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Join Nicole and David from the Wadudu Insect Center in the Netherlands as they discuss mealworms research, the exciting future of insects, and advice for raising your own mealworms!
What You’ll Learn
- What are glass worms?
- Mealworms vs Black Soldier Flies- the pros and cons of each
- Proper housing and nutrition for raising mealworms
- Overcoming grain mites
- Mealworms as a sustainable food source for fish, poultry and other large scale farms
- Forecasted future of insects
- Are dermestids good for your bins?
- Future of sexing mealworm beetles
- Additional research in the insect field
- Mealworms for human consumption
- Challenges in commercial mealworm farming
- Advice for home mealworm farming
- Tips for separating beetles and pupae
- How many beetles should be housed in a bin
Our guest for this episode is David from the Wadudu Insect Center in the Netherlands. The Wadudu Insect Center combines rearing, research and advice to reach a sustainable sector in North-West Europe by creating circular protein.
Wadudu insect center believes in transparency and open innovation. They provide support for commercial and home farmers across the world!
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Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast, from heritageacresmarket.com, where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living and more. And now here's your host Nicole.
Nicole: Hello and welcome to Backyard Bounty. I'm your host, Nicole. And today we're joined by David who works at the Wadudu Insect Center in the Netherlands. And thank you for joining us on the show, David, I really appreciate you joining us.
David: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It's really good to be here and spread the word about the company, about insects and basically the future of the world.
Nicole: Yeah, I'm really excited to have you on the show. I know that we've kind of talked briefly before this and I know that you've got some really exciting information for us. So to start, maybe can you tell us some about the insect center and what you do?
David: Yeah, definitely. So we are based in the Netherlands in a small town way up North. It's in Beilen. The name Wadudu comes from Swahili, and literally if you're translate that it comes from the word insects. And in my local dialect, if you pronounce it [Dutch 00:01:19], that basically means what are you doing? And since insects are quite new in the Netherlands, especially in Europe and people don't vomit when I talk about it, but they look at me strange when I tell people that people are eating insects on a daily basis.
David: So that's where the name comes from. We've got about a 2,700 square foot facility right now with about, I'd say 50, 55 million animals at any given time. And we basically reproduce the new worms instead of breeding them. And our focus and aim is to basically get this sector to adulthood here in basically Northwest Europe.
David: I am trying to divvy up the sector right now. You're looking at, for example, the poultry industry and you see the people doing the chicks and then they've got the laying hens and then they've got the roosters and everything is specialized nowadays. And when we look at the insect sector, especially here in Europe, we see one company that is doing, raising, breeding, multiplying, killing, and then even the further steps up to packaging is all done within one facility. And we thought that was a crazy thing so we decided to bring the sector to adultive if you want. And we're trying to change the way we look at the sector and yeah, I guess that would be a good summary of what we do.
Nicole: So you predominantly raise the mealworms and for human consumption then? Because, here in the US, pretty much kind of like you mentioned in Europe, insects are used for your chickens or for fishing and things like that. But you guys are specializing in the consumption market?
David: Well, it's one of the focus points we have, but I think that the future of insects in the short term, so I'm talking five to 10 years where we'll be in the Aqua culture. So fish and talk about trout, salmon, that kind of fish that grow really well on insects, and that's been proven through research. So our main focus is back for now and it's about the beetle for us, not as much about the worm right now. And we've tried to focus on other breeders and not as much the end consumer to say,
Nicole: So why the beetle? Why is that your focus?
David: Because we found a way to properly harvest the eggs that come from the beetles and we are able to set up what we call a glass worm. And basically that's a meal worm that's a few days old. We can deliver that to the customer, the customer can do its own raising, and they can supply us back with grown adult mealworms, or they can start reproducing for themselves. And those are the focus points we decided on right now.
Nicole: Okay. Oh, interesting.
David: Yeah. As far as we know, we are the only ones in the world that are doing that right now. And if I'm wrong, correct me or people can write you or write me, because we'd love to learn more.
Nicole: Yeah. I haven't heard anything. I mean, that doesn't mean that nobody's doing it, but to my knowledge, I haven't heard of anybody else doing that either. How do you harvest the egg? I mean, I know that they're so tiny. What's the process for that?
David: I can't tell you everything about that, because we are the only ones in the world doing that right now. So we have to be careful on what we share. The rest is all open innovation and together you get further anyway. So you can ask us for any information and that brings us back to the company.
David: Basically we tried to separate the substrate from the beetle and bring in that substrate to a new place where we can hatch the eggs and then we sift out basically the babies or the eggs that are leftover. So it's not as much about basically picking an egg as you would do with a chicken. It's a bit more complicated because like you said, they are super, super tiny, and they're impossible to see if you've got one single egg. So that's something that it's been in the baby shoes still. I don't know if that's a saying in the US, but we'll manage.
Nicole: We'll manage.
David: From there on out, it's a basic process and based on the humidity in yourselves and the temperature as well. And if you do that right by the proper instructions, you manage to get the beautiful final product, which is a glass worm that's only a few days old.
Nicole: How interesting. So that was one of the things that I was going to ask you. When it comes to raising the mealworms, what techniques do you use to have the best yield as far as, temperature and what you feed them. More so for the people here that might want to raise mealworms kind of, can you give them some suggestions on how they can optimize their own little home farm?
David: Oh, definitely. I think your key points for home farming are a steady temperature, good humidity, and making sure you feed on a regular interval. So don't go feeding when the bean is almost empty. Just make sure you feed them, for example, your wet feed, which could be a carrot, a potato, a cucumber, that's alright as long as the moisture content is in there and it doesn't mold up your bin, you're perfectly fine.
David: But do it on regular intervals. Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday you feed them a little wet feed, and every Saturday you add a little dry feed. And if you do that on regular intervals and keep doing that for the whole process, which could be anywhere between, let's say for a hobby farmer between nine to 15 weeks, just keep it up. And that is the most important factor. Keep it constant.
Nicole: And what about grain mites? That tends to be an issue, and my assumption is it's because people with their own little home farms, they keep their colony and wheat bran or oatmeal and then they give it too much moisture, and then next thing you have grain mites everywhere. Do you ever have issues with that?
