Raising mealworms

Mealworms eating Gourd

Raising mealworms is an easy way to produce an abundance of protein-rich food for chickens and reptiles. Now there is even a growing trend to raise mealworms for human consumption.

There are many ways to set up a mealworm farm, but the basics are all the same.

What you need to know about raising mealworms

Raising mealworms is easy, but there are a few requirements that you need to follow for a productive, clean and happy mealworm farm\

The stages of mealworms

Mealworms go through 4 stages in their lifecycle. Egg, mealworm, pupa and beetle.

Eggs: Mealworm eggs can take anywhere from 1-3 weeks to hatch, depending on temperature.

Mealworms: This is called the larvae stage. Each mealworm will molt (shed it’s skin) between 10 and 20 times in it’s 4-6 week lifespan, and then it morphs into a pupa.

Mealworm Pupa: In this stage, the pupa will basically hibernate for 1-3 weeks. It will wiggle when touched, otherwise, it will stay still without food or water until it emerges as a beetle.

Mealworm Beetle: Once you learn how to properly raise mealworms to the beetle stage, the female beetle can lay anywhere from 100 to 500 eggs in their 3 months lifespan. So once you get it going, it really gets going!

Buying mealworms

When starting your mealworm farm, it is best not to buy mealworms from the pet store. Typically, pet store mealworms have been treated with a chemical that prevents them from pupating – as they want them to stay as mealworms for feed.

I have always bought mine from Bassett’s on Amazon (HERE). Even though we have a pretty steady supply, I do buy more mealworms about once a year just to replenish.

Mealworm Breeding Setup

No matter how you choose to house your mealworms, if you keep your bins clean and your mealworms fed, they will grow and multiply very fast.

After you overcome the learning curve and get through a few generations of mealworms life cycles, you will be rewarded with a never-ending supply.

There are several different mealworm setups you can use when raising mealworms. We have used a low maintenance, one-bin setup as well as a more hands-on multiple bin method. Both setups work just fine, just experiment to find what works best for your situation.

A Simple Setup

In a simple mealworm setup, all stages of the mealworm’s life cycle are kept in one bin. Pro: Simple and cheap. Cons: Mealworms and beetles may eat the defenseless eggs and pupa, which will decrease your population. You can decrease the amount of cannibalism by always having food (carrots, potatoes) available for them to eat.

What you’ll need for a simple mealworm raising setup

You will need:

2 Dark Large Bins (Amazon Link)

Cardboard. The beetles like to lay their eggs directly on cardboard. Place lots of paper towel rolls and cardboard egg crates in your setup, and every few days, shake the eggs off into another bin to prevent them from being eaten.

A Hygrometer: Use the bin’s lid to keep the humidity in, but use a sharp object (or soldering iron) to poke air holes in it. Use your hygrometer to measure the humidity and aim for 60%. If is too high (over 65%), poke more air holes.

Enough substrate/food to fill 1-2″ of your bin. Most growers use wheat bran, oat bran or oatmeal.

Real Food. Mealworms get their water from eating moist foods, which is just about any fruit or vegetable. This is where most people mess up their setups.

A Sifter: After a while, most of your substrate turns to dusty, small particles. This amazing fertilizer all needs to be sifted out of the bin.

How to Maintain your mealworm setup

Humidity and Moisture. Too much humidity/moisture is the number one reason mealworm setups fail as too much moisture will encourage mites, mold and destroy your farm. Keep your humidity level at 60% humidity and proper ventilation (holes in the bin for airflow) will reduce humidity levels.

Temperature: Mealworms breed faster in warm temperatures, so keep your setup around 80 degrees. Colder temperatures will cause your mealworms to go dormant, preventing them from morphing to pupa (which is why they keep them in the refrigerator at the pet store).

Bedding and substrate. There are many types of substrate you can use, more on that below, but whatever you chose, make sure you freeze it for a week or more prior to using it in your mealworm set up to kill the mites and eggs that are already in it.

Separating Life cycles. You don’t have to separate the different life cycles, but they are cannibals, meaning the beetles and mealworms will eat the defenseless pupa and eggs, so by separating them you will have a better success rate.

