black soldier fly bin

black soldier fly bin

We decided to show you our black solider fly bin and discuss why we have them. For those of you watching our greenhouse build videos, you may have noticed a white rectangular box in one corner of the greenhouse.   We will also give you a quick tour of it and show you how it works.

You can see our build post on this bin and get some additional information on the black soldier fly in this older blog entry. We bought our plans for the bin, as well as our starter BSF larvae, from Northwest Redworms.

 

black soldier fly bin with larvae
black soldier fly larvae inside bin eating coffee grinds

What we feed the black soldier fly larvae

The black soldier fly larvae will eat just about anything.  Any food that you might consider as fast food for human consumption is terrific for black solider fly larvae.  We have a brewery near us and they give us the spent grain from the brewing process and we feed that to our chickens and add it to our black soldier fly bin.

In the past we also have fed them a cheap dog food and grain after moistening it first.  The dog food was more expensive for us than grain, but there was almost no unconsumed pieces.  With grain they will not eat the hull of the grain.

With the feeding of grain you will eventually need to remove the uneaten portions of the grain.  It is typically lighter than the contents of the bin and can easily be scooped off the top.

If you do not have a brewery close you could likely get food scraps for free from a restaurant, school or fast food place.   With a little bit of your time you should be able to secure a good source of free food for your black soldier fly bin.

A great source of fat and protein for the chickens

Black soldier fly larvae are high in fat and protein, over 30 percent of each.  The chickens absolutely love them and come quickly when we start tossing them out to be eaten.

It does take a fair bit of food to grow black solider fly larvae.  For every 100 pounds of food added to their bin we expect to harvest around 20 pounds of black solider fly larvae.  If we were buying all their food that might not make good sense, but remember we get our spent grain for free.  At the end of the summer we will have saved money by reducing our chicken feed bill.

 

Video of our black solider fly bin

Here is our latest video of the black soldier fly bin we keep out in the greenhouse.  You can see how it works and get a quick look at the BSF larvae in action.  We find it interesting and our chickens absolutely love them.  When we throw out the larvae for them to eat they really get excited.

Transplant tomato seedlings

Prune and transplant tomato seedlings in your Mittleider garden

Today we are going to prune and transplant our tomato seedlings from seedling flats to our grow boxes.  Pruning before transplanting is going to help make them stronger and help to get them through the shock of transplanting faster.  If you are looking for information on pruning tomatoes grown with the Mittleider gardening method, check out this post.

Transplant tomato seedlings

While we demonstrate transplanting these seedlings into a grow box, the same steps can be taken to put them into your native soil.

Why prune before transplanting?

Pruning tomatoes before transplanting is a good idea for a couple reasons.  First, by removing some of the leaves it is going to be able to transplant it deeper into the soil.  The more of the tomato plant you can get into the soil, the more roots it is going to establish.  More roots will help it to grow faster and supply more water and nutrition to the plant and those delicious tomatoes  we want to grow.  It is all about the tomatoes!

Reducing the leaf mass on the seeding will also help reduce transplant shock.  With less mass to try and support through the shock of transplant, the seedling will come out of shock faster.  Our absolute favorite pruning tool is the Fiskar.

What do I prune?

This is a good time to make sure all the suckers are removed.  To see what we typically removed while pruning seedlings be sure to see the video below.

Transplant them deep

The deeper you can transplant your tomato seedlings, the better.  The stem is just covered in root hairs.  Once they are below the soil they will begin to change into roots. Those new roots will help to get the added water, air and nutrients to the plants.

Take care not to get the terminal bud, or the growing tip, buried.  Doing so will kill the plant and end your chance of getting any tomatoes.

Give them nitrogen

To help get those tomatoes to recover quickly we also give them a shot of nitrogen.  The nitrogen is applied 3-4 inches away from the plants at a rate of 1/4 ounce per linear foot.  Once the nitrogen is applied we scratch it into the soil and then water it and the tomatoes thoroughly.

Here is the video

We made a video showing the pruning and transplanting process on our tomatoes.  We also will include a follow up video showing how all out transplants looked a week later.

adding egg shells to your garden

Adding egg shells to your garden

Today I wanted to share my thoughts about adding egg shells to your garden.  While I understand the thought process behind why folks add their ground up egg shells to the garden, I am going to explain why I believe it is a mistake to add them.

adding egg shells to your garden
egg shells are not ideal for providing calcium to your garden

Why are egg shells needed in the garden?

