For many years, we’ve kept mealworms at the ready for the bluebirds. Purchased from a bird store and stored in the fridge, they could always be found next to the yogurt. It wasn’t until we rescued a green anole, during a summer vacation, that we considered growing our own mealworms – for him, but then later for the bluebirds.
For full disclosure, I use the term we loosely; in this case the we is my husband, with me as the little mouse in his pocket. He’s the one who is into this.
My husband’s motivation was for Salvo, our green anole. His success motivated me to make more mealworms for the bluebirds. And if you’re wondering, it isn’t gross at all.
Mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle, Tenebrio molitor. They appear to be nocturnal, preferring a dark environment. The lifecycle of Tenebrio molitor is an egg, larva, pupa, and beetle stage. Mealworms are favored by bluebirds and other insect-eating birds. Bluebirds will actually eat any stage in the darkling beetle lifecycle; but only adults if they aren’t too hard.
Farming our own mealworms became a natural extension of our backyard wildlife care, freed the fridge space, and saved us a lot of money.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED to start your own mealworm farm:
Two containers. Any handy container, 8 – 10 inches deep, with smooth sides, will work; they won’t crawl out. We use five-gallon buckets because we already had them on hand.
Enough bedding material (which is also the food source) to add 2 – 3 inches in each container. We use oatmeal.
Decent size potato (or apples will work too) for moisture. Replace when moldy.
~ 20 meal worms to start the farm. If you can start your farm with adult beetles, you will cut at least 6 weeks time for mealworm production.
Fill the bottom 2 – 3 inches of one container with oatmeal.
Cut a potato in half (long ways) and add to the container fresh cut side down. This will be their water source.
Place in a dark area and keep at room temperature or warmer. We keep ours in a utility area.
We understand that adult beetles eat their own eggs. So we separate the adults from the eggs. Giving the adults enough time to lay eggs, at about 2 weeks after the beetles appear, we transfer the beetles to another similar container, where they can lay more eggs without eating the ones they just laid. The second container can wait to be filled when these adults are ready to be transferred. It will take about 3 months to get a good production of mealworms started. This time is made up as 6 weeks from the time the mealworms are added to the bucket until mealworms pupate and about another 6 weeks (or more depending on the temperatures) to become adults.
We check on them from time to time adding fresh potato and apple, and transferring the adults. For our farm production level, it is relatively low maintenance. With our initial 20 mealworms we are able to maintain enough population for our needs, or I should say, for Salvo and the bluebird’s needs.
There is more in-depth how-to grow your own mealworms available.Before we began, we researched how-tos on-line. Using available information, we then fine tuned, through trial and error, the how-to for our specific circumstances. For example, our research recommended keeping the growing site humid. In our area of Raleigh, we are naturally humid, so we didn’t worry too much about adding humidity. However, if you live in a drier climate, you should add a wet sponge to increase the humidity.
For our home use, we find the farming of mealworms easy to do and a no biggy in the add-on of chores and responsibilities. Salvo and the bluebirds seem to appreciate our efforts.
Helen Yoest is a garden writer, speaker and garden coach through her business Gardening with Confidence™.
Helen is a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens and Country Gardens magazine and she also serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum.
Helen is the founder, publisher and editor of:
Tarheel Gardening – your online resource for North Carolina gardening enthusiasts.