Aug 012009
 

toaster

By that I mean you can’t simply buy one, add food waste to it without further involvement and expect it to perform properly. Successful operation of a BioPod requires regular observation of the black soldier fly (BSF) colony and small adjustments designed to keep it balanced. There are only a few simple adjustments involved, but to know which to use you will need to learn about BSF. It’s similar in scope to learning how to ride a bicycle and about as easy.

Your involvement

Often the adjustments are as simple as withholding food scraps for a few days and in other cases you may need to add something dry like stale bread, cereals, or shredded paper to soak up excess liquid (BSF won’t eat the paper). Sometimes you may need to remove the lid for an afternoon, or treat the BioPod legs to repel ants. On average your BioPod won’t require more than a few minutes a day and you can even ignore it for a several days at a time if you manage it properly. The key to making it simple is to study the black soldier fly larvae and to understand how various factors effect them. If you don’t learn the basic behaviors and needs of these fascinating animals then you will probably have difficulty keeping them. If you learn to avoid overfeeding and overheating the colony you’ll be most of the way there.

Please do some research before you buy

Your geographic location and even the altitude at which you live will effect how easy or difficult it is to culture black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens). Culturing BSF is possible anywhere, but if you live along the west coast or in the southeastern U.S. there’s a very good chance BSF are already around you and starting a colony will be relatively easy. If you live in a cold and/or dry climate the difficulty level increases. If you’re not sure about your specific area please contact us and we’ll do our best to inform you.

The main factor is temperature

In general the warmer and wetter your climate, the more likely it is that you already have black soldier flies in your area. Colder and/or drier climates represent less likely places to find BSF and they are the most challenging places to establish a colony. This is also true of elevations over 5000 feet (1500m). The native range of BSF is the southeastern U.S. but over time they have been transported around the world. They are not an invasive species.

usa_hardiness_zone

(click map to enlarge)

BSF are most commonly found in the USDA plant hardiness zones 7 – 10, but there are often exceptions. The hardiness zones relate to temperature only and while this is the most important factor with BSF it isn’t the only one. I’ve gotten reports of robust BSF populations in zone 6 and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of them in cooler zones in the future.

Don’t let me discourage you

I just want everyone to understand that when you purchase a BioPod you’re entering into a new hobby that may be somewhat challenging at first and also very rewarding. If you like gardening, traditional composting, or vermiculture then you’re a likely candidate for black soldier fly culturing. Likewise, if you watch nature and science shows you will probably find BSF as fascinating as I do.

Update: Since we now have a discussion forum we will be disabling comments here on the blog. Anyone can read the forum, but to join in on the conversation you will need to register. This is an easy and painless process, and it’s necessary to keep spammers from, well, spamming up the place. :)

The forum can be accessed here (forum) and you will see a link for registration in the upper left corner of the forum. The legal language on the registration form is very basic and is what came with the forum software. In short, we won’t share your information, and please don’t be vulgar or break the law. ;)

solider

 

May 032009
 

restarting the colony 2009

Starting my third year with the black soldier fly

I’m going into this season with a small colony made up of grubs that were laid last fall. Where I live the winters are mild so it was fairly easy to maintain the colony through the cool months. At the end of last summer my BioPod was full of compost and I should have harvested it. As a result of that neglect my beautiful compost became anaerobic, dense and a bit smelly. What can I say? It’s been a hectic year. :) I think early fall may be a good time for removing the BSF compost because the grubs are likely to be less active on average in winter versus the warm months. I believe the churning action of a very active colony (summer) is an important factor in keeping the compost aerated and “fresh”. I said early fall for compost harvesting because I’m afraid that if you wait too long in the season you won’t have time to rebuild the colony to near maximum size in preparation for the winter when BSF breeding stops (unless you’re in the tropics).

Spring cleaning

first BSF of 2009

BSF don’t normally land on people,
but this one had just emerged from it’s pupa so I was able to handle it.

I removed all of the compost and washed my BioPod. I hand picked a few hundred of the light colored juvenile grubs from the old compost and added them to the unit along with some fresh food scraps. I didn’t clean the grubs themselves so a small amount of the old compost was transferred along with them. This old material will act as a great attractant to BSF adults who have now started the mating season. A healthy and balanced BSF colony doesn’t have a strong or bad odor, but the females will always be attracted to the faint scent of an established colony. As I mentioned previously, my compost is anaerobic now and therefore smelly, but the typical mild smelling compost from a balanced culture would work just as well.

BioPod-spring cleaning

A new drain

As you can see from the first photo in this post I have replaced the BioPod’s liquid collection jar with a straight drain into the ground. (I hope you won’t be too disappointed with me Dr. Olivier.) I haven’t been gardening and to date I haven’t done anything productive with the liquid (also called “tea”). For that reason I’m opting for the convenience of the straight drain for now. To see how I set up the drain you can go to my “Tips and Tweaks” page.

The pond

You can also see my pond in the photo. I moved the BioPod near the pond because I’ll be feeding fish scraps and culls to my BSF colony this year. I don’t enjoy killing fish, but to maintain the population in a healthy balance I will be removing some of them. I’ll have some help from birds, turtles, and snakes, but the pond is fairly close to the house and wild predators are limited. With the BioPod I’ll be able to convert the excess fish into nutritious black soldier fly grubs and return them to the pond as fish feed. I have a post about my philosophy regarding feeding BSF grubs to other animals here.

Black soldier fly grubs are also fantastic fish bait, so having the BioPod near the pond will be very convenient for fishing. I’ve created a page about BSF as bait which you can find here.

Winter BSF culturing

As I mentioned earlier I did keep the colony going through the winter, but I didn’t keep any records. The one thing I can confirm is that the BSF grubs will interrupt their usual development during the cold season. I had very few BSF laying eggs by October and the last one I observed laid her eggs late in that month. By November I stopped seeing any smaller grubs in my colony. I assume then, that the grubs that currently make up my colony are at least five months old. During the summer this stage would only last 2-3 weeks. Next winter I want to be better prepared to test cold weather bio-composting and I hope that some of you will participate in it with me. At the end of this summer we should start a thread about this at the BioPod forum to share strategies and results.

Logging this year’s results

My goal this year is to keep a log of all the food I add to the colony and the weight of the grubs produced. I’ll be fairly general about recording the composition of the food scraps so this won’t be a controlled experiment. The fact that I’ll be adding a large amount of whole fish and fish scraps will certainly effect my results. My goal is to provide a general outline of what you might expect. You can find the log in the column on the right of this page under Black Soldier Fly Pages, or simply click here.

Update: Since we now have a discussion forum we will be disabling comments here on the blog. Anyone can read the forum, but to join in on the conversation you will need to register. This is an easy and painless process, and it’s necessary to keep spammers from, well, spamming up the place. :)

The forum can be accessed here (forum) and you will see a link for registration in the upper left corner of the forum. The legal language on the registration form is very basic and is what came with the forum software. In short, we won’t share your information, and please don’t be vulgar or break the law. ;)

solider

Aug 162008
 

frigid north

Actually, this post applies to any region that has seasonal temperatures below that which support BSF mating. This encompasses the entire continental U.S. except for a few extreme southern areas.

Black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) are common in tropical and subtropical regions, but their range extends into many northern states of the continental U.S. You can easily operate a BSF bio-composting unit in northern states during the warm months, but you can also maintain the colony through the colder months with a little extra effort.

A black soldier fly colony generates its own heat

Maintaining a BSF unit in cold weather without heating it is possible because the churning action and digestion of the black soldier fly grubs creates heat as a byproduct. Under cold conditions keeping the colony at the optimal temperature range of 85° – 100°F (30°-38°C) is as simple as consistently feeding them and placing an insulating material directly on top of the pile. Simply remove the insulating material, add the food scraps, and then replace it. It’s important to feed the colony consistently in cold weather because without food the temperature will drop and the colony will become dormant. You can think of it like a diesel engine, if it gets cold then it’s hard to get it started again.

If the larvae are exposed to freezing temperatures they will die. Also, any insulation on top of the colony needs to have an air gap between it and the BioPod.

