Image borrowed from The Sustainability Library

Yes, I have maggots and worms on the brain. And no, I’m not hiding out from daylight reading Naked Lunch and sniffing bath salts.

Okay, well, I have been hiding from the sun. Did I mention it’s been in the 100s for days now? Well, it cooled off to a pleasant 97 degrees on Sunday. Still not exactly sweater weather.

But I haven’t been reading any dark surrealist fiction or rotting out my brain with chemicals. Actually, I’ve been thinking about maggots and worms lately because I am noodling away about how to harness their potential on my homestead.

The magical composting ability of worms is well-known, of course.  Getting into worms has been next on my to-do list for a while now, and I even went to a little workshop on worm bin composting a couple weeks ago at the fair to get into a wormy frame of mind.  I want to get a worm bin going, but I also want to try a slightly larger scale worm project in one of my compost piles outside. I have a little more studying to do about that.

“Okay, Sara, worms I get, but maggots?”

Yeah, I know. Super gross, but let me explain.  I was already thinking a lot about worms and how beneficial those slimy, wiggly little guys can be, when I went to the dump with the trash from the Ranch Party last week.  In the super hot weather, the garbage had gotten nice and ripe in the week it sat around after the party (as an aside, we recycled and composted like crazy during the party – and after 5 days with 20+ house guests, we only had one more can of trash than normal. Not bad!). Needless to say, there were maggots in there. And when I say maggots, I mean SO MANY MAGGOTS! One can had probably 1 to 2 inches of solid maggots in the bottom. Brutal. I was in gag-city.

But then another part of me – the part that wasn’t dry-heaving – recalled a particular conundrum I’ve been pondering lately, having to do with chickens.  Basically, my chickens just can’t be a real free-range flock. There are tons of predators around my place, I have no rooster to keep these ditzy ladies organized, and, although they produced the most delicious eggs ever when I was letting them free-range earlier this summer, about half the time they were laying their eggs while they were out and about rather than going back to the nest boxes.  What’s the good of delicious free-ranged eggs if you can’t find them?

So I’d been thinking about ways to provide my girls with some extra proteins and fats while still keeping them safe inside their run and close to the nest boxes.  I hate giving them that nasty soylent-gray chicken crumble that I fear is actually made out of chickens.  Ideally I want them eating grain, calcium supplement, greens, and bugs and get rid of the crumble altogether (as it is now, they hardly eat any crumble, but I feel obligated to provide it to make sure they’re getting everything they need).  As I stared down at the repulsive wriggling mass at the bottom of the garbage can it hit me: I can feed them maggots!

Turns out I’m not the first person to think of this either. In fact, there’s tons of stuff online about how to harvest maggots safely and with limited smell. Specifically, you can grow Black Soldier Fly larvae by avoiding meat products as your maggot food, and just sticking with regular kitchen compost.  By keeping the food source vegetarian, you protect yourself and your girls from exposure to nasty bacteria like botulism that can develop when using meat or offal.  It also produces far less stench, which is key. Finally, it’s a good steady source of protein for your birds that is FREE. I have more studying to do on this subject as well, but the basic design for a maggot feeder seems pretty simple.

So there you have it: maggots and worms. Eating compost and helping out. So far they’re all just in my head, but soon they’ll be coming to a Domestead near you. Beware of disgusting photos to come!