I had the hardest time titling this post and project. What would you call it? Mealworms don’t “grow” like a vegetable and you don’t really “raise” them either. Mostly, you throw them in a box and hope to god that they reproduce to the point that they become useful. In that sense, I suppose mealworms are some sort of creepy-crawly crop. Or at least they have the potential to save you a few bucks in chicken or quail treats.
That’s where I come in. Apparently, mealworms are quite easy to “grow” and make a great feast for chickens and other poultry and game birds. Mealworms are also high in protein. Your birds will thank you I’m sure. The best part is, however, that you can raise them in nothing more than a lidded box and some oatmeal.
Here’s what you’ll need to become a mealworm farmer:
• plastic box, tub, or drawer
• lid to the box you are using; it needs to fit tightly (we will be cutting this)
• fine mesh or screening (buy by the foot or use an old window screen)
• duct tape
• tall canister of oatmeal (opt for the cheap stuff)
• paper egg carton
• two carrots or a potato cut into large pieces
• 400 or more live mealworms (look at bait shops or pet shops as lizard food)
Make sure the box or drawer you choose has a well-fitting lid. It doesn’t need to seal or anything since the worms and beetles we will be raising will not crawl that high, but it is nice to know that if they do, the creepy bugs won’t get out. I’ll be honest, this whole project creeps the bejesus out of me.
First, cut a decent size hole from the box lid.
Cut your screen or fine wire mesh to fit over the hole, overlapping on all sides by about an inch or two. Many hardware stores sell window screening by the linear foot or if you have a random old window screen laying around, you could use that. Recycle folks!
Now duct tape the screen onto the lid. I taped around all four sides both on the inside and outside of the lid. It helps me to sleep at night knowing that mealworms won’t be getting out of the box.
Fill the box about 2-4 inches deep with oatmeal. I don’t usually purchase those large cardboard canisters of rolled quick oats, but I figured that the mealworms wouldn’t care much if the oats were organic or not and I just picked up whatever was on sale. I heard no complaints.
Toss in a few hundred mealworms to get you started, lay some carrots and/or potato chunks around for them to eat, cover them up with an egg carton for some much preferred darkness, and you’re good to go!
Once a week, check in on the mealworms and replace their oat bedding and food as needed. Mealworms do not need added water as they use the moisture from the foods you give them. The oats, oatmeal, or wheat bran, is used as a substrate for the mealworms to live and breed in. They may consume small quantities of the oatmeal so it does not need to be replaced or added to very often.
After about a month or so, you may notice that the mealworms have become a much darker brown. In another week, they will morph into small black beetles which will lay the next generation of eggs. The eggs will hatch into more, lighter colored mealworms within a week or two. The age of a mealworm is best estimated by its color.
Light mealworms are freshly hatched, a golden color is prime harvest age, dark brown is about to morph into a beetle, and then the beetles breed and lay the eggs. If you gauge your numbers just right, you can have a steady supply of mealworms ready to harvest for chicken snacks.
Mealworm beetles do not typically fly so don’t worry too much about escape. They also prefer cooler temperatures and are ideally raised in a basement or under a deck or porch. Just don’t forget about them! It is also important not to dispose of the oat or bran bedding once the beetles have matured, or else you will loose all of the very tiny mealworm eggs with it.
Try to start your little colony with at least 400 live mealworms. More mealworms means a faster turn around for harvest-ready larvae. Doesn’t it sound so appetizing when I say it like that? Larvae.
As a special Thanksgiving treat for our readers, we're giving away two ebooks and some chicken-friendly comfrey this week. There's only enough comfrey for one person to win, so you'll need to go here and leave a comment by midnight on Thanksgiving to get in the running.
The ebooks are free to everybody. To download my children's chicken book "Hop, Step, Peck, RUN!", just sign up for my monthly chicken newsletter using the form on the sidebar here. And to download "Best Book for Homesteaders", go here and sign up for my ebook email list, which will let you know when my other books are free on Amazon. (You can unsubscribe from either or both lists immediately if you want.)
I hope you enjoy the swag! And the scenes from May on our homestead, compiled by Mark.
There are all sorts of gadgets now for beekeeping. Frame spacers, hive carriers, frame holders, bee brushes, cappings scratchers, frame cleaners, and the list goes on and on. For most beekeepers, many of these items are unnecessary, and can even complicate what is in reality a very simple process. Some of the gear is never needed and other items only become handy if your apiary grows to the point you are a sideliner.
The basic equipment necessary for any beekeeper working in any type of hive is a short list:
Yes, I also listed these in order of importance (at least in my opinion).
I have sold queens & bees for over 20 years (wow, time flies). Never before have I felt there was a better time for beekeepers (especially new beekeepers) to just get back to the basics. There is so much to learn; adding complications and so many choices leaves folks feeling lost in the beekeeping equipment maze before the bees’ first buzz. Additionally, saving $100 on items you don’t need or won’t use for years is a good thing! Bees naturally keep it simple (remember they like the dark, protected space of hollows in trees or rocks) and so should the beekeeper!
