Black soldier flies as a sustainable feed alternative for aquaculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2013: $9,375.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Allan Gandelman
Main Street Farms, LLC

Annual Reports

Information Products

Farm Hack Blog (Article/Newsletter/Blog)


  • Animals: fish


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed additives, feed formulation, feed rations
  • Crop Production: municipal wastes
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: composting
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    In current aquaculture operations feed is by far the most unsustainable and expensive input of the farm. The time, energy, financial strain, and environmental impact of feeding tilapia and poultry are heavy burdens for many small farmers. This has been an underlying issue on Main Street Farms, as tilapia food made of grains and other fish is often expensive, difficult to source locally, and energy intensive to produce. Our project aims to create a sustainable, self produced, and protein rich food source that is capable of being a major food supplement year round. It is our goal to improve productivity in fish growth, decrease costs, and conserve natural resources by raising Black Soldier Flies as a food source for our tilapia.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The larvae will be initially sourced from the Phoenix Worm Store, which sells the Black Soldier Flies (Hermetia illucens) under the name Phoenix Worms. The larvae will be initially raised inside the aquaponics greenhouse because the temperature does not drop below 24 degrees Celsius. In between the in-ground fish tanks is a 4 by 4 by 64 foot space that is covered. There will be initially 3 trial bins in the covered space to raise the larvae. The larvae grow best in dark, warm, moist areas so this space is ideal. The flies prefer 70% humidity and we plan to install a ventilation system to ensure food waste does not become anaerobic. The larvae will be fed a mix of food waste collected from a local middle school cafeteria as well as coffee grounds from a local coffee shop.

    The larvae take approximately 14 days to develop into the final prepupae stage at the optimal consumption temperature of 35 C. At this time they instinctively leave the compost pile to pupate and grow into adults. They will climb up the ramp and drop into a collection bucket. The self-harvested Black Soldier Flies will be weighed and separated into two groups. The first group, consisting of the majority of the flies, will be fed directly to the fish. The second group, a smaller percentage, will be selected for breeding. They will be placed in a screened in 2 by 2 by 4-m screen cage above-ground in the greenhouse. The larvae will be allowed to pupate, turn into adults, mate, lay eggs, and die in 8-9 days all inside the cage. They do not need to eat once in the adult stage, only needing water provided by a timed misting system. An egg laying space is provided by dry corrugated cardboard placed over a small pile of fairly dry food waste pile. In cold months additional heat is necessary. A small space heater will be placed near the cage to ensure optimal conditions of 27.5 C to 37.5 C. (The male to female ratio is 1:1, and each female produces 500- 900 eggs, therefore mating is not anticipated to be a problem).

    Once the eggs hatch, the new larvae will be collected and brought to the consumption containers. After three trials have been conducted for a period of 1 month, we will expand to a total of 10 consumption containers in 55 gallon drums that have been cut in half. We will also use an IBC tote (large food grade container, very affordable used) that will be cut in half (making a total of 2 containers) and covered on the sides with rigid insulation to block out light and keep in heat. The IBC totes will be a test for growing larvae above ground inside the greenhouse. We are interested in finding the ratio of pounds of larvae to pounds of food waste can be produced in a given month. We are also interested in measuring how the temperature affects production because it is an essential component to the life cycle, and the amount nutrient-dense digestion byproduct (known as “compost tea”) is produced in relation to the weight of compost material added.

    Measurements, harvesting, and general maintenance will take place once every three days for one year. The measurements will be recorded in spreadsheets organized by date. These spreadsheets will serve as a clear indicator of the productivity and success of the project. We will measure how many pounds of food waste is added and the prepupae larvae collected from each. Then a portion of the prepupae larvae will be separated for breeding as needed. The weight of the prepupae larvae selected for breeding will also be measured before being placed in the breeding cage. To measure production rates in relation to temperature there will be thermometers in the underground consumption containers, IBC tote consumption containers, and in the breeding cage.

    To measure food waste to compost tea ratio we first measure the weight in kilograms of all food waste added to consumption containers. Then we will measure the volume in liters of all of the liquid byproduct produced from the consumption containers. Using dimensional analysis we will find the kilogram to liter ratio telling us how much food waste it takes to make one liter of compost tea using Black Soldier Flies. Main Street Farms will be spreading the information learned about raising Black Soldier Flies through a variety of mediums. To reach the greatest number of people we will utilize Farm Hack, an organization that utilizes the internet and conferences to share innovations throughout the agricultural community around the country. We will post all of our pictures, drawings and results to the ‘tool’ section of its website where other farms can use it, share it, and give us feedback.

    On a regional level we will write an article on our methods to be submitted to Lancaster Farming Magazine (which has previously published a story on Main Street Farms and aquaponics). Our most specific and targeted audience, local farmers, will be reached through a series of on-farm workshops. We have hosted Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA) field days about aquaponics, and taught aquaponics classes for Groundswell Center. We will partner with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County to do a number of farm workshops. We will be able to expand our class offerings for NOFA and Groundswell Center, by utilizing a similar workshop format to inform other farmers with livestock of how they can use our methods to successfully raise Black Soldier Flies.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.