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 Assembly and set up - questions and feedback 
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Post Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
Please ask any questions about putting your unit together, and about the initial set up. Feedback is always appreciated. :)

To see what I've posted about it on the blog you can go here: LINK Of course instructions don't always make things perfectly clear and I'll be happy to go into detail about anything.

Thanks!

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Mon Jul 29, 2013 10:03 am
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
I received an email from one of my bio-composter customers which is pasted below:
Quote:
I received the unit today. No problems assembling it and as it happened I already had some lump hardwood charcoal so did not install the lava rock.
Two questions though:
1. The hatchery instructions say to peel the tape off and place the unit 'upside down' on bread placed on top of the coir in the container. Does upside down mean that the formerly taped side sits on top of the bread or the other way with the larvae up in the air and the opposite side on the bread? I chose the latter since the non-taped side seemed 'up' to me. I have doubts though because it seems more logical for the taped side which also has the temporary food to be in contact with the new food.
2. After filling with charcoal above the drain plastic and using all the coir supplied it fills almost half the container. Should I be using less of the coir and conserve some for a fresh change of the material? This would also give more room for food.

Sorry if these are dumb questions...

Best,
Bill

My response:
Quote:
Hi Bill,

I'm sorry about the confusion. I'm working on the instructions as I find issues and your feedback is very helpful.

The hatchery should be placed with the hole facing down. One important thing I've added to the instructions is to not let an airtight seal form around the hole. Here are the most current instructions: LINK

I start my own units with 3-4 inches of charcoal/coir on the bottom. In my mind that is a quantity that will keep the unit draining well even when it is full. You could use less, or add it as the waste levels rises, but I would rather have it concentrated on the bottom, where it will be closer to the drain. The lower level is where compaction of fine materials can lead to clogging, and therefore poor drainage and anaerobic conditions. Eventually the larvae will mix much of it throughout the waste.

This is the first year that I've used coir chips and charcoal in this way, so you're really taking part in an experiment. It's experimental, but after three months of heavily feeding my units with this system I still have excellent drainage and aerobic waste. I think it's best to at least cover the horizontal drain pipe initially, but I doubt there would be a problem with using less coir or adding it gradually.

I would like to publish your questions and my replies in the section of our forum dedicated to set up and assembly questions and feedback. It would be great if you joined the forum and continued discussing BSF there, but if not, allowing me to publish this exchange will helps others. I could use your first name, or let you remain anonymous. Of course I would not publish your email address.

Thanks,
Jerry

I came up with the seemingly deep layer of coir chips on the bottom by imagining the total amount of it that I would have mixed into the castings when the unit was full, before using the compost for gardening. Then, instead of mixing in the coir after the compost was removed, I decided to let it work to improve drainage/aeration from the beginning. Likewise with the charcoal.

Thanks again for the feedback Bill!

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*I'm not an entomologist, and much of what I write about BSF is an educated guess.


Tue Aug 06, 2013 1:49 pm
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
You mention you start your own units with 3-4 inches of charcoal/coir on the bottom. Is that a particular layer of one then a layer of the other on top or is it all mixed in? What is the ratio? Half and half or something else?

Have you thought about using the expanded clay ball Hydroton on the bottom then a plastic mesh above that then the coir chips on top of all that? Would the expanded clay balls with plastic mesh help or hurt?


Fri Feb 28, 2014 12:50 am
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
EDIT June 2014: I'm still using pine bark, but have become aware of an issue with the release of sap/resin in some batches. If you're using one of my bio-composters, you can dissolve pine resin with Dawn Ultra dish soap. A description of the pine bark issue and the Dawn Ultra treatment can be found here: LINK

I'm currently testing alternatives to pine bark, including common wood mulch and using all hardwood lump charcoal. I used medium coconut husk (coir) chips in the past with good results, but after several months it tends to shred and slow down drainage.


Hi bNp, welcome to the forum.

I have some updating to when I get a little time. Here's what I'm currently recommending, from the composter page on the blog:

Quote:
Pine bark mulch – not included, but required for proper operation

This system is designed to be used with some type of bulking material, and the drainage system will not function properly without it. This can include coconut husk (coir), corncob pieces, mulch, etc. If you use coir, we recommend sourcing medium to large coir chips, as opposed to the more common coir bricks that are made up of very fine material. Bulking material works best when it resists breaking down, which is why we prefer pine bark mulch. The type I’m currently using in my composters is called Mini Pine Bark Nuggets, and I got it at Home Depot: LINK You can use larger chunks, but I find the smaller pieces easier to work with. If you can’t find the small size bark you can always break it up manually. Other types of wood mulch would probably be effective, but I haven’t tested them at this time. The amount required is between 1/3 and 1/2 of the total volume of the composter.

