles, or kibbles, or bits.
I’m in no way a meal worm expert, but I did spend several weeks putting this information together. I learned a tremendous amount about this little worm, and will be starting my own farm as soon as my 4 tier bin arrives.
Here is a shopping list of the items needed to set up this farm, with links where to find them.
- 4 Bin Tower = find it here
- Large Separate Bin = find it here
- Pupae Bin = find it here
- Pupae Sifter = find it here
- 5 Screen Sifter System = find it here
- Mealworms = find them here
- Wheat Bran = order it here
Take 1 cup mealworms, wash them thoroughly.
Fry in garlic butter till super crispy and you can hardly tell they are a worm anymore.
Drain on paper towel
Sprinkle with season salt
How about this: tiny mealworms, steamed as ‘mealworm rice’, with sauteed vegetables in wine sauce over.