In addition to pretty radically expanding our vegetable gardening efforts this spring, we’re also adding another element to our quest for food independence: chickens. Specifically, egg laying chickens. What does farming worms have to do with chickens? While I’ve been hankering for some backyard hens for several years now, I’ve never actually owned them before. In my quest to learn about all things chicken that I did not previously know (enter, nerdy research), I came across lots of stuff about how chickens love to eat mealworms. Despite what the egg cartons in the grocery store tell you, chickens are not vegetarians. Pastured hens that are allowed to forage will naturally eat lots of bugs. We’re not 100% sure yet we’ll be able to completely free-range our birds, so, they’ll be relying on us to feed them. Now, we want them for their eggs. And we want good eggs, with rich, dark, nutrient-dense yolks. Which means feeding them more than just some grain and calling it a day. But we also want/need this whole endeavor to fit into our minimalistic/self-sufficiency model for life, so instead of dropping a ton of coin every few weeks on buying mealworms, we thought we’d make our own mealworms, instead. We have become worm farmers!
Of course, to make your own mealworms you have to start with… mealworms. Guys. Did you know that you can order live mealworms from Amazon? Yep. Got ’em Prime and all. Delivered to our doorstep, still slithering around and all in their little package. As embarrassing as it is I feel the need to tell you all that I shrieked when I opened the bag and there they all were in their slithering, wormy glory. I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting them to be moving. Anyway, I digress. I ordered 500 mealworms to start, along with a bag of wheat germ. These little guys love to eat grain; pretty much any kind will do. I’ve also read about giving them oatmeal. I also toss in some veggies from time to time.
Initially, they lived in a large tote because we hadn’t completed our final worm farm home quite yet. The next weekend, Carrie got to work building a 3-tier worm farm system that we had read about from other sites online.
Here’s how she built the worm farm…
Gathered the tools: unused 3-drawer plastic shelving unit with drawers, saw, drill, screening (like for window screens), glue gun.
She cut the bottom panels out of the top 2 drawers, using the drill and saw.
Then she cut the screen to fit, and hot glued it in place.
Last, and this part is optional; she added some handles to the top so we could easily move it about. We had some “plarn” laying around (yarn that I made from recycled plastic grocery bags), so she cut a couple lengths of that, drilled some holes in the top of the whole thing, and knotted the handles on the inside so they’d stay in place.
Voila! Worm farm!!
This is how the worm farm works:
- All the original worms went in the top drawer, along with some wheat germ.
- Eventually, they mature, molt, and turn into black beetles
- Those beetles lay eggs (apparently up to 500!)
- Those eggs fall through the screening to the bottom 2 drawers (I help this along by kind of giving the thing a shake every day, now that we have beetles and I assume, eggs.)
- Those eggs mature into worms.
- Eventually, I’ll need to move some worms back up to the top to continue the cycle, as beetles die off.
- Eventually, we’ll have plenty of worms to feed the chickens whenever we want. And it’ll cost next to nothing.
We’ve had the worms for around a month now and we are now the proud owners of a drawer full of black beetles. Black beetles that are (I assume) laying massive amounts of eggs that will grow into even MORE mealworms. The kids actually really get a kick out of the worm farm (I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when I tell them to feed a few to some hungry chickens!), and it’s also a great conversation piece when friends come over for dinner 😉