During my visit to Sweden I was impressed with Lars Österdahl’s methods of culturing aphids. He maintains these on pea plants that are lit for about 16 hours per day. Lars soaks pea seeds for about a day before planting them in compost. Unfortunately the pea plants are not very robust and collapse very rapidly when the numbers of aphids increase. This means that new plants need to be started every fifth day, something of a chore.
It is important to choose the right species of aphid, as most are specific to a plant or group of plants. The ones used are the Pea Aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. Each plant is seeded with a few pea aphids (though technically only one should be needed) and they can be harvested after about ten days by either putting the whole culture into the vivarium or blowing them off the plants into the vivarium. Cultures need to be protected from predators as the can quickly be decimated by just one Ladybird! The aphids are undoubtedly an excellent supplementary food source.
It is important that the plants and aphids receive at least 16 hours of light and I have lit mine with a 28W, low energy lamp (150W equivalent).
On my return I maintained my cultures on dried Marrow fat (mushy) peas that are extremely cheap from the supermarket. As they are intended as food, they are fungicide or insecticide free. I tried to keep them going but it was a problem due to the need to be rigorous in starting new cultures every fifth day and after a plant failure I lost the cultures.
We managed to acquire some more aphids from a UK University where they are cultured as a food for ladybirds in a research project. I found that they were being cultured on Field beans (Vicia faba). These are intended as green manure or fodder bean. The seeds, which are between the size of a pea and a bean, need to be soaked for three or four days, until a substantial root is evident before being planted. However, they are robust and hold the colonies of aphids well, though not quite such good numbers as those on peas. The aphids are introduced after the second leaves appear. As these plants are relatively slow growing, new ones only need to be started every two weeks or so. Lucerne should also provide a good plant source for the aphids. I will experiment with this and let you know how the cultures go.
I have found a source of these beans:
John Chambers Wildflower Seeds,
15 Westleigh Rd,
Tel. 01933 652562
They cost £3 per kilo but unfortunately the UK postage is a further £3.40 (approx $US or €5 and $US 6 respectively). However 1kg should last a couple of years. Our overseas members should be able to find these locally.
At this time of the year I can easily collect in a few minutes the aphids that it takes a week to produce. In my case, they are not worth the trouble to culture. Winter is, of course, a different story. I intend to simply keep my cultures ticking over until autumn when I will re-start them to provide a more varied diet for my animals.
If you consider doing the same, I would suggest starting some plants in late August. Also, start collecting some aphids from the wild at about the same time.