DIY Homemade Invertebrate Food from Aquarium Plants

If you’re like me, you often find yourself with an abundance of aquatic plants in your aquarium, and you simply don’t know what to do with it all. You’ve already given away as much as your friends will take. You’ve sold some on eBay or Aquabid. You’re now getting dirty looks from the folks at your fish club meeting, because you keep bringing in bags of duckweed. You’ve even thrown it in the trash (gasp!). Exasperated, you think to yourself, “there has to be a better way!” Well, you are in luck, because if you have pet invertebrates, you can turn those troublesome plants into delicious and nutritious pet food!

The best part about making your own pet food is that you can develop the formula however you want. You can add dried bloodworms or brine shrimp if you would like to add a protein component, or you can add eggshells for a calcium boost. It’s really up to you. Experiment and see what works best for you and your pets.

Getting Started – Picking the Best Time to Make Food

First, plan to do this on a hot, sunny day with low humidity. The drying period will go much more smoothly on a day like this. Humid weather will slow the drying process down, and of course rain will make it impossible to do outdoors. If you’d like, you can follow this recipe and leave the mash in your fridge or freezer until the perfect day comes along. If you happen to have a food dehydrator, then you can just pop the mash into your machine at your convenience. You can also let the mash dry indoors, but this can take a while, and your housemates may not appreciate your weird food experiments for long…

Equipment You’ll Need

  • Something toΒ purΓ©e your vegetable matter. This can be a food processor or a blender. If you really have that “can do” attitude, you can use a mortar and pestle. I found a secondhand, mini food processor at my local Goodwill for around $4. I will be using it exclusively for making pet food.
  • A rubber spatula. This not absolutely necessary, but will make it easier to smooth out the mash and scrape out the last bit from the blending machine.
  • Drying surface. I like to use aluminum foil, because it’s cheap and easy to remove the final product from.
  • A cutting board or tray. This is useful for transporting your mash outside.
  • Measuring cup and measuring spoons. If you’re like me and you follow recipes to the exact specifications, then these are necessary. If you like to live on the edge, feel free to wing it. The truth is my measurements below are more of a guideline and not absolutely necessary.

Optional Bonus Equipment for Fancy Pants

  • A low-power fan. Air moving over your mash will help it to dry more quickly.
  • A solar oven or reflector. You can make these from old pizza boxes and aluminum foil. Like the fan, it will help to dry your mash faster.
  • A spice grinder or coffee grinder. These come in handy if you want to add supplemental nutrition to your homemade pet food. I add powdered eggshells to my mix, so my snails and shrimp can maintain proper shell growth.
  • Desiccant packet. This is good to help keep your end product dry while in storage.

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups wet plant material (1 cup, if dried plant material)
  • 1/4 Cup water, distilled or “tank water” (may not be necessary for wet plant material)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon all-purpose flour (you can use other things like pollen, gelatin, etc… This is to act as a binding agent)
  • 1/8 Teaspoon corn starch (a great binder)
  • *1/2 Teaspoon powdered eggshell (optional, but recommended)
  • *Other supplements or ingredients (This is up to you. Experiment and see what works best)
Here is some powdered eggshell that I made with an old electric coffee grinder. It’s not absolutely necessary, but I want to make sure my snails and shrimp get adequate calcium in their diet.

Step by Step

Step 1 – Add the plants to your food processor. If using dried plants, add the water now to help with the blending process. If using wet plants, add the water as needed.Β Put the lid on your food processor or blender and pulse until the mixture begins to look like pureed spinach. It’s OK if you accidentally add too much water. It will just take longer for your mash to dry at the end.

For this recipe, I am using Water Lettuce from my outdoor mini pond. You can use any plant material, as long as you first research the plant to make sure it is not toxic.

If you have a good source of mulberry leaves, nettles, or lettuces, you can add this to help fill out your mash. In my first batch, I added some leaf material from my White Bird of Paradise plant. It’s a tough plant, so the result was a chunkier mash.

Of course, if you are harvesting leaves from outdoors, you want to make sure that the area isn’t treated with pesticides and is not close to a heavily trafficked roadway. Invertebrates are sensitive to environmental contaminants, so use your best judgment.