You will see lots of folks recommend adding their egg shells to the garden because they contain some of the calcium that all plants need.  Calcium is one of the many nutrient that all plants need.  Nutrients is law 5 of the Six Laws of Plant Growth in the Mittleider gardening method.  If you want to learn more about plant nutrition then the Grow Food website is a terrific place to get started.

Some plants, like tomatoes, are heavy calcium feeders and will need supplemental calcium.  Insufficient levels of calcium manifest in tomatoes as blossom end rot.  Have you ever seen blossom end rot on your tomatoes?  You likely had a calcium deficiency in your garden.

For areas with 20 plus inches of rainfall, the calcium helps to amend the pH.  When the garden soil pH is outside of acceptable levels the plants are unable to use most of all the available nutrients.  If your pH is not correct your garden will suffer.

So what is wrong with the egg shells?

Is there something wrong with adding the egg shells to your garden?  No.  The egg shells are not going to do any harm to your garden.  But they are also not going to help your garden when it actually needs calcium.

Plants need their nutrition to be inorganic

Understand the items in the rest of this paragraph can make you a better gardener.  Plants need their nutrients in the form of a water soluble, inorganic material.  The nutrients and plant does not take from the air are absorbed with water in through the roots.

Egg shells are organic and are not water soluble.  Until they are are converted to an inorganic state they simply wont be of any use in your garden.

Can I just wait for the egg shell to be converted to inorganic?

Sure, you can wait.  But I do not think you should.  First off, there is no real way to determine when the organic egg shells are actually going to be converted to that inorganic state and become water soluble.  It could be a year or more until it is available to the plants.  When it does finally become available we really do not know how much is available and if it will be enough for the plant.

What can I use to provide calcium to my garden?

To better provide calcium to your garden you can use either gypsum or lime,  Typically speaking, areas that receive less than 20 inches of annual rainfall will need gypsum.  If you get 20 or more, then you can use lime like we do.  It is available at most farm supply and garden stores and is relatively inexpensive.  We get ours in 50 pound bags and it typically lasts us several years.

If you would like to experiment a little and try adding calcium to your garden, such as to fight blossom end rot on your tomatoes, you can try something like the Bonide Hydrated lime.  If you are in a law annual rain fall area then try gypsum, known as Calcium Sulfate Dihydrate.

Video discussing why I don’t add egg shells

Recently I recorded this video while I was starting seeds and discuss my thoughts on adding egg shells to your garden.  It mirrors much of what you read here.  You can watch me getting seeds started in a seedling tray as I discuss it.

Greenhouse side curtains

Greenhouse side curtains

We just finished installing our greenhouse side curtains on our geothermal heat sink project.  Typically a greenhouse will have sides that roll up to allow ventilation and excess heat to be removed.  Our Zimmerman High Tunnel kit is designed differently.

Our greenhouse side curtains are entirely different.  They attach along the sides near the bottom of the greenhouse.  When the sides are opened the curtain drops towards the ground from the hip board.

This picture below shows an open side curtain during the install process.  These is a side pocket on each end that prevents wind from blowing around the ends of the curtains.

greenhouse side curtain
this greenhouse side curtain is party open

How the side curtain operates

The operation of the side curtains to open and close is quite simple.  Through the use of a counter weight and winch one person and open and close the side curtain.  A length of cable runs from the winch on one end of the greenhouse, along the hip board, to a counter weight at the opposite of the greenhouse,

At the top of the top of the greenhouse side curtain is a hemmed pocket along the entire length.  Through that hem is length of pipe.  A small hole was made through the side curtain below the pipe approximately every 6 feet.  one end of a length of line is put through the hole and tied off around the pipe and curtain material.  the other end of the put through a pulley and then crimped onto the cable running between the winch and counter weight.

counter weight that lowers the greenhouse side curtain
When this counter weight is lowered the side curtain lowers
this winch operates the greenhouse side curtain
This winch lowers and raises the side curtain

As the cable is let out from the winch the curtain is lowered.  To raise the side curtain you simply operate the winch and bring in the cable.