Hardwood Lump Charcoal (biochar) – not included, but recommended

In theory, charcoal has several advantages in a BSF composter. If you would like to research biochar this article is a good place to start: LINK

The charcoal we use is sold for cooking on barbeque grills, and is fairly common. Lump charcoal is different than briquettes which we do not recommend. Lump charcoal typically comes in irregular shapes and sizes, and it’s probably best to break it into pieces that are approximately 1 inch/2.5cm square or smaller, but not so small that it could clog the drainage slots. You can easily break it up with a hammer. If you use charcoal you should still use at least an equal amount of pine bark, and the total volume of the two combined should fill the unit between 1/3 and 1/2 full.


I looked into Hydroton a while ago, but never tested it. I don't know if it would be an improvement over bark/charcoal, but I imagine it would be a decent bulking material.

I doubt the mesh would be advantageous. A good way to think of a BSF colony is like a slow motion blender. :D

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Fri Feb 28, 2014 1:24 am
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Post Re: BSF Bio-composter
Hi Jerry, I looked without finding dimensions for your 12 gallon unit. I have a suitable balcony site 35 inches long by 18.5 inches wide for a bio-composter & want to buy suitable one from you. Got a handy reference for dimensions?


Wed Apr 02, 2014 8:48 pm
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Post Re: BSF Bio-composter
gringojay welcome to our forum :) If you'd like you can introduce yourself here (link). If you haven't checked it already there's more info in the BSF Bio-Composter support & observations section (link).

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Wed Apr 02, 2014 9:07 pm
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Post Re: BSF Bio-composter
Whenever you get a chance please tell the dimensions of the 12 gallon unit you make. Or, give the brand name plastic bin & I can search for the specs. I understand the collection feature is offset to one side & thus adds to the total site required. Thanx.


Wed Apr 02, 2014 10:42 pm
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Post Re: BSF Bio-composter
EDIT: see corrected data in my next post

Hi gringojay, welcome to the forum. Thanks for asking about the new composter. The latch box itself is XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, plus a few inches for the double top. It's 51 quarts in volume, and the working compost volume is 10 gallons.

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Thu Apr 03, 2014 10:54 pm
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Post Re: BSF Bio-composter
Jerry wrote:
Hi gringojay, welcome to the forum. Thanks for asking about the new composter. The latch box itself is 25.25"L x 15.75"W x 26.13"H, plus a few inches for the double top. It's 51 quarts in volume, and the working compost volume is 10 gallons.


CORRECTION: 25.25"L x 15.75"W x 11.25"H

I was in a rush when I posted the dimensions, and I just copy/pasted the data from a webpage that was selling a lot of 6 units. For that reason the height measurement is for a stack of boxes, not one box. I measured 11.25 inches high with one lid, and about 13.5 inches high with our double lid cover installed.

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*I'm not an entomologist, and much of what I write about BSF is an educated guess.


Wed Apr 09, 2014 10:29 am
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
I received eggs with my 12 gallon bio-composter & after 10 days there are larvae about 1 inch long. My unit's bottom has size selected balls of expanded clay (like "hydroton") occupying up to the exit ramp. The feed substrate is used juice bar pulp I have from recycling in vermiculuture. The fresh pulp is first passively pressed under weight in a perforated bucket; the next day the reduced volume pulp is innoculated with "worm tea" (castings & worm compost & molasses warm brewed 24 hrs. with air bubbler), covered against gnats & left in the shade a few days until holes in bottom of the bucket stops leaching juice.
The initial bedding was a very thin layer of the inoculated plant pulp & the shipped eggs were laid atop; then, after few days, shipping egg cluster's cardboard & bread dispersed across the substrate. I see larvae in most sectors now & no swarming herd pattern.
Pulp is giving the BSF larvae a moist substrate that is not soupy & seems to lay nicely atop the expanded clay. The pulp did/does under go some surface drying & I had to mist the surface a few times even though the humidity control was fairly precise. I put new inoculated pulp on top when surface pulp began to look too dry & today the thickest layer of new pulp yet.
When I check in on them lately can hear a slow,soft, bubbly, popping sound - it's something like when 1st put milk onto a breakfast cereal. In fact today was the first time I pushed apart deep enough into their substrate to see if the sound was coming from BSF larvae, & so was unprepared with a ruler to measure one more precisely.
The unit so far has been indoors (nights here were cold), the temperature ranged from 25-30* Celsius. Humidity measured from on top of the pulp substrate ranges from 68-80%, but usually is less than 75% humidity because I intervene at times. For the first week of watching out for the eggs I was more actively keeping that humidity nursed at 70-74% humidity; a small clip on fan lets me blow away moisture & an old humidifier lets me add moisture.