Mites. Too much humidity (over 65%) will encourage mites and mold. Even the cleanest of bins can develop a mite problem, and you have to catch them early or they will take over your mealworm bin and possibly your house.

If you see mites, you can use reptile spray that will kill the mites on contact. I like to spray it on the walls of the container rather than on the substrate itself, but because of their exoskeleton, the mite spray won’t hurt your mealworms. If you have a lot of mites, it’s best to start over. Pick out all the mealworms, pupa and beetles and trash the substrate.

Pour your substrate and mealworms through a sifter, using your second bin to catch the small particles of partially eaten food, mealworm poop/waste (frass), shed exoskeleton and any unhatched eggs.

This mixture will have to sit in the bin long enough for the eggs to hatch (1-3 weeks). Once the mealworms have grown larger than the holes on your sifter (1-2 months), you can sift out the remaining frass (sold on Amazon as Plant Fertilizer, and it’s expensive!).

Mealworms are used to being underground, so I like to use a dark bin. And you’re going to need two (I’ll explain why later).

Don’t use really wet foods or your substrate will get nasty. Setting the food directly on a paper towel will help prevent the substrate from soaking up moisture. Don’t let the food rot or go moldy or it will stink and attract bugs.

How to Raise Mealworms: The In-depth Setup

In a more in-depth mealworm setup houses each stage of mealworm’s life cycle in separate bins. Pro: Increased productivity. Cons: Pupa and beetles must be picked out, meaning a more time spent caring for your mealworm farm.

Start with all your mealworms in one bin. At about 1-2 months of age, mealworms morph into a pupa. During this dormant stage of their life, pupa don’t eat and they only move (wiggle) when they are touched. They are very vulnerable and are often eaten by other mealworms and beetles.

Unlike the single bin setup, now you will have to pick out the mealworms and place them in a safe second bin.

But, I have a secret step: Place the pupa on top of a 3″ high block of wood (or upside down container) in the bin. For now, they are high enough so beetles and mealworms can’t eat them. Once the morph to beetles, they will walk off the block and fall into the beetle pit below.

Make sure your platform is high enough that the beetles and mealworms can’t climb up it.

After 1-2 weeks, the pupa emerges as a white/light brown beetle and will walk off the platform to land below with the rest of the beetles and mealworms. Over the next few hours, it will darken and turn black.

Beetles lay a lot of eggs. If you are patient and maintain your setup, you will end up with a lot of mealworms.

To improve productivity, you can separate all the different life cycles into different bins so they won’t be eaten. Although it can be a lot of work, this is the best way to raise mealworms with kids.

This can be done with any size bins and as many bins as you’d like. Set up and maintain your bins just as I shared above.

The only difference here is you want to continually sort out the life cycles into separate bins.

Separate pupa into a new bin, or place it on a platform in the beetle bin (as stated in step 3)
Every 2 weeks-1 month, sift out the beetle bin into a new, clean container. You can sift several months worth of eggs into one bin. You will end up with a bin of different size mealworms, or you can keep adding new bins.

Cleaning the bins

Eventually, you are going to accumulate a lot of frass. Leave the egg bins to sit long enough until all the eggs hatch and the mealworms grow large enough that they won’t fall through your strainer. At this point, it is safe to say the bin only contains frass and no eggs. You can use this frass on your plants. It is supposed to be excellent fertilizer and is actually really expensive as you can see here.

Grow your own mealworm food

We grow all our mealworms’ food in our food forest: Squash, carrots, sugar cane, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. These are all good choices as they last a long time before they go bad. They’ll also eat leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale. There are tons of edible flowers and even many wild plants and weeds from your yard. Do some research on your native, edible plants and feed your mealworms a variety of food.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ’s)

Where can I buy Mealworms?

I have always bought mine from Bassett’s on Amazon (HERE). They come in a pillowcase like sack and I have never had an issue purchasing them through the mail.

What do Mealworms eat?

How do I get my mealworms to grow faster?

What about superworms?

