When you set up a compost bin and start filling it, you will see the mass of compost gradually build up. It will change in structure and appearance. When you look closely, you may see movement on the surface and you may wonder: should there be bugs in my compost bin?
Yes, there should be bugs in your compost bin. You need all the bugs that the entire universe can spare, in your compost bin. It’s the bugs in compost that turn every spec of green waste in your compost bin into compost. Without bugs it would be difficult to see how compost could happen.
When we talk about bugs in a compost bin, we’re generally referring to every tiny creature that moves in the compost. That being the reference, some will tell you that there are good bugs and bad bugs.
This is true. There are bugs that are of use in compost. They help to take the decomposition process in the direction that we want. Conversely there are bugs that are only interested in eating the bugs that we want on our side.
Is this conflict a problem? No. Nature strikes a balance. There can be all the turmoil that nature can possibly instigate in a compost bin and there will be enough desired forces left for compost to be made from organic waste.
What kind of bugs live in compost?
Here, we could argue about, what some of us call a ‘bug’. Depending on where you are in the world, ’bugs’ will either mean microbial life-forms that operate as single-celled bacteria that multiply where conditions allow or every creeping creature that you find in the compost bin of which there’s a list. Here are some:
- Woodlouse (aka potato bug, roly-poly, sow-pigs and pillbugs)
There should be bugs in your compost. It’s very unlikely that there will ever be a compost bin, pile or heap that hasn’t got any bugs of any type in it. If you are trying to locate signs of life in your compost, you will probably see something move on or just below the surface. The worms will be beneath the surface and mostly out of sight.
Looking at bugs in the compost bin
If your compost is generating heat, the crawling bugs will migrate to areas around the peripheries where the temperature is low enough for them. They will move into the remaining areas as and when the temperature drops.
Should there be grubs in my compost?
Grubs are the larvae of beetles and flies. If you have a compost bin, it’s quite likely that there will be grubs in there somewhere, they are unavoidable. Grubs won’t be a problem for your compost. They will feed from the variety of material that only compost can provide. In that role they will be as useful as all the other bugs in the decomposing mass.
The thing about grubs is, they can be a problem if they are allowed to have too much freedom elsewhere in the garden. Grubs are usually found in the ground and they have a habit of feeding on the roots of all the plants that we want to cultivate and protect.
So, in the event of actually finding a grub in your compost, you may want to consider getting rid of it. If it’s allowed to ‘hatch’ out into an adult beetle, it will multiply. Then it will produce more eggs that will become larvae, grubs. These could quite easily start attacking the roots of your lawn or other ‘prized’ plants
Does compost attract flies?
When you consider the variety of food-waste materials that go into your compost bin, you will appreciate that there will always be something among it that will attract flies. The only way that you can stop them is to provide a sealed barrier. A tight fitting lid will work but obtaining such a tight fit is almost impossible.
It isn’t practical to try to keep them out, they will get in. So, how do we stop flies in and around the compost bin?
When you see flies around the compost, look closely at the compost in the bin. You will usually notice that the compost is wet and there will probably be a bad smell. This is just what flies like. The more it stinks, the more they like it and the wet conditions are ideal for them to lay their eggs. The larvae grubs from the eggs thrive really well in wet, smelly compost. Then the flies emerge from the larvae grubs and the cycle carries on and on.
You can stop this from happening. Add some dry material to the wet compost. The surplus moisture will be absorbed into the dry material. Use newspaper, cardboard, dry grass or straw. This will all rot down together to make a better quality compost.
It will also make a less attractive habitat for flies. They will be less likely to want to lay their eggs in a compost bin where the contents are moist but not wet. Adding dry material to reduce the moisture in compost will also reduce any smell.
You need bugs in your compost bin
How do I get rid of bugs in my compost bin?
Most of the time, people aren’t bothered by bugs in their compost but there are bugs that become a complete menace. These are the flying varieties. These can make the chore of going to the compost bin with a regular delivery of organic waste, a bit of a struggle.
When there are clouds of flying insects around a compost bin, this means that the conditions in the bin have been perfect for them to go through their larvae stage. You won’t know that this is happening until it’s too late and they have hatched out.
This wouldn’t be a problem if they were to hatch out and go elsewhere but they don’t. They stick around because they have plans to lay more eggs in the compost that they have hatched from, ensuring that the irritation continues.
There is an ingredient that will deter flies from wanting to colonise the compost with larvae and that’s hydrated white lime. This will have the effect of neutralising the acids in compost. It will make a big difference to wet compost. If you don’t have enough dry material available, sprinkle a liberal covering of white lime over the surface of the compost.
This will deter the flies from wanting to lay more eggs and it will accelerate the decomposition of fresh waste, turning the waste into compost a little sooner. If there is no fresh waste sitting around on the surface of the compost, then, there won’t be anything to attract the flies.
Is it OK to have maggots in my compost?
