Black Soldier Flies:
The Most Sustainable Thing I Do on My Urban Homestead
By Anne-Marie Miller
On my little urban homestead, I am always trying to find ways to stretch my dollar or become more sustainable. One way I do this is to raise black soldier flies to feed to my chickens. This insect just can’t be beat in terms of value on the homestead. It eats garbage, produces rapidly even in HOT weather and is full of protein, calcium, and phosphorous for your chickens. Well-fed chickens means nutritious eggs. Although it is not possible to pasture raise my chickens I can get one step closer with this system.
As you can see, the black soldier fly looks less like a fly than a wasp, but doesn’t sting or bother humans or animals the way flies typically do. In fact, this harmless black insect even drives away your regular house fly by exuding a hormone that they don’t like. (I first got the idea for this incredible insect from GardenPool.org (1). If you haven’t checked them out, you need to. They have a one of the best examples of thinking outside the box that I have ever witnessed when it comes to urban homesteading.)
I started out raising these little soldiers by purchasing a food grade barrel off of craigslist for about $15. Then, I ordered my startup batch of larvae from an online company selling to reptile owners. Using a jigsaw, I cut a half circle out of the top of the barrel. After that I bought a section of plastic gutter from my local home improvement company. You can get plans for the stand I placed my barrel on and an instruction video on how to build it at the link at the bottom of the article (2). I added some chicken wire around the opening to keep my egg-laying divas from helping themselves.
When I got my black soldier fly larvae I threw them in with some food scraps, stuck my gutter piece in and waited. When these larvae mature they instinctively climb up the gutter ramp to the waiting trough and hopefully right into the mouths of your chickens. The warmer it is the faster your colony will get established. Hey, another thing for us southerners to be thankful for on those long HOT days. Your bin might be a bit stinky at first but as the black soldier flies take over and drive away the house flies it will not smell for the rest of the season. I started this project in spring and by summer it was going strong. Once or twice a week I was scooping out a shovel full of larvae to feed to my girls. Continue reading to learn the easy, awesome trick I use now—no more shoveling for me!
One of the main problems I had with my black soldier fly bin is that the night before a rain storm there was always a mass exodus of larvae. This would normally be a good thing except that my chickens are usually locked up in their coop for the night so most of the larvae either crawl away or are eaten by wild birds. Well, one day I was trying to cool off my animals a bit by running the sprinkler in the chicken yard. This apparently gave the black soldier flies the idea that it was raining and they raced out of the bin in droves to the eagerly waiting mouths of my chickens. Victory, sweet victory! I love it when I discover something great by accident, which does not happen very often. However, I have to say I wish I had discovered this a year ago.
I am grateful for this forum to pass it on so you don’t have to waste time and money feeding your black soldier fly larvae to the wild birds! I am MUCH happier with my bin now and don’t think I will go to the trouble of building/buying a new one. I have caused this exodus two other times just to make sure it was foolproof before reporting it. Running the sprinkler over the barrel for a few minutes worked every time.
Every passing year I have not had to buy a new set of larvae to repopulate my bin. I simply put a shovelful of compost in with some stinky food scraps and wait for these wonderful insects to appear again. They seem to know where the food source is and come in droves. I am not sure it would be the same up north. The warm growing season is so short and Winters so cold that I think you might need to order a new batch of flies each year, but I would love to hear from someone who has tried this in the Northern states.
If you have chickens and you are NOT doing this on your homestead, you need to think seriously about adding this resource. Free breakfast for chickens that just keeps producing on its own, while you’re sleeping. It doesn’t get any better than that!
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Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.
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