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This thread is to discuss possible improvements to the kit design. We want to hear your thoughts about ease of setup, use, etc. and any suggestions to make it better!



  • Per user @gringojay

    The kit comes with instructions & yet does not clearly state the grow bag's sleeve should be arranged upward facing. Buyers may not see this Forum thread & someone might mistakenly think the sleeve is meant to hang down. A penned in arrow with " SLEEVE UP'', or comparable indication, really should be marked next to a grow bag picture.

  • The complete kit (grow bag, frame, racks, tent) can add a humidity control feature. Suspend from some, or all, of the frame corners small containers that operator puts regular table salt into & then moistens. Located in the corners this will avoid frass falling into the devices. This placement to the side will eliminate any long time humidity alteration from opening up the shroud to change a water pan &/or problems from random misting tactics. I use a ratio of 5 parts by volume of ground salt to 1 part by volume of water & in a closed environment at ambient temperature get 75% relative humidity. One can use their regular water in most cases, or if unsure distilled water (reverse osmosis water is also reliable). Once the operator assesses how their site's temperature/ventilation/wind affects the clump of damp salt the operator can drip in drops of more water onto the salt pile to reconstitute the salt's moisture content. Something that operates like an I/V gravity drip would send water to an aquarium flow regulator (made to receive one tube & having multiple exit ports with individual out flow valves) will allow individual tubes going to each salt pile & these can drop a controlled amount of water onto the salt.

  • It would be cool if you also sold starter populations of insects, too!

    Also, the big link at the top of this page does not work:

  • @gringojay - really clever idea with the salt humidity tubes. It should be an easy feature to incorporate into the next iteration of the frame design!

    @VelaCreations - Thanks for the heads up on the link, we've fixed it. Also, we would like to start selling starter herds soon. We have to work out the logistics of raising our own or working with a partner farm, but it's on the table!

  • Hi Andrew, I don't know if the kit's tent shroud ventilates too much. Open to the air expect the moist salt to only help stabilize the site's baseline humidity at ~ 50% relative humidity.

  • The tents have very minimal ventilation when closed, they're made of water resistant rip-stop - the same stuff on the outside of tents and sleeping bags. They should do a decent job keeping humidity in, although we'll have to see if that causes in inverse problem with condensation for anyone!

  • if there was an easy way to produce and gather eggs, then you could ship eggs to people.

  • I noticed you guys are taking some inspiration from camping gear, have you considered using Tyvek for the tents? It's not easily sewn, but you can get tape for it that does a great job. It's tough and fully waterproof, and is super cheap/free if you can find some friendly contractors.

  • I'd love to be able to buy mealy beetles to get production moving along to the first generation faster. Searching, but cannot find a seller yet.

  • I found that by talking to the people who sold me my mealworms (which died off badly), he wants to chat about the problems and is ready to sell me some beetles even though this isn't usual practice. This goes to show we don't always have to buy worms and wait forever. I asked him to join this forum rather than starting up his own.

  • I'm getting used to the mealworm kit. Also playing around to see what works best for me. I am now trying swapping the upright posts so that the shorter ones are on the bottom closer to the heat source (mat). This is because have only about ten worms! so they aren't providing their own heat. - a strange thing happened before I did this. In it's normal configuration, I found a hole appeared in the mesh - no idea why... will post the picture for you.

  • I have found that I don't use the rubber bands as you can just flop the 'sleeve' over... after all, the worms aren't climbing up it to escape. So that's good.

  • @kerri that's great you can buy some breeder beetles. please do post a picture of where you found a hole in your bag - how large it is and where it is could indicate a design flaw or maybe it just snagged on something. We think this bag concept has a lot going for it and it's working well in our lab, but your feedback as a real user is the real test!

  • edited May 2014

    meal;worm bag hole The hole was approx 3 ins long and about 2 ins wide?... weird, no idea how it appeared as the heat mat was underneath but the hole was on the side. No way the heat mat touched the bag. I am mystified. Best to just watch to see if it happens any where else before worrying. Might be a freak occurrence. (hope so)... I just sewed it up and on I go!

