Symbi Biological

Cricket Harvesting Improved

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Sort of looks like some kind of Soapbox Derby car or a baby stroller doesn’t it? It’s called the Brookwood Worm Sifter and it was made to separate worm castings from worms. The original machine was designed to separate horse bedding from manure, but they found with a few modifications it could also be used for worm castings. When it is used for that purpose, it sifts out some beautiful, uniform castings that can be bagged up and sold at the local farmers market or garden center. It works pretty well for it’s intended use. I originally purchased it hoping that I might be able to find a good way to harvest clean worm protein. I’ve come to the conclusion that harvesting clean worms is a lot of work even with a fancy machine like this. The machine always has some castings that come with the worms, which isn’t a big deal if you are selling the worms to other vermicomposters. It gets tricky when you want to clean the worms and use them for a pelletized fish food, though.

So while it works well for it’s intended purpose, IMG_3584I thought maybe it might be a better cricket harvester so we added some mesh over top of the unit. I have to say, it really works well.

Combined with the Hopper Hopper 2.0, I can collect clean crickets and freeze them all in a reasonably quick period of time.

The unit works by using a perforated mesh surface at an angle and then shakes back and forth to sift out the frass (cricket poop) and sends the crickets down the line into a bin at the end of the machine. This machine has saved me so much time! It’s really been a huge help in collecting the crickets. I’m up to 5.5 pounds of raw cricket per week now and it would take me forever to harvest that kind of volume by hand.

Grinding Away

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Grinding crickets to make a flour seems like a simple idea. Just get a grinder and grind ‘em, right? Getting the right grinder is obviously important and I thought I’d give some common grinding options a try before committing the dollars to a hammer mill, which is a little more industrial and probably what I need long term. Let’s see if we can get by using stuff you’d find on the shelf at the local store. For the record, I do not recommend making any alterations to the equipment.

We started our foray into flour with a Wondermill, which I have to say, is solely made for grinding grain and nowhere in their documentation do they claim anything about being able to grind crickets. We tossed a handful of crickets into the hopper and most of them got stuck right away due to the little safety dome that covers the opening to the grinder.

We sort of figured that would be the case and promptly removed that piece. Probably can forget the warranty, huh? After removing that piece, the crickets went into the grinder opening much easier only to get caught up on what is probably another safety design feature. There is the little opening in the hopper which leads to a plate and the grinder hole is off to the side of the hopper hole. I presume this is because if someone should happen to remove the safety dome for some crazy reason, they wouldn’t grind their finger tips off by putting them in the hopper hole. Good idea for grains. Not so good for cricket grinding since they got stuck so easily. What we needed was a pre-grind. Coffee beans are oily and about the size of crickets, so maybe that could be the trick?

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The coffee grinder worked really well as far as a pre-grind process goes. I imagine this fine of a grind would do for some types of culinary dishes, but for a fish pellet, I’m looking for more of a flour-like consistency. IMG_0088

After taking the ground cricket from the coffee grinder and putting it through the Wondermill, we ended up with a very nice flour!IMG_0093

So it worked pretty well. Next step is to see how long it takes to grind the many pounds of crickets that have been piling up and then start mixing up some some fish food batches!

Dehydrating Crickets

It’s finally time to start drying crickets and grind them up! I could not be more excited about this. I am using an Excalibur brand food dehydrator because it provides a lot of flexibility when it comes to drying temperatures and times. We’ll start with a drying temp of 165F and dry them for 12 hours.

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I can definitely say that drying crickets smell pretty good. I was prepared for a funky smelling lab upon my return in the morning, but it turns out, crickets smell kind of like brownies. I am not kidding here. They really smell good.

The temp and drying time worked well. The crickets are sufficiently dried to grind into a flour. Next, we will try some different grinders and see if we can make some flour!

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Dried Crickets

Measure to Manage-Aquaponics Nutrient Analysis #4

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Every quarter or so, I share the nutrient analysis of the aquaponics system water. I try to test the system water every two weeks or so. This is the 4th report. Using a photometer, I can get a handle on what is going on in our water and that’s been amazingly helpful. It’s true, you really do have to measure in order to manage. As I mentioned in my last report, sharing this information helps us all to see how one system is performing. It is my hope that this will inspire others to share system info so that we can compare notes and contribute to a healthy aquaponics industry.

So what’s been going on since March? Well, let’s dive into the numbers and see. Read More

Yield’s Up!