After blending, your plants should start to look a bit like pureed spinach.

Step 2 – Add the flour or other binding agent. If you are including powdered eggshell or other supplements, add them now. Using your spatula, scrape any material that has splashed up onto the sides of your blender back into the mixture. Continue blending until everything is evenly mixed together.

Here I am adding 1/2 teaspoon of powdered eggshell that I made by grinding eggshells in an old electric coffee grinder.

Step 3 – Unroll a sheet of aluminum foil approximately 10 to 12 inches long onto a cutting board or tray. Curl up the edges of the foil to prevent spilling. Pour your mash/mixture onto the center of the foil sheet. Using your rubber spatula, evenly spread your mash on the foil until it is a thin layer. It’s up to you how thin you would like the layer to be. A thicker layer will result in an end product that holds together better, but will take longer to dry. A thinner layer will result in a more brittle product, but will dry more quickly. In this example, I chose a thinner layer, since my mash turned out a bit more watery.

It isn’t pretty, but this is what the mash looks like after being spread onto a sheet of aluminum foil. Spread the layer as thick or thin as you prefer. This mash ended up being a little wetter than I had wanted, but it worked all the same.

Step 4 – Bring your foil sheet and mash outside, and place it on a flat surface that will receive direct sunlight throughout the day. Or if you have a food dehydrator, follow the procedure specified in your machine’s user manual. If you live in a very humid area, or have no room outside, store it in a safe, dry place indoors. If you can, position a fan nearby to create a gentle breeze over the mash.

Here is the mash right after being placed outdoors. As it dries, it will change color from green to brown. This is OK.

Feel free to check on the progress of your mash every couple of hours or so and move it if necessary to keep out of the shade. I have had luck putting it outside at around 9 AM and bringing it back in around 4PM. The amount of time necessary for it to dry will vary depending on the amount of light, humidity, wind, and ambient temperature that day.

If by the end of the day your mash isn’t completely dry just bring it indoors and put it somewhere safe until the next morning. You may find that it has finished drying overnight. If not, put it back outside in the sun. Do not leave it outdoors overnight, as dew may collect on it, making it damp again.

*If mold or fungus has grown on the mash, it is probably best to discard it and try again some other time. It could be that the humidity was too high or it took too long to dry. This is why I recommend drying it outside on a hot, dry day.

Here is the mash, completely dried after 5 hours in the sun. Notice how it has changed color and appears cracked.

Step 5 – If your mash has the feel of dry cereal or bark, you’re all done! You can use your hands or rubber spatula to remove it from the foil. Store it in a cool, dry place. I like to keep mine in a plastic zipper bag with one of those desiccant packets you find in shoe boxes or pill bottles.

Here is the final product! You can try to keep it in larger sheets like this, or allow it to crumble. The result depends on the amount of binder and how thickly you spread the layer on the aluminum foil.

Bonus Step 6

If you want a finer consistency for the end product, begin by following the steps above. When your mash is completely dry, grind it in the coffee or spice grinder that you used to make powdered eggshells. This will result in a very fine, powdery substance that you can rehydrate and dry a second time in the sun. Below is the result of following these extra steps:

Here is the finer grain mixture with a little water added. Allow it to dry in the sun the following day.
Here is the final product of re-grinding the food to make a finer product. It came out a bit powdery, which would be good for fry or small invertebrates. I think next time I’ll use less water and add a bit more binder.

But Will They Eat It?

That’s it! Now it’s time to feed your pets. Start off with a small amount to see if they like it or not. My snails and shrimp took to it right away. Below are my results. Even my White Cloud Minnows and Mickey Mouse Platys seemed to like nibbling on it.

What did you put in your homemade invertebrate food? Please let me know if this recipe worked for you.

Here is what my pets think of my homemade food:

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Thanks to Mark from Mark’s Shrimp Tanks for first inspiring me to try creating my own invertebrate food. Check out his YouTube channel for other great tips and tricks.

**Update (8/8/17) added 1/8 teaspoon of corn starch to ingredients list

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