Symbi Biological

Bulls and Dung Beetle Traps

 

IMG_8506The bulls were in the pasture next to the lab so we placed some dung beetle traps out to see what we could get with the big fellas. Something I had not learned before doing this is that young bulls are extremely playful. The two big guys didn’t mind us, but the younger guy would “playfully” charge us. Especially, when I was tying up the fresh dung into the little mesh modified paint strainer that hangs from the inverted pvc half pipe.

IMG_7866

Dung hanging over cup

I’m sure he was just playing, but how do you really know? After a couple of close calls, our apprentice and I bailed. Nothing like 3000lbs of muscle coming at ya.

Our cattlemen had a good laugh at us and that’s ok. We’ll live to see another dung. Interesting to note, when I came back to retrieve the traps a few days later, two of the three were crushed by the bulls. The half pipes were kicked over and the cups crushed. I did manage to trap 4 darkling beetles. I think I’ll stick with the cows!

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Crickets Laying Eggs

Here’s a video of some crickets laying eggs. They insert their ovipositor, which is a needle -like appendage between the female crickets back legs, into the “mud” which consists of coconut coir and worm castings at a 5:1 ratio. The medium is kept moist and sits in a microwave dish at one end of the bin. This “mud” provides a nice place to lay eggs and somewhere to get a drink. After about 1-2 weeks, the eggs will hatch. If you keep temps between 84-91F and provide good food and enough water, you will have a lot of breeding crickets ready to lay eggs just like this! 

Cricket Harvest Numbers

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In late January of last year, I started with one bin of crickets with the hope that they would help contribute to the Fish Food Project closing the loop for our aquaponics system. They were put next to the soldier flies in the insectary greenhouse. It became apparent that they were not getting the ideal environment and I moved them indoors to a 10×10’ indoor gardening tent. Greenhouses are good for algae, plants, and soldier flies because they need sunlight, but too dynamic of an environment to encourage predictable cricket breeding. Hot days and cold nights are rough on the little ones.

As time went by, I started to learn their growth cycle and developed a way to harvest. It was fun to go through the process and once I got it down, it was time to stop harvesting and build the colony. It takes 8.2 ounces of cricket to make a pound of fish food. Cricket is 60% protein and the fish need a 32% protein fish food. Now, almost a year later, there are 55 bins in the tent and regular harvests are needed just to get more room to raise more crickets. It’s really tight in there! I even have to move a couple columns of bins out of the tent just to work and move around.

Well, the crickets are going gangbusters and harvests are finally regular. My initial harvests averaged a pitiful 2 ounces per bin, but as I got the hydration process down, the harvest numbers really jumped. Going from 2 ounces to now almost 9 ounces on average. Heck, one bin had almost a whole pound! I’ve only been harvesting now for a couple weeks so I expect to refine the process and get a predictable production schedule together. Then, it’s time to move on to the next stages of exploring alternative feeds for the crickets and improving their nutrition so they can help feed all of the fish and fowl on the property. Alternative feeds for alternative feeds!

It’s only been a couple of weeks since I’ve been doing the regular harvests. Here are the numbers so far:

Cricket harvest per bin Grams Ounces
11/23

210

11/23

131

 
11/25

220

11/25

181

12/1

150

 
12/1

145

 
12/4

188

12/4

172

12/4

240

12/7

287

12/7

236

12/7

208

12/8

187

12/8

215

12/8

208

12/9

414

12/9

285

12/9

310

12/9

211

 average weight/bin

254.636363636364

8.96606914212548

Columns of Crickets

It’s getting a little tight in the cricket castle. Finally producing protein for the Fish Food Project. From one bin to 55 all in a 10×10′ area.

Fermented Feed Update

The crickets seemed to like the fermented feed because there is very little left in any of the bins where I put it. Pretty cool how the feed stayed preserved as it dried out. Without fermentation, the chicken feed can get moldy pretty quick with even the slightest bit of moisture or excess humidity. Not a huge problem, but it happens. Over the course of a few days in the bin, the fermented feed dries up and the crickets can still chip away at it, as needed. I’m going to keep playing with this method of feeding to see if it is more efficient and for providing additional hydration to the young crickets. One other thing to note, it is very important to make sure you have a 1-2 inch layer of water above the chicken feed in the jar. I overfilled with feed my first go round and the feed swelled up after adding the water filling the entire volume of the jar. It was okay for a couple of days, but then the top parts started turning a darker color. I scraped that part off and gave it to the worms. Then, I added more water to the jar and finally got the layer of water above the feed. It’s been about 10 days and the fermented feed is still looking good.

Fermenting Feed

Recently, a coworker asked if I had ever heard of fermenting chicken feed. Honestly, the only thing I’ve ever purposefully fermented has been barley, hops, water and yeast after brewing beer. Fermenting helps preserve foods and the microbes involved break down tough to digest food components by producing enzymes making minerals more available and even increasing protein. I’ve heard that feeding chickens fermented feed will cut the amount of feed by possibly 1/2, which would be incredible. I’m going to give it a go and ferment some chicken feed for the poultry we have on the ranch and also see if the crickets respond well to it. Fermented feed can supposedly help laying hens increase production and I wonder if that is true for the crickets? We’ll know some of these answers soon! As I get better at fermenting, the ultimate plan is to experiment with fermenting the crickets themselves after harvest. Since crickets have a high iron content, my hope is that a fermented cricket based fish feed might be able to make that iron a little more available to the plants in the aquaponic system. That would be pretty cool. The only thing I’ve added to the system in the last 6 months or so has been some iron to get it to about 2ppm. I do that about 2- 3 times a year. Read More

Mealworms Eat Styrofoam

Recently, I read a Stanford study where they fed styrofoam to mealworms and they actually ate it! This is very exciting news as polystyrene is slow to biodegrade and it’s widely used throughout the world. Rob Jordan reports on the study co-authored by Wei-Min Wu through Stanford News Service that “within 24 hours, they excreted the bulk of the remaining plastic as biodegraded fragments that look similar to tiny rabbit droppings. Mealworms fed a steady diet of Styrofoam were as healthy as those eating a normal diet, Wu said, and their waste appeared to be safe to use as soil for crops.”