David: We've had one situation where we had to clear out basically the whole process. And in that process we found out that it was too humid in our cells as well. And we had to clear the whole facility because they just appeared and they are, I won't say a constant factor you're battling, but you're giving them the perfect climate to grow because it is the same climate for your mealworms basically. For now, they are kind of unavoidable because you can't treat your substrate because you can't heat treat that because you'll kill everything that's inside your feed.
David: It's a very, very uphill battle. And I'd say keeping it under control by your humanity at a decent level. So let's say anywhere between 60 to 70% and don't go too much on your temperature. Because having a climate of let's say 27°C, which should be around 80°F, I think you guys calculate it. That would be a good start because we all know that a higher humidity will guarantee you bigger or fatter worms, but it will also be a better environment for pests like that. So basically, take your losses and be happy you've got a queen cell to grow them in.
Nicole: Sure. I appreciate you kind of adding the input for the home market, I know that you guys are obviously more commercial. It's really popular here for people to have their own little home farms, so that's really helpful.
Nicole: So with you guys, for the glass worms, you said that you mostly supply those to the fisheries right now, to the fish farms?
David: Yeah. Well at this current point we are delivering those glass worms, which won't be eaten by any fish. But we feed those, or we supply those to other farmers that are local to us. We based our company on research production and advice, and everything we do is either for the research or a product off that research.
David: And from that research we started advising other companies and we told them, "This is what we know, here's the information. Put your bins in 27° and you give them that amount of humidity and you make sure you have air circulation. You can grow our glass worm into an amazing adult meal worm, which you can sell for X amount. And that way we both make a little profit, we help grow the sector. And that's how we currently get our meal worms. And those mealworms are mostly sold to either other traders or people who have fisheries, people who have poultry, and your classic hobbyist who keeps his of the little singing birds or if who has hatch homes. All sorts of things.
Nicole: Okay. That totally makes sense. That takes out the whole frustration of having to have the beetles and breed them and wait for them to hatch and everything, and all of the things that could go wrong between point A to point B.
David: Definitely. There's a lot to discover in the beautiful world of having insects and having them grow properly. And that away like this for us is a great way to contribute to the complete sector, to contribute Chile filled with anchovies don't have to come here. So we have fishmeal in which we can feed to our own salmon and then we can say we have wild caught salmon.
David: I mean come on guys, just make sure you have an alternative and this is a great start. I'm not saying it's the solution for solving a big world problem, but I am saying it's a big contribution to a better future.
Nicole: Absolutely. With what you guys have been doing, what is your forecast with the future of insects?
David: I think that ... That's a good question. Within Europe there is going to be a few giants. I'm looking at insects which are building incredible farm and friends of the moment. They have a giant test facility that's been proven to work pretty well if we can believe their word. And then we have Protix in the Netherlands, and then you have Enterra Feed, I believe they're from Canada they are doing black soldier flies. Companies like that will start to pop up.
David: Or AgriProtein for example, the South Africa England based company will expand with multiple farms across the world, and those will be the real drivers of success for the sector I believe. And then it's up to us as medium sized farms for now to fill in the gap and get the consumer closer to the big corporates. And I believe that will really help in bringing up the sector and have people be aware of insects, what they can do. And I'm not saying that everybody needs to be eating insects, but I do think we all need to start thinking about feeding something different to our fish to our chicken, et cetera.
Nicole: Sure. I mean, grain feed is less than sustainable and it's really not necessarily a complete diet for chickens, for example. And obviously it's similar for other animals as well. So, chickens are supposed to eat bugs of course, so we need to be giving those to them to have healthier birds.
David: Yeah, definitely. And for them it's nature. It's going back old school. The chickens in the backyard snatching of their own insects. And to bring back a piece of that basic instinct for those animals, that's really nice as well.
Nicole: I know that there's a few suppliers of mealworms that are popular here and unfortunately a lot of them come from China where they're not exactly fed the best diet. I know that they're notoriously fed things like styrofoam and things like that, and I assume you guys don't. Do you feed styrofoam to your mealworms or anything like that?
David: I don't even see the point of that because there's been tests, and we were together with a bunch of universities, other farmers, enthusiasts entrepreneurs who want to know more and that's all great. And we've festered things like that. And to me it's more than a myth because the insects will kind of grow, but your process will be taking longer. They will be less healthy. They will be less lively, less happy. And I don't even think it's a real benefit. What we feed is for our wet feed, we use carrots, which have a non-GMO mark on them.
David: So we know where they come from, they're traceable and everything, and that's very good. And for the substrate we use, it is made by a Belgium company and it is specially made for breeding insects. So it has a set protein level and it has a set list of ingredients, and we know exactly what is going into the mealworm, what is good for them and how they grow best. And in our case we also have to think about reproduction. So what feed will give us the best egg laying rates, et cetera. What will keep them happy, what is good for a beetle that might be a little less good for a meal worm. And we found a balance in that with our current supplier. So no, no styrofoam in our company.
Nicole: Well that's good to know. So what kind of other research projects are you guys working on with your insects?
David: We just released a paper about the laying pens and it's been proven that their lives are basically bettered by feeding them alive insects. And especially in the last few weeks of a, of a laying hen, you notice that they get a little bit lazy. They tend to sit more and they don't move a lot and they get a little cranky to say so. So they start pecking at each other. And by feeding them live insects, we found out that they're happier and healthier in a sense that they don't back each other as much and basically they're getting off their asses so they're moving around again. So that is a great example of a piece of research that's just been released recently.
David: And then another type of thing we're doing is working on sexing our mealworms so we can actually divvy them up by male and female and it's all patent pending. So I won't go into too many details, but just imagine if you can, instead of a mix of random beetles, which we're not going to manually check, it's 50 million of them. There's no time to do that.
David: Imagine if you can put your bin at an 80/20 or 6040 rate, and then see what that does to your egg production. I'm just getting excited talking about it. So stuff like that is also what we're looking into. And on the other hand we're looking into ... Sorry about that. We're looking into the black soldier flies and especially the young larvae to see what they grow on best and to see if they can, for example, process manure in a better way. Now I'm not saying we're going to be eating chicken that will be manure fed like soldier flies or anything, but we're looking at it as a way of recycling to see if we can put that to better use. So that's a different branch of research that we're looking into as well.