Why a drop down greenhouse side curtain?

There are two reasons why I like the idea of a greenhouse side curtain like the one on the Zimmerman greenhouse kit.  By lowering the curtain towards the ground instead of from the ground up there are two advantages.

When the side curtain is open, the opening is at the top and not at the ground level as is typical for most greenhouses.  This allows the gardener to vent excess heat from closer to the peak of the greenhouse. This could be particularly advantageous for tall  plants that are grown vertically.

The second advantage is in helping to keep critters out of the greenhouse.  In the typical greenhouse when the side curtain rolls up from the bottom all nature of animals can easily get into the greenhouse.  Our side curtains are always secured at the bottom, making it more difficult for unwanted pests and animals to get inside.

Greenhouse build progress

Greenhouse build progress

It has been a while since we sharing an update on our greenhouse build progress. Not much was accomplished during the heat of the summer. Now that fall is here we have taken advantage of cool weather and got busy with this project. The structure is up, the end walls are built and all of the double wall plastic is up and secured. The blower motor that inflated the canopy is installed and operational.

Greenhouse build progress
Greenhouse build progress – preparing to install canopy

What’s left to do to the greenhouse

What do we have left to do with this greenhouse? The side curtains on our greenhouse need to be installed. This Zimmerman High Tunnel kit has curtains that secure at the bottom and drop down from the top to vent excess heat. After the side curtains are up and operational, the door needs to be built, covered with plastic and installed.

Once the door is on we need to bury an electrical line pulled through conduit. It will provide the power to the for the inflated fan and the fan that will blow air for the heat sink. Once the power is run to the greenhouse we will work on the grow boxes and making the heat sink operational.

Greenhouse build progress - canopy plastic
Greenhouse plastic installed on canopy of greenhouse

The grow boxes

We have all four of them built and pushed to one side of the greenhouse. They need to be placed, spaced out, leveled and secured in place with stakes. An application of preplant will applied to the soil inside the grow boxes. Then they need to be topped off with a mixture of sand and sawdust. After mixing in an application of weekly feed and preplant with the sand and sawdust the grow boxes will be ready.

The two grow boxes down the center of the greenhouse will have the a-frame structure built to allow vertical gardening. That can be built after the seedlings are in and in the warmth and comfort of an operational geothermal heat sink greenhouse.

What’s left for the heat sink

So far we don’t have any more greenhouse build progress to report on the heat sink portion of this project. But it’s on our list of things to accomplish. Once the greenhouse is buttoned up the heat sink is our next project. The pipes on the inlet side of the heat sink will be bundled together and cut at the same height above the ground. The fan that will move air through the heat sink will be mounted on top of the barrel that will be our manifold. That barrel will then be partially buried over heat sink pipes.

Watch the video update of our greenhouse build progress

This video is part 7 in our YouTube video series on our geothermal heat sink greenhouse build. If you haven’t already done so, please consider subscribing to our channel.

https://youtu.be/_KLYGDmFoMA

Beauregard sweet potato harvest

Beauregard sweet potato harvest

Today we went out to complete our Beauregard sweet potato harvest. We had a hard frost two nights in a row and it killed the sweet potato vines.  The first killing frost has always been our indicator that it was time to harvest sweet potatoes.  You can see the frost damaged vines below.

Beauregard sweet potato harvest
Preparing to harvest Beauregard sweet potatoes

This is our third year growing sweet potatoes and decided to try a different variety this year with the Beauregard.  Previously to this we tried  growing Georgia Jet sweet potatoes.  Here is our Georgia Jet harvest.

Removing the vines before harvest

To avoid fighting with the vines during the sweet potato harvest we typically pull all the vines and toss them into the pen for the chickens.  During the vine removal process some of our Beauregard sweet potatoes pulled free of the sand and sawdust in which they grew.  Here you can see all the vines are removed and several smaller sweet potatoes are visible on the top of the grow box.

Beauregard sweet potato harvest

Harvesting our sweet potatoes by hand

A big advantage to using the Mittleider Gardening Method and growing sweet potatoes in a grow box filled with sawdust and sand is easy harvesting.  We are able to dig into the sand and sawdust with just our hands,  no tools or potato forks necessary.  Just a pair of gloves was need to complete our Beauregard sweet potato harvest.

