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Originally Posted By: GW
I just published a new DIY composter design that I think is easy and cheap to build. The same principles can be used on a larger container, although I would use two ramps in a larger unit.



You can find more information here: LINK


So do you make these to sell as well?

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I've been contacted by individuals over the years about selling composters and I'm going to try it with this unit. I think I can do it for $50 plus $18 for shipping. For that price I would include a bag of coir chips (not the powdery material) because the system was designed for using it and it's hard to find in small quantities.

I'm also going to offer a starter kit of 2000 BSF eggs for $15, hoping that they can survive shipping in the same box as the composter. The eggs would usually hatch during shipping. I see people charging $40 and up for 2000 larvae so that's a good deal and there are some advantages to starting out with very small larvae. The point of a starter kit is attract local wild BSF and the smaller larvae are thought to be a better attractant. They would spend almost all of their lives as larvae in the composter, maximizing the effect of attracting females.

I don't know if this is a realistic price for the time and materials involved but I want to make it affordable. I think I can make a reasonable profit if I buy bulk materials when I can, and if I can streamline the construction. I would rather make a humble income doing something I love than make more at a job I don't like. smile

Last edited by GW; 07/15/13 11:01 AM.


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I just added a lizard/frog barrier. These little predators can put a big dent into BSF egg laying. If they eat 10 females per day that's about 7000 larvae that won't be added to the colony. The BSF females can easily pass through this .5 inch mesh, but it should keep the lizards out.




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There is an Ohio based company that is producing BSF larvae on a commercial scale. They process the larvae into animal feed including fish food.

www.enviroflight.net/in-the-press



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seems reasonable in price to me..I tell you I would rather give up $75 dollars or so than trying to figure out how that build that thing. It looks nice, neat, clean and professional. Im considering placing an order when I get back from Vacation in Wisconsin next month. I bet my crawfish would eat them. I could have a self feeding system ...


Goofing off is a slang term for engaging in recreation or an idle pastime while obligations of work or society are neglected........... Wikipedia
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Thanks BR, I appreciate that. I'm in the process of publishing detailed information for people who want to build one themselves, but for most people the learning curve will still be fairly high. These materials are tricky to cut (I've ruined my share), and there is also some technique involved in making watertight connections through the wall of the unit. Some of the cuts would be very difficult without a power miter saw and a Dremel tool. I'll be saving money by buying in bulk so my cost to build them will be lower than someone who builds just one or two. For that reason I think the gap between what I can charge and what it costs to DIY isn't all that much. My goal is to create a fair deal for everyone.

I have no doubt that crawfish will devour BSF larvae. smile



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I may consider one of these as well to keep the flies around. I did notice some larvae in my compost about a week ago when I turned it over. I hope they are still there as I wanted to supplement my fish with them and also try them a bait as well the next time I go fishing.

Thanks

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Mine is set up and ready for tenants. I loaded up with rotten crab apples and put it next to an old BioPod unit. If the crab apples don't attract, I'll try the usual tomatoes etc. Got a lot of crab apples so I hope they work...


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rmedgar, did you use GW's current build plans?

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Originally Posted By: rmedgar
Mine is set up and ready for tenants. I loaded up with rotten crab apples and put it next to an old BioPod unit. If the crab apples don't attract, I'll try the usual tomatoes etc. Got a lot of crab apples so I hope they work...


I would expect the apples will work, the more rotten, the better.

One good way to attract BSF females is to put some vegetables in a black plastic bag, seal it, and leave it in the sun until it starts to break down. BSF love the smell of fermentation, whether it's vegetables, grain, or fruit.



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f&c, no I ordered one, and it came 2-3 days later. It was so easy to put together that even I could do it in about 5 minutes! smile


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Thanks Randy. Please feel free to give constructive criticism. I can take it. smile



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Heard this story on NPR tonight and the 1st thing I thought of was GW's post...
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/09/19/223728061/making-food-from-flies-its-not-that-icky

Last edited by RobA; 09/19/13 06:56 PM.
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It's great to see BSF becoming more popular. If you scroll down that NPR article you'll see that "black soldier fly" is a hyperlink that takes people to my blog. Traffic to my site is about double for a normal day so far. smile



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Hey GW....

