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Should You Use Black Soldier Fly Larvae or Red Wiggler Worms for Vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting is fun, challenging, and faster than hot composting. I compost with blues, red wigglers, and European Nightcrawlers.

What Is Your Goal?

Composting is an interesting way to take the waste and turn it into something useful. The first question you need to ask yourself is, "What is the end goal of this project?"

Some common goals:

1. Decrease waste

2. Create compost for gardening

3. Grow food for other animals

4. Grow bait for fishing

5. Make money

1. Decreasing Waste

Both worms and BSFL help to decrease waste. Each one is good at converting different kinds of waste. Think about the kind of waste that you or your family creates.

Worms are better suited to vegetable waste, cardboard, junk mail, coffee grounds with filter, manure, and grass clippings. They should not be fed citrus, onions, dairy, meats, or fats. Meat may hurt your worms with something called "protein poisoning" causing them to be misshapen. If you use manure, make sure the animal it is sourced from is not treated with "deworming" medicine, as it can harm or kill your worms. Age the manure before feeding to your worms, as fresh manure can heat up during the initial decomposition process.

BSFL are great at dealing with meat and dairy. They eat incredible amounts of meat, and VERY quickly. If you are attempting to dispose of unused meat, such as chicken carcass or fish, BSFL are the way to go. Watch them work in the video below.

2. Gardening

If your goal is to improve the output of a garden, worm composting is a direct way to amend your soil and improve your output. Worm tea is renowned for improving growth and output. Plants will grow bigger and be more fruitful. I am attempting to establish wild colonies of worms in my area to improve the soil quality. Escaped worms will decompose leaf litter as well as burrow tunnels that will help to improve drainage and aeration in your lawn and garden.

Black soldier fly larvae produce "frass" which can actually stunt growth if it is applied directly before further composted. That being said, if you decide to use BSFL, the frass can be hot composted and then mixed with soil for fertilizer. Consider frass "half-composted" material.

Red Wiggler worm

Red Wiggler worm

3. Growing Food for Other Animals

Both worms and BSFL can be used to feed other animals, such as reptiles and lizards, fish, and chickens. However, BSFL has the added benefit of including quite a bit of calcium, fat, and protein.

If you keep reptiles and feed them crickets or mealworms, it is important to dust the food with calcium for the health of the reptile. If you feed your lizards or turtles BSFL, may no longer need to supplement as much calcium or none at all.

Chickens need calcium to form eggs. Worms and BSFL are a natural source of calcium that will help chickens lay large, healthy eggs. Both are also great sources of protein for chickens.

Other birds should be able to eat BSFL as well.

Both worms and BSFL can be used to feed fish, and both can be used for . . . bait for fishing.

4. Bait for Fishing

Both BSFL and red wigglers can be used for fishing.

As BSFL ages, they slow down somewhat as they prepare to pupate. Use the younger BSFL, that are still very active, when fishing. The extra movement will certainly attract fish, leading to better results.

Red wigglers might be a touch small for some fish but will work as well. Nightcrawlers are larger and will be more attractive for fish. European or Canadian nightcrawlers are the old standby, but African Nightcrawlers or Alabama Jumpers are also very popular. The jumpers especially are purported to remain active longer while on the hook, enticing fish with their twitchy movements.

5. Making Money

There is a market for both BSFL and for worms, though I suspect the worms have a larger market. There isn't much of a market for the frass, but the BSFL can be sold to pet shops for reptile food. Unlike BSFL, both the worms and the vermicasts are marketable. However, this likely also means there will be more competitors. If you do decide to start worm farming, make sure to keep different kinds of worms separate, as being able to sell specific breeds will be desirable. Some worm farmers have a bad reputation for mixing different kinds of worms in their products. The vermicasts are also marketable to gardeners, so look to the market to local nurseries. Making ready-to-use "worm tea" is another great option, and maybe more profitable.

If you are looking to sell worms, blues tend to be the least desirable. Nightcrawlers tend to be worth more per pound but take longer to reproduce compared to red wigglers.

What Will Tolerate the Environment in Your Area?

Choose the right vermicomposter based upon your location. Black soldier flies are present in many parts of the world. In the United States, they tend to be closer to the Atlantic and Pacific coast areas, not as common in the Rocky Mountain states.

As far as worms go, in the warmer areas, red wigglers, blue worms, and African nightcrawlers do well. Canadian and European nightcrawlers fare better in cooler environments further north. Alabama jumpers sort of split the difference as far as heat tolerance goes.

Consider Both BSFL and Worms!

Consider doing both BSFL and worm composting. The larvae, sometimes called grubs, will strip a carcass to the bone, but will not eat the bones. They will leave behind something called "frass," which is basically larva feces/poop. The frass can be used as a soil amendment, but only if it is composted further. Uncomposted frass can actually decrease plant growth. This is where the worms come in. The worms can easily digest the frass further, creating high-quality vermicasts. Throw the leftover bones in the worm bin as well. While the worms won't compost the bones, the bones will act as a buffer to keep the pH of the bin more neutral. By using both, you can dramatically decrease your waste to mainly plastics and other non-organics. You will speed up the decomposition process, dramatically decreasing the time it takes to create high-quality vermicompost.

The "ICK" factor

Chances are both BSFL and worms do not "gross you out." That being said, BSFL are technically maggots. A safer, more politically correct, term might be grubs. Either way, they can have an immediate, physical reaction to some people. Black soldier flies do not sting or bite humans. They are easier to deal with than houseflies, and generally stay away from people. Always wash your hands after handling the larvae, as the decomposing meat you feed them can harbor bacteria that can make you sick.

Worms also have an ICK factor, though usually less so than the BSFL. All three of my sons like to check out the worms, and don't seem to have any issues holding them.

Making Your Bin

Worm bins are fairly easy to make. While I started with a stackable tray system, you can make due with a 5 gallon bucket with holes at the bottom to drain excess fluid, or a large tote bin. Using a lid will decrease attractiveness to larger pests, such as raccoons, and provide shade. Insects will likely find a way in, and some are beneficial. To decrease attractiveness to roaches, bury any food you are composting and keep the bin moist, enough that a few drops of water are produced if you grasp the bedding and squeeze. Make sure there is airflow to keep the worms oxygenated.

BSFL bins can be as simple as a shaded plastic pan, but are also likely to attract scavengers. I have found a great DIY BSFL bin video, which is just below.

If you have decided on worms, it's important to choose a worm that is right for you and the environment in which they will live.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Devin Gustus