There are a variety of methods for culturing springtails with the oldest methodology being charcoal culturing, a newer method being on clay ( Calcium Clay has been commonly used but is not necessary ), and the newest methodology using other materials such as soil ( such as Flake Soil ) and Felt.
Here are the basic steps to culture springtails:
Remember to maintain the culture by regularly adding food and water, and keep an eye out for any signs of pests such as mites and maggots, which can harm the springtails. With proper care, your springtail culture can provide a nutritious and sustainable food source for your pets.
Charcoal culturing is one of the oldest methods in the hobby but really only works well for "temperate" and "tropical" springtails. You can use lump charcoal from just about any grocery store (not briquettes!). Soak it in water overnight, then put into your desired container and add food and springtails. These cultures are simple and effective. Do not flood the cultures as this flooded area cannot be used by the springtails.
Hobbyists first started culturing springtails on clay in Europe, with clay culturing later catching on in the US. Calcium Clay recipes meant to increase calcium uptake by Oophaga frogs were later repurposed for springtail culturing. We have now found that springtails thrive on almost any clay recipe and that excess calcium in some recipes can actually inhibit colony growth. The added calcium has no percievable benefit for the springtails themselves.
Start with a commercially available clay or make your own using what is available to you. Mix powdered clay with water until it is a thick peanut butter consistency. Spread in over the entirety of the container. The thicker the clay is, the slower it will dry out, but this is the only benefit of using more clay. Ensure it is not "sticky" to the touch or the springtails may not be able to walk on it, especially larger species. The more surface area you have, the larger of a colony the container can support. Do not let the clay dry out as it can shrink and crack.
Soil cultures can be difficult to harvest from (use the yeast on a leaf method), but otherwise are relatively stable and will often allow for the growth of fungi, which will act as an additional food source for the springtails. Some species can only be grown on this medium due to the live food provided via fungal growth and the variable moisture levels provided by the soil strata. It is important to sterilize your substrate before using it and to use a substrate with a relatively neutral PH and high in organics (such as flake soil). ABG substrate can be used, but so can home recipes with soil free of fertilizers and salts.
Naturally springtails are very abundant in leaf mold, which is just essentially many layers of leaves that naturally compost via fungi and bacteria over time. You can simulate this artificially by boiling leaves, straining them until their surface is dry to the touch (but they are still hydrated), layering them in a container about 1-2" deep, and seeding with springtails. The leaves will naturally grow fungi that the springtails can eat, providing a self-sustaining food source for your colony.
Many species that can be cultured on clay or charcoal can additionally be cultured on novel mediums such as felt (real wool or synthetic), which will easily soak up water and remain moist, or turface/calcined clay/crushed terra cotta. These materials will provide a moist and porous laying surface for culturing most common species of springtails successfully.
A variety of food can be used to feed springtails. The most nutritious foods are live fungi (mushrooms or just the mycelium such as in our springtail snacks). Live fungi also includes live yeast, such as that used for baking which is easily found in the grocery story---just sprinkle and spray with water to activate. You can even use spent mushroom blocks (fruit one of our mushroom kits at home, then feed the kit to your springtails once you're done using it!).
You can also use:
Fish Flakes/Dog Food (but be careful of mites with these!)