I feel the smoker is the most important tool and should be used EVERY time you go into a hive. With the push of ‘natural beekeeping’ there have been some fly by night ‘bee experts’ that advocate not using smoke and some even claim that smoke is bad for the bees, or it will contaminate your honey. By smoking the bees you are doing them and yourself a big favor. We all know how bad stress is for us, so why would we want to stress our bees out time and time again? By masking alarm pheromone with smoke in the air the hive can stay calm and concentrate on doing their jobs instead of going into panic and attack mode.
If anyone thinks bees can’t remember and aren’t affected later on by intrusions that send them into a frenzy should try going into hives that have had package bees shook out of them (some big banging of bee boxes happens during package bee production). They won’t be happy anyone is coming back into the bee yard for days. Calmer beekeeping will mean there will not be an un-welcoming committee waiting for next passerby. When the bees get stressed, so does the beekeeper. Even if the smokeless beekeeper is wearing enough protective gear to go to the moon, their experience in the hive is not pleasant. How can anyone enjoy the hardworking honey bee if 1000 of them are working hard to sting them? So for the health of the hive, the joy of keeping bees, and the safety of all please light your smoker every time you work the hive.
Honey bees, and especially the bee breeds that excel in protecting themselves from the elements, robbers, and pests will fill every nook and cranny with wax and propolis. When the bees do this the lids, supers, and frames feel as someone went nuts with a bottle of gorilla glue in the hive. Without a hive tool a beekeeper will have to pull, tug, jerk and yank the hive around to inspect frames. With every jolt the bees will become less keen of your intrusion… no matter how much smoke you keep puffing out!
Additionally, bees build comb on their frames leaving just the right amount of space for bees to pass between the combs on each frame. They are not planning for your removal of these frames. Using your hive tool to space out the frames so bees are not brushed off the neighboring frames (or worse, smashed) as you remove the one frame will keep your hive calm, the bees safe and reduce the chance of damaging comb, brood, and food stores. So keep that tool handy, and use it with each manipulation of your hive.
Thanks to natural selection, bees remember what their for-mothers learned a long time ago: dark objects are the best places to sting an intruder. When Mama Bear found a yummy bounty of brood, bees, and honey she only retreated when the hive landed their stingers in her nose, ears, eyes and mouth. These same bees that were able to successfully chase She Bear off were able to reproduce, and our bees today remember the trick of their ancestors. Thus, if you are working bees and one or more decide to send you the not so subtle message to leave via a sting, then chances are it will be on your face. Most folks with beekeeping experience will also vouch that the face sting is also one of the most painful — my worst one was deep down in my ear in 1992 (I will never forget). So veil up! It only takes a moment to put a veil on, and your friends won’t be calling you Cyclops for the next 3 days!
Enjoy the bees, keep it simple and thank you for taking the time to make the world a better place: one beehive at a time!
Laura Weaver, Old Drone Layer @BeeWeaver
Saturday afternoon I sent out a community-wide message through my local food co-op looking for a milking mentor. I basically wrote that I was as inexperienced at hand-milking as one could be, but that I am a hard worker and fast learner. By Saturday evening I had three responses offering to teach me how to milk dairy animals. One woman in particular asked me to call her to talk one-on-one. I did and we talked for a little bit about what my plans were and what I was looking to get out of the arrangement. I let her know that my family and I are starting to look for a larger property that could accommodate diary goats and that they would be a primary focus for us. She was kind enough to invite me to come over to her small farm the next morning for milking time.
Sunday was the ideal setting for me. My new dairy mentor, Michele, lives a mere 4 minutes away. Who knew I could find someone willing to teach me so close to my own home? Michele showed me around her property and I got a good look at her garden, turkey, ducks, pigs, and goats. I was surprised at how short her fence was around the goat enclosure. It was maybe 5 feet tall? I expected it to be about 8 feet tall considering what notoriously ninja-like escape artists goats could be. But she insisted that there had been no escapes in the little over two years that they had been fenced in. Perhaps their two guard llamas kept the goats in line. Thank goodness those llamas stayed away from me because I have a very strong, irrational fear of llamas and alpacas. Don’t ask me why, they just freak the living daylights out of me!
We walked into the milking shed that was no bigger than 10′ x 10′ and Michele showed me how the stanchion worked before any of our morning “customers” came in. It seemed simple enough; the stanchion was a seat-height table with two bars at one end where the goat’s neck could be secured to keep the goat from backing up during milking. A small bowl sat at the head-end for pellets and sunflower seeds to keep our “customers” interested in behaving. Makes sense. It’s like those cartoons where the farmer tangles the carrot on a string in front of the donkey to get it to move. Different species– same idea.
