too many bugs in compost?

mamabearnjApril 4, 2011

I began composting as a more earth-friendly way of getting rid of garbage, rather than primarily to get finished compost. I'm not much of a gardener, and my yard is too small for much gardening, but I didn't want to send lots of good soil nutrients to the landfill in plastic bags. So I have this big plastic composter in the back of the yard (the kind that's open on the bottom) and I toss in fruit peels, vegetable peels, used paper towels, shredded flour bags, and the odd bit of yard waste (not much yard waste because there's not much yard, you see). Now I have what I guess is compost at the bottom -- blackish muck -- but I'm a bit worried about how many bugs are in there, and what if some of them are termites? Is there some danger of getting an infestation in my house from the composter? How can I reduce the bugginess of the composter, when I don't have much yard waste to generate "browns"? (I don't have access to sawdust, either.)

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You've learned that too much meat and not enough potatoes is ruining the meal. You are contributing too much of one thing and not enough of material that will balance the ratio.
Greens and browns, browns and greens, organic and inorganic.
You don't have a large compost maker so you have to more carefully select the material going in and when you have too much of one, then use a bag==a garbage bag will do, put the extra in there, add what you can so you don't overfill, and then add from the bag when you can.

When things compost down, they use nitrogen and can deplete the amount of nitrogen going in. So its a good idea to add what nitrogen you can by simply taking a handful from the lawn fertilizer and sprinkle over the bin.
Then water--rather sprinkle to dampen and not wet the contents. The granules will break down and do its thing for the pile. But you have to try to add greens--which add their own nitrogen to the pile. You cant make a omelet without breaking eggs....and you cant make a worthwhile compost without giving the pile what brings that about.
As far as the bugs, they are attracted, of course, to the rotting garbage where they not only eat, but make nests in, bring up their young and give you fits.

There is no point in spraying something to kill the bugs, you'd be killing the bacteria that makes the compost.
Any bug will contribute to the breakdown and as long as they don't make themselves a pest, you can either, pick them out and squish them between thumb and forefinger, or leave them alone, let them do their dirty work.

Newspaper: makes a fine addition to a compost pile. Tear them into thin strips and add. Don't, however, use the shiny ad section--they contain chemicals that makes the paper not break down as easily.
What clippings you can add, kitchen scraps, salad leavings, filters from your coffee making and the filters from your dryer, the fluff from your vacuum, the hair of the dog....and anything else you can think of.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 2:46PM
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lisascenic Urban Gardener, Oakland CA

I think that bugs are a sign of a healthy compost pile!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 11:29AM
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madmagic(dtown Toronto)

Flame thrower.

Better yet, take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

All the best,

Here is a link that might be useful: source

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 12:17PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Bugs are absolutely the sign of a healthy compost pile!! You should have cockroaches, flies, fly maggots, ants, fruit flies, and fungus flies as a minimum.

Black muck is not; however, a sign of healthy compost. Do you have any drainage holes to let the moisture out? My compost pile sits on the ground so my problem is not enough moisture.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 9:16PM
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The bacteria that digest the material you put into the composter utilize Nitrogen for the energy they need to digest the carbons that are there and when those bacteria then dioe the Nitrogen is put back into the compost to be utilized by other bacteria to feed your plants.
The presence of many insects in your compost probably is not a good thing, maggots, cockroaches, flies etc. all indicate a compost that is too wet to properly compost because they all need a fairly moist environment for the eggs they lay to hatch and the larva to grow to adult size.
Termites might be present, although those in the colder areas of the country usually do not eat wet cellulose.
The black muck indicates the compost has been kept too wet and it probably has a putrid odor as well. Good compost will be just barely moist, crumbly, and have a pleasant odor of good, rich earth.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 6:30AM
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The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener is one of the best resources. A Compost bin is like a warehouse where everyone has a job to do. Compost critters- sow bugs, centipedes, occasionally soldier fly larvae if you have too much nitrogen, earth worms and the fungi and microbes. But never rodents, cockroaches, and other pests.
When building the pile, keep the goal of good aeration and hygiene in mind. The bottom part acts as drainage, aeration and sift so need coarses material and about 12-15 inch thick because you 'll eventually compact it down, the sides as wall and insulation so you'll need the finer material such as shredded leaves and grass clippings for layering above the coarser base, and top with shredded leaves for more insulation and barrier. Each time you add your kitchen scraps + water, buried them within the top layer of leaf/grass clipping mixture and recover with the top leaf layers. I just go counter-clockwise and things decompose very quickly, my pile stays about 120 deg. It's like a bottomless garbage eating machine. No smell no pests. It's awesome!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 10:23AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

The bugs are okay, but the muck isn't. The primary source of browns in my pile is shredded junk mail.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 4:49PM
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Do you have access to shredded office paper? That would work well to provide 'browns' in your compost. Otherwise you can shred (machine or by hand) uncolored newspaper.

