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How to Live a Homestead Lifestyle with Composting Grubs
Everybody daydreams about homesteading. Being self-sufficient on a piece of your own property seems like a dream come true. But with rising costs of land all over the US, that dream seems more distant than ever.
Not to worry! We’ve got a simple solution. A tiny solution that allows anyone, from suburban homeowners to apartment dwellers with balcony gardens, to live the homestead lifestyle.
We’re talking, of course, about the humble black soldier fly larvae, or composting grub. In this guide, we’ll talk about how you can transform your relationship with your food (and waste) with the help of these unassuming critters. Let’s get into it!
Benefits of The Homesteading Lifestyle
If you’re still not understanding why someone would want to live like a homesteader, we get it. It’s a foreign concept for a lot of people, particularly in the digital era. But the reasons are very straightforward.
First, homesteading is better for the environment. By being stewards of the land, producing our own crops, and recycling our own waste, we can live sustainably. As concerns about climate change increase, the best thing we can do is to change our habits and reduce our carbon footprint. If you take on the habits of a homesteader, you’re helping to create a world that generations can come can enjoy.
Second, homesteading is better for your health. When you eat crops and produce that's grown and raised from your own garden, you’re getting fully organic food all the time. This applies to whatever kind of produce you plan to generate. Whether it’s fresh vegetables, eggs, or even meat, you know exactly where it came from and what went into it before you eat it.
Last, taking on homesteading habits is better for your wallet. By generating your own produce, you’re cutting down on living costs by a ton. The more you can produce and recycle, the less dependent you are on other people to create your food and dispose of your waste. Which will always be more cost-effective than the alternative.
What are Composting Grubs?
Now that we’ve covered why someone would want to homestead, let’s talk about how it’s possible for anyone to do. As we already mentioned, the secret is a humble insect called the black soldier fly. These are also referred to as composting grubs or composting worms.
Basically, the black soldier fly larvae (Hermetia illucens [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermetia_illucens]) is a super-composting wonder bug. They are the larva of the black soldier fly. They have similar classifications as black flies, and house flies. But black soldier flies don’t spread disease or bite. Their larva (the black soldier fly larva) are capable of eating a vast array of compost scraps, including meat, dairy, citrus, oils, and even bodily waste. This makes them superior to red worms.
When they get done eating, they produce “black gold.” Black gold is their byproduct, also known as castings. These castings are loaded with nitrogen and other critical nutrients that help any lawn and garden. Additionally, this black gold and be mixed with water to create a liquid fertilizer. This liquid fertilizer can be used on your crops. And as part of their life cycle, the larvae will separate themselves from your compost bin into a separate container.
At this point, you can use the grubs for feed or even eat them yourself. They’re highly nutritious and can be easily turned into flour for baking or fried for a crunchy snack. They are the only insect that the FDA has approved for use as animal feed, and are a healthy food source for all kinds of animals.
So whether you have chickens, pigs, dogs, or even reptile pets, composting grubs will provide you with an unlimited food source, for free, forever.
To recap, by worm composting, you can:
- Reduce your waste by composting more food scraps
- Collect free fertilizer to improve crop yields
- Reduce greenhouse gases by composting with worms
- Make unlimited free food for your livestock, pets, or even yourself!
DIY Solutions for Gardening and Feed
But don’t get the idea that you need a large plot of land to worm compost. Worm composting is very easy to scale, so regardless of how much space you have, you can still get the benefits of a sustainable lifestyle.
For example, if all the space you have is a balcony, you can set up a small worm compost bin outside. Then you can use your fertilizer to grow an herb garden. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you could try a hanging garden or indoor surface drip irrigation set-up.
Finally, if you have a pet, you could use the grubs for food. Or, if you’re feeling even more adventurous, you could dehydrate the grubs, make flour, and use them to bake bread or make fresh noodles!
Folks with more space have even more options. If you have a yard, a chicken coop, and a square foot garden, you can turn your kitchen scraps into food for your plants and animals with composting grubs.
Turning more of your waste products into self-generated food is called circular agriculture. This is the founding idea behind starting a homestead. You recycle your leftovers into feed, which starts the cycle over again. And all the while, you’re reducing carbon emissions, saving money, and living healthy.
So, like we said before, it doesn’t take a big plot of land up in the mountains to homestead. You don’t need a herd of cows, big fields to plant crops in, or a hand-made home. If you want to live the homestead lifestyle, you can start small.