David: And then apart from that, and I think that every farmer is looking into stuff like this is the composition growth cycles, speed. We're looking into different ways of harvesting eggs. So it's broad, broad scale of research we're doing.
Nicole: I didn't realize that you guys had that much going on at the facility. It sounds like you guys are really advanced and proactive and have a lot of really neat things that you guys are looking at for the upcoming future of insects.
David: Yeah. It's really incredible. I came into the company last September I believe as an intern and I kept my position there. I got a contract. And ever since, every week is a new challenge and every week we're looking into something new to do, and it's the pioneering that keeps us happy if the company. The founder of the company Janmar, and he founded it back in 2015 and there's quite a neat story behind that.
David: In 2012, he was having an alumni evening at Wageningen University, and I guess most of the people know that as one of the agricultural and biology universities of Europe to say so. And they had a talk there about eating insects and insects and the future about that, and he just couldn't stop talking about it. And in 2015, he started on a single square meter, which is just really funny to think about now that I'm walking around the facility and it started like that. We found some traction. It started growing, growing, growing. And now there is about, I'd say 10, 12 research groups currently working on products and we have a few new ones coming in almost weekly.
David: So yeah, it's amazing to see how the company's moving and at which pace and it's almost a playground for people who are creative and proactive. Definitely.
Nicole: That's really exciting.
David: Yeah, for sure. I'm very happy with the position we're in right now.
Nicole: So, as far as the human market, is that something that you guys are working on as well?
David: Yes we are. We started supplying to somebody that processes the mealworms into a powder because everybody keeps saying insect meal, but it's not like a meal, it's a powder. So that started with that one. Was clearing that one up.
David: It is an interesting sector, but I don't see a giant future in the coming five to 10 years. I expect companies like the impossible burger and similar stories like that to happen to insects. But I believe we'll be seeing that in a process kind of way. So imagine eating your spaghetti with some tomato sauce and some meat ground up into it. Let's start by replacing maybe a third of that meat with an insect powder and then just tossing over the tomato sauce again anyway, just stir that in there and you won't be noticing it. You'll be tasting it maybe a little because it has quite nutty taste and a pleasant one as well. But I don't imagine the Dutch before here just munching on whole insects.
David: So for us it's a little hard to say where the market will be going. But judging by looking around into my family and especially the older generations. Like I'm 25 myself, but I told my dad what we were doing and I brought home some mealworms and he was like, "No way I'm even considering eating those."
David: I think that the youth has the future, because my little nephew was super excited to try it and he thinks it's cool and funny, and he doesn't really care where they come from. But if I'm in my garden or I'm sitting on my lounge and I see a fly, my first instinct is to swaddle, not to think, "Oh, maybe I can cook that."
David: So it makes sense for our generation and up to say, no thank you. But I think it's our job to make sure that the next few generations will be excited about it.
Nicole: I think it's really sort of ironic, I guess. People will hunt and they'll eat cattle and sushi and all this other stuff, but insects, people have such a mental block about, oh my gosh, there's this bug. I can't eat that.
David: Yeah, definitely. If I think back to my youth, I was raised in the potato farm of my parents, and if there was a fly or anything crawling inside the house, the first thing my mom would do is take a slipper or a flyswatter and just hit it. So I was raised, I think those are not things we eat. Those are things that do not belong inside our house.
David: And then there's the whole point about, sure, we're eating sushi and I love that too, but I won't be munching on a whole salmon, so you won't catch me munching on a whole mealworm.
Nicole: Sure. That makes sense. So you said that you've brought them home with your nephew and stuff. When you've eaten them, do you eat them whole or do you eat them in the powdered meal form?
David: I've tried both and I think a whole mealworm tastes just fine. And if you season them right, they can be very tasty. May be a little dry because it's just a boring larvae in that sense. So it's not super exciting but I do see a lot of possibilities for the. I believe there is this German company, and I'm sorry I forgot the names, but they're making a pasta, which where they replaced a whole bunch of grain with insect meat. Stuff like that. I'd be happy to try. And then there's a burger from the bug foundation in Germany that's supposed to be very, very tasty. I haven't gotten my hands on it yet. But stuff like that, I wouldn't mind eating. And if I didn't tell my dad there would be bugs inside. I bet you he'd take a bite.
David: But it's hard to get the people to even try it at this point. And especially in the Northern parts of the Netherlands where it's mostly farmers and a lot of Greenland, and it's not like Amsterdam would it be concrete city because we don't have much of that stuff here in the North. And then to come to people and say, look what I got for you a hand full of worms. It just doesn't work. I'd love for it to work, but it just doesn't.
Nicole: Yeah. Well, I mean you never know what the future will bring. Maybe 10 years from now, that'll be the new popcorn, is a handful of a fried mealworms or something.
David: We'll see. I see a few restaurants in the Netherlands that are experimenting with it. And then you mostly see crickets. And I think that in America is one of the biggest markets as well. And there's the Ubaid company that's selling from different supermarkets right now. And I'm a big, big fan of that. I want to believe, but deep down inside me, thinking about my situation, my province, my country, I don't know. I hope it works but I don't see it working easily in the coming 10 years.
Nicole: Yeah, I think easily is the key there.
David: Definitely, yes.
Nicole: I think this is super of course fascinating. I love research stuff myself, so anything that can give more information is great. Are you only shipping glass worms on your side of the world right now or can you send those to the U S or other countries?
David: I wish we were. We're trying to keep it local for now because there are many farmers trying to get up and running, and it all comes from the advice part we do. I spoke about the research production advice part. From our advice we do a monthly knowledge session where people just can come by for a small fee. They can sit down, ask us anything they like and we answer everything truthfully. They can come inside our facility, take pictures and literally get to know everything they like except for the egg part-
Nicole: Oh sure. Of course, the first thing I asked.
David: No, but that's what's the most interesting, right? I understand. But when you've got a few people that are actually setting up their farms right now. We've got one fully automated farm that it's up and running right now that we supply our worms to each week, and they are looking to expand so we can get more worms for them. And as soon as we open our new facility, which should be in a few months from now, we're going to go 10 fold. So we'll be at 27,000 square feet.