Utterly one of the best BSFL resources on the web; kudos to you and the rest of the gang for what you've done. read it all in two sittings after finding the thread a day or two ago, wish I had found it earlier.

Just had my first larval colony in a BioPod+ recently died, guess I really didn't do something right because it stank to a greater or lessor extent from pretty much day one, then I got confused by some postings regarding how much water should be in the colony; they probably died from dehydration but I am not sure.

It had two loads from DipTerra and four from PhoenixWorms.

I got a number of the lil' monsters to self-harvest after a while and I put them in a box with wood chips and I'm letting them mature, probably half have flown off by this point. I run into them every once in a while in the garden. No eggs as of yet, even though I put out a small bait-chamber with fermented (sourdough yeast and lactobacillus) cracked-corn in it. I may make up a batch of Gainsville Fly Diet and give that a try as well...

Part of the problem, vis–à–vis mating/breeding may be the weather here in San Francisco, summers are a "bit" foggy and we have rarely hit the mid to upper-70's in our area during the summer. The BSFs have been pretty lethargic as a consequence. (I did see somewhere that they require a high level of UVa in addition to heat to get active. True?)

Have to say one thing, wish I had one of the old, Mk-I BioPods, I am not really impressed with the Plus variant. For one thing, at least one of the lil' monsters escaped down the sides for every one that I was able to 'harvest' in the catch. A couple of the local racoons sent their thanks for a delightfully crunchy meal as a consequence recently. After I clean the Plus, I'm going to add a ledge and a few other mods. One mod I am seriously considering is reworking the drainage system.

Has anyone else had these or other issues with the BP+?

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Thank you very much Craig.

I remember learning that black soldier flies were in the NW and being surprised that they would live in such a climate. With short, cool summers it must be a challenge to maintain a dense colony. Even in hot climates it can take several weeks to a good colony established, so you might not get good results until next year. Still, any work you can do this year will help expand your knowledge of BSF so keep plugging away.

I agree about reworking the drainage system. That's the weak link in every design I've seen. If I was operating a BioPod or some DIY design other than my own I would add a horizontal slotted pipe over the drain outlet. A 4" round (pipe) or square (fence post) pvc piece with +/- 1/8" wide slots cut into it works well. The slots allow the larvae to pass in and out, which keeps it draining well. That size should be stable enough without attaching it. As with my system, you need some type of bulking material like mulch or charcoal to serve as a filter.

All BSF composters are more or less successful at containing the larvae. I've heard reports of this issue with the BioPod +, and I get occasional escapes with my system too. Since these are outdoor systems, it doesn't matter too much once you have a dense colony and healthy population of free ranging adults. Of course every larva is valuable during the process of establishing the system.

I'm glad you enjoyed this thread. I'm very fond of it because I started it before I had even seen my first BSF. smile

PS. I've modified my harvest system because some had difficulty with the bag:


Last edited by GW; 08/31/14 07:37 AM.


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Hi Jerry, my new unit is working fine. I also have a little drainage problem, but I think I didn't add enough mulch. Will clean out this eve and "reload". My problem is finding enough food. Every time I add new food I get a harvest of about 100. I sometimes feed them soggy fish food - that works...


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Hi Randy. I don't think you need to remove anything from your composter. Instead you should be fine just adding more bulking material on top of the waste. The larvae will mix it in over time, or if you want to mix it in quickly you can simply flood the unit and stir it in.

An aspect of this design is that there are a lot of air spaces in the waste due to the bulking material. One reason you're getting a harvest when you add new food could be that the activity level increases which could be motivating the mature larvae to find a more quiet place to pupate. You can achieve the same effect by flooding the unit more often which creates a less desirable environment for pupation. Every time I flood a unit I get a migration of the mature (dark) larvae. If I can see a lot of mature larvae in the lower levels of waste I'll usually leave the unit partially flooded overnight so that the mature larvae are covered. This leaves an unflooded zone for the juvenile (light colored) larvae, and a flooded zone to motive the mature larvae to migrate.

