Stampede at Maggot Farm!
Posted on Jul 2, 2013 by Michael Parkey
Thanks to the generosity of two friends, I am now a maggot farmer. One friend loaned me her BioPod, and the other gave me my first livestock, the maggots.
Most people who deliberately raise these creatures do not call them maggots. That word is associated with putrescence and death. The maggots are actually the larva of the black soldier fly Hermetia illucens. They are also called grubs, soldier grubs, prepupal instars (to be entomologically correct), phoenix worms, and my favorite euphemism from the British, “gentles”. The BioPod people have an anthropomorphized larva as their mascot, Grubbie. But if you saw them, you would call them maggots.
Black soldier flies are harmless native insects, found almost everywhere that is USDA zone 7 or higher. If you put food scraps in your compost bin, you have probably grown black soldier flies without knowing it.
The BioPod is an ingenious device from Prota Culture that makes maggot farming easy. You can read all the details at their excellent web site, but basically the BioPod produces compost, compost tea, and maggots. All you add is food scraps. In a hilarious article about maggot farming gone bad, Jim Schutze called the BioPod a maggoteur. I affectionately call mine the maggotoir.
So why would anyone want maggots? These larvae are high in protein and calcium, and are relished as food by birds, fish, and various reptiles and amphibians raised by zoos and hobbyists. Since I raise both chickens and fish in my backyard, it seemed a good idea. And what gardener could pass up compost and compost tea?
The maggotoir had been set up for about three weeks, and was just beginning to produce a few yummy mature larvae for my hens. Then we had our first 100° day. Soldier fly larvae are pretty tolerant of high temperatures, but the combination of heat and humidity was too much for the little fellas, and they made a break for it. When I lifted the lid of the BioPod that hot afternoon, the lid and interior of the container where swarming with maggots, desperate to escape the heat! (Anyone who has lived through a Texas summer knows the feeling.) Larvae spilled out of the BioPod onto the ground below. The free-range chickens had a feast.
Fortunately, I had read the very thorough owner’s manual for the BioPod, and knew what to do in case of stampede. I propped the lid open so heat and moisture could escape, and put a plastic bag of ice cubes on the food scraps in the pod body. The “premature crawl out” was soon over, and calm returned to Maggot Farm.
Now, a confession. I am not a squeamish person, and almost nothing in the natural world disgusts me. But since childhood, I have been absolutely repulsed by maggots. Part of the reason I wanted to raise them was to appreciate them, if possible. And it worked. I not only appreciate them, but sympathize with them in the Texas heat, enough to bring them ice packs on hot days.