How to Start Worm Composting
At this point, there’s only one question left: how do you get started? There are a few steps to setting up a grub composting bin. But once you have it going, the effort for upkeep is pretty minimal.
Let’s go over the steps for beginners, from basic set-up to long-term maintenance.
Identify Your Goals
Before you get started, you’ll need to do a little inventory. Ask yourself what your goals are. Do you want to start gardening, increase the size of your garden, or produce a surplus of crops so you can trade with your neighbors?
Do you want to feed your chickens with black soldier fly larvae, or do you have more animals to feed? And probably the most important question of all, how much space do you have to work with?
All of this together informs how you’re going to use composting grubs. Think about how much you produce in food scraps. Ideally, you want to use all of your kitchen scraps and have enough grubs to feed whatever animals you have.
So plan your set up around the size of the compost bin you think you can work with. If you decide you can handle more, you can always scale up later.
Basic Set-up for Newbies
First, you’ll need to build a composting box for your grubs. If you don’t want to build one, you can even purchase one. These pre-made bins are perfect for people who don’t have much space to work with. They’re just over two feet long and a little over a foot high, a perfect size to keep on a porch or balcony.
How to build your own Compost Bin for Grubs
If you want to go larger than this (and save yourself some money), you can easily build a compost bin for grub composting.
The main idea is to create a bin with three entry points. The first is for adult flies to get into the bin and lay eggs. This entrance will be in the lid, fitted with a small piece of wire and a square of cardboard.
The second entry point is at the bottom of the bin, where the worm juice, or fertilizer, collects. This is usually a half inch-wide hole, which you’ll fit with a drain.
Last, you’ll need to create an exit for the full-sized grubs to leave through. This will be located near the top of one of the walls of the bin. You can make a ramp for the full-sized grubs to make their escape using a piece of PVC pipe with holes cut in it.
You’ll start your set-up with small-sized grubs. Just add your kitchen scraps to the bin and they’ll go crazy, eating and growing. Once they reach a certain size, they’ll seek out cooler temperatures.
This will drive them up the ramp and out of the bin. You’ll want to use another container, like an empty trash can, to collect the full-size grubs. At this point, you can use them for feed or let them pupate so that they can return and start the cycle over.
Then, once the flies are ready to lay eggs, they’ll start looking for a warm, dark place near a food source. Lucky for you, you’ve got the perfect one already set up. The piece of cardboard hanging inside the lid of the bin is an ideal place for an adult female to lay her eggs. The eggs hatch, the larvae fall into their food substrate, and start growing again.
If you’re working with a bigger area, there are several ways to engineer a bigger bin. But we recommend just using more individual bins, laid next to each other.
Get Some Grubs!
This part is obvious. To start grub composting, you need some black soldier fly larvae.
If you’re just starting out, we recommend using the smallest size available, or 1/8”. As they mature, they will increase in size up to 3/4”-1”. At this point they will start to leave the bin in search of cooler, dryer conditions. If you let them sit for long enough, they will take on a dark brown, rigid appearance. This is a sure sign that a grub is pupating into a fly.
You can use a shallow substrate of wood chips and dirt to let the larvae pupate in. If you’re working with a small area, you could do this in a shallow baking tin.
Gardening with Worm Fertilizer
Once you’ve got your worm composting set-up going, you’ll start seeing the benefits immediately. As fertilizer begins to collect in the bin, you can drain it into empty water bottles to store. When you’re ready to use it, just pour it into a spray bottle.
You can spray it over the plant’s above-ground tissues - leaves, flowers, etc. Or, you can mist the soil around each plant with it every so often. A little goes a long way!
Increasing Your Yield with Grub Feed
After a while of eating through all of your kitchen scraps, your composting grubs will be ready to use for feed. And make no mistake, these things are very healthy.
Here are some fast nutritional facts [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-46603-z ] for black soldier fly larvae:
While they are quite high in fat, reptile owners will notice that their ratio of calcium to phosphorus is incredible. This makes them an ideal calcium supplement for reptile pets.
The high protein content, as well as the mineral/nutrient content of black soldier fly larvae make them perfect for chickens, pigs, and dogs. Compared to other highly processed feeds, black soldier flies are a fully-organic food source that household animals will love.
A More Sustainable Life
There are a lot of reasons to start grub composting. You gain a lot by changing your lifestyle, especially when you’re producing more of your own food. But the biggest change to the earth at large is that you’re creating a more sustainable world. And that’s a win for everybody.