The blackish muck you have at the bottom of your composter indicates you have used excessive greens. When I used to compost without even attempting a balance of 'greens' and 'browns' I had the same. Nothing wrong with the black muck (except it might be anaerobic and smelly), you can improve your garden soil by mixing it in, but to have really nice 'fluffy' compost you need a balance.

Don't be concerned about bugs getting into your house from the compost.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 6:00PM
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perlite(z6, southern IN)

I'm having the same problem. Have been using my composter for about 3 years without problems and in this overly wet and cool spring (which seems today to have suddenly become summer), I find the rollbug (call them pillbugs, sowbugs, rolypolys etc) population has exploded to the point that is obviously completely unbalanced. My previous problem has been that I kept the compost too dry (the design has slits on the sides for air, but no allowance for rain to come into the top and I must water it). I am almost seeing more bugs than compost. Actually I like the quality of the compost itself for the first time. These little guys are doing a great job of that. However, I am not willing to put compost that's full of them onto my seedlings in the garden. They love little tender seedlings too. Bugs are necessary in my compost, but this overpopulation is not a good thing. Any idea what would encourage fewer of them? Maybe it's just not hot enough in there. Thanks...

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 2:45PM
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haname(z9 AZ NE Phoenix)

Perlite, let your compost cure and dry out. I usually screen mine and put it in an open, ventilated tub to dry, then use it later. The larger or unfinished pieces go back into the compost pile. The woodlice :) will leave and you will have easy to manage compost.


"what if some of them are termites?"

Termites are not attracted to compost. They like big pieces of dead wood.

"Is there some danger of getting an infestation in my house from the composter?"

Probably not, but if it is attracting cockroaches and they're infesting the compost, that's not a good thing. You don't want to feed and breed cockroaches in your neighborhood even if it's outside.

"How can I reduce the bugginess of the composter, when I don't have much yard waste to generate "browns"? (I don't have access to sawdust, either.)"

What kinds of bugs have you seen? What does it smell like when you open your compost bin?

If you have a shredder and get the newspaper you can mix 5 parts of shredded newspaper with 1 part (by volume) of your kitchen waste, then toss that in the composter. If you get bad odors, then make it 5 parts paper for every one part of waste. I don't get a newspaper but have a neighbor who does, who gives it to me when she's finished with it. If you don't have that option, you could ask for paper bags at the grocery store and shred them up to add browns to your compost. A paper shredder is great for this. :)

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 9:36PM
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OMG, me too! I just posted on the "Ants" thread, but we've got roaches too - yuck! New bin 2 months old filled with stuff from our old open pile, I've never seen ants or roaches in our compost b4, even when we had a bin at the old house. I'm wondering exact opposite - too many browns? Not enough air (sides vented, but DH packed the leaves in!)? No turning (though I wouldn't think 2 months would need it). Not wet enough? We don't wet the pile, the sides are vented on this bin, our old one (left behind when we moved) was only vented top and bottom, sides were solid. We've had a lot of rain the past 2 months and just this past week a lot of heat.

Any ideas for getting rid of the roaches (I'm not too thrilled about egg-carrying ants this close to the house either)?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 4:30PM
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Hmm, just googled images and they don't quite look like these bugs - light brown, oval, about 2" long but I didn't notice antennae. Moved too quickly to count the legs. Still creepy, I don't want them in my house, but not quite sure what they are? Ants and eggs within 50ft of my house not a good thing either.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 5:01PM
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haname(z9 AZ NE Phoenix)

The link below gives instructions for an option for composting kitchen waste. I think this is especially good for someone who isn't really interested in using the compost.

Here is a link that might be useful: In-ground composter

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 7:10PM
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Pile seemed dry and held its shape when I lifted the bin off - I think it was stuffed with too many browns. But DH pointed out that we never had bugs (well, I'm sure some but not roaches, or as many ants) when we just had kitchen scraps and yard waste. Last week I threw the paper from the bottom of the parrot cage in , complete with cornmeal (and other) pellets she hadn't eaten. That's what appears to have attracted the pests.

I pulled the paper out tonight and threw it in the garbage (pickup tomorrow). Think the ants and roaches will leave? Still some uncomposted banana and orange peels in there. I left the bin off. Rain tomorrow - help or make it worse?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 8:33PM
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haname(z9 AZ NE Phoenix)

Rain will help. Ants are more likely to try to nest in a dry pile.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 9:00PM
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Thanks - I think after the rain is over on Thursday we'll move the bin and reassemble the contents, trying to mix greens and browns more evenly. We've also never thrown any soil in the cold pile, may help to add a few layers.

Guess the rain couldn't get in the new plastic bin (though it couldn't at the old house either, at least the old house it didn't evaporate). Wet coffee grounds every AM must not have been enough. Maybe we should go back to the open pile.


    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 9:54PM
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Ok Thank You everyone! Conclusion: I have an army of Sowbugs because my compost bin is cold, too wet and not enough "brown". Even though, fairly covered from all the rain we've had, still too wet and not hot enough. Going to add shredded newspaper but how does the compost bin become "HOT"? With time or is it an issue of being unbalanced? I do have a lot of cow manure in it.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 6:09PM
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