Do you suddenly see tiny flies and worms all over your compost?
Yes, those are maggots, but don’t freak out! Typically these wiggly creatures usually cause us to shriek or turn away in disgust. But here’s why it can be a good thing to find maggots in compost — and how to get rid of them if you decide they’re not.
Put simply, maggots are able to break down food waste in a compost pile, making it decompose even faster. Despite the fact that you are dealing with garbage and creepy crawlers, there’s still a certain beauty to composting.
Let’s explore why legless larvae tend to show up in your compost bin, and why you might want to overcome your fears and keep them around.
- What Happened When I Found Maggots In My Compost
- What Are Maggots Anyway?
- What To Do If You Find Maggots In Your Compost
- Public Goods and Composting: Our Mission to Reduce Waste
- How to Give Your Compost a Boost—with Maggots
- How to get rid of maggots & flies in compost?
- A HOT HOTBIN will prevent and/or kill maggots and flies
- Interesting Point
- How To Attract Them
- Black Soldier Flies Nutritional Benefits
- Worm Bin Owners & Black Soldier Flies Don’t Mix
- Composting Bin:
- Big maggots in your compost? They’re soldier fly larvae
- Pests In Vermicompost: What To Do For Vermicompost With Maggots
- Maggots in Vermicompost
- How to Get Rid of Maggots in Vermicompost
- Worms in compost good or bad?
- Do you have to use worms in compost?
- Earth worms in compost good or bad?
- Worms in a compost tumbler
- Can you put worms in a compost tumbler?
- Worms in a compost pile
- Can you put worms in a compost bin?
- Worms dying in a compost bin
- Where do worms in compost come from?
- Worms escaping compost bin
- Are maggots in compost good or bad?
- Worms flies compost
- How do I get rid of maggots in my compost bin?
- Can worms live in hot compost?
- How to keep worms in a compost bin
- Does citrus kill worms in composting?
- Worms compost leaves
- Types of worms in compost
- Life cycle of worms in compost
- Worms compost winter
- What what are worm castings
- Worm farm
- Slow worms in a compost bin
- The Culprit: Black Soldier Fly Larvae
- Solutions for Maggots in Your Compost
- Don’t destroy grub worms in compost
- White Grubs
- So… What’s a White Grub?
- Reproduction Patterns of White Grubs
- White Grub Habitat
- Symptoms of White Grub Damage
- Results of a White Grub Infestation
- How to Test for White Grubs
- Why Are White Grubs in my Front Lawn, but Not in My Back Lawn?
What Happened When I Found Maggots In My Compost
I started composting six years ago because I found it is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce waste. The results are beneficial to my gardening hobby, making it a win-win.
I picked a tumbler-style compost bin that was elevated above the ground and could be spun manually to aerate it. I enjoyed the process of tossing in my fruit and vegetable scraps and yard clippings, watching as, over time, it turned into a nutrient-rich, dense soil that I could use for gardening and growing more produce.
One day, during a particularly busy season, I took some scraps out to feed the compost. A large fly was hovering over the compost pile, buzzing in my face. I swatted it away and opened the bin to find little beige and white worms crawling all over my precious compost. I immediately panicked and slammed the little door to the bin shut.
Maggots are notorious for being disgusting little creatures, showing up in the most unsanitary conditions and feeding on rotting food and flesh, and now my beautiful compost pile was suddenly ruined with the ugliness of these critters.
I asked myself, how did they get here, and how do I get rid of them? I had a fear they would climb out of the compost bin and start chewing on me. The thought made my skin crawl.
What Are Maggots Anyway?
Maggots are fly larvae, usually from the Black Soldier Fly. At first the soldier fly larvae are grayish-white in color and measure out to about one-inch long. With a tiny head and elongated conical body, these larvae slowly take on a brown color as they mature.
During adulthood, these soldier flies are about 5/8-inch long and sport clear streaks on the abdominal segment. The adults typically emerge, mate with one another, and ultimately perish all in the span of two days.