David: And I'm hoping to touch on 1 billion animals, but I'm not sure we can make it. But that's going to be a calculation for later. And as soon as that hits, I think we're going to look into shipping to let to say the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, France. And for now we could just sell everything to one single farm and get them up and going, and then a month later do the next one. But we're trying to divvy it up and make sure that everybody gets their share.
Nicole: Sure. And that new facility, is that pretty much exclusively the glass worms as well?
David: Yes, that will be a production facility and we'll make sure that that will be basically a full blown production. Because now we have a little balance between having a little area where we get to pupate our mealworms into new beetles, and then have the beetles lay eggs, et cetera, et cetera. But again, on 2,700 square foot, you can't do that much because we're filled to the brim. So we were simply looking for more space to grow more and grow faster hopefully and be able to help more farmers, more quick base.
Nicole: How exciting. That's some pretty exciting future that you guys have ahead of you.
David: Yes. It is very exciting, but it's also nerve wracking. Because, the biggest, biggest problems within the sector that we are seeing at district and multiple companies is scaling up. And that's been proven to be difficult. So we're going to have to look into that and then figure out how it works. And maybe it works better with just beetles, because we found that there are a few companies in Europe that are scaling up very, very big scale right now. And they are simply running into problems.
Nicole: What kind of problems are they running into with that?
David: Basically it comes down to machinery. Imagine you have ... We have around 30,000 bins of insect right now and we feed those by hand. We sift those by hand we do it with a machine, but it's people bringing bins to the sifting station and back. So that that is a full-time job for two people.
Nicole: Oh absolutely.
David: And from that on, by getting a robot that will do that job for you, but on a decent speed. Because the problem here is that you can have a 300,000 bin, that's perfectly fine, but try having a robot that can process that all within one single production line. That would be the ideal situation. We've got point A where we feed and we've got point B where the wet feed is added. Then point three we put some eggs, or som beetles larvae whatever in there. And then we've got point D which is harvesting. But that will be one closed loop, and on that loop, what needs to be 300,000 bins, which need to be fed three times a week. That belt needs to move at 80 90 kilometers an hour to keep up.
David: But I don't know if you've ever held an open bin with substrate and moved from left to right really fast?
David: That doesn't work.
Nicole: No. It does not.
David: So I'd say that that is the biggest problem within the sector. And apart from that, there's law and legislation. Because if I asked my local government, "Can I export my mealworm fast to Slovenia, because I've got a man there who is very happy to have it." They say, "Yeah, sure, but let me check the book of law to see what it is." And they look into it and they can't find it. It's not defined in there.
David: The short answer is, I don't know if you can export that. And that is really strange to hear from your government that they are saying, "We're not sure."
David: But we've had, I think in America it's called the FDA. That's the approved quality guys, right?
Nicole: It is.
David: Yeah. We've had those visit us as well. And they said it's amazing what you do, but we don't know if you're doing it right. We want to make sure you're following law and legislation, but we're not sure what that is. So do you want to help us set up a guideline? And the IPFS, the organization in Europe is a big advocate in that as well. And just where we used a beautiful document, which gives not as much practical tips and tricks, but they give the outlines to what lines to stick to. So it's all a little guess work right now and that slows everybody down.
David: And then there's a third problem which comes down through to innovation and sharing information. In my first few weeks as an intern, I was looking into the Belgium and German market. So first thing you do is pick up the phone and see who has information for you. The moment I told them I was working for a different insects' facility, they were like, "Okay, thank you, bye," and they hung up. And they did that and then they did it again, and the next company that as well. After 40 phone calls, I was a very tired and sad little boy sitting in my big office chair.
David: That was a big, big downside as well. So everybody's inventing their own wheel right now. You'll hear a rumor about somebody who made a basic production facility where he can de-fat his black soldier flyer. And I'm like, Oh, that's interesting. Let's go and talk so we can share, see if I can help you and see if we can invest together so we can make one pretty big wheel. And the moment I say that, so then they're like, "No, that's my research. Why would I give that to you?" People are so, so closed. It's just like one big hallway and every door is closed, and everybody's doing the same inside, but nobody dares to look at what the neighbor is doing, afraid they'd give away their own ideas. And it's devastating to me.
Nicole: I raise mealworms on a really small scale. Just pretty much for myself and other poultry enthusiasts. I know I was curious about how they're raised commercially. So I went online and I just went to Google and I was trying to Google commercial mealworm farms just because I didn't know how they did it on a large scale. And like you said, everybody is so secretive, they don't let anything out. They don't want you to see anything, they don't want you to know anything. I don't really completely understand why it's so secretive, because I feel like it's a pretty, not simple process, but everybody kinda does things about the same. But they don't want you to know how they do it at all.
David: Yeah. And that's just what scares me for the future as well. Because we all know the basics of how to do it. Like we need more than 26°C and we need more than 50% humidity and we all know that we need to circulate some air so they don't get 40 degrees inside the bin. And that's basically all there is on the internet right now. Everybody is looking at themselves, and at the market and thinking, "Oh my, if I'm the first, I can grow very, very rich and very, very quickly." And then suddenly greed is more important than innovation. And then suddenly innovation ain't even that important.
David: You can slow down a little bit and still make enough money, and that's ... It's annoys me, because I was raised in a very open way. If my dad's potatoes are growing, well our neighbor would call and come by and see how we did and what we did and would look at our plants and he would sit down, get a coffee, and you talk about it.
David: At Wadudu we do the same. It's open innovation. You want advice? Yeah, sure. Come on over. You want to automate your farm? Cool. We'll help you. Do you need a patent? We can understand that and support you in that. But just give us the basics so we can help get the sector where it needs to be. And if we're all just keeping our cards close, nobody's going to get there in 10 years. Sure, alone, you might get there quicker for now if you just throw a lot of money against it, but together you'll get further.
David: And that's something that I don't understand and I can't teach that to other people, because they've been closed for five years or maybe even 10, 15. Sometimes it's frustrating, on the other hand, you have to respect it and try to make a better world from within yourself. So that's why we open the doors and say open innovation, and take on multiple research products, help other farmers.
David: On our web shop, you can just buy a Skype session with the founder of the company and just sit down, ask questions. Have some go at it.
