A Bug's Life: Trial and Error
It's been about a month and a half since I built my insect farm, so let's talk about some of the successes and failures so far!
My biggest issue has been the mesh bottoms on my containers. Ideally, in a self-sorting farm eggs can easily fall to the larvae tray, and frass from the larvae can be collected in a bottom container. I have found, however, that a lot of eggs have been going straight through to the bottom container. This has lead to a decent sized population of mealworms in the bottom layer and a small population in the middle layer, where they should be. This can likely be avoided by using mesh with smaller openings, or collecting frass manually instead of with the self-sorting method. I have also been trying out fruits with different moisture content and this has lead to some causalities. Mealworms are sensitive to moisture, and I made the mistake of trying out oranges. I have found that apples and sweet potatoes work much better! I think the farm's biggest success so far is frass production. It is an excellent fertilizer and I have been using it to test out growth rates of basil seedlings and tomato plants.
Food for Thought: A Vegetarian's Case for Eating Insects
This month marks my 5 year anniversary of being vegetarian, so this week I want to talk about why insects as a food source intrigue me.
People cut meat out of their diets for countless reasons; from compassion for animals to solely wanting the health benefits, about 3% of the United States' population follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Personally, I went vegetarian after learning about the environmental impact of factory farming and watching documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Vegucated. Factory farming accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but this is only part of the problem. Cattle farming is responsible for 80% of the deforestation rate of the Amazon rainforest and uses a vastly unsustainable amount of water. Check out the charts below to learn more about how factory farming impacts the environment.
Insects are an overall more sustainable alternative to farming traditional livestock. It takes just 2 pounds of feed to produce one pound of insect meat, whereas beef takes 8 pounds of feed. Water and land consumption is also drastically lower. Insects have complete proteins and are more protein dense than common meat substitutes such as soy. As a vegetarian, I would make an exception for insects because they can be farmed ethically and sustainably.
Sustainability Spotlight: Masks
As Covid-19 cases in the United States continue to rise, it's important to wear masks to protect those around you. I've compiled some articles below with instructions on how to upcycle old clothing and materials into masks!
Food For Thought: Diet Changes Over Time
It's hard to imagine foods we don't readily eat, like insects, becoming a part of our everyday diet in the future. But the truth is, many foods we regularly eat today used to be considered gross. Perhaps the most well known example is lobster. In the 1700's, lobsters were plentiful on the shores of North America, making them a source of cheap protein. Lobster was considered a poor man's food and was used in prisons. By the late 1800's restaurants in the northern U.S. began to serve lobster at higher prices, and by World War 2 lobster was considered a delicacy. Caviar and oysters have a similar origin story; they started out as cheap, stigmatized protein sources before climbing the social ladder. As the healthy super-food trend has grown over the past decade, foods such as kale and quinoa are popular in the United States for the first time ever. While eating insects may seem odd for now, cultural and agricultural trends may change the way we view eating them in the future.
Sustainability Spotlight: Plastic Free Month!
July is plastic free month! This global movement encourages people to reduce their single-use plastic waste for the month of July and beyond. The website offers plenty of ideas on how to reduce plastic waste in your home, school, and community. Currently, I use reusable bags, cups, and straws to reduce my plastic waste. Starting this month, I'm going to try bulk grocery shopping and sustainable shower items to further reduce the amount of plastic packaging I use.
Check out the video below to see Cesar Majorana try this challenge!
Hey there! Welcome to my second post! Scroll down to view my first post along with some background information about me.
A Bug's Life: Happy Habitat
Last week I went through the set-up process of my farm - this week I want to talk about the research I'm working on to curate a healthy, thriving insect farm!
Like all animals, environmental conditions play a large role in mealworms' health and productivity. They thrive in warm temperatures, low humidity, and minimal light. Mealworms can eat just about anything - fruit, grains, decaying matter, and even some plastics! So far, I've been keeping my mealworms at room temperature and feeding them oats with various fruits to add moisture. This month I will be altering different aspects of their environment to see how it affects their size and life cycle timeline.