Now it was time to get down to brass tacks! Michele opened the back door to the milking shed to let in our first customer, Nanny the Toggenberg. Michele showed me her prep technique of a brush down, wipe down, hand wipe, and preliminary squirt to flush the initial milk from the goat’s teat. She gave me a quick lesson on how to cut off the milk with a firm grasp and then squeeze it out. Ah… this looked so easy! Not. Milking is certainly easier said than done. But in a few minutes I was getting a pathetic stream of milk. Success!
After a few minutes of milking I felt like a dairymaid from a Thomas Hardy novel. Memories of excerpts from high school British Literature class reading came flooding back. To be fair, milk dairies were a pretty heavy theme in Hardy’s work. Anyhow– sitting on the side of the little wooden milk stanchion with a beautiful red and black creature standing to my side made me feel underdressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. I should have whipped up some late-1800′s attire to commemorate the event. I was hand milking a goat guys. Poorly, but it was happening.
Michele gave me a tour of her goat chores, showed me what to do with the milk, answered some basic care questions, and gave me a hoof trimming demonstration. I will be going back on Sunday for my next lesson and some practice. And you know what? I am ecstatic! I feel like I am on some fantastic adventure that so many are missing out on. Like it’s a secret or something. I am a secret dairymaid.
Ten years ago, before I came to Deer Isle, Dennis lived here without electricity. As the Hostel started to materialize the impracticality and hazards with candles and lanterns pushed him to set up a power system. The cost of running the grid line in from the road was too steep and the poles unsightly in the rustic setting so Dennis set up a solar electric system. The system has grown some since but is still our only source of power, giving us enough electricity for light bulbs and a computer, and on sunny days; the laundry machine, the water pump for the shower and some occasional power tools.
To live with alternative household energy, in part or in full as we are, is to me not so much a choice of energy source but a choice of energy consumption. While it's possible to live off the grid, with solar power for example, and still generate as much electricity as a conventional household consumes, I appreciate the limitations our fairly small set up has. Those wishing to reduce their use of conventional power often consider renewable energy, but using laundry lines instead of a dryer is also a way to reduce power usage, or reconsidering the necessity of other household appliances.
There's a common notion throughout society that we all should do what we can to halt global warming. Applied to that notion is the idea that we should be able to do that without having to sacrifice anything; that while it's our duty to save the environment it's our human right to keep all the modern technology, appliances and devices we want going. Renewable energy is often seen as a way to have it all and still feel “green” and it is indeed at a glance more environment friendly than conventional power, but no power has as low footprint as the power not used. The appliances run on green energy took energy, probably conventional, to produce. They'll take energy to deal with once they're ready to be replaced, probably, once again, conventional. Solar panels and wind turbines takes energy to manufacture, batteries are made of recycled lead and hydro power comes with other environmental challenges.
Living off the grid with a stand alone solar power system the way we do is great to encourage a limitation for power use. I don't ever miss having a refrigerator and or other kitchen appliances and aesthetically, I appreciate the lack of such. I'm happy to adjust to the circumstances; that there are things we can do on sunny days that we can not do on cloudy. We don't have to consider a monthly payment to the power company and a well designed solar system is substantially more reliable than the grid. A system like ours makes it possible to live, with electricity, on land too far away from the grid to bring the lines in, land that often is cheap and secluded.
We harvested the beets last Monday, in the nick of time before the first real cold came. That was the end for the harvest season, an end that has seemed so far away for so long that I still can't really believe we're on the other side of it. The days are indeed getting shorter, and we enjoy the long evenings powered by the generously sunny days.
Anneli Carter – Sundqvist lives with her husband Dennis year round on a highly self sufficient, off the grid homestead. In the summer, they run the Deer Isle Hostel, providing budget accommodation, positive-impact living education and a unique experience for 100's of travelers each year. They grow and keep a whole years supply of food without freezer or refrigerator, they provide their own building material, garden amendments, medicine and fuel using island resources and great creativity. They recently got awarded The Homesteader of the Year 2013 by Mother Earth News and the Best Budget accommodation in the Down East Magazine.
Photo by Dennis Carter
I have read numerous articles published pertaining to our canine friends but rarely do I find anything written about homesteading with dogs in remote areas. Our dogs are a very important factor in our homesteading happiness and certain considerations need to be made for them. I have read articles about different breeds of dogs used as working dogs on a homestead and I have published topics on adoption, veterinary care and life with dogs. This particular topic pertains to living remote with our dogs where the hazards they face are far different than other living conditions.
As a result of one of the articles I wrote about responsible pet adoption I had a request from the owner of Rocky ’The Rocket’ Montana to include that article in a book he was writing. I was honored and happy to oblige and the book is now published as an e-book under the title of “Memoir of an Abandoned Basset Hound”, by Rocky ’The Rocket’ Montana. Is well written with its humorous and tender moments from the perspective of a rescued basset hound. The book is available by going to www.rockytherocket.com, if interested.