If you’re interested in the Mittleider Gardening method, you can get the Mittleider Gardening Course book on Amazon.

What the harvest looked like

This is our first year growing the Beauregard sweet potato.  At the time of this blog entry they’ve only been out of the garden a couple days and we’ve not eaten any.  We won’t know if we truly like it until we’ve eaten some and made a few pies with them.

Aesthetically, I like color and medium size of this variety.  The massive potatoes we got with the Georgia Jet took much longer to bake and was more than what one person would typically eat with a meal.

Here is a representative of the typical size of sweet potato from our Beauregard harvest.

Beauregard sweet potato harvest
Beauregard potato size comparison next to XL glove

Final harvest amount

This year we decided to plant sweet potatoes and my favorite Yukon Gold potatoes in this grow box.  Half of our 4′ x 15′ foot grow box was used for growing Beauregard and Yukon Gold.  We didn’t weight everything to see how much we actually grew, but you can see how many we have in our 1 yard garden cart.

Beauregard sweet potato harvest

Review of the Beauregard sweet potato

After a curing period we will do a review of the Beauregard sweet potatoes we grew this year.  Once we have eaten several and prepared them in different ways we will share our thoughts.

As always, thanks for reading our little blog and our entry on our Beauregard sweet potato harvest.  Please consider leaving comments for us.

adult black soldier flies

Our first adult black soldier flies

We have spotted our first adult black soldier flies in our bin! We setup our bin 2 weeks ago and added a started pack of black soldier fly larvae we bought from NW Red Worms. All of the larvae that crawled out of the bin were put in a bucket of sawdust. The idea was to let the first bunch live to become adults. When they return to the bin, their bucket sits under the bin, they will add their eggs and increase our black soldier fly count.

This morning we spotted our first adult black soldier flies inside the bin. Then later today when we checked on them again we spotted three inside the bin. We were really excited to see them and hope there will be lots more over the next few days. Here is a picture of our first adult black solider fly.

Our first adult black soldier flies
This is the first adult black soldier fly we have seen in our bin

Is it one of ours or wild?

I have to admit, I don’t know if this black soldier fly is one of ours. It’s entirely possible that the smell of the barley in the bin has attracted a wild black soldier fly. Either way, we now have mature black soldier flies visiting our bin. Hopefully they are also laying eggs to help churn out lots of food for the chickens.

Even more now

Three days after we spotted our first adult black soldier flies we are seeing 15 – 20 of them at any given time when we open the lid on the bin. So far we haven’t seen any on the cardboard strips we placed there for laying eggs.

As I understand it, the black soldier fly takes about three days to reach sexual maturity after pupation. If my understanding is correct, they should begin mating soon. After that we should begin to see females laying eggs inside the bin. Over the next couple of days we will check the bin and vicinity for signs of mating black soldier flies.

Black soldier fly bin

Black soldier fly bin

Recently we decided to take on a new project and build a black soldier fly bin. The black soldier fly larvae is a fantastic composter and will eat about any organic matter.  The larvae are terrific food for the chickens.  They have a high fat and protein content and chickens absolutely love them.  They will be fed scraps and spent barley we can get for free from a nearby brewery.  After the initial cost of the materials to build the bin and the BSF larvae starter pack, we will be getting free chicken food.

Why black soldier fly instead of worms?

We looked into other composters like mealworms and just your standard worm.  Here in NW Missouri, we can see 100 degree weather and periods of drought during our summers.  Those two things are hard on regular worms.  The BSF likes the heat.

Ultimately the deciding factor for us was when we learned we didn’t need to dig or sort out larvae to feed to the chickens.  When they are ready to pupate from larvae to a fly they “self-harvest”.  That is, they will leave the compost area to seek the soil to begin the transformation to a fly.  With a correctly designed bin the larvae are going to be in a container after self-harvesting and ready to be fed to the chickens.  We won’t have to touch them.

Black soldier fly bin
Black soldier fly larvae eating on a piece of cucumber

Picking a black soldier bin

We spent a fair bit of time watching different YouTube videos of the different bins available for the black soldier fly.  There are commercially available bins made from plastic and home built models from plastic and wood.