Concerning the amount of food; I have the impression that the colony will adjust to the amount of food given. On waste in a natural setting the larvae would crawl away when the food supply wasn't sufficient, but since we contain them they have to stay and wait for the next feeding. I don't worry if they have to wait a day or two to eat, or if the daily amount is less than they would normally consume. I've read that BSF larvae can eat 2 1/2 times their body weight every day, and I rarely give them that much. Having said that, if you have a local farmers market you can usually go there around closing time and pick up rotten fruit and vegetables from the vendors. I went to a fairly large one by my house last Wednesday and left with about 100 pounds of broccoli, avocados, squash, peaches and peppers.

The soggy fish food is great because of the protein content, and when I lived by a pond I regularly fed my larvae fish scraps. You don't want to overdo the fish, but any amount that they can eat within several hours will not result in bad odors or other problems.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback!

Last edited by GW; 08/31/14 11:05 AM.


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Hey GW. I like many happened on this thread while researching BSF. It was great reading the thread and your learning process (been going on for 7 years!) What you did right, what you did "wrong" and what you learned along the way.

I have a question about your composter. I noticed that you used clear plastic, Give that BSFL are anti-phototrophic, does this not create a problem?

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Hi CG, thanks for dredging up this old thread. wink

I haven't seen any difference in efficiency due to the transparency of the composter. It's typical to see larvae up against the composter walls at all levels. They tend to rest below the surface and they don't seem to be bothered by the light. I can cause resting larvae to move by shining a flashlight on the them, but they aren't bothered by ambient light. Of course I keep the unit in full shade, but if direct sunlight hit the wall the larvae could easily migrate a short distance to avoid it.

When I chose a clear container I did it based on the idea of mimicking the natural environment of wild BSFL. The drainage system and flushing method came to me when I considered the rinsing effect of rainfall. It's very unnatural for a concentration of larvae to be contained in plastic, and passing water (and then also air) through it has greatly reduced issues that would otherwise be a problem.

My initial thought about a clear container involved allowing UV rays into the compost, like in a natural setting, however plastic blocks UV so that benefit is missing. In theory a glass container would be better. Although I didn't consider it during the design phase, the clear plastic is excellent because it allows us to study the larvae and also conditions below the surface. For example, it's good to be able to assess the amount of air space in the compost with a quick glance. This can inform the user that it might be time to do a flush. You can also see if the liquid level is high, which would indicate the need to drain if you're keeping the valve closed, or a blockage if you're keeping it open.

Anyway, thanks for your comments. I've been distracted by regular work lately so regretfully I haven't been giving BSF much time.



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Excellent info, GW. Thank you for the quick response.

This thread and your blog have been an excellent resource. Also, I ran across THIS youtube video of a seminar of sorts by the BioPod people (or maybe they are just a distributor) that I think is an EXCELLENT primer on raising BSF.

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And make that EIGHT years this thread has been going. shocked

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Originally Posted By: CivilGator
And make that EIGHT years this thread has been going. shocked


I feel old....

I haven't watched that video series but I will in the future. I believe Karl is (still) the head of marketing for ProtoCulture which manufactures the BioPod Plus.



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Hi Jerry. Eight years - wow.
I'm still raising mine and things are going well. I hadn't thought about the flushing idea - I'm sure you have mentioned it, but I just missed it. I'll do that.

Yesterday I took some old bread, put a glob of peanut butter in the middle, balled it up soaked it in water squeezed out the excess, and put in the freezer. I think our little friends will enjoy that snack today.

Hope all is well...


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Hi Randy, glad to hear you're still at it. I hope you're well. Below I copy/pasted from a thread I posted on my forum (didn't want to link in case it's not appropriate..). It should give you the basic idea about the drainage system and flushing.

