When composting, it is not unusual to see bugs and worms in the decomposing organic materials. These teeny-tiny, creepy-crawly creatures all play a role in the making of soil-enriching and plant-nourishing compost. The worms and other invertebrates like nematodes and sowbugs together with microorganisms eat the organic residues, they are called the primary consumers. Bugs that eat the primary consumers like the feather-winged beetles and springtails are called the secondary consumers. And bugs that eat the secondary consumers like centipedes and predatory mites are called the tertiary consumers. You can learn more about the science behind your compost pile and know about the common critters in your compost in this article.
What you don’t want to have in your compost pile – the ones that are truly considered pests are rodents and unwanted insects like fruit flies and cockroaches.
Keep Pests Off Your Compost
Rodents and insects like fruit flies are natural and essential members of ecosystems so they almost always find their way to compost piles or bins. To keep them off and prevent them from causing damage and disruption in your compost, you can do the following:
1. Keep the pile/bin from smelling
Odors attract unwanted pests so making the pile virtually odorless will make it unattractive to them. Maintain the ideal 20:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen materials to keep the pile from emitting a foul odor. Carbon materials, also known as brown materials, are generally dried materials like dried leaves, straw and shredded branches. Nitrogen materials are also known as green materials and examples are kitchen wastes and grass clippings. For lists of organic greens and browns you can compost, click here.
2. Turn the pile
Turning the pile once a week improves air circulation and aeration as well as stimulates microorganism activity. Another benefit to regularly turning your compost pile is it destroys bug nests and prevents unwanted bugs from settling in. When you turn the compost, put the fresh organic materials in the middle, burying them and keeping them out of reach of pests.
3. Maintain ideal heat and moisture
The ideal temperature of a compost pile is 140-160°F (60-71°C). This temperature can destroy weed seeds, disease-causing organisms and keep bugs from nesting and reproducing. A compost pile with 3 cubic feet dimension can reach the ideal temperature. Anything smaller will not heat up enough.
4. Use pest proof composting systems
Commercially sold composting bins are pest-proof so rodents and most unwanted insects cannot get into the scraps. You can also make your own enclosed composting bin using a barrel or garbage can. Make sure you provide ventilation by drilling holes. But because immature bugs can easily slip through crevices and bugs, some pest infiltration may still occur.
5. Try a different way to compost
There are other composting methods you can try which may minimize pest problems. One method you can try is vermicomposting. This method uses worms to decompose the organic materials inside a closed bin or system. The enclosure keeps pesky pests from getting into the organic materials. Another method is called soil incorporation where you simply dig a hole (about 1-2 feet) and burying the food waste in it. The animals won’t be able to get into the scraps, but the worms, microorganisms and other decomposers will.
Image Courtesy: University of Salford