Wrangling Worms

Janell Reyenga shows off some of her healthy mealworms enjoying a piece of bread. She loves to run them through her fingers. Photos by Phil Houseal

Oct 30, 2019–Get along, little wormy.

Now you can be a real Texas rancher, and all you need is a plastic bin with a lid. Your livestock? Mealworms. Crispy, juicy, squirmy morsels that chickens can’t resist and lizards leap for.

Hill Country worm herder Janell Reyenga will be teaching a class on how to raise your very own crop of mealworms–the easy way–on Nov 9 at Friendly Natives Nursery in Fredericksburg.

Reyenga has always had an affinity for all creatures small and smaller. During a career as an elementary teacher in Saudi ARAMCO she raised exotic finches, parrots, budgies, and canaries. When she and her husband, Dennis, retired to the Texas Hill Country in 2004, she turned her hand to gardening, hatching chickens, and keeping bees. Then she discovered mealworms. She started growing her own to feed as treats to her large flock of hens.

“I love raising mealworms,” she said. “But soon they were overtaking my life, so I needed to get rid of some.”

Fortunately, people were waiting to buy them for their own critters. Soon feed and pet stores came calling.

She decided to it was time to teach others how to start their own worm farms–or “farmettes” as she likes to refer to them.

Reyenga freely shares her knowledge and experience. She even offers for sale a starter kit to those who enroll in her class. It’s a small plastic container with a mix of mealworms from all stages of their lifecycle, from eggs, to larva, pupa, and adult darkling beetle. The larval stage is when they appear as the familiar tan, squirmy mealworm.

Mealworms come from eggs of darkling beetles, shown here in their “farmette” with cornmeal substrate and egg carton shelter.

The beauty of raising mealworms is that once you get them started, they pretty much know what to do from there.

“You don’t need to tend to them a lot,” she said. “They do best in temperatures around 70 to 80 degrees, but I keep mine in a shed year round. Even in cold weather, they just go into dormancy.”

Her setup lives inside a small uninsulated shed near her henhouse. She raises her mealworms in three large 6-inch deep plastic bins like those that slide under beds.

Reyenga prefers a substrate of corn meal or wheat germ (she’ll explain the difference in her class), and adds moisture weekly via chunks of carrots, apples, cabbage, and cantaloupe. Part of the challenge is keeping the beetles inside the container and keeping the fruit flies out. She uses a lid with a hole cut out and covered with screen.

Reyenga confesses you won’t get rich raising and selling mealworms, but she clears more than chicken feed. In addition to being used to feed chickens, pet owners covet the worms for their geckos, lizards, and fish. Some people place them in their backyard birdfeeders as a special treat.

Plus she just loves the darn things. During our interview she scooped up handfuls of the squirmy wormies and let them run through her fingers like tan gold, and encouraged me to do the same.

Close-up of the mealworms ready for feeding… and for eating.

There is one thing Reyenga won’t do with her worms–eat them.

“Some people are eating them–drying them out and putting them on salads,” she said. “I haven’t tried it. I’ve been to a lot of countries and eaten a lot of exotic food, but I haven’t gotten that brave.”

Details:
Janell Reyenga will teach Mealworm Farming at Friendly Natives Nursery, 1107 N. Llano, Fredericksburg, Texas, on Saturday, November 9, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. The class is free, and she will provide a mealworm starter kit (farmette) for $10. Call 830 307 0126 to reserve a farmette.
Reyenga hosts a Facebook group on raising mealworms: https://www.facebook.com/groups/214611905749435/

Janell Reyenga loving on her homegrown hens, who enjoy their mealworm treats.