Vermicomposting, BSFL and Surinam

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while may recall I gave a try at vermicomposting and black soldier fly larva farming. Over time, both of my experiments failed. Even though the structure we created for the worms is shaded, I think it still may be a little warm at our altitude for vermicomposting. What seemed to really thrive in the composting bins was beetles, or I thought they were beetles. 
I tried for several months to get a colony of black soldier fly larvae established. I tried many variations of bins, both plastic and ones made of cinder blocks. In the end I wound up creating the prime environment for rats! The rats nest is pictured above, it was underneath a bin which was removed. Mama and three of her babies moved into the area and feasted on the scraps I was leaving for the larvae. I was only ever able to harvest a few larvae a day, not even close to what I wanted for my hens.

Finally I decided to go with the flow of what was living in the bins. The beetles were doing a great job of turning the vegetable scraps into fertilizer so I let them be. After I got my chickens I started to feed the beetles to them, they absolutely loved them! They liked them so much I decided to look more into what these bugs actually were. Our workers told me they were cockroaches. I researched on the internet and at first thought they might be the Blaptica Dubia cockroach. There is a lot of information on the internet about raising these insects, mostly for people that keep reptiles as pets. Farming them looked super easy so I decided to give it a try.
surinam cockroach
I set up a plastic bin and caught as many adults as I could to start the colony. The only problem I encountered was that there seemed to be no female Dubias in the bin. The males and females looked very different, possibly like two different types of roaches. I really wanted to figure out what I was dealing with and took pictures of roach carcasses to help me better identify them. What I discovered was not good news.

The roaches that are so plentiful in the composting bins are called Pycnoscelus Surinamensis, or simply Surinam. I found out this is possibly the most invasive type of roach. Males are not required to breed and the young are born, about 20 at a time, alive. They also like to eat roots and leaves of plants. I have seen lots of them at night in my garden devouring plants. The biggest bummer about these roaches is that they are part of the life cycle to transmit a nasty eye worm to chickens! I had a moment of dread when I discovered this because I had already fed so many to my chickens. The good news is that the roaches need to eat chicken poop and then be eaten by the chicken to activate the parasite that must already be in the bird. I have never put chicken poop in the composting bins so I felt pretty confident they were not carriers of the parasite.

Regardless of what the cockroaches were eating I decided it was time to end all bug farming for now. Looking back on my experiments I think the downfall was not having bins that could tightly close, but still had ventilation. The tops I was using had too many cracks where unwanted bugs could enter, which is what happened. I’m not going to completely give this up. I’m still interested in the black soldier fly larvae farming. I think there is value for my chickens but first I need to have someone construct really good tops for the bins. So, for now the hens will not get any more roaches. I hope they aren’t too disappointed…