I'm still using pine bark combined with hardwood lump charcoal and have been happy with the results.

Bio-composter - filterless drainage methods and observations



Here is the introductory post on this subject from the blog:

Quote:
Good drainage is key to a balanced BSF system
When I refer to a “balanced BSF system” I mean one that promotes aerobic bacteria (thrives in oxygen) and discourages anaerobic bacteria (thrives in the absence of oxygen). A nice benefit to an aerobic system is that it smells neutral, or even good, depending the waste being processed. Anaerobic bacteria are associated with foul, sewer-like odors which are a sign that a composter needs attention. To maintain an aerobic environment in our composters, we need pockets of air throughout the waste. The problem is that BSF castings are so fine, and they generate such a large volume of them, that air pockets are filled up over time. This dense, oxygen-starved waste usually becomes anaerobic. It's common for a BSF system to seem fine when observed at the surface, but if you dig down a bit you’ll often find stinky anaerobic waste. Besides being less efficient, it’s usually just a matter of time before the condition worsens. I believe I’ve solved this problem.

The combination vertical/horizontal, slotted drain system on my BSF bio-composter allows the operator to easily flush out the fine BSF castings which results in an oxygen-rich environment, and which also produces a potentially valuable liquid fertilizer as a byproduct.


This BSF composter is unique in that it is designed to be flushed with water on a regular basis. I've been testing this system in various composters since April 2013, and the results have been excellent. Passing a large volume of water through the waste rinses away much of the fine BSF larvae castings (poop), and also encourages any dark mature pre-pupal larvae to migrate out of the waste, and into the collection canister.

Filters don't work - Many BSF composter designs that I've seen attempt to prevent the larvae from passing into the drain outlet. This system encourages the larvae to enter it. Screens and filter mediums will rarely prevent larvae from passing into the drain outlet, and if the filters are fine enough to stop the larvae, the fine mesh or filter medium will quickly clog with BSF castings under normal use. In my experience, screens and filter media do not work for that reason. Also, since the filters/screens in these systems are usually located at the bottom of the waste, it is very inconvenient to access the mesh/filters for cleaning or replacement.

EDIT June 2014: I'm still using pine bark, but have become aware of an issue with the release of sap/resin in some batches. If you're using one of my bio-composters, you can dissolve pine resin with Dawn Ultra dish soap. A description of the pine bark issue and the Dawn Ultra treatment can be found here: LINK

I'm currently testing alternatives to pine bark, including common wood mulch, and using all hardwood lump charcoal. I used medium coconut husk (coir) chips in the past with good results, but after several months it tends to shred and slow down drainage.

This unique filter-less drainage system is designed to be used with some type of bulking material, and our current recommendation is pine bark mulch. Natural lump charcoal can be combined with the bark, and this year I will be testing a unit using only charcoal as the bulking material. In the past I've used coir (coconut husk) chips (not the powdery stuff) which worked well for a several months, but the larvae and the water eventually will shred it to the point where it's less effective than bark or charcoal. Other materials that may work are wood mulch such as cypress or eucalyptus, or corn cob bedding, but I haven't tested these. The basic function of the bulking material is to create a matrix where pockets of air can be maintained which promotes aerobic conditions. I call this a filter-less system, but it's probably more accurate to say that the bulking material itself is a filter medium.

The slotted pipes in this system allow the larvae to pass freely, into and out of, the drain plumbing. The main benefit is that the larvae constantly create tunnels in the waste that terminate at the slots in the pipes. This enhances the rapid drainage that carries the fine castings out of the waste. The amount of air space created in the waste/castings using this system is substantial. I recently measured the volume of castings in one of my 6 gallon composters and it was approximately 4 gallons. I then added 1.5 gallons of water which came just up to the top of the waste. From that measurement we can conclude that of the 4 gallon volume of waste, 1.5 gallons, or 37%, of that volume was air space. Not only is there a substantial percentage of air in the waste, it is distributed throughout the waste, even at the lowest levels. Due to the large volume of air space it is very unlikely that there will be problems with anaerobic bacteria spikes. Every other composter design I've worked with had a significant presence of anaerobic bacteria in the lower levels of waste.

