Ants in Compost

tenderkat(Z4/5 - 6500 ft)May 23, 2008

Hello..........Last year I acquired a nice compost bin, which I immediately started loading up. I was pretty lazy about the whole thing, so I really never turned it or watered it. At the end of the season, when it was full, I went to empty it and realized the entire thing was infested with ants. I ended up throwing it all away, after carefully removing/relocating as many earthworms as possible. I just wasn't quite sure if I could spread this compost full of ants (big red and black ones) around my plants. Would it have been a problem? I'm sure they wiil come again this year. Is there anyway to prevent this? Or if they do get in there, should I just leave them alone and use the compost anyway? Any suggestions/thoughts would be greatly appreciated. It would just kill me to have to trash another bin of compost.

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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Oh I am so distraught to hear that you tossed an entire bin of compost! How Sad!

One way to keep ants out is to keep it moist and mixed... but another thing you can do, if insects have overtaken a bin... is to spread the compost out. I had a huge pill bug/silverfish infestation a couple years ago, that was grossing me out. I didn't want to spread the compost because the bugs were creeping me.

I laid a tarp down next to my bin and then spread the contents of the bin out on the tarp. This then exposed all the bugs to light and air and dried out the pile. I left it spread out for a day or two and the critters (who prefer dark, moist areas) scrammed to someplace else. Then I was able to use the compost, without being grossed out by the creepy crawlies in the pile.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2008 at 4:43PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Would it have been a problem? I'm sure they wiil come again this year. Is there anyway to prevent this? Or if they do get in there, should I just leave them alone and use the compost anyway?

It wouldn't have been a problem. If you had used it the ants would have just moved on once it was spread.

To prevent, as joe said, keep it moist and turned and if they do return then yes, just leave them alone and use it anyway. If you keep it moist they likely won't remian anyway. Most ants are neutral garden venturers - they do little if any harm (fire ants being the exception) but can be quite beneficial to the whole organic decomposition process.

Bugs and composting go hand-in-hand. ;)


    Bookmark   May 23, 2008 at 6:06PM
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No matter how many ants you see congregating in one place they will all go back to the nest eventually and that is where they gather, so unless you also saw a lot of larva and one really big ant (the queen), indicating a nest, when you spread the compost around those ants would have left. Even if what you had was a nest, because that compost was a nice, dry environment, those ants would have moved the whole nest when the compost was spread because that would not have been a good place for the nest to be, where you spread the compost.
Ants will not invade, will not set up housekeeping, in a properly built compost pile, because that material would be just too damp a place for them. Ants like a dry nesting site, so just be sure this year to moisten the materials you put inot the compost pile, just enough and not so wet that no air (essential) can get into the mixture.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2008 at 7:12AM
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lisascenic Urban Gardener, Oakland CA

Here in (dry, dry, dry) Northern California, our ants like moisture.

My nicely moist compost heap is swarming with tiny little ants. If I were freaked out by insects this would be a total nightmare.

I'm telling myself that the ants are helping to break down the orgainic materials, and that there's not a heck of a lot I can do about them, short of chemical warfare.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 5:09PM
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Ants, like most other insects, prefer a slightly moist, but not a wet environment. They will not nest someplace that is too wet (ever see an ant in a bog?) nor will they nest where it is too dry.
If ants are nesting someplace in your yard where you do not want them soaking the area around the nest will drive them away.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 7:28AM
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I don't know what kind of bin you have, but I found that lifting my bin prevented the ants from coming back. The pile would heat, or I would soak the area, and the ants would leave, but they would return in the next day or two. Once I lifted my bin by placing it on cinderblocks, they stopped coming back. This may or may not help you. If you are able to lift it, some people believe that you'll also reduce the leeching of nutrients into the soil.

I believe that ants are certainly neutral, but I don't believe that they're actually helping the decomp process, at least as it pertains to my composting goals. If anything, they're stealing my material! ;-) (But my primary reason for discouraging them is that I want to avoid them getting any ideas of nesting in the bin.)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 9:42AM
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You said the ants you saw were (big red and black ones) If that's the case they may have been fire ants. These like other ants aren't a direct problem to you compost but fire ants and earth worms don't get along so the more fire ants you have the less earthworms. Which we all know we do want worms in our compost. I've been told that cinnamon will keep them away. Most get it from sort of oriental type store or section of your typical store they say it's much cheaper there. I have yet to experiance fire ants. If they are just your typical ant then I'm sure they don't do any harm being in there. They are just digging tunnels and breaking up matterial.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 3:46PM
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Since the OP is in zone 4/5 (mountain foothills), fire ants are not very likely.

As far as worms in the compost, I never have worms in my compost because I hot compost.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 4:26PM
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A friend did me a HUGE favor last week..
I had mentioned I was now seeing a huge mess of Fire Ants in my compost pile.
He was so proud of himslf, he poured Amdro Ant killer in the pile......... !

Is this going to be ok??
Or are we now going to have to start all over again?

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 5:23AM
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Don't use poisons! One station outside my bin fixed my problems. See my other post on this topic.

Here is a link that might be useful: Do My Own Pest Control

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 10:23PM
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>> he poured Amdro Ant killer in the pile.
>> Is this going to be ok??

That is a very loaded question. The drug is toxic to fish, ants and roaches. With the chemical industry's record of poisoning the environment, organic freaks like me are going to go nuts and say you've doomed us all! Get ready for some heavy comments, but it's not that bad.

Fortunately, it has a half-life of 1 hour in water. In soil it can hang around for years but in soil under sunlight it has a half life of about 5 days. It doesn't seem to,hurt mammals and rodents.

Sunshine cures all sorts of problems!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 11:03PM
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PS: Ants can often be controlled by interrupting their chemical trails. When we get ants in the house, it's not because they live in the house but it's because they're coming in from the outside. Find the little marching column and erase a chunk of it with some ammonia (some say with vinegar) and then a hose.

That can be effective without using any harsher poison. Since ants OWN the ground, it may be they're not really nested in the compost (just partying there), so confusion may be a good and easy remedy..

This post was edited by cold_weather_is_evil on Sun, Mar 30, 14 at 23:28

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 11:10PM
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Interesting, I've never lived where there weren't fire ants, so to hear that some parts of the country might not have them -- that's amazing :-)

But yes, sorry to hear you tossed the entire compost bin. The ants would have moved away if you had altered the compost bin a bit.

I also have my bin on top of half pallet of wood. I figure these pallets are easy to get so may as well use it this way and can be easily replaced if needed.

I've had maggots that died in my bin because I accidentally put some meat product in there (with some other veggie wastes) and then a cold front came through and killed the maggots. It did look gross when they were all squirming around but now they are part of my compost.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 11:13AM
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