  • Strangest thing is how the hole was brown and shriveled on it's edges... seems to be caused by heat. Hang on!!! I smoke! I bet I let a live ash drop onto the fabric!! It would have burned quickly - Oh dear! (slightly embarrassed!) Good that I kept thinking about this until I realised! :\">

  • I bought a roll of silver foil insulation material from my hardware and formed a frass tray for the base of the kit. It's more solid than the plastic and can be removed for cleaning easily. Of course, it took time to do it and cost more to make... I'm wondering if it might become an optional extra? - Also, how do you make the first ones to sell, if it got to that point? If you wanted, say, 10 made to start off and to test demand, you could possibly look to kids in your extended family and see if they want some pocket money! (Of course you would have to be careful about child labour laws, but in Australia I believe you can still do this it if they are family).

  • @kerri - We should definitely put a "keep away from open flame" warning in the kit! Both the mesh bags and the tents (for those who have them) are made of nylon and polyester and will burn very easily.

    I'll look into making a more solid frass tray. We're very open to expanding out the options for the kit. Our team has been fairly scattered for the last couple months traveling here and there for various projects and conferences and now we're back with our focus on improving and expanding the Open Bug Farm!

    Per your question about labor - to try out a small run of trays, we'd make them ourselves or hire a local kid/college student to help out.

  • You know how mealies ADORE corners? I wonder of it is cost productive or difficult to sew the top corners on an angle or rounded to stop the little beasties getting all caught up there?

  • @kerri - we've been noticing the same, and I have a hunch they have a general edge-following behavior that results in wandering mealworms getting stuck in the corners (where there's an edge on either side of them). We've noticed the same behavior in rectangular trays that have higher-density populations, and I think your hunch is worth testing out - i.e. if rounding or angling off the corners decreases the bunching effect that's seen there. We will experiment with some options around this in our next batch of prototyping, and in the meantime if anyone who has a bag wants to attempt to modify it we will be very interested to hear about the results!

  • $200 for a bag, two plastic boxes and a PVC pipe? Really? I thought the whole point of this was to make it cheap and easy to grow them.

  • Hi Vesp,...As of 1 July 2014 California minimum wage is US$9.00/hour. To collect the materials necessary to fabricate a kit takes time & transportation which incurs some investment. As of 2 hours ago gasoline in downtown SanFrancisco cost US$3.79 a gallon; but gas is not the only factor when using a vehicle. To cut/sew the fabric & cut/finish PVC all take time to do carefully. I'm pretty sure the Tiny-Farm company has some legitimate overhead & needs to pay an accountant to make a compliant Ca. tax filing even if the team makes no money yet.

    In case any misunderstanding exists please understand that I am not a member of the Tiny-Farms team. I see they sell the grow bag un-sewn so people can get one & use it as a template & certain identification for obtaining similar fabric sold by the yard/foot/meter to make their own from a source on eBay.

    I think any adult can cut themselves some PVC sections - if they get their hands on the right strength PVC piece & connectors. Those same folks might delay sewing up a grow tent though - at least I would/did. For me the compromise was to use recycled materials to make a stand(s)/sheathing for suspending my (now) 5 grow bags (which I gladly payed for someone else to sew up). I have a lot of different plastic ware too that I have re-purposed & can use because my standing dimensions aren't as compactly arranged as the Tiny-Farm kit design they use 2 plastic boxes in.

    Now, if the grow bag design feature is going to be used in developing countries then a kits price structure would reflect that regions lower labor costs. For example, I read that China now outsources to Ethiopia because the daily wage is so much lower. But then again in many developing countries I have found that the cost of plastic ware &/or specialty fabrics &/or PVC &/or transportation is higher than in California where Tiny-Farms currently ships from.

    Do you need some particular help to get going? I think the key feature is the way the mealworm grow bag has practical features & those dimensions are available to copy.

  • @vesp we appreciate that the cost is high for the ready-made kits. @gringojay hit on some of the main reasons why, and I'll expand a bit.