Some of the plastic bins had a small hole for the larvae to drop through when self-harvesting.  In several of the videos, I noticed the hole became partially blocked.  Larvae were finding alternate routes from the bin and didn’t make it into the collection container.  The ramp for the mature larvae to crawl was more complex than the simple wooden version we saw.

The wooden bins were larger and would easily accommodate more BSF larvae.  I liked the simple collection system on them.  Ultimately we elected to go with a wooden bin and to build our own.  We bought some black soldier fly bin instructions through a website that also sells larvae.  This bin was in one of his many BSF videos and the design was simple and looked easy to build. You can see the one we liked in this video.

Assemble and paint the black soldier fly bin

We pre-cut all the pieces for the bin on the table saw and assembled the bin near the chicken pen where it will ultimately be placed.  The assembly was pretty easy and straightforward.  The ramp for self-harvest did give me the business, but we got it done.  We used a little caulk to seal up any small gaps to keep the larvae in the bin.

In this picture, you can see the bin and the ramp for self-harvest of the mature larvae.  They will crawl up the ramp and be directed to the hole.

Black soldier fly bin
This ramp is where the BSF will climb and fall through the hole into a collection bin

The BSF larvae will fall through this hole and into the bin below.  We used some cheap plastic food storage bins from Walmart.  You can see the food storage bin in this photo.

Black soldier fly bin
Here you can see the compartment where the self-harvested larvae will be collected.

After applying several coats of an exterior white latex paint to the bin we added about three inches of sawdust to the bin.  This will keep the larvae off the bottom of the box to prevent them from going through the drain holes.

Some pieces of cucumber were added to provide the larvae that arrived in the mail from NW redworms.  Here you can see the prepared bin with food and larvae.

Black soldier fly bin

Paint to protect the black soldier fly bin

Because the black soldier fly bin is made with plywood it would not last long if left unprotected from the elements.  We want to make this ban last more than a couple of years, therefor we decided to paint it.  We went with a cheap can of exterior latex from Walmart and applied several coats.  It will seal that plywood and help it last several years before needing replacement.  Here is what the completed black soldier fly bin looked like after applying paint.

 

Black soldier fly bin
Black soldier fly bin

Greenhouse build progress

Greenhouse build progress

We have been working outside this week and thought we would provide an update on the greenhouse build progress.  This greenhouse is being built over our 95 ton heat sink and is part of our geothermal heat sink greenhouse project.  We are still a long ways off from having the the heat sink operational.  You can see what we have accomplished in this picture.

Greenhouse build progress
Greenhouse build progress – hip board installation

 

Arch supports installed

Near the peak of the arches you can see a horizontal support.  They are on all the arches except the two on the end,  These supports will provide rigidity for the arches under heavy winds and snow loads.  We don’t get lots of snow here in NW Missouri but we do generally see some every year.  If we received lots of snow it would have been necessary to go with a different style of arch to support a heavy snow load.  They’re held in place with a self tapping screw to keep them from moving.

Installing greenhouse hip boards

Both sides of our greenhouse will get a hip board and baseboard installed.  You can see the partially installed hip board on one side of our greenhouse in the picture above.

In this picture you can see how we are securing the hip board to our arches.  Notice the Tapcon screw installed through the top bracket.  One bracket at each arch will get a Tapcon to prevent the hip board from moving.  Each arch, with the exception of the two end arches, will have the hip board secured in this fashion.  The two end arches will have a 3/8 inch hole drilled through the board and arch.  A carriage bolt will be used to secure the hip board at each end.

We used a 3/8 impact adapter with a socket and our impact driver to insert the lag bolts.

Greenhouse build progress - installing hip board
Hip board installation on our Zimmerman high tunnel

What comes next

After both sets hip boards are up we will install the base boards.  Once those are on we will need to do a little back filling with dirt to help keep critters from getting inside.

After the base board work is complete the ends will need to be closed up and the door and door frames built.  We will be framing in both ends with treated lumber that was reclaimed from our in the garden greenhouse.  We are still sorting out the details of the end walls.

After the end walls are complete the grow boxes will be built and installed.  They will be filled with sawdust and sand, mixed at 75 percent sawdust.  We likely transplant seedlings into the grow boxes before pulling plastic.

The double layer of greenhouse plastic will be installed this fall once the temperature drops to around 60 degrees.

Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden