Black soldier fly larvae don't move

spaghetina(SF Bay Area)September 5, 2009

They're in my bin, and some of them move, but for the most part, as soon as I turn over the compost and find a few, they stay completely still. Even when I fork them out onto the ground - nothing. Poke them with the fork? Nothing.

Some of them are starting to turn dark, which I guess means they're getting ready to turn into flies, and even those act totally comatose. Is it possible that they're really dead? Or are they just lazy? I'm only asking because I've stopped putting any greens into the bin so that I'm not feeding them anything. I want compost, not BSFL poop, and I don't want all my greens reduced into nothing before they have a chance to break down. So the sooner they die or pupate, the sooner I can start feeding the pile again.

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While some will disagree the presents of any fly larva in your compost pile is an indication that that material is too wet. Fly larva are not something beneficial in compost. Since the adult Black Soldier Fly does nothing during its roughly 30 day life except find a mate to mate with to produce more eggs that will grow into larva there is no real good reason to have them in your compost so you could turn that compost, add some dryer material to absorb that excess moisture, and get the bacteria you want to digest that material to work so your pile heats up and cooks those larva that should not be there.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2009 at 6:43AM
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Spag, if the food runs out the BSFL go dormant. They won't die of starvation, and they won't continue to develop with nothing to grow on.

Many people love BSFL, and many more tolerate them. I do neither. I started out keeping a fly swat by my pile to kill the occasional adult when I can.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2009 at 11:36AM
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spaghetina(SF Bay Area)

Kimm, my pile is actually relatively dry at the moment. It's never really been very wet, but I think where I messed up was when I ground up a bunch of greens in my food processor with water, and then tossed it into the middle of the pile without mixing it in with brows. The pile was running a bit dry prior, so I thought the moisture would permeate everything, but it sort of just sat there, and then when I went to turn the pile, BSFL were right there, with only a little bit of the green slurry still there.

I've seen the arguments re: piles being too wet being the cause of the BSFL, which has been the source of a lot of confusion for me, and others, I'm sure. Regardless of who wants to be correct, all I know is that my pile hasn't run too wet since I fist put it together, when I hadn't a clue what I was doing, and I most definitely have BSFL. I will blame it on creating a temporarily favorable condition for them, which doesn't speak to the overall condition of my pile.

Petalpatsy, this is bad news! :( Dormancy is not going to be a good thing, unless I can pick out all the larvae, lol. I guess I'll just have to feed them, hope they hurry up and turn into flies, and then get them the heck outta there. There's no way for me to have enough greens in there that they can't finish in time to heat up the pile enough to kill them, so heating the pile back up is probably out.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2009 at 4:28PM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

***there is no real good reason to have them in your compost

I beg to differ, they keep houseflies away. I have a huge housefly problem in my neighborhood, but I really don't see that many in my house or around it.

They leave behind an empty shell when they mature into adults. Is there any chance you are seeing the casings left behind?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2009 at 8:36AM
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According to this link, BSF's stop activity when temps drop in the fall. This link says 60 degrees.

This is about the time of year BSF's disappear for me in Tennessee, and I'm always so glad. My pile heats up easily and smells nice and earthy--instead of cold sewage-y muck, I get compost again.

Here is a link that might be useful: BSL info

    Bookmark   September 7, 2009 at 11:20AM
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spaghetina(SF Bay Area)

I'm pretty sure they're the actual larvae because when I squish them with my fork, they pop and squirt out white goo. They're pretty much all stopped moving, but I know it hasn't dropped into the 60's here yet, and shouldn't until probably late Oct./early Nov. I turned the pile again today, and only found a couple, and they were totally stationary. The pile smells, but only because the broccoli I threw in there smelled before, and it's still pretty much whole. I need to get the pile heated back up again, but I'm afraid there's not much room left to add materials. What's in there is already black and earthy, and lovely, but still a bit chunky for my taste. I probably should have just started a new bin instead of tossing in so many greens yesterday, but I thought maybe the BSFL would "wake up" and feast and break it down to nothing, so that what was left would still be able to maybe heat things up a bit.