    The basic materials are fairly inexpensive and a DIY user could easily invest their own time and set up their own kit from scratch, saving a fair amount of upfront cash. We know a few folks have started making their own bags and frames, which is great. The plans are available through the wiki and can be replicated or even better used as a base concept to be improved upon. While the materials used in our readymade kit are easy to source from hardware shops or online here in California, they have also been selected such that they should be easy to swap out with locally available materials. For instance the frame could easily be made of any sticks or pipe lashed together, and a tent could be fashioned with cheap plastic sheeting and duct tape with some air holes poked in it.

    We initially started selling the kits cheaper, but we ended up losing money on each sale to operating overhead. The current price covers the materials, labor and overhead while leaving a small margin to invest back into the project.

    That said, we could have the kits mass produced much more cheaply off-shore, but we would have to order thousands of them, while we have only sold dozens so far (interestingly mostly to Europe). Before we dive into mass production, we would like to evolve the concept further after the initial users have had a chance to grow a couple generations through their setups and provide feedback.

    We would love to see more DIY users get involved and share their own versions and improvements. We are happy to freely provide whatever support we can to those users via the forum here.

    Looking forward, we'll probably phase in mass production of components based on their importance to the kit. For example, by early next year we may have a grow bag design that we decide to have mass produced and can offer at a lower price, allowing a cheaper and easier hybrid DIY setup like gringojay's, as well as greater potential for use in developing world contexts.

  • edited August 2014

    @Vesp, if you didn't know the people from Tiny Farms you might make the mistake of thinking it's too expensive. I know and trust them. I worry that if they don't get paid enough for their revolutionary work at this early stage they may not be able to go on to produce what they are aiming for... mass produced, cheap and Brilliant system that really works in countries all over the world. I am behind them every step of the way. I bought some equipment from them and I Iove it... it works well for my mealworms. I also give feedback as this is the way to help them forward. Good luck in your experiments Vesp, and I'd love to hear if you find a better system and what it is about that system that could help us on this forum. ;;)

  • Mealworm grow bags illuminate something that the flat bin type of larvae rearing hides. Namely how prior to pupation the larvae will preferentially move up & out of the feed substrate.

    In the grow bag these pre-pupal larvae start to bunch up in the four corners & eventually in the middle neck of fabric. These have not lost their way, but rather are exhibiting classic "wandering".

    At the last instar larvae still feed for a few days & then within hours it stops eating, purges it's gut & transitions into "wandering" larvae. Their brain's corpora pedunculata over-sees the phased removal of inhibiting signal & directs the oncoming pattern of what the insect's subsequent action is to be.

    Once wandering initiated the middle brain is no longer going to hold it back. Then inside the side sections of the brain is where signals to wander originate. In other words different parts of their brain take over.

    The brain first has to release the hormone called pro-thoracic-tropic & then what are called pro-thoracic glands in the abdomen release the moulting hormone 20-hydroxy-ecdysone. That ecdysone has to surge for a couple hours (4?) in order to trigger physical wandering; changes then occur in the nerve cord along the larvae's underside. Those same hormones are involved at the other times that the larvae gets ready to make a new skin (cuticle) but another hormone's levels (juvenile hormone ratio) at that time gets to sway "whose" kind of insect cutilcle (larval or pupal) will be made

    Until the larvae stops feeding their brain signals are holding constant forward motion at idle ; the hormones mentioned aren't suitably "turned on". A wanderer's crawl is going forward powered by muscle contractions in between it's body segments, in a fashion akin to peristalsis. The sub-oesphageal nerve ganglion nerve(a complex) sends signals to nerve ganglia in the abdomen & thorax.

    As for what sequence of events goes on during their wandering those larvae are picking up signal clues from their environment & that feedback goes to the ganglia in segments of thorax & abdomen. The feedback of a slight rise by an end segment of their body inclining them upward from their bin substrate triggers orientation perception in their brain (like we are triggered if our head angle changes) & then the sub-oesphagal ganglion sends signals to the abdomen/thorax to continue forward.