Well, since I have meal worms and some styrofoam….

Can confirm. Meal worms do, in fact, eat styrofoam! In the first half of the video, you can see the little chew tracks on the styrofoam. Then, a shot 4 days later shows how much they’ve eaten hollowing it out. This was just with a few pieces in the bin on top of a bed of organic chicken feed. They had choices and some of them chose the styrofoam. I am definitely going keep feeding them more and will try a whole bin with only styrofoam as the feed source. Probably should toss some styrofoam in with the crickets and see what happens! Insects and microbes are awesome.

Cricket Numbers

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So far, the crickets have been pretty successful. I’ve been building the colony and harvesting here and there, but mostly, trying to get the numbers up to have consistent harvests. Before I knew the dehydration problem was happening, I was getting about 66 grams per bin. I believe that number is kind of low as my production methods were still kind of rough. Now that I have the premature dehydration figured out, the bins are chock full of crickets. At least, it sure looks like there are more crickets in the bins at this point. So lets say I get about 3 or 4 ounces per bin. Gosh I hope my math is correct here… Most fish foods are around 32% protein. If you take 32% of 16 ounces, that is 5.12 ounces of protein needed to make one pound of fish food. My fish are eating about a pound a day.

Crickets are 60% protein as dry meal so I need about 8.2 ounces of cricket to get the 5.12 ounces of protein to make 32% protein fish food.

I need to harvest about 2 bins per day to keep up with demand. With a 6 week life cycle, that means I need 84 bins up and running to stay afloat. I believe I can shorten that cycle a bit by having breeding pods to sort of crank out the babies. That’s the next step. But working with what I know, this is totally doable and not a huge amount of work to do.

These numbers reflect only crickets as the protein source. I plan to add spirulina into the mix, but I’ve been feeding it to the crickets! I am going to expand spirulina production to a couple large troughs to have enough for everyone. I will also supplement the fish food making with worms and when the soldier fly larvae start producing, there should be enough protein to start working on different blends. It will be exciting to see how the fish and poultry perform.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Behind the Scenes Visit

Visiting Monterey Bay Aquarium is always a treat. Located right on Cannery Row on Monterey Bay, it’s in the ideal location for an afternoon trip or a for a longer stay. I was lucky enough to get an invite after their visit to Symbi Biological a few weeks ago. Getting a chance to see how they raise jelly fish and their foods was a real treat for me and my family.

Upon arriving, we were greeted by Tommy Knowles, who I think has been raising jellyfish at the Aquarium for 13 years. He led us through some back rooms full of neat equipment and down a long hallway that just so happens to be right next to a million gallon tank on the other side of the wall. After going through the underground maze, we entered the jelly room full of special tanks called kreisels where they culture the jellyfish. Inside the jelly room, we met John Lambert who raises the food for the many types of jelly fish. Bubbling like columnar cauldrons, there were three types of alga being cultured for the jellies. On the other side of the room, they raised brine shrimp and on another wall they had some more bubbling tubes raising copepods, which are tiny crustaceans.

The jelly lab had a very familiar feel to it for me and I felt a kinship with these fellows almost instantly. After all, raising organisms no matter land or sea, is all pretty much the same thing. We all have challenges and work arounds that evolve through experience and passion for our work. It was an eye opening day and I truly appreciated the opportunity to see how things are done at the aquarium. I’m already thinking about brine shrimp as another alternative protein source. Stay tuned!

Measure to Manage-Aquaponics Nutrient Analysis Report #2

It’s been a couple months since I posted the last grouping of nutrient analysis reports. Things are fairly stable as you can see.

NO3 NO2 P K Ca Mg SO4 PO4 Alkty Na Fe NH3 EC pH Temp
7/20/15

25

4

21

90

60

90

120

53

135

200

2.4

0.93

1.92

7.38

72.5

7/27/15

23.2

3

14.9

110

80

100

130

45.6

145

200

1.94

0.95

2.19

7.5

72.7

8/12/15

27.5

2

20.8

90

50

110

120

60

140

200

1.71

0.95

2.34

7.34

73

9/4/15

36.9

8

27

45

50

140

100

62

135

190

1.48

0.98

2.45

7.27

70.6

9/16/15

30.6

2

35.5

35

50

120

110

101

160

240

1.32

1.38

2.56

7.13

69.3

9/30/15

33.4

4

35

35

70

115

120

105

145

230

1.19

1.28

2.57

7.19

68.1

10/16/15

29.7

2

31.5

60

60

105

110

96.5

135

240

1.01

1.25

2.54

7.05

71.9

I’ve been using well water and the sodium is through the roof at 240ppm. I’ll be interested to see how the rains will affect our well and the sodium content. In the spring, the sodium was at 180ppm out of the tap and now it’s all the way up to 240ppm. I’m still amazed at how things are growing pretty well.

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