Tue Apr 29, 2014 5:38 pm
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
Post Script:
If you are using expanded clay ("Hydroton"), & have never used it before, be advised that you absolutely must first rinse it clean of all the particulates it comes with before installing it inside the bio-composter . This clearing up of the product is easiest done in somewhat small batches & usually takes more than just a simple rinse. Otherwise there will be a residual sludge that settles out, that would definitely be resistant to dislodging; & would almost surely clog up Jerry's designed flushing tubes' network.
Also, regarding the juice pulp I use, I do not recycle the juice bar's citrus orange peels because they degrade so slow & my worm bins' capacity is limited. Some lemon peel fragments do show up in the pulp I recycle & those I do let into worm bins - so I'll let the BSF larvae get those fragments too. In a commercial operation I'd shred the orange/citrus peels by using something like a garbage disposal unit mounted outside of a sink & then there should be no problem mixing that shredded orange/citrus pulp into what are feeding BSF larvae.


Tue Apr 29, 2014 10:22 pm
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
1st dark larvae have migrated into the collection jar sometime early Tuesday night 06 May from eggs shipped with bio-composter by Jerry on 15 April; it is now 22 days later. Presumably these hatched on the way & I thought saw a few when set everything up.
In the 3 inch expanded clay ("hydroton") bottom bulking media strata there are impressive amounts turning dark. It appears to me they prefer to go through their changes below their feed substrate. I deduce this is to get a break from the air pressure by putting a decomposing strata between them & what is called oxygen partial pressure; that reflex is tied in to how insect airways are designed I proposed elsewhere in the Forum.


Wed May 07, 2014 2:54 am
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
II found that all of my prepupae had migrated downwards into the substrate blend of wood chips, charcoal and shell grit, ie none crawled up the self-harvesting escape ramp. Elsewhere on the forum it was suggested that this was due to the fairly dry nature of the drainage substrate. This was problematic in that I either had to dig through the substrate to directly collect the prepupae, and possibly damage them, or devise a method to collect the intermittently eclosing adults. If I had a large enough enclosure then I could have simply placed my little larva lounge into it with its lid removed, allowing the adults some room to manoevre and do their thing, but instead i have been catching them by hand and placing them into a larger container.
It has been for nothing, however, since no mating has been observed nor eggs produced.
It is late autumn here in my region and the daily temperatures have fallen steadily in recent weeks, to the point that BSF are probably not going to complete their life cycle without some assistance - unless they can go dormant. Since far fewer adult flies have eclosed than there were larvae, I deduce that I have many pupae remaining in my maggot box. Is it likely that these will overwinter as pupae and eclose as the weather warms up again? If overwintering of pupae is possible, what is the best way to manage them through the winter?


Wed May 07, 2014 11:03 am
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
Rooster wrote:
... Is it likely that these will overwinter as pupae and eclose as the weather warms up again?
That's the current thinking although I don't know any published research on the subject.

Quote:
... If overwintering of pupae is possible, what is the best way to manage them through the winter?
Here are a couple of previous conversations about overwintering larvae (link) (link)

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Wed May 07, 2014 11:21 am
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
Thanks, BW.

It seems that if I ensure that the pupae don't freeze and can also maintain other parameters within acceptable limits, then my 'colony' has a chance to re-establish itself in late spring. Next year I will be organised with lights, heaters and a decent sized enclosure.