    If, on the other hand, they wander into a depression lying in their way forward they will try to re-orientate their forward motion to the side - until head escapes that negative elevation (dip). In general they are crawling but also pause for "searching and decision-making” & then they might start back up going in the same or, if better elevation, a different direction. A gene has been identified with insect wandering called "Hyperkinetic" & it has a sub-unit (Beta) that encodes a potassium ion channel to drive the electrical voltage that allows the moving parts wandering to perpetuate that repetition so relentlessly.

    Of course rearing mealworm larvae in rigid sided bins with slick plastic surfaces makes it impossible for the post-feeding larvae to wander out of the feed substrate. The grow bag mesh gives them purchase to pull upward & the downward bowing of the grow bag from bran's weight creates an incline.

    The only reason not all the pre-pupal larvae don't pile up in the corners/top knot is because of the eggs laid later than those 1st wanderers. If one daily took the eggs & isolated them in a grow bag from the up-coming eggs then the larvae in a grow bag would be true age-mates & likely to be post-feeding larvae at the same day or 2.

    What all this means to me is that the grow bag should add a design feature that would make harvesting clean post-feeding/pre-pupal larvae. This would go a long way to making the design more suitable for commercial production; there's no need to fuss with clearing larvae from (& of) substrate since they obviously will migrate if able to.

    I suggest some sort of velcro closure(s) at the 4 corners & for the center access flap that once operator opened will let the wandering larvae escape their confinement. Then once the wandering larvae have a breach the operator set in place a piece of mesh for them to climb onto (into?), instead of falling into the frass that sifted out of the grow bag.

    We see something like this in black soldier fly harvesting, where the post-feeding/pre-pupal larvae will drag themselves along by their altered mouth part up an incline ramp to fall of the lip of that ramp into a collection site. I am not sure if the mealworm larvae would similarly just keep wandering until they too "fell" over the edge.

    My design concept is thus: have exits for the wandering mealworm larvae, once exit(s) are opened connect an extension ramp for them of the same fabric strip of no-see-um net with a "dowel" bar on either side (like a portable stretcher you flip open wide). Use the side dowels (wood/plastic/metal) to support the span bridged to your wandering larval collection site; have smooth/sheer walls in collection receptacle so escape unlikely until operator removes the pre-pupal larvae. Viola - a constant stream of ready to eat mealies!

  • I took a run at the frame from local parts. Took me longer to buy than to assemble although the instructions could use a proofread for measurements and language level. The biggest issue I had was in making the holes smaller I had to come up with a way to thread the rope. Made my 'needle' from a paperclip although I'd suggest probably easier to use copper wire (electrical) and wrap it a bit.

  • Sorry for double post. Couldn't get edit to work on my above post. Most things worked fine, although the dimensions are a little off in the pic with the 17" side appearing as the long side (24)

  • @Belphegor - thanks for the feedback! The isomorphic illustration definitely looks out of proportion when we expect perspective. We'll look into updating the illustration to be more obvious.

  • You could keep that projection, but add some basic measurements to the drawings to ensure no confusion. It's obvious provided you pay attention to the written instructions but it is a bit disconcerting. I worked off the wiki plans, so the letter indications for each part didn't help me. Or I didn't help myself by not locating the references to each letter/part in the pdf until later.

    Typo in the pdf... Each tube need 7 wholes.

    Perhaps a cut list/order too? I had to work with 4x 5-foot lengths of pvc. Cutting the long pieces first I ended up with 3-feet of leftover pvc.

    Silly easy to put together though. Thanks!

  • I also tried simply to buy the parts at one store (I live in a relatively small town). I couldn't find the corner pieces so improvised on the lower portion. As such I'll have to modify the tent to let the extensions stick out but have the tent still enclose the entire cube. But I'll call the improvisation 'carrying handles' and claim I did it on purpose. You'll also notice they didn't have enough pvc. I'll swap the copper out once they get more stock. Still, one-stop shopping.


  • @Belphegor - That's a great adaptation, and it's true those corner fittings are really hard to find. They're also expensive ($2.50-3.00 each), which is why we only use them for the bottom of the frames we sell and we designed the top with only the parallel crossbars. We have considered offering them for sale as a standalone item in the shop, since we have to purchase them in bulk anyways. Let us know if you think that would be valuable!

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