Be careful when purchasing mealworms from pet stores. Some growers treat their mealworms with a chemical that prevents them from pupating. If left to grow, these treated mealworms will just keep growing bigger and bigger. These are named Superworms. Some pet stores unknowingly sell regular-sized mealworms that have been treated so they won’t pupate in transit. If you happen to purchase these treated mealworms, they won’t cycle through their life cycle and you will be without a mealworm farm.

How long until mealworm eggs hatch?

Mealworm eggs hatch into microscopic mealworms after 1-3 weeks, depending on temperature and humidity. In cold temperatures, the eggs can go dormant until conditions are warmer. After 3 weeks you will begin to see tiny mealworms in the egg bin.

Your patience raising mealworms is beginning to pay off. The babies are very hard to see at first. Just stare at the substrate and you will see it moving.

You can continue sifting new eggs into the bin with the newly hatched mealworms, or you can start a third bin.
What is the life cycle of a mealworm?
Not sure what came first, the beetle or the egg, but since we all start out with mealworms, lets start there…

Mealworms turn into pupa after 2 months (depending on temperature and humidity).

Pupa will lay around lifeless for 2 weeks then emerge as a white beetle. Over the next few hours, it will turn brown then darken to black.

Beetles will mate and begin laying eggs within a few weeks.

Eggs can hatch in just under a week, again, if temps and humidity are right.

Every few weeks, sift out the small particles from your mealworm colony and you will end up with eggs and frass. Let this substrate sit for a few weeks, eventually, you will be able to start at it and just barely notice that the particles are moving. These are your baby, microscopic mealworms moving around.

Why did my mealworm turn black?
It’s probably dead. If it is black and crunchy, it is definitely dead. There are probably many reasons why your mealworms could be dying, but it happens. I feel comfortable feeding the dead to my fish and turtles. I have been doing it for years.

Why is my mealworms skin falling off?
Mealworms shed their exoskeleton to grow. Then after the shedding of their final skin, they morph into a pupa.

Why Raise Mealworms?
Chickens
Raising mealworms for chickens is a great way to provide your chickens with a little extra protein. Chickens can eat a handful of Mealworms in 2 seconds, so if you have a lot of chickens, you better raise A LOT of mealworms!

Raising mealworms for human consumption – Entomophagy

As resources decline and populations grow, people are realizing eating insects, such as mealworms, is a much more sustainable choice than beef, pork or chicken. Mealworms are a great source of protein that requires less water, land, and food than livestock.

By 2050 the world will hold over 9 billion people, and insects may be key to our survival. It may sound bad now, but just a few decades ago, eating raw seafood wasn’t accepted by American consumers either until the creation of California roll, caused it to quickly gain popularity.

Although in America bugs are usually only consumed as a dare, over 2 billion people in places such as Thailand and China eat insects regularly, even being considered a delicacy. These insects are sauteed, stir-fried, fried or grilled.

Insects such as crickets and mealworms are actually a superfood, containing 80% of protein to body weight.

Raising mealworms for plant fertilizer

Use the small particles of poo and exoskeleton (frass) that you sift out of your Mealworm farm to fertilize your plants. You can use it on your own plants or sell it! It’s pretty expensive, considering what it is!

Small particles of mealworm excrement and shed exoskeleton will accumulate over time and will need to be cleaned out. Don’t throw it away! Use it for fertilizer.

*Make sure it sits long enough so the eggs can hatch.

When frass is sprinkled on a plant, it makes the plant think it is being invaded by bugs. This kicks the plant’s autoimmune system into overdrive. It protects itself by strengthening its cell walls and releasing an enzyme (chitinase) which is its own natural insecticide and fungicide. These defense mechanisms make the plant stronger and better able to fight off disease, mold, and pests.

It won’t burn your plants either. The frass can be sprinkled on top, mixed directly into the soil or brewed into a tea. It is becoming quite popular and can be purchased at some plant nurseries or here online.

We are currently experimenting with frass to see how well it works. I will post the results soon.

We get a lot of requests from people wanting to purchase our mealworms. We tried selling them, but unfortunately, we couldn’t keep up with the demand and our chickens, turtles, frogs and wild lizards were not happy about it. But we have ordered several times from Bassett’s Cricket Ranch on Amazon and they have never let us down.

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