This subject is about remote living and making considerations for our canine companions within a remote living lifestyle. In the 16+ years we have lived remotely in our mountain cabin, we have observed some pet owners which have not always exercised good judgment when it comes to the safety and protection of their pets. We have predators that view dogs as an easy food source and will specifically target them. For those who falsely believe that their pet can hold its own against wild predators they should rethink that idea. Some owners allow their dogs to run loose and when that happens the chance of a dangerous encounter greatly increases. We have coyotes, lynx, bobcat, wolves, bear, mountain lion, and raptors that will prey on dogs given an opportunity. Opening the door to let your dog out to go potty and not watching them is a risky chance for a disaster. The dog can easily be distracted by a rabbit or deer and give chase never to be seen again. We heard of one pet that was stomped to death by a deer while pursuing it. We watched a doe deer chase down a coyote that had gone after her fawn landing on its back with all four hooves. It gave that coyote a good stomping and pet owners should not assume their pet has any advantage in a wild animal encounter. If not killed outright your beloved pet can also be seriously injured.
We have heard of eagles picking up small dogs and carrying them off so we choose large dogs as our companions as it is less likely they will be victims of birds of prey. We have a 1600 square foot fenced in back yard for our dogs with a fence that is 6 feet high. Even then our dogs are not allowed in the back yard without one of us being out there with them. Most remote areas have similar predators and while they only visit occasionally we prefer to not take any unnecessary chances. Hence if you choose to live in a remote area I would never recommend an outside dog or small dog. Of course there are the two legged hazards to beware of also just like in a more urban environment.
Having now listed some of the hazards I can’t imagine life without our canine friends. For us choosing large dogs with a high level of intelligence was important. Our three German Shepherd Dogs not only are very intelligent but excellent inside companions. Because they are smart they keep us entertained and constantly on our toes plus they provide us with plenty of exercise. Their senses tell us if anything is prowling around our home and they are far more alert than we are. We trust their keen instincts completely. They are excellent family members and their virtues are too many to count. I simply do not understand why some people keep their dog outside as ours keep us laughing and entertained each day and if they were outside we would miss all their wonderful personality traits coupled with their love and companionship.
When choosing a lifestyle as we have done it is important to make sure there is proper veterinary care available. Our veterinarian is about one hour away from where we live. In contrast those who live in cities usually have a wide choice of veterinary care plus specialists that can deal with more specific ailments or injury. Our closest veterinarian specialist is a three hour drive away from us. We feel fortunate to have quality veterinary care with vets that provide a broad range of care available. Having a good first aid book on hand in case of an unforeseen accident is equally valuable.
Canine companionship is priceless when homesteading remotely and choosing the right dog is equally important. Without offending Rocky mentioned above I have had two basset hounds in my lifetime and neither would have been suited for remote living. They spent most of their time sleeping and laying around. As for protection and an early warning system they would have lacked those needed skills. An intruded or predator would more than likely trip over them before they would warn us of any potential hazard. A rabbit crossing the yard would give them a scent to relentlessly pursue. Having more active and territorial inclined dogs is more suitable for our lifestyle. Matching dogs to the specific environment they will live in is a major decision. Our three are terrific indoor companions that are perfect for our lifestyle and remote living. I simply can’t imagine living as we do without canine companionship. Having three indoor companions is a lot of work but that is nothing in comparison to what we receive in return in the form of love and affection.
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living with their dogs go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.
It's that time of year when broccoli and cabbage and cauliflower are once again in season. For me, that means making "Cream of Cauliflower Soup." It's a recipe I found years ago in Betty Crocker's "New Choices Cookbook" circa 1997. I don't know what ever possessed me to try it originally, because I DO NOT LIKE CAULIFLOWER, but I'm glad I did. This soup is perfect for chilly autumn evenings and, unlike most comfort food, won't go straight to your hips. My second grader likes it so much, she takes it for school lunch!
Creamy Cauliflower Soup
2 cans chicken broth (14.5 oz each)
1 medium head of cauliflower, separated into flowerets (about 6 cups)
3/4 cup chopped celery (about 1 large stalk)
1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
1 tbl lemon juice
2 tbl butter (or margarine, if you must)
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/8 tsp pepper
dash of ground nutmeg
Heat 1 can of broth to boiling. Stir in vegetables and lemon juice. Return to boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender; do not drain. Puree using a stick blender (or, working in batches, use a regular blender). Melt butter in another pan over low heat. Stir in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until flour is absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in remaining broth and milk with a whisk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Combine with cauliflower mixture and add pepper and nutmeg. Heat until hot. If you want to make it fancy, top it with some chopped chives. Yield 8 servings, about 85 calories each.