Grow Your Own Mealworms With the Hive Explorer 2.0

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©. Hive Explorer

All you need is food scraps, a power source, and a bit of counter space.

The United Nations has said that we should eat more insects to improve food security. Insects are a cheap, sustainable, nutritious protein source that could fight malnutrition and reduce the carbon emissions generated by meat production. The UN's suggestion makes sense, but it's easier said than done. Even if one gets over the 'ick' factor, how does one go about finding safe insects to eat?

One possibility is to grow them yourself. Enter the Hive Explorer 2.0, just launched on Kickstarter. It's a smart insect home that can sit on a kitchen counter and provide continuous, closed-loop support to a mealworm colony. There are a few things that make the Hive Explorer particularly intriguing.

First, the design is clever. It has a clear roof and layered trays that separate the mealworms into their different life stages and allow a close-up view of everything that's going on. As described in a little animated GIF on the campaign page, the mealworms are put into the 'funpark' or playground zone, where they eat food waste. They turn into pupae, which are moved into the birthday tower. They become beetles, mate, and lay eggs, which drop down into the nursery below. These hatch, move into the funpark, and the whole cycle starts again.

Hive Explorer layers

© Hive Explorer

There's a hepa filter to keep air clean. A sensor measures temperature and humidity, and a fan turns on when humidity is too high. A heatplate keeps the mealworms warm and cozy.

There's a lot you can do from an educational and experimental standpoint. From the campaign description:

"The technology in the Hive is based on Arduino and open source. Modulate temperature and humidity settings and run experiments on the growth of your insects or compare two Hives next to each other with different settings and compare fertilizer output throughout a certain timespan."

The worms live on food waste, which makes this a great way to put compost to immediate use.

"Almost everything edible in your house can be converted by the Hive Explorer! Potato or carrot peels, apple cores, bread crumbs, you name it. Mealworms are ferocious eaters and you can see the process happening right before your eyes. Because they eat it right away, it won't start smelling like your typical biowaste."

I was fascinated to learn that mealworms can even eat Styrofoam and possess gut microbes to digest it, meaning it doesn't come out in their waste as microplastic. But, as founder Katharina Unger told TreeHugger, if you're feeding Styrofoam to your mealworms, it's probably best not to eat them.

Mealworm poop is a powder that falls to the bottom of the hive. It makes excellent fertilizer for other plants in your house or garden.

As for what to do with all those mealworms, you can feed them to a pet or eat them yourself. The Hive Explorer allows you to harvest 10-20 grams per week while keeping the system running. Through freezing, the worms fall into a painless sleep and can then be rinsed, cooked, and processed however you want.

Despite all this, the campaign doesn't elaborate much on eating mealworms; its emphasis is more on the STEM education potential of the Hive. Indeed, Unger explained that the development of the 2.0 model was a response to people's interest in the educational aspect of insect farming as a big solution for the planet. She told TreeHugger,

"Not everyone is comfortable eating them in the home after growing them. So we have opened this concept [more] for experimentation, science experiments and exploration than the culinary aspect."

But who knows – it stands to reason that raising mealworms could become a good gateway to consumption.

boys looking at mealworms

© Hive Explorer

The Hive Explorer is on Kickstarter till mid-January and is just over one-third funded at time of writing. Whether you're trying to make your diet more climate-friendly or you're an educator looking for a fun classroom science project, it's definitely worth checking out.