Nicole: That's unheard of. Most companies would never do that.
David: Yeah. And I guess that's what contributes to the success we're experiencing right now. It's almost 9:00 PM here, but this afternoon, I was helping a man from Venezuela set up his first farm. And, we're talking to Lithuanian companies. We've helped people in Africa set up their very first black soldier fly farms on a tiny scale because the man had like 40 fish he'd like to feed, but we were running out of money, and he was asking us, "You are sharing information. That's incredible. Can I have some?"
David: And that's what contributes because you get your name out there, you get your knowledge out there, you get to teach people about the glass worm. And that contributes to our own success as well. I'm not going to hide behind the fact that, Oh, look we're Wadudu, you can take our information. That is beneficial for us. Our goal is to get the sector to where it needs to be, and our goal is to have a very important role in that. And for now that's working out very, very well. So yeah, that's the story.
Nicole: That's great. I love that. Out of the black soldier flies and the meal worms, what are some of the pros and cons between the two of them?
David: I'd say that the black soldier fly is an amazing instrument for cleaning up a lot of products that are currently not used or not used properly, and those will be the garbage men of nature. And we can use that with ... Currently you can't use post-consumer waste. But imagine if you've got, this town has what, nine restaurants? If I can get all of them to collect all their food scraps that of carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, whatever, and I can collect that, bringing that to my black soldier fly, I can make a very high quality protein using basically nothing.
David: Because otherwise it will go to a landfill or somebody will compost it at most and use it on their garden. And that's good, but, if I can use those scraps to bring up, I don't know, maybe a thousand chickens a week, just imagine how many people you can feed with that. Like soldier flies, it's incredible, incredible for that. On the other hand, I do not see us humans eating the larvae or the maggots of a fly. If you want magnets you can just open your own compost bin or sit in the window for 20 minutes and you'll find the
David: That's not something that's very appealing and that's where the lee worm comes in. Because that is something that we can actually eat ourselves or make into a pasta or make a burger. So that would be the big difference. But they're both relatively easy to raise. And if you do it properly, you can do it constant. And that is the biggest [inaudible 00:41:57].
Nicole: When it comes to supplying food for chicken or fish or whatever it may be, is the black soldier fly or the meal where ... Which one do you feel is kind of more worthwhile or has the bigger ... I know what I'm trying to say here. Which one's more beneficial to raise for a food source for the animals?
David: That's hard to say. I guess it depends on what you feed them. Because we've got a few people breeding black soldier flies for us at the moment, just like with the glass worms. But then we supply them with the eggs, and I see that if you feed them a mixture of scraps you source locally for yourself. And for example, you add in the little chicken feed, you get beautiful thick larvae that can be used for fishing and for harpy as well.
David: If I'm looking at my local bird feeding stations, et cetera, et cetera, I'm not thinking black soldier fly, I'm thinking mealworm. And I'm not sure if you would compare the protein and vitamin levels of the both. I think the mealworm will come out a little superior. But the differences aren't that huge. I just think there is a bigger attraction to a mealworm than a black soldier fly.
David: I guess my pick would be the mealworm. But then again that is the main focus of the company I work for. You preach what you practice and vice versa.
Nicole: I know that if looked online, black soldier fly larva is becoming more prevalent and it seems like raising them is a little bit more challenging, especially on the smaller scale because the flies obviously can fly. So you have to have a more contained systems to kind of keep everybody in. And it seems like separating them, the larva is a little bit more challenging. So I feel like without having ever raised the black soldier flies, that the mealworms are a little bit more consumer friendly to raise.
David: Yeah, I guess. They're a bit more forgiving. You can leave the door to your mealworm farm open without any trouble over night. I definitely agree on that. On the other hand, there's this trend in America going on where people aren't getting compost bins where you can just put in a few grams of eggs, and out from the larvae that will eat your scraps. And as soon as they're ready they'll crawl out of the bin. And because that's what they do by nature. As soon as they're ready to pupate, they will crawl out, find a dry place because they will never pupate in the wet substrate because that will get mold on the pupa and it will die basically.
David: So the animal is smart enough to crawl out and you have a little collection bin and you just feed that collection bin to your chicken and they'd never get a chance to become a fly. And the guys that do become buys, you can put out back into your bin or you can source some more eggs. So stuff like that is something that people are working on and that's gaining a little more traction in the last few years I'd say. But, a mealworm is more familiar. I find it hard at the moment to sell my black soldier flies, I have not a single problem selling every mealworm tenfold.
Nicole: I guess mealworms probably been commercialized longer, whereas I feel like the black soldier fly's kind of the new up and coming trend.
David: Yeah, I think so too. Like the AgriProtein, the company that is I think based in England somewhere, and they have this beautiful facility in South Africa, those guys will be front runners and they will stay front runners, and those are the companies that will be supplying companies like spreading back farm salmon, et cetera. And those links will be very closed, that will be a closed circuit. At least I believe for now. They will raise it, they will transport it directly to Norway where they can fish the salmon with it, and then that's it. You and I will never see that in a supermarket, but you and I will see a packet of barbecue crickets or whatever.
Nicole: So for people that are raising mealworms on a small scale in their house or whatever, what is some advice that you would have for people in that situation?
David: Well, like I mentioned before, I think the biggest factor is to be constant, I mean constant in everything. Like the same amount of lights every day. And that means just not too much light if they don't like that. And look into your bins. The first few weeks you won't be noticing much. And if you're a complete newbie or first timer to say so, you're going to be scared that everything's dying or nothing is happening and you're doing it wrong. But just look at the bins every day, every two days if you have to and see what they do with the carrot, see how they move around in the bin and try to accommodate the animal. It's born and programmed to be with his friends to say so and they all cuddle up together. And monitor your own temperature. Maybe get a humidifier if you need to.
David: You can just try this in your local barn or backyard or whatever. Just as long as you keep this constant temperature between let's say 80, 84°F, which would translate into 27, 29°C, and superior timidity above 50% and get it a little higher if you can, but do be very, very careful with the mold, because mold in your bins is a guaranteed loss of mealies. Stuff like that is really important.