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Two crickets get a drink together

Last winter, I posted about how my pitiful cricket yields were starting to climb. I went from 4 ounces to 8 ounces and it was rather encouraging. Then, my yields tapered off and I was back to getting 4 ounces. Absolutely devastating to be going backwards. Well, the yields have finally jumped back up to 11 ounces per bin the last 15 or so harvests. It seems to be getting better because my last 6 harvests have averaged 21 ounces per bin! Read More

Eating Insects for Dinner

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I went to the Eating Insects Conference in Detroit and had the privilege of joining the fantastic folks at Detroit Ento for an amazing meal full of delicious insects.

Upon walking in the door, we were greeted with a meal worm infused cocktail that had me and my dinner mates buzzing about its silky sweetness as we gathered for the big meal. Apparently, when you grind up meal worms and then strain out the chitin-y bits, it adds a silky smooth texture to the simple syrup to which it is added. Yum. Had me wondering…if it’s so good in a cocktail, the home brewer in me is thinking a larval lager might be worth a try.

After the drink gave us some wings, a good look at the menu had us chirping like crickets. We could all sense the dinner was about to jumpstart our hedonistic plunge into entomophagy. Everyone was anticipating the delicious 5 course dinner we were about to share with 30 strangers that you just knew would instantly become friends after this. It felt like good ol’ family fun sitting around the table sharing stories and not one person was grossed out as far as I could tell. I guess if you come to a dinner showcasing insects as food, you kind of have the gross thing already dealt with in your mind. Read More

Eating Insects Conference

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Recently, I had the privilege of making a trip out to one of the coolest conferences I’ve ever attended, Eating Insects: Exploring the culture of insects as food and feed. Entomophagy, the technical term for eating insects, is an emerging industry in the United States. Even in a wealthy country like the US, hunger is still a huge problem. Economical and environmentally friendly alternative proteins are being looked at with great hope. To meet the needs of an expanding population, we need to consider all of the protein options we have available. This includes eating insects.

Before you squirm in your seat, eating insects has been around for a very long time in other cultures. And while it may not be for everyone, insect protein can be a viable option for feeding fish, poultry, and other omnivorous livestock with a much lower carbon footprint than traditional proteins like soy and fishmeal.

What set this conference apart from others was the overwhelming sense of self awareness this burgeoning industry has. It was very clear to me by lunch time on the first day that everyone in the room, while entomophagy enthusiasts, understood that we are not going to convince everyone we know to try, and dare I say, enjoy, insects as food. Heck, even I was a little concerned about the idea and I flew 2000 miles to be there! My trepidation was alleviated in short work when I attended the dinner hosted by Detroit Ento later in the evening as detailed in another blog post.

One non profit organization called Little Herds was there to present some of the incredible edible insect work they’ve been doing with kids. I like their educational model. You may not be able to convince adults to eat insects, but kids love them. And kids who eat insects will be adults who eat insects!

The conference was well attended, I’m guessing 300 people or so. That’s quite a few folks for a bug eating meeting. The presentations included topics like the perceptions of edible insects, the environmentally friendly benefits of raising insects as compared to other proteins, edible insects in other countries, and successes and failures of raising insects. Each of the three days was filled with intriguing presentations with a fancy dinner Thursday night and a vendor expo on Friday night. The vendor expo was a thrill because we got to try just about every insect product on the market, it seemed.

I happened to miss my shuttle to the expo and the guys from Entomo Farms were kind enough to give me a ride there. Great guys and amazing insect farmers. The pictures they shared from the Entomo Farms facility and their tasty products were top notch. And I’m not saying that because of the free ride! They are the real deal when it comes to large scale insect farming and were very open and informed. I enjoyed our conversations about production and I even got to share some of the work we are doing at TomKat Ranch growing soil with grass fed/ grass finished cattle. It’s something I spoke to a lot of people at the conference about because insect farmers often times compare inefficient conventional beef production to the amazing efficiencies of insect farming. My point is that, yes, insect farming is probably always going to be more efficient from an input perspective, but the benefits of soil restoration, carbon sequestration, and increased soil water holding capacity gained from grassfed/grass finished production should also be considered in the full life cycle analysis when breaking things out.

Amongst the vendors was a very special man from Missouri named Paul Landkamer sharing his favorite bugs on a platter (pictured above) and he was there only for the love of entomophagy. Nothing to sell, but enthusiasm, and it was highly contagious. As he described his entomological offerings, he mentioned his entomophagy club back home. Figuring it probably consisted of just Paul, I asked how many in the show-me-state were in his club? He answered 30 people! Well, after trying the different insects he had to offer, I can definitely understand why he has so many members. Paul had a platter of differently prepared insects that were roasted or sweet pickled. The roasted ones were decent, but the sweet pickled bugs will knock your socks off they are so delightful. He was a real highlight of the trip.

Eating Insects was hosted by Wayne State University and organized by anthropologist Julie Lesnik. This inaugural conference was an immediate success. I look forward to where we go from here and can’t wait until next year! Read More

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