The frequency of flushing will be determined by a few factors including the type of waste processed and the quantity of waste. Flushing will remove BSF castings, but it can also rinse out soft food waste that the larvae would otherwise eat. For example; if you recently fed some old oatmeal cereal to the colony, some of it might be flushed out of the system, and if there wasn't a buildup of BSF castings at the time then there would not have been much advantage in flushing. Under most conditions I would think that once per week would be a minimum flushing routine, with increased frequency as needed. One way to determine if you need to flush is to observe the waste by looking through the clear wall of the composter (see photo below). If very few air pockets are observed it might be wise to increase the frequency of flushing. Another way to judge is to observe how quickly the liquid empties when the composter is flooded, and then the valve is opened. Ideally most of the effluent (liquid waste) should drain out in several seconds. If your unit drains more slowly you should probably try flushing more often.

There are almost always larvae that are flushed out of the composter with the water and fine castings. To deal with that I usually strain the effluent through a fine mesh kitchen strainer placed on top of the bucket used to catch the liquid. The larvae collected in the strainer can be returned to the unit, fed to animals, or added to a new unit to help establish a new colony.

Processing typical household food waste usually generates at least a small quantity of liquid on a constant basis. Often you can observe larvae trapped in the clear drain tube even when you haven't added any water to the unit. It's a good idea to drain the accumulated liquid every day if possible, using the same strainer technique, because the trapped larvae can eventually drown.

Sometimes, in addition to juvenile larvae, you'll see mature (dark) BSF larvae washed out of the system. Instead of separating mature larvae from juveniles, I usually just put them all back into the composter where they can eventually follow the intended path up the ramp.

Typically, after flushing I will leave the drain open for one or two hours before closing the valve. You can also flush the composter in the morning, let it drain for several minutes and then complete the draining process later in the day. Either way the amount of "hands on" time with the process should be no more than 5-10 minutes. In my opinion, this regular maintenance is far more desirable than dealing with spikes in the population of anaerobic bacteria.

Sometimes the drain plumbing can become blocked with fibers, and also with larvae that congregate in the pipes. These blockages are usually very easy to clear, and sometimes it's enough to simply flood the system briefly and open the valve. Other times it requires a little more effort, and the best method in that case is to direct the open valve into a bucket, and shoot water from a garden hose into the top of the vertical pipe. Typically, a minute or two of work results in a completely clear drain.

There are some fine points to working with the drain tube. Sometimes, as a blockage moves down the tube, it will stop at the valve instead of flowing through it. That's due to a slightly smaller diameter at the transition from the tube to the valve. This is easily cleared by raising the valve above the water line (visible in the clear tube) and temporarily removing it from the tube. Once the valve is off, the tube is lowered and the liquid (and the blockage) are directed into a bucket. This is accomplished by pulling the valve off with a twisting motion. The valve is held in place with friction, and it can easily be removed and replaced. The same technique can be used to remove the other end of the tube from the composter, but that's not usually needed.

The effluent seems like it must be a great resource for gardeners. While I haven't run any controlled tests yet, I've been pouring it directly on my ornamental plants all summer, and they look great. I don't know much about worm or compost "tea", but I hope to use the BSF effluent to experiment with fertilizer tea in the future. Next year I plan on running some controlled tests using the liquid as a fertilizer. Composting with BSF results in very little soil produced, but I hope that the large volume of liquid byproduct created by my flushing procedure will compensate for that by generating a large volume of good fertilizer.

The photo below is of the composter that I've been feeding 1.5lbs/.71kg of waste to on a daily basis for 38 days. It was established about 6 weeks before that. I estimate that I've fed this unit about 90lbs/40kg of waste since August 1st when I started it. After processing all of that material, it still has large air pockets very near the bottom. Flooding the composter forces the air in these pockets out, which is replaced with fresh air as the unit drains.




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