Maintaining a BSF colony during extended periods of sub-freezing weather will probably be a challenge for a novice, but it’s worth tying because at worst you’ll learn more about this fascinating creature. If you aren’t up to the challenge just yet then you can enjoy BSF culturing up to the point where the weather in your area makes it difficult and then resume in the spring. If you can store some or all of the compost through the winter it should make attracting the BSF easier in the spring.

Process more food scraps, harvest less larvae

The time it takes BSF larvae to mature increases in cold weather from the usual few weeks to a period of up to several months. I’ve maintained BSF larvae in the juvenile stage (light color, actively feeding) for five months through winter keeping the unit outdoors with some insulation. The same individual larvae will eat all winter which enables you to continue bio-composting without the need to replenish the colony with visiting females. However, since reproduction doesn’t happen at this time you must stop harvesting larvae if you wish to continue processing waste through the cold season.

In warm weather the colony has a tendency to overheat, so in cool weather the larvae are able to consume food scraps even more efficiently.

How adventurous are you?

I don’t recommend bringing the BSF unit into your living room, but why not try keeping it in the garage or a shed when the temperature drops? Sure, a few larvae might get out, but so what? The adult fly will just emerge from it’s pupae in the spring and then you’ll have the pleasure of gently capturing it and releasing it outdoors. They are harmless creatures after all. I don’t think a heated space would be the best choice though, because it might trick the larvae into developing too quickly. I would guess that 40° – 60°F (5°-15°C) is a good range to try testing this theory, and of course you would need an insulating disc of some sort to keep the colony warm. The degree of insulation would depend on the ambient temperature in the space.

I’m cursed with living in an area that rarely gets cold so if you try this experiment please let me know how it goes. I would love to post photos of your set up (if it works :) ).

Mike made a comment below reminding me of a presentation by ESR about BSF culturing in winter. Here is a link to that article: http://www.esrla.com/winter/frame.htm

solider

Jul 112008
 

My first BioPod

After working with and blogging about black soldier fly larvae (Hermetia illucens) for over a year I finally have one of the first BioPods. For the past year I’ve been getting by with my homemade unit and I’m looking forward to testing this product. With that previous experience I’m pretty familiar with the shortcomings of my unit and from what I can tell by looking, the BioPod addresses those problems.

I’m starting this colony from scratch

I already have a colony of BSF larvae established, but I want to take this opportunity to start a BioPod from scratch. On one hand it seems like I’ll have an advantage starting this new colony because I have an established BSF population on my property, but that may not be an advantage. My existing colony which is 200 feet (60 meters) from my new BioPod is a powerful attraction to any female BSF looking to lay their eggs. BSF larvae do not have a strong or unpleasant odor, but their scent is easily picked up by the adult females.

The bait

The BioPod user’s guide recommends starting your colony with normal household food scraps except for meat or fish. It’s not a problem to feed meats or fish to an established colony, but before that stage those items will attract too many unwanted critters. I started my first colony using assorted scraps, but for this unit I’m using only dry dog food. I added 2 cups (.5 liters) of it, slightly moistened. The humidity where I live is usually 50% or higher so I don’t think I’ll need to wet it further. The purpose of wetting it in the first place is to enhance the smell and it may not even be necessary. The reason I’m testing with the dog food is because some types of food scraps start to look nasty after a few weeks and the dog food is fairly stable. In the end it probably doesn’t make much difference, but it’s hard for me to follow instructions sometimes. :)

JULY 10

This is the day my BioPod arrived. I set it up in about 20 minutes, added the bait, and so far that’s all I’ve done. It’s important to deter ants from entering the BioPod so I’m going to treat the legs of the stand with a small amount of Bug Stop.

JULY 15

It’s been raining a lot lately and that seems to slow down the BSF adults. I haven’t observed any BSF or seen any eggs on the new BioPod yet. This morning when I checked it there were a few house flies on the lid and I could smell the dog food from outside. Inside there were a few fruit flies and nothing else.

JULY 20

Still no sign of black soldier flies in the BioPod, even though they’re active only a few hundred feet away. I guess this reinforces the idea that if you maintain a BSF colony that you won’t have them all over your property. I’ve seen a few house flies on the BioPod lid but none inside. This may be because they aren’t willing to enter the small opening in the BioPod. My homemade unit had a fair amount of house flies entering it at this stage.