David: So the constant factor, try out different feeds. Like we have a lot of people trying it on corn meal, I wouldn't recommend that. Try to get some food that has a little bit more protein in it. We feed something that is over 20% protein in our dry substrate and we add some carrots to that. We shred up our carrot, most people feed them whole. You can try this yourself as well and get one bin with a pure whole carrots and then get a bin where you shred it up. And you can do that on the kitchen. Just get a knife and a cutting board and go either along sticks or you can go circle, whatever you feel comfortable with.
David: They might look small, but again, if you think about it, you put a few grams of eggs in a bin and 10 weeks later you pick out two kilos or four pounds of mealworm. So think about the impact. If you get 10% less, that will be 200 grams. So, stuff like that it adds up in the end and that is stuff you have to consider. I'd say, sorry you wanted to say something.
David: No, no, that's fine. I just keep on rambling if you don't stop me.
Nicole: I would let you talk all day. It's so interesting to talk to you. I remember reading something online and I don't remember where it was, but something about the mealworms should be sifted through their substrate regularly because of I believe it was something about a buildup of hormones in the substrate, which will then kind of prevent them from continuing to grow. So typically, we have our mealworms in a wheat bran which that may or may not be the best option, but sometimes we'll let the frass kind of build up in and not sift them regularly. But does sifting it help their growth or is there any benefit to sifting them regularly?
David: Yeah. If you compare it to yourself, do you clean your kitchen once a day or do you do that once every month? You know you're going to cook there again tomorrow, and you're going to be living there tomorrow as well, so might as well keep it clean. And I feel it's the same with mealworms. You can't ask them how they're doing, so you have to visually see how it's going with the guide and sifting out frass is it is a good thing anyway, and maybe even adding substrate. I see some people who just toss in a few scoops and then just leave it be for five weeks. And in my opinion, that's not great.
David: An ideal situation would be, I dump in a kilo of substrate and 10 weeks later I come back and I've got two kilos of mealworms and 500 grams of frass and we're perfectly fine. But we all know that's not how it works. So cleaning the bins in between cycle might even help or just giving them a fresh bin because they've been moving around and they're eating and they're pupating in there, they're pooping in there. I'd say it's very beneficial to just switch things up and get them a clean environment. Definitely.
Nicole: That totally makes sense. I mean realistically the frass is a cumulation of waste and nobody wants to be living in their own waste.
David: No thank you. And it means the waste that you do produce, save that up. Put it on your garden, put it on your roses and watch them explode into beautiful flowers. And people have been telling me like, "It doesn't work that well," but trust me when I say it does. Give it a try in and filter out the exoskeletons. Try to see if you can sift those out. Because you notice when the bins' fully grown and there is a proper two kilos in there, on the top will be a ton of little chiten exoskeleton thingys, see if you can get those out. Maybe just with a little compressed air that you can blow over the top and just get the most out of it. Or even just get the bin up to your face and give it a good blow. Who knows what will happen in that week.
David: So, things like that I think contribute to caring for your animals, and a happy animal will be a better animal if you ask me. Or if I take good care of my three cats, they're very happy to be here. Stuff like that. I think it does help.
David: Another tip is that, because I see a lot of people who take the cardboard bowl from the toilet paper and they cut it in half and they put that in there and then they put an egg carton and then they put an egg box and then they're close to putting in a toy swing for them. The only thing we use at our farm are the egg cartons, which they like to hide under. And it also helps if you need to get your beetles out of a bin.
David: Because let's say you have your beautiful bin of beetles, there's about a 100 of those bad boys in there. Do you want to pick them out by hand or do you just put in your egg carton, wait a few seconds and then they will all be on there? So that's a great way to move your beetles from bin to bin. So if you get to beetle bins make sure you have four bins at the ready. And halfway through you can just put it in your egg carton, make sure they don't have too too much food at that point because they like food so they stay. And just make sure you minimize food at that point, transfer them to bin B and there you go, Bob, your uncle.
Nicole: Yeah, that's really helpful. I know that's one of my biggest frustrations with our worms is I hate trying to separate. I have just like one tiered system, so I have a top bin that has the beetles and it has a screened bottom, and then the larvae and the pupa underneath that. But sometimes I get busy and then I don't separate them before they start to pupate and it's so frustrating to go through and try to separate everybody. So that's a good tip.
David: Cool. Yeah, I hope that helps for some people. I'm not saying I'm like this super professional who knows everything, but I do know what we do has been proven to work because we've been doing it for a few years. So that's something I can give you and I hope that helps some people.
Nicole: Yeah, I think that's very helpful. Have you experienced, well I guess you probably don't let them sit together, but is cannibalism within the colony common if you were to not separate them or not give them the proper food and water source?
David: That funny you say that, that's not a problem that we have. I think it might be one of the biggest issues that we encounter at the moment. Yeah. Beat up beetles with a wing missing or shell missing or with one wing completely to this side underneath the shell. We also noticed that they eat each other's eggs and that is a big, big challenge. So you don't want to leave your eggs laying around together with the beetles. You want to make sure you've can at one point, take all the eggs and give them some fresh substrate and just put them to the side.
David: I'm not sure how that would work in your tiered system because you say you have this fine mash and the eggs are supposed to fall through, right?
Nicole: Yes. Supposed being the key term.
David: Yeah. Because that's what we've been noticing. The beetles will take ... Basically, they have this little, I'm not sure how it's called an English, and I'm sorry, I can't think of it right now, but they have this little tool on the back of their shield, which they use to plant and stick the eggs to something. So you might have a ton of eggs sticking through your fine mesh or sticking to the side of the bin because they're very, very resourceful in that. So I'd say even though you have a one tiered system, see if you can just take out your beetles every once in a while, give it a few days, let the eggs hatch there inside of there. And then as soon as they hatch, you get the tiny, tiny mealworm which we call the glass worm, and those will fall through.
Nicole: Oh, that's a good idea.
David: So yeah, just have your beetles chill in a little tub of substrate somewhere else. And a few days later plan them back together with your fresh substrates. That's just the substrate at the top will be either used up or it will be therapy or whatever. So that way we get a cleaner environment for your beetles at that point.
Nicole: Sure. And then of course, if they're not eating their eggs and you have a higher yield of mealworms.
David: Yeah. Your final bin at the bottom will look even more beautiful.
Nicole: Is there a maximum number of beetles per surface area that you recommend?
David: I can't tell you the exact number because we calculated it to a point where we can tell you what a squared centimeter, what works best.
Nicole: Oh goodness.
David: Like I told you, research is something we're pretty good at here.
Nicole: That's great.
David: I recommend the lower density than you think. If you hold up two of your hands and I've got the farmer hands, so I'll subtract a little bit. I'd say put a beetle or ... or maybe like 20,25,30. They lay a ton of eggs and if there's less females competing for eggs, they will eat each other's eggs less. So you'll have a net win in that sense.
David: Yeah. Because I see a lot, a lot, a lot of bins that are just covered in beetles, and I'd say they fill up maybe a quarter of the surface area. If you put them all in a line, not back to back and next to each other, it shouldn't be more than a quarter of your bin.
Nicole: Oh really?
David: Yeah. The lower density makes that they have a little bit more room to move around. They always have food available. They don't get too, too hot, Because outside temperature might be 27, and then I have a stack of 10 squiggly bins. Inside being number five, it might be 31, 32, 33, and then they start stressing out. They start sticking their butt in the substrate and their heads popping out at the top. And that's a bad sight. We just want them laying chill and moving around like that. So you might want to try it out.
David: And I'm not sure how that will work in your single system, but, try your next run with a little less beetles, and then see if that gives you more yield, which might sound funny to start with.
Nicole: I mean it makes sense. I think it's just human nature. The more breeders I have, the more babies I'll have. But there is a certain point where it becomes competition.
David: Yeah, definitely. So yeah, that's something that you can look into and then see if you can improve on there. I wish I could tell you the numbers for a single tiered stack, but I don't have the number for now. Sorry.
Nicole: Oh no, that's fine. I think you did a great job of giving a good estimate. And that way, if you can say it doesn't really matter how big necessarily your bin is, but just have enough for a quarter. I mean pretty much anybody could use that. And do you have any good tips for separating the pupa from the larva or do you just separate them at enough of an interval that everybody pupates all at the same time?
David: We're trying to get to that point, but it's really hard to get everybody to pupate on command. We can't snap our fingers and then see what happens because that's just not how it works. And we've been trying to figure that out and see if that works. But it is a really tricky thing. And we've tried to get, like I said, we supply the people with our babies, we get back to the adults and we try to pupate them in a controlled environment, and then we try and encourage them as much as possible.
David: And we found that if you stick to your steady temperature, you don't move them around, you don't start shaking the bin or whatever, just leave them be, let them do their thing. As soon as you get beetles, put on your egg carton and let them chill under there and just twice a day take out your egg carton and shake them in through your fresh bins. And that way you get just beetles and you get beetles that are at least the same day old. And that helps a lot.
Nicole: Oh sure.
David: Because from that moment out you can have a little bit more control over how everything works. And that is a nice thing to happen.
Nicole: I feel like my brain is just oversaturated with information right now. That's very interesting. I love what you guys are doing too with the research. I think that that's really neat. And in the open information, I think that's really great too, and the fact that you're so willing to help people and, and provide information. I feel like if everybody was to pull together and combine their knowledge base, that that would really advance things even quicker. But I know we already kind of talked about that and people are less than inclined to share their information at times. But I love what you guys are doing.
David: Well thank you so much. That's awesome. I found a little document I wrote a few months ago about ventilation tests. I don't know if you want to touch on that one again?
Nicole: Sure. I'd love to.
David: Cool. We wrote down that the younger mealworm require less ventilation than the older ones. So I guess in your case is full count because you've got them all in the same location. But we separate our beetles from our pupating mealys and then the glassworms are in a different room altogether and they all have their own climate system. And if you have the possibility to separate the different stages, go for it. That is a big, big yes. Because you can do less ventilation for the young mealworms and you can do a little bit more for the bigger ones. So just get a combination of airflow both in and out, so you get constant moving air. That will be a very big plus.
David: And then we spoke about the tests and we've got the meal moss that comes into your feeds, very hard to befriend. And so the best way to beat those guys will be an all in or out system. So you completely clear the breathing space you have and you can kill any test that has leftover. Apart from that, if you have the means, just put a sticky trap up on the wall. I don't know if you call it that in Canada as well. And a fly lamp might even help. And you can even spray the walls with a few insecticides, which won't kill your mealworm. Just to look into getting the right stuff because that's going to be a big plus as well. It just helps keeping it clean.
David: And apart from that, keep your tools clean. So I'm imagining you've got something you feed them with, so that might be like a little shovel or whatever. Keep the bags you feed them in closed, stuff like that. Clean the surroundings and the floor around your breeding area and stuff like that. And make sure you don't have old birds nests in your barn or whatever, and make sure your ventilation is clean. We see a few farmers who have a beautiful ventilation system, but if you take the hood off, it's just one big mess inside.
David: So yeah, that's stuff that that might help as soon as you spot even one single pest. We have this rule on our own farm, as soon as you spots a single mouse, assume you have over 50.
Nicole: Oh sure.
David: Nine out of 10 times it's true. I think it goes the same for the pests that you see within the insect sector to say so. Just make sure you keep those out as much as you can. Just be proactive but as well, make sure you check. You go through your feed, is there any moths in there, whatever. That's just tiny tips, but they might just be the solution to the problem that the people at home have right now.
Nicole: Sure. It's obviously easier to prevent a pest than to try to exterminate one after you have one. And I know-
David: Yes, definately.
Nicole: ... When I was looking on the Facebook page for your center, one of the things that really stood out to me was how exceptionally clean your facility is. Because I know with my little system, it's easy to spill brad and make a mess and of course I vacuum it up. But on such a large scale how you keep the facility so clean, that really I thought was a significant.
David: Oh well thank you. We try and do our best in that as well, because I'm afraid we experience one for clean within our complete facility as well. And it's a very sad thing to have to spray a complete cell of like 50 square meters, which is like one complete facility where you'll know you're going to be losing about five to maybe nine million worms. But you just have to, because you've got here, there's this tiny little beetle which reproduces faster than the mealworm, and it feeds some of the eggs that the beetles lay.