Maggots are one of the grub varieties that will turn up in your compost. It’s these that will emerge as flies when they reach maturity. They will be there because you have added a particular type of fresh kitchen waste that’s highly attractive to the particular flies that feed from that waste.
Having maggots in your compost is not a problem for the composting process. They aren’t a pretty sight but they do break down rotting waste and convert it into material that moves it along to eventually become compost.
While it may be considered to be OK to have maggots in your compost, on balance it’s something that you should try to avoid. In the same way that we can reduce the instances of any nuisance flying-bugs by applying hydrated white lime, we can do the same to specifically prevent maggots from getting a foot-hold.
If you know that you will be loading fresh kitchen waste into the compost bin that’s very likely to attract flies, it would be wise to cover this portion with white lime. Treat it as a special case. The lime will make the food unattractive to flies. Done properly, this is a neat trick that will save you having to witness that awful sight of seething maggots.
How long do maggots live for?
A maggot will live for about 1 week as a maggot before it opens out into a fly. Then the flies set about laying more eggs. These take 2 or 3 days to become maggots. The cycle will happen at its fastest in warmer climates or generally, in warm weather. Cold weather will slow the cycle-time but it won’t affect the eventual outcome.
Can I put caterpillars in compost?
You can put caterpillars in the compost. It will do no harm to the compost. The question has to be why put them in the compost? If the plan is to pick caterpillars from plants that are infested with them and then dispose of them by putting them in the compost bin, just remember these are living creatures. They won’t turn into compost.
If they don’t like where you’ve put them, and they probably won’t, they will find the quickest way out of there. If the compost bin is far enough away from the plants that you want to protect, logic suggests that it will take a while for a caterpillar to find its way back to where it came from.
The journey would be fraught with danger, it could easily be consumed along the way. There is always the chance that it finds something to eat in the compost and complete its life cycle to maturity.
How did worms get in my compost bin?
If you have set up your compost bin on bare ground, away from concrete or stone covered ground, you can expect to see worms in the compost. Worms live below ground level most of the time. They tend to come up to the surface at night when there are fewer predators around.
When on the surface, worms will explore. They often take up residence underneath heaps of rotting leaves or any other rotting vegetation. Worms are easily attracted by the juices that drain down into the soil from rotting vegetation. They just follow their noses.
Your compost bin will be releasing some leached juices into the ground in the same way as a rotting heap of leaves. This will inevitably attract the worms. They will migrate from the ground into the compost bin and take up permanent residence in the developing compost.
The worms that you see in a compost bin won’t be earthworms. They aren’t interested in rotting organic material. The rotting material in a compost bin will attract red worms. They have other names which may be more familiar, depending on where you are. These include brandling worms, panfish
worms, trout worms, red wriggler worms, red Californian earthworms and tiger worms. These bread very quickly in favourable conditions.
Having a strong population of worms in your compost bin is a good sign. It shows that you have a good balance of materials making up your compost.
Why are there no worms in my compost bin?
When you lift the lid on a compost bin and see no worms, it may be that they are there but hiding deep down in the mass of compost. One way that you can test to see if there are any worms deep down in your compost, is to bump the compost bin.
This will send a shock-wave through the compost that will disturb all the worms. They will all start moving around and if you listen very closely, you will hear the squelching noise that they make when they all move at once. Don’t make a habit of doing this too often. It’s a good way of finding out what’s there but it could also be a good way of driving them away.
If you don’t hear anything and there are no signs of worm-life, it could mean that there aren’t any because they’ve all gone.
There could be any number of reasons why this happens. Worms can be very forgiving. They can tolerate varying conditions but they do have their limits.
A compost bin with no worms in it could be put down to very cold weather. Worms will move to the middle of the mass of compost when the air temperature drops below freezing. They rely on the outer part of the compost to provide insulation.
If the mass isn’t enough to provide sufficient insulation and it becomes frozen to the core, the worms will have nowhere left to go to escape the cold temperature. If this happens, they will probably die. Worms may return but these will be a new influx that will have to migrate in from elsewhere.
On the other hand, there may be no worms because the compost is to hot. The contents of a compost bin can become so hot that steam can be seen rising from it. This will only last for a short while. When the flush of energy, that generates heat, has ended, the temperature will drop and worms will return.
There may be no worms because the compost is too dry. This can happen if no moisture is added to the compost in any way at all. Most of the moisture that turns up in a compost bin is from the damp kitchen waste that we regularly add. This is usually enough to provide enough moisture, not only for the worms but for the organic waste to convert into compost.
There will be no worms if your compost is too wet. If your compost bin is a large bucket with a sealed bottom, excess liquid will build up. Worms won’t drown in wet compost, they will escape and be gone. For organic waste to convert to compost, the composting mass needs to be free-draining. This will allow air to be drawn into the mass. Worms only need some moisture to be able to function, they don’t need to be swimming in water.