The dog food I used as an attractant is beginning to mold and I don’t think it was necessary to moisten it. Still not bad for 10 days in the summer though. :)

It can be frustrating waiting for the BSF to show up at your BioPod. I think the key is getting that first female to lay her eggs in your BioPod. Once that happens I think the others will quickly follow.

JULY 24

Still no luck in the new BioPod and I may have a clue why it’s taking this long, even with the healthy BSF population on my property.

frog on the BioPod lid

I’m sure this one frog isn’t the only reason it’s taking a while and it may be the other colony I have on the property is getting all of the attention. Still, that is one well fed frog. :)

JULY 27

Okay, first of all, the frog was back! The frog from the photo has some unique markings and I believe the one I saw today was the same frog. The first time I moved it about 50 feet, this time I tried 100. :)

Other than that I want to say UEREKA! I now have BSF eggs in my new BioPod. I’m surprised how long it took, but as I mentioned earlier I believe my other colony was attracting most of the females.

It won’t be long now!

Black soldier fly eggs on egg disc

(egg disc removed from BioPod for photo)

AUGUST 1

I have a few different types of larvae feeding in the BioPod now which are too large to have come from the eggs in the photo above. I think I’ve seen one of these species in the past when starting a BSF colony, and I think it may be one of the other soldier fly variaties. Here’s a photo of that fly:

possible soldier fly - not bsf

(unidentified fly – not bsf)

There are over 200 members of the soldier fly family (Stratiomyidae) in North American, but I assume the other soldier flies won’t work well for bio-composting.

I’m fairly certain some of the larger larvae feeding in the BioPod are black soldier fly larvae, so it shouldn’t be long before they become the dominant species.

Frog removal is becoming a daily chore. :/

AUGUST 2

I may have been too conservative with the food scraps added to the Pod so far. I’ve limited the food source to the original few cups of dry dog food put in at the beginning. Since there are larvae now present I decided to add more food today. When I removed the BioPod lid I was happily surprised to see 4 female BSF laying eggs. If they all survive that could be a few thousand larvae. Two of them kept laying will I poured the sloppy scraps in.

AUGUST 10

Today there were prepupae in the collection bucket. Prepupal larvae (prepupae) are simply the mature, dark colored larvae that are in the final stage before they pupate and change into adult black soldier flies. Although the light colored immature larvae sometimes migrate out of the BioPod the majority are these prepupal larvae.

prepupal black soldier fly larvae

Above: The BioPod collection bucket

The number of larvae actively feeding in my new pod is steadily increasing as is to be expected. I’m short on food scraps so I’ve been feeding this colony a type of hog feed that is made from cornmeal. Ideally I’ll find a source of food waste to use but for now I don’t have the time to find it or fetch it. : /

bsf colony on August 10, 2008

SEPTEMBER 24

I haven’t had much to report since the past several weeks have been business (BSF composting) as usual. I add scraps every 2 or 3 days and I occasionally empty the collection bucket and liquid jar. I’m spending about 5 minutes per day with this unit on average. Most of the grubs have been fed to my pond fish, and some of them have been sent to my BioPod customers in seeding kits.

As the weather gets cooler I’ll monitor the activity of the female black soldier flies that visit the unit to lay eggs. I’ll probably start a new post to record the end of season information.

composter, compost, larvae, fly, flies, biopod

Jun 302008
 

(click the spaceship for BioPod info)

ufocrash

The first shipment of BioPods has arrived at the ProtaCulture warehouse and will begin shipping out soon. I can’t wait to retire my homemade BSF unit!

The BioPod

And now for my BioPod blurb:

The BioPod is a convenient tool for using black soldier fly larvae (Hermetia illucens) to bio-compost organic waste like kitchen scraps as well as raising them as animal feed or fish bait. As the larvae mature they self-harvest into the collection bucket and can be released or used to feed reptiles, fowl, amphibians, wild birds, or as excellent fish bait.

The BioPod food composter was designed by Dr. Paul Olivier, his company ProtaCulture and it’s parent company ESR Intl. Dr. Olivier is one of the pioneers of black soldier fly related technology as well as other innovative green technologies. If you decide to culture black soldier fly larvae a BioPod will simplify the process and you will supporting a great company too.