I'll give it another few days and see what happens.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2009 at 7:31PM
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Consider pee. I'm just saying consider it, because I know the idea creeps out a lot of people. I've done it many times myself, peeing in a cup and collecting a day's worth in a bucket to add. Urine is high nitrogen and heats up a pile very quickly. Just sayin'.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2009 at 7:42PM
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spaghetina(SF Bay Area)

Lol, Patsy. I'll consider it. I'm not anti-pee, it's just kind of a logistical issue for me. I've actually thought about going out into my yard, dropping trou, and hovering over a 5 gallon bucket, since I already go out into the back in all states of dress and undress anyway!

Will the pee heat up a pile that is mostly already composted already anyway? Or would there need to be a good amount of "fresh" browns (I mean, as fresh as they can be for being brown)?

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 1:02AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

See its too bad that the misinformation about BSF larvae spread on this forum has you concerned about their effect on the pile.

They don't steal nutrients... and as you have seen, its not about moisture either.

BSF larvae convert raw organic material into material that other microorganisms can readily consume.

A good analogy might be: hay is to horse manure as green vegetable matter is to BSF larvae poo. Manure is good for a compost pile whether it comes from a horse or a bug.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 10:27AM
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If the pile is mostly composted anyway, I'd just use it without concern over the BSFL. They will be eaten by passing birds.

@joepye, what in the world kind of misinformation do you see being spread? For that matter, I feel the same way about people who knee jerk the "Oh, BSFL are great" dogma. It makes me wonder if people actually HAVE a compost pile to see what effect BSFL have on it.

Airy, earthy smelling, hot pile goes to cool, stinking muck that sticks together like it was glued. Greens disappear, and browns just sit in the muck wad, trying to go anaerobic. Turn it every day and add dry browns, overwhelm the b@st@rds with coffee grounds and urine, it doesn't matter. In the end, you get MUCK. Gluey, stinky, MUCK. Earthworms can process the muck, but bacteria don't. That's one of the claims of pro-BSFL-ists, that they will process manure and kill off the bacteria in it.

How can a larva that is 42% protein by dry weight NOT be stealing nutrients? The adults that pupate and fly away aren't cartoons. They take something to make their bodies and they don't all go to the garden to die.

The fact of my pile is, though, I cannot manage it in any way to avoid BSFL short of spraying Raid fogger--and believe me I've considered it.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 11:26AM
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I just had maggots in my pile last week, and I was delighted, because they gave me a chance to weigh in on Joepye's observation that maggots do not appear because of a too-wet compost. Mine appeared in my bone-dry compost because of the lobster leftovers that my neighbor contributed and left to bake in the sun. I often have too-wet compost in the spring and have never seen maggots. Any maggots I have ever seen are always on newly rotting food.

You can find dozens of articles regarding the benefits of BSF in the compost, petalpatsy.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 12:32PM
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spaghetina(SF Bay Area)

My only issue with the BSFL, aside from them kind of making my skin crawl, is their consumption of green matter. Yes, they poop some amount of something back out, BUT from what I've read (which is, admittedly, maybe not enough), the rate at which they consume greens, and the amount of matter they return to the pile, is very unbalanced. I imagine that just composting in the "normal" way leaves me more organic matter than what's left after the BSFL eat all my greens and crap it out, and that's what I want. Because I'm not composting solely to dispose of food waste. I'm composting to have compost for my garden, and if they're eating up too much of what will give me more compost bang for my buck, this is a bad thing.

I'm sure they have their place, and I know they're not all bad (in fact, I've considered keeping some around to start a dog poop disposal bin), but I don't really want them in my pile.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 3:32PM
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Yes, Annpat, I've read dozens of articles on the benefits of BSFL. I could turn around and write another article myself, just based on the dozens I've read. If I had a restaurant with tons of food waste to reduce, or if I ran a pig farm with mountains of manure to dispose of, I'd be all on the BSFL bandwagon.