David: It's a killer and you kind of watch it take down your whole system in two months, or you can just spray the whole thing and just be done and over with. And those are the learning moments that make you clean three, four, five, six, seven times a week, definitely.
David: We even got this little hygiene area where people put on different shoes and make sure they wear the right shirt and they check themselves before coming in and coming out. So yeah, those are the things that we try and pay a lot of attention to, especially since now we're working together with the Dutch FDA to say so. It's something that is important I feel.
Nicole: That kind of led me to another thought that I probably should have asked earlier. It's not a pest, I'm going to mispronounce it, I'm sure. But, what is your thought on including, I'm going to mess it up, but the dermestid beetles. Do you know what those are? Am I saying it right for you to know what I'm saying? They're a little beetle that people will put in their mealworm colonies to help clean up material and waste after the -
David: I consider that one of the biggest pests. I just used to get rid of them because they're going to take over. If you're unlucky, they're going to take over your whole colony and then they will just basically leave no space for your meal worms. Yeah. I just Googled that, the beetle real quick to make sure I was talking about the right one. Yeah. But just no, keep them out. Keep them out. Whatever you do. That's another one.
Nicole: Okay. That's good to know. I have some in my bin, so I will be proactive about removing them.
David: I can't recommend it. No. Because you don't need them and people claim to use them for, I think cleaning up purposes, right?
David: I'm going to pick your brain about this one because you use them for cleaning, but what does it clean up for you? I've heard a lot of people and I just want to hear your opinion on it.
Nicole: So my understanding is, and this is I didn't do a lot of research into this personally, but when I started getting mealworms, I used to buy them from a supplier before I started breeding them on my own. And this little fuzzy worm thing was in my bin so I contacted the supplier and said, "What is this thing and should I be concerned?" And they told me that they kind of clean up dead material. So if you have the beetles that die or incomplete, if they don't eat all of their food that those beetles will eat it. And so they kind of just work overall in the system. I think they even said that they would eat mold spores and things like that just to help keep the colony clean.
Nicole: So I never went out of my way to remove them because it sounded like it was a great thing, so I just left them in there. And it's interesting that you should say the day would take over because I have noticed in recent months since I've been more proactive, I supply mealworms to some people in the area and online. So I've been more proactive about building my colony and taking it and trying to make it more productive. And those beetles have really expanded in numbers as well.
David: I understand why you would think they're a good thing. On the other hand, if you do get mold spores in your bins, you don't have a good solution at that point. Because you're fighting a symptom and not a cause.
David: And same with the foodie. If there's leftover food, you're eating too much. And if you're starting to notice mold in your bins, you have too much humidity. And if you have dead beetles, you might want to look into that instead of getting a different beetle to eat your dead beetle so say you have ... Because you still end up with less beetles, because your beetles will still be dying.
David: It's cool that you got a cleaning crew. But I don't want a cleaning crew, I want more live beetles. See what I mean? We're just fighting symptoms and not the cause.
Nicole: Yeah. Well now that I know about the neat trick to move beetles, it's not so difficult to move the live beetles out of the bin that has the dead beetles and then just discard the dead ones.
David: Yeah, definitely. Like when we are basically filtering out our beetles, we'll sift the bins and get out all the residue. And yes, there is going to be a few pieces of carrot in there, and yes, there will be a few dead beetles. I'm sorry. Welcome to nature. Have you ever seen a clean chicken coop? Come on, you know what I mean? It's an animal and it's going to make a mess and that is fine. Let it make its mess, but be a good mom and clean it up, like the people say.
David: So take care of the animals and you won't need a cleaning crew because you will actually be a cleaning crew in that sense. You're going to take care of the growing beetles and you can move them around with the egg cartons. And if there's a few beetles left in there that don't want to come off, try again in 24 hours. And they still don't want to come off, they're probably too old to be in the bin anyway, because they won't eating, they won't be laying eggs anymore. And I'm sorry, but they're probably going to die of old age. And I guess that's the most beautiful way you can go.
David: So it's fine to have a few dying needles if they get older. If you put them in a week ago and they start dying, then you have a real problem. But if they've been in there for quite a while, that's fine that they won't want to climb onto your egg cart. And maybe it's time to remove those beetles out of your process. And if they're not eating well, you'll have carrot leftover. So you will see that they're starting to get old. But they won't get a cane or anything, but they're [crosstalk 01:14:59] in there that ... So just don't get different beetles with the good beetles, okay?
Nicole: That's really helpful too. I would like to see them with a little canes though. I think that would be cute.
David: I just thought about that too. I'm a visual thinker and I just made my own [crosstalk 01:15:18] that's beautiful.
Nicole: I love it. Well, for those that would like to maybe contact you guys directly to get more information for their own needs of maybe on a larger scale, how can people reach out to you and find you in your center?
David: Cool. There's a bunch of ways, and this goes for anybody professional as the hobby chicken holder who has 50 chickens in their backyard and is trying to look into new ones. We have a little web shop where you can book a Skype session or you can visit our facility if feel like. You're always welcome to come join us in the Netherlands if you have the means or if you are a local and you're listening to this. Apart from that, we have a Facebook page, we have a Twitter page, a LinkedIn page. We have a tiny YouTube channel which shows a little bit of our facility. And you can also check the website, there should be a phone number on there and the email address is on there as well. So don't be afraid to call that should be plenty of ways to reach us.
Nicole: Okay. That's many ways. That's great. We'll put links to all of those in the description for the podcast so that people can find you as well. So-
Nicole: ... You guys are such a wealth of information. Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of that with us. It's really great what you guys are doing, and you guys are such an amazing resource and I love what you guys are working on right now.
David: Awesome. Well thank you Nicole. It's been my pleasure. Like I said, open innovation is for me the only way to go, and in our company, we just believe in that. It's just sharing information is key and yes, there might be a little limit or a little bump or an entrance fee to our information and then consider this one a freebie. And if you're properly interested, I don't think the barrier's too high. And if you're actually wanting to go for it, just come knock on our door and we'll help you along. Definitely.
Nicole: Wonderful. Well, thank you David so much. I really appreciate you taking the time for joining us and sharing all of your information.
David: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me, Nicole.
Nicole: And thank you so much for listening to Backyard Bounty, and we'll see you again next week.
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