Mealworms grow for about 10 weeks before entering the pupa stage where they will stay for 2-3 weeks and then emerge as beetles. By working with various temperatures and food sources, I hope to capture how different conditions can lengthen or shorten the amount of time mealworms spend in each stage. Be sure to check back next week for updates!
Food For Thought: Insect Dishes Around the World
Insects have a niche spot in the American food market, but they are common in dishes around the world! Click through the slideshow to see some versatile ways insects are prepared.
Sustainability Spotlight: Clean Beaches Week
July 1st-7th is recognized nationally as Clean Beaches Week! The Clean Beaches Coalition founded this initiative to raise awareness of the importance of clean beaches for both humans and the ocean ecosystem. It's estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean annually, killing over 1 million marine animals per year. These plastics take hundreds of years to break down and disrupt delicate ocean ecosystems.
So what can we do to help keep beaches clean and reduce the litter that enters the ocean?
The Clean Beach Coalition states that July 4th is the holiday that brings the most beach-goers, so if you're planning on taking a (socially distant) trip to the shore to celebrate remember to be mindful of your trash and do your part to keep our beaches and oceans clean!
Hey there - welcome to the first installment of my blog!
I am a third-year student at Georgia Tech studying Biology and Spanish. I currently serve as a peer advisor and teaching assistant for introductory biology labs. Outside of school, I enjoy Netflix documentaries, working with kids, and searching for a plant-based cheese alternative that tastes as good as the real thing.
This summer, I am working on an at-home insect farm (yes, my roommates are thrilled) to research mealworm eating habits and how these farms can be used to benefit our community through composting, recycling, and food security. This blog will mainly feature weekly updates of the farm along with informational and anecdotal pieces related to insects and the sustainability movement.
So if you’re wondering what growing your own insect food source looks like, how communities can come together to practice sustainability, or why a strict vegetarian just might make an exception for bugs, you came to the right place. Let’s dive in!
A Bug's Life: Week One
This week I completed the set-up of my at-home insect farm. The farm is compact, self-sorted, and layered to prevent the mixing of stages (otherwise they will eat each other). Below are the steps I took to complete the project!
Step 1: The first step was gathering materials - I purchased 6 plastic containers of varying depths (3 for each farm), oatmeal for bedding, and mesh for the self-sorting aspect.
Step 2: Using a box cutter, I cut out the bottom of two containers, leaving the third on in tact. I then cut out mesh the size of the holes and affixed with hot glue. The first box will house darkling beetles, and the second box will house their larvae (mealworms!). The mesh allows beetle eggs to fall through to the larvae box, and allows frass (mealworm exoskeleton and excrement) to fall through to the bottom box to be used as fertilizer.
Step 3: While any type of bran will work, I used oatmeal for my bedding because it's big enough to avoid the mesh holes. I added about a half inch of oatmeal to the top two boxes and then added air holes with a box cutter.
Step 4: Bug time! I added beetles and larvae to separate containers and nested the boxes (beetles --> mealworms --> frass) to complete the setup. The mealworms will exist in the larval stage for about 10 weeks, after which they will pupate before turning into beetles. I have a separate container to house pupae for the 2 weeks before they emerge as beetles and will be doing the transfers by hand (ew).
Food for Thought: The History of Eating Insects
The tradition of eating insects dates back thousands of years to hunter gatherer societies; in addition to foraging for plants, early humans also foraged for bugs. Ancient Romans dined on beetle larvae and the Old Testament mentions eating locusts and grasshopper. In tropical areas, eating insects was more common due to a more predictable harvest cycle and a better variety. While insects are on the outskirts of North America's food pallet, they remain an important part of both historical and modern cuisine.
I haven't fully decided how best to utilize this section - a gateway for literature and documentaries? A place for reviews and links to other sustainable brands? DIY projects and lifestyle changes? A combination of these ideas or something totally different? Help me decide! If you have any suggestions or requests on what you'd like to read about, leave a comment or send a message through the contact page! As much as blogging can feel like just writing into the void, my hope is that this is an educational and fruitful experience for both readers and myself.