Hermetia Illucens is the scientific name of the Black Soldier Fly, a species of fly that is getting more and more popular in many sector such as waste management, medical, ecology, aquaculture etc...
In this post, I will cover the domestic waste management via composting with the help of these little critters.
Why do we need them for composting when we can use worms, would you ask... See, in domestic worm farming, it is highly recommended not to feed worms with certain types of food such as meat, fish, cooked meal, dairy products etc... but those type of food are actually great for Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL). Not only do they eat them but they also eat them fast! In a dedicated bin the size of a regular worm bin, you could add 2 kilograms of mixed food waste and the BSFL would eat them all in just 24 hours 😲.
You can listen to my radio interview at ABC Radio Central Coast on DTube:
Worms & Black Soldier Flies: Interview of Wyoming (NSW) worm farmer Huy by ABC Radio Central Coast
I've also written a detailed guide on composting with BSFL that you can buy with STEEM on Homesteaders Co-op: A guide to Composting with Black Soldier Fly Larvae
Collecting eggs from the wild BSF population
Hermetia Illucens is native to many countries where the weather is warm and humid enough for them to thrive. If you have a worm bin or a compost bin in which you add kitchen scraps, there are chances that you already have BSF in them. I started my own colony by collecting eggs deposited on the lid of my homemade wooden worm bin as seen below:
Since then I'm also selling the eggs and the larvae to other user (both individuals and companies who are kick starting their production).
But the if you don't already compost, then one way to start is make some egg traps and building your own trap bucket.
The egg trap
First, you need to build an egg trap. The female Hermetia Illucens, unlike the common house fly, does not oviposit (lay eggs) directly on the food, but she will be choosing a dry space near the food. She usually likes little nook and cranny. Knowing this, we will build something that she will be attracted to and lucky for us, one of the most effective way (and totally free) is to build an egg trap from corrugated cardboard. The corrugation offers many crevices that will please the most picky female black soldier fly. Just cut some sections of cardboard of any length and with a width of about 2 to 3 inches. If you cut short sections then stack them one on the other, if you make a long section, then just make a roll like below:
The bait bucket
Now that you have an egg trap, you need a bucket in which to install the trap(s) and add some bait (food). My first bait bucket was the collection tray (bottom-most) of an existing worm farm:
As you can see, I added some kitchen scraps and suspended the egg trap right above the scraps, the closer the better but without touching the scraps. And now it's a waiting game, I had to wait about 4 weeks before I got my first egg cluster (in average 500 eggs):
Freshly laid eggs are almost white, they then get darker in colour and will look fluffy after hatching as the larvae break the egg shells to come out of it. In a domestic system, the cardboard traps would last for the whole year, I usually only replace it if it's full of the fluffy eggshells or when it's too damaged.
After hatching, in two to four weeks, the larvae will grow up and will be ready to pupate. The large larvae will reach their pre-pupal stage and will crawl try to crawl out of the moist environment they have been feeding in for all this time and will go search a dry ground to bury themselves in. They have stopped eating, will turn black and start to stiffen (pupae) while beginning their metamorphosis into flies.
Other ways to build a BSF egg trap and bait bucket
Corrugated cardboard are ideal for building egg traps as it's also an opportunity to recycle the cardboard but as we will see below, we can use other material.
One of my early experiments was to use some salvaged pallet boards. I just cut them to the same length and added a drop of hot clue on each corner on one side of the board. This allows me to create a little gap between each boards. On the first attempt, it was a total failure, the female flies didn't like it and I found out with experimentation that it was due to the gap being too wide. So I modify the stack so that only one end of the board would support the next board with the hot glue. In other words, on one end, the two boards will be touching one another while on the other end they will be separated by two drops of hot glue. This creates a gap that varies in width:
Almost every single time, the female will choose the end where the gap between the two boards is the narrowest. That little modification was a success as you can see below, four females were busy ovipositing:
They also like laying their eggs between the wooden board and the brick I added for support.
Another material I quite like is plywood, you can find thin pieces that is great to make a more compact egg trap. On the one below, I had the idea of punching mails through the bottom board to make four legs and install it on the surface of their compost bin but although it sounded like a great idea it wasn't that great because as the larvae move around they would move the substrate and make the trap fall. It would have been better to just use some metal wire and hang the trap on the side of the bin.
A female BSF even came around and thanked me for building those for her 🤣
One last material that worked well for me is a piece of pool noodle. All you need is a section of pool noodle, a candle, a nail and a pair of pliers. Use the lit candle to heat the nail held via the pliers, once the nail is hot, punch some many holes into the pool noodle.
Cheap shelvings as bait system
I had those shelves I didn't use anymore, they are made of metal mesh so I had to install a plastic tray inside. It turned out to be a great bait system that I'm still using today.
In previous years, I used to place a brick inside the tray and then the egg trap on top of it but I now simply place corrugated cardboard traps on the corners like this:
I would start the season with one tray filled with moisten chicken pellets and when I have more than 10 clusters, I would take half of the traps and setup a second tray and continue until I get 6 of them. I would let some egg hatch inside the trays because when they consume the food and create the frass (poop) they will also produce a pheromone that attracts more female flies. The other eggs are transferred to my main BSF composting bin in which I add my kitchen scraps.
I hope this little article is helpful for those who want to start processing their waste with black soldier fly larvae. It's worth the shot even if you already have compost worms helping you.
Previously on my blog:
- Worms & Black Soldier Flies: Interview of Wyoming (NSW) worm farmer Huy by ABC Radio Central Coast
- Having fun preparing Chimarrão (Erva Maté)
- My town has been spared from the Australian bushfire
- Having fun with primitive skills and making a bamboo bowl
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