Wed May 07, 2014 11:47 pm
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
Last of pre-pupae migrated from eggs set into virgin bio-composter 19 April; were barely a dozen collected 12 May - on 24th night elapsed. "Hydroton" expanded clay working well for larvae to navigate down into & out of to find exit ramp.
Flushings seems to work fine & only a few re-pupae rinse out in drained water. When were young larvae only about 2 tiny white larvae got flushed out of expanded clay & only 2-4 swollen white spheres, which looked to be waterlogged unfertile eggs.
The mushy rotten vegetable feed scraped off as well, without dragging up a lot of clay balls. "Pudding" bio-film aggregate stayed atop expanded clay making it's removal feasible.
Intend to empty all residual matter along with expanded clay into a larger tub filled with water, gloved rub the bulk, let settle, retrieve bulking material & then rinse off any vegetable matter as need be. It looks feasible to re-use same 3-4 inch of expanded clay in 12 gallon bio-composter for a fresh start without the "pudding". I'll try to measure the volume of how much expanded clay the unit
is working with; it is not too heavy for moving.


Tue May 13, 2014 6:19 pm
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
10 liters (42 cups) of expanded clay pellets (eBay ~ U$11), fills 3 inches of the 12 gallon bio-composter up to the ramp . Doing a soaking wash, floating to cull (skim) recalcitrant pre-pupae, loosely strained, rinsed, allowed to air dry & then winnowing gets rid of the dry residue. Processing of pellets & handling them during steps not disagreeable; wash water odor aside. The expanded clay cleans up visibly with no residual stink , although pellets do not smell the same as when new.


Fri May 16, 2014 1:33 am
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
Flies began emerging after sundown now from Jerry's eggs grown into pre-pupae that migrated out of a 12 gallon bio-composter 15 days ago; all life stages so far have been indoors (outdoors here has desert like low humidity, with some really hot days & quite chilly nights) so during pupal stage ambient temperature ranged from air conditioned days to shirt sleeve night time type of conditions. Kept them in lightly moistened shredded coconut coir (milled kind grow plants in, not bulking chunks of chips). Coir held fairly close to 80% relative humidity as measured directly atop the coir, even though room's ambient relative humidity & at top of container's mouth R/H would swing lower. Receptacle is a narrow (14 cm/5.5 inch diameter) tall (50 cm/20 inch height) clear vase with cloth over mouth held with rubber band. Flies will get released when morning comes into their outdoors mating tent with a humidifier on a balcony. First week was careless on providing a light cycle, while 2nd week made sure vase got some hours of indirect light (no direct sun rays striking the vase). The amount of coir necessary used to cover all the pre-pupae from Jerry's eggs is a column of coir 18 cm/11 inch tall by 14 cm/5.5 inch wide. When dropped collected pre-pupae that migrated out of bio-composter atop the coir they immediately burrowed below the surface. So, expanded clay as bulking agent & coir as pupation substrate apparently work just fine for keeping the propagation timeline at ideal rates when no extreme variation of feed, temperature &/or humidity conditions .


Thu May 22, 2014 3:02 am
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
Transfered pupae into less deep coir (re-using same coir) after seeing a new fly deep down against the glassware. Am unsure if lower depth flies emerging would unfavorably burn off energy stores moving through coir to reach surface. Pupae now in wide mouth glass vessel 22 cm/9 inch diameter by 27 cm/10.5 inch high clear container with 10 cm/4 inch of coir substrate. I don't think there was anything detrimental to pupation from their 2 weeks in deeper coir (L. Holmes' experiments covered pre-pupae with 15 cm substrate noting least compaction is best).
First flies now released outside in balcony's 6 ft. high x 3 ft. wide mosquito net tent; which is the best I can do to placate building management. Fortunately I am on the top floor so most neighbors can only see some white fabric & I don't have to explain BSF won't bite/eat. I'll prefer a staggered fly emergence & less need for my untried local contingency breeding plans in these urban conditions; which is unlike my sub-tropical rural property where BSF are native to the area.
For those who may have missed it: as per Holmes the male flies emerge 1 - 2 days before females &, if conditions right, they mate 2 days later with eggs laid 2nd day after they mate. If pupation occurred under 12 hour light conditions Holmes' males lived an average of 9.7 days & the females 8.6 days; if females pupated under only 8 hours of light conditions they'll have less viable number of eggs.
I forgot to closely control this batch for light so can't test how well Jerry's stock eggs played out past this juncture. It seems to be infrared light that the pre-pupae sense & (again Holmes) pre-pupae ideally pupating by 10th day is best & pupae best when emerge on 5th day.


Thu May 22, 2014 2:05 pm
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Post Re: Assembly and set up - questions and feedback
Thanks gringojay. Any chance you could post some photos of your set up? ;)

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*I'm not an entomologist, and much of what I write about BSF is an educated guess.


Mon May 26, 2014 8:54 am
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