Microwaving the substrate to kill any critters or critter eggs that are already inhabiting the material.
My substrate ready for the crickets. This was a little more moist than I wanted.
Adding a small amount of limestone into my substrate, making it alkaline.
My substrate at the bottom of the brooder, ready for the crickets to find it any lay eggs.
In our backyard farm, we transferred one brooder full of adult crickets (~2,000 crickets) from our commercial farm. These adult crickets will create the first generation of Backyard Farm born crickets. Most people won’t have such an accessible supply of crickets to use to lay the initial eggs to build the flock. If you are in that situation, you can get your starter crickets from one of the following spots:
- Another Cricket Farmer: If you know anyone locally who raises crickets, ask if you can buy either some adults or some eggs. I recommend this option as the local cricket probably has been bred to do well in your climate. Plus, a cricket farmer would be able to tell you what species of cricket you are getting.
- The Internet: On Amazon, you can order live crickets of all sizes from a number of sellers. You have an option to buy multiple species, but I’d recommend getting either Acheta domesticus or Gryllodes sigillatus as these are both generally approved for human consumption.
- Your Local Pet Store: Most pet stores will sell live crickets. This may be the most expensive option, but it is probably the easiest for most people. Make sure you ask what species of crickets you are purchasing. Not all pet stores will know for sure.
For your starter crickets, I’d recommend getting at least 1,000. While we were able to build a colony rather quickly 500 adult crickets, we could have scaled to our desire size in half the time if we would have started with double. It is nice to error on the side of caution and get a bit more. Realistically, you won’t need all the eggs that your starter crickets will lay.
Since moving our starter crickets into our backyard farm, I know they are ready to lay eggs. The easiest way to tell is if you see sacks of eggs on the backside of the cricket. Another good way to tell is to listen. If you hear chirping, that means the males have reached adulthood and have the necessary anatomy to lay eggs. If the males just started chirping, you may need to wait another 2 weeks until they are actually ready to mate. If you are uncertain if your crickets are ready to lay eggs, it does no harm to follow the below process, and if no eggs are laid, it means you just have to wait a bit longer.
In order to lay their eggs, the crickets need an appropriate substrate. This can be any material that can maintain moisture and allows the female cricket to deposit the eggs about a centimeter below the surface. For this, I either use peat moss or coconut husk. I like both of these because they are readily available at just about any garden store or Home Depot. I prefer using the coconut husk because the material is more sustainable than peat moss. Today, however, I’m going to use peat moss as I still have some left over peat moss that I bought, before I discovered the wonders of coconut husk.
Crickets aren’t the only critters that like these substrates. Hence, I can’t be sure that there aren’t already a bunch of bugs, bug eggs, or spores inhabiting the peat moss. For this reason, for my first step I scoop out about two cups of peat moss, place it in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave the peat moss for about one minute. Since I started doing this, I have never had anything unexpected emerge from my peat moss.
As for the bowl, today I’m using an old plastic salsa jar. It is about four inches deep and has a diameter about four inches. I wouldn’t advise using any smaller container. If ready and in the mood, your crickets will all want to lay eggs. If the container has too little surface area, there will not be enough space for them all to lay eggs. I like using the transparent plastic salsa container because it will also make it easier for me to see how densely the crickets lay the eggs.
Now the substrate should be clean, and it is a material that all sorts of critters will want to use to lay eggs. I keep a screen on top of my brooder, preventing the crickets from escaping and preventing from unwanted guests from entering and laying eggs in the peat moss. However, some critters can still get in through the screen or when you have the screen removed. For example, fruit flies can typically find their way to the substrate, especially if they enter the brooder through fruit intended for the cricket food. We do not want fruit flies to lay eggs in the peat moss because the fruit fly eggs will hatch a few days before the crickets, creating a swarm of fruit flies in your cricket brooder. A good way to prevent this is to make your substrate slightly alkaline (i.e. make the pH greater than 7). When slightly alkaline, the fruit flies will still lay eggs, but the eggs will not hatch (fortunately the cricket eggs will still hatch). Then when the baby pinhead crickets hatch, they can eat the unhatched fruit fly eggs.
To make my peat moss alkaline, I use the old gardener’s tip of adding a bit of limestone. I bought a bag of organic limestone from my garden store for about $10. It will be enough to last me about 5 years of cricket farming. I simply take about a quarter of a teaspoon of the limestone and mix it into my substrate. This simple trick will save headaches down the road.
Before I give the substrate to the crickets, I want to do one last step: add water to the substrate. We don’t want the substrate to be too dry. I mix water into the substrate until is moist enough to form a ball if I wanted to do so. There shouldn’t be standing water, but it should be very moist. Today, I added a bit too much water where the substrate is just shy of becoming mud. This shouldn’t be too big of a deal. The moisture will quickly evaporate under my heat light, so it will be at my ideal consistency in a few hours.
Now, my substrate is ready for the crickets. I place it at the bottom of my bin and lean some cardboard ramps against the side, providing a ramp for the crickets to walk up and into the substrate. At this point, I am done for day. Some people like to put a screen atop of the substrate so that crickets can’t burrow into it or disturb the eggs. I don’t think it is worth the time to add the screen has it really isn’t hard to deal with the few crickets that will want to build a fort in the substrate…simply remove them before you start incubating the eggs.
Lastly, I want to make sure that it is warm enough for the crickets. The ideal temperature for crickets is 89 degrees F though a cricket can live a good life without the temperature ever being close to 89 degrees. However, the crickets will be more inclined to lay eggs and will lay more eggs if it is close to 89 degrees. This is the one time I think it is necessary to ensure there is heat for your crickets. I have a heat lamp hanging about two feet above the top of my brooder. This will keep it about 90 degrees for the next 24 hours. If you don’t want to heat it, you can just leave it room temperature, and you will get some eggs…you just won’t get many.
That is it for my farming today. Tomorrow I will check in and see how many eggs the crickets have laid.