Grow your own mealworms for your Beardie, or birds & skip the extra trips to the pet store. It can be as basic as an icecream pail as a home - and no, they can't escape. I've had my mealworm farm 5+yrs. Every 4-8 days (or when I remember) I take down veggie scraps. Every 4-6 weeks I do a bin change. That's IT.
Now when I was researching natural high protein food for my backyard chicken flock, my google searches made Meal Worm keeping a complicated and way more involved process. I knew I wouldn't do that, but I jumped in anyway figuring I'd see what happened.
Stuff to know.
Mealworms are the larval stage of the darkling beetle. These beetles do not fly. They mate and they eat. They lay copious amounts of eggs you cannot see.
Those eggs hatch out into teeny worms so small you cannot see them, those worms grow and grow until you feed them to your animals.
The adult beetles live about 3 months, so you always need to leave some worms to pupate, so they can turn into beetles and keep the party going.
Pupating is when they change from worm to beetle & is such a cool and weird stage in darkling beetles - just wait!
Mealworms shed their skin regularly, like a snake, as they move up to large sizes, they'll be white when this happens.
NO, It does not smell if you're doing it right!!!
Freshly hatched beetles are quite pale, the colour of the wheat bran, then they turn brown, then finally black.
My method is soooo basic! Ready?
Get a plastic tub. Shallow, approx 6"is fine. They cannot climb plastic. Note... they can & will climb pretty much everything else, lol. Some of mine are much taller than they need to be.
Get a bag of Wheat Bran - This is their food/bedding as they start out. You'll be putting 2-3 inches in your container. I get mine at bulk barn although most grocery bulk bins have it too. They EAT and live in, the wheat bran.
Get your meal worms / beetles - Put them in your plastic container on top of your wheat bran. Check yourself over 12x wondering if they got on you. 🤣 Seriously. I was so freaked out in the beginning to even touch one, lol. My cats were entranced/horrified! One of my current cats actually likes to eat the worms & beetles. 🤦🏼♀️
Feed/Water your worms with Veggies! Drop in your carrot or potato peels & veggie off cuts. Not a ton, just enough that they can suck the moisture out of them / eat them. For the bins I have here with hundreds of beetles / their offspring - I add approx 1 lg potato a week per bin (but mostly do it with veg scraps!). In an icecream tub I'd be adding maybe a 4"chunk of carrot chopped up. When the worms are tiny I push slices of potato or carrot (or whatever veg I have) down into the bin at regular intervals. When the worms are larger you can just lay on the top, the worms wiggling will have it pulled under. Of course, when you have a worm bin at its peak and filled with large worms, you'll need WAY more food. They LOVE Brassica's, so I load the bin with potato and cabbage - cheap worm food!
Tuck your container out of the way (mine is in the storage under the stairs) and come back to check-in, in a few days!
Mostly ignore them! I don't tend to stir up my worms more than needed. It brings the poopy bits up and can kill or damage the freshly molted worms and pupae.
Add Oats once the worms are visible easily to the naked eye. I did a test - I moved half of my bin of teeny worms to a bin with just wheat bran and the other half to a wheat bran and oat mix - the oat mix bin grew faster! I DO NOT recommend you start with oats, when I was doing oats as the starter medium I found they grew slower - maybe it's harder for the microscopic worms to eat the larger oats than the bran?
Ignore the dead beetles, they'll be eaten by the rest!
Remove any hard dried up veggie chunks you come across, but don't go hunting, it's fine. Toss those into your compost
If you come back to the bin and there is no food left, INCREASE your feeding, each time they run out of food your worm production slows!
My Set Up. 5th bin with finished worms is out by the chicken coop.
Every 4-6 weeks - Start a new bin - aka move your beetles over - this is the most hotly debated topic in mealworm land. People have incredible and elaborate systems & sorting and sifting. I tried a bit of that. Hated it passionately. I may not harvest as many as others, although I am not working hard at all either, so I'll take it!! So the reasons I start a new bin:
If I'm going to grow them, I want it to be efficient. I don't want to be digging out large worms from a bin of everything, I want to know that I can grab a handful of the 'oldest' bin and it will be large worms (and some pupa). My beetles are in ONE bin only, the other bins are 'grow out' bins at various stages. It's about 5-6 months to full sized worms for me.
Generally, I start a new bin at the start of each month and with a 5 month grow out, I have 5 bins on the go - 4 with various stages of worm growth, one as the main beetle bin.
The beetles will eat some of the eggs, especially for moisture if your food runs out (so keep them well fed)! Moving them to a fresh bin every 4 weeks gives you a larger harvest since there isn't an abundance of eggs to eat in the new bin.
Worms poop, of course. It's like powdery stuff you'll barely notice, although with one bin going all the time you can get a smell build up and of course what self respecting worm is going to feel healthy and happy and that's what you want when using them to nourish your animals.
When I feed them to my chickens I simply dump some of the completed bin into my compost pile and my chickens dig out and eat all worms, pupa, beetles and oats
So how do you start a new bin?
It's easy peasy to move your beetles. Delay your usual fresh addition of veggies for a couple days OR bring in a ringer (brassicas / squash!), the beetles will be extra happy to come sample. I find that squash rinds, broccoli and often apple slices are favorites. I put those on my wheat bran & walk away, within 30 mins they'll be covered with beetles. Pick the veggie up (the beetles will hold on) & move it to the new bin & either put it in or gently knock the beetles off. I recommend a spoon over tongs (I did that for about a year before I was comfortable to tuoch them). Add another veggie chunk into your first bin, keep moving them. I'm moving ~600 each time I start a fresh bin, so I check in a few times for 3-4 days moving over any I see on the food or wandering around on top. I don't dig through or sort the bin, all living beetles will eventually come to the top and check out new food although you'll find a few straggler beetles every time for weeks, they hide well.
I also move the pupa or any beetles that hatch from the grow out bin. When I'm about to feed the chickens and see a bunch of pupa or beetles I just grab and move those to the 'beetle bin' to replenish the beetle stock.
You'll see in the video above, I have 4 bins on the go - there are actually 5 - 1 is currently being fed to the chickens. They prefer dark (the beetles will dive under the surface when you turn on a light) & grow faster in warmer environments but this area was out of the way & stays around 19 degrees and they're growing abundantly. Happy Mealworm Growing - The EASY way!