I agree that dry piles get BSFL. 'Too wet' has nothing to do with it.

The fact of my compost is this: I either have a hot aerobic bacterial pile or I have a BSFL pile. I end up with either pleasant finished compost or foul muck.

Foul muck is not worthless. It's not as beneficial as actual finished compost, though, and it's nasty to work with.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 9:40PM
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I have been keeping black soldier fly larvea for over 10 years now, and you are not supposed to have a foul muck. If that is your experience you are not managing your liquids. I get the most amazing compost from my grubs and i get just as much as if it where in an aerobic pile. Except i get if faster. Because the grubs break stuff down within hours versus weeks you have to deal with moisture issues. But in no way do you get only muck as a result. The best grub composters have a living layer of soil/bacteria on the bottom that can handle excess moisture. That is precisely the issue with a lot of these DIY buckets that don't allow for liquid drainage and aeration.

Now... that living layer of soil I have is AMAZING... man is it fertile. It doesn't smell and it's not MUCK. it's jam packed with micro organism (also aerobic bacteria by the way) it's dark and has a coffee grind consistency. Depending on the age (+1 year) it's in my ways similar to finished compost and if it's younger (it's has a more humus consistency). If you brew a compost tea for this material, you'll notice that the tea starts to bite a little bit and the material is slightly acidic (my plants in texas love this with our high alkaline soils).

If you are having muck you have gone anaerobic and it stinks... but i assure you that's not what you supposed to be having. grub composting is also an aerobic process.

Here is a link that might be useful: BioPod Forum

    Bookmark   January 7, 2011 at 10:30AM
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I gotta weigh in here on a couple issues. I live in northern Louisiana where BSF abound. When the larvae stop moving it is generally they are mature enough to pupate.

The biggest virtue of BSFL is not what they contribute to the garden but is their ability to reduce very large quantities of organic matter (read garbage) into a small volume. That keeps alot of stuff out of the landfill.

In that consumption they are removing that material and changing it into energy and their own bulk. So if your goal is to keep as much of your organic material intact or at least hold most of the nutrients so you can add it to your garden, then you might not want very large populations of BSFL.

The same thing holds true if you feed large amounts of partially finished compost to worms (which I do.) the benefits of worm castings are well-documented and I will not go into that here. But the idea is that alot of the bulk of what might have been compost and mulch has been reduced.

Like most people I have an abundance of organic material available and still get more from neighbors to keep it from going to the landfill. I do not begrudge what the BSFL eat.

BTW, I have observed far larger populations of BSFL in my enclosed compost bins rather than my wire fence piles.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 11:41AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

I followed that BioPod forum link and found a rather delightful video on Growing Black Soldier Larvae (I can't believe I called that delightful). A gentleman described growing the larvae with a self-harvesting system to produce grubs to feed his fish, although a flock of chickens intercepted some of them. I didn't know grub composting even existed, not to mention being interesting.


    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 5:30PM
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The net is a good thing, we meet & talk, trade ideals & all that. But some of the things we hear & read are incomplete or partly true. I think we over think composting sometimes.
Example: the two best compost I have ever used were:
1)on the back of the barn was a long stall fulled with hay, the cows would reach in & pull out the hay, dropping some & pooping as they eat. Then walking it all together,after 18 months of this, we sold the cows in the fall. Next spring I planted the back of the barn with tomatoes & string beans.
2) we had a holding pen for hogs, at a ramp, after a year we sold all the hogs & planted volunteer tomatoes inside of the holding pen. This one of the main reasons I am a organic gardener to day.
The organic waste will break down without us, we just make it happen faster.
I do not care what lives in my compost pile or if it is too dry or too wet.But when you have 5 or 10 pile in different stages of composting & 3 piles that are waiting to be spread, it is hard to watch them all that closely.
I say to each his/her on.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 10:20PM
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