The female Black Soldier Fly typically seeks out nitrogen-rich materials, such as a compost pile, to feed and lay their eggs. There’s no need to fear these adult flies, even though they are often mistaken for wasps, because they do not bite or carry disease.
Essentially, maggots are born from eggs directly into food waste, especially in moist environments, and live their lives by feeding upon food scraps and manure in that waste. Additionally, you shouldn’t have any concerns about getting bit, as they only feed on things that are already dead.
These little guys eat and eat and eat, creating compost faster than you could imagine. There has been a video on YouTube for several years of a horde of maggots consuming an entire pizza in just a couple of hours. It turns out that maggots can play an important role in decomposition and recycling those nutrients back into the soil.
If you use a compost bin that is outdoors and away from the house, you shouldn’t really worry about having to get rid of them.
What To Do If You Find Maggots In Your Compost
If you happen to find maggots in your compost, first of all, don’t panic. Remember, they are harmless and actually quite helpful.
But if you’d like to eliminate maggots from your compost bins, here are some tips:
- Add more browns: Your compost should be a balance of wet and dry materials. Dry materials, also called browns, are things like dried leaves, grass, shredded paper and cardboard. Maggots need a moist environment to survive. Adding more browns would create a dryer environment.
- Cover holes with a screen to keep out flies: If flies cannot enter your compost to lay larvae eggs, you will never get maggots. To make sure you keep them out for good, try covering air holes with a mesh screen.
- Bury your food scraps: If you’re using a worm bin, which is a method that uses redworms to recycle food scraps and organic material to create vermicompost, bury the scraps six inches beneath the surface to preserve the waste for your worms.
Eventually, the maggots in your compost will die, and their bodies then decompose as well. Nonetheless, we should be thankful for all the work they do, and the thick, rich soil they leave behind.
Public Goods and Composting: Our Mission to Reduce Waste
At Public Goods we are on a mission to reduce waste. In an effort to learn more about how to incorporate compostable materials in our products and packaging, we took a tour of a composting facility. Here’s what we learned, and here’s everything you need to know about how to recycle, compost and dispose of Public Goods products and packaging.
Just getting started? Here are some ABC’s of composting to help you begin your journey in reducing waste.
How to Give Your Compost a Boost—with Maggots
August 7, 2015
The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple has a confession to make: There are maggots in her compost pile. Really big, fat ones, like she’s never seen before. A quick internet search helped her make an ID—they were black soldier fly larvae. And like any good citizen scientist, she posted a photo of the writhing mass to iSeeChange.org. It’s the online grassroots almanac where people can post their questions and observations about weather and climate. Because she’d never seen them before, Kara wanted to know if these black soldier flies might be a species that we could see more in the area because of global warming.
“That’s not unreasonable,” says Sandy Feather, a horticulture educator with Penn State Extension in Allegheny County. “But the winters have been bitter cold these last couple years. “They wouldn’t have survived those winter temperatures so they would have had to come back and repopulate.”
It turns out black soldier flies—and their larvae—are not native to our region. But they do make it up here from more southern climates when it’s warm and wet, often blowing into the area during heavy storms. They’re strongly attracted to organic matter, whether that’s animal manure or a compost pile. In fact, they used to be pretty common when we all used outhouses. Some farmers and gardeners even buy them because they’re such great decomposers.
One of their other benefits is that they discourage the egg laying of nuisance species like horse flies—possibly by eating their eggs. In addition, adult black soldier flies don’t bite, so they don’t transfer diseases.
“They’re really considered beneficial as far as manure management—particularly in confined animal-feeding operations,” Feather says.
Because they’re not likely to survive the winter in this region, home gardeners who grow fond of their decomposing skills might have a hard time keeping populations going from year to year. But Feather says gardeners could try transferring compost bins to indoor locations, like garages, in cooler months to help the bugs overwinter.
So how do you know if you have them in your compost bin? Sandy Feather says when the larvae first hatch, they’re creamy white. But as they start to feed and mature, they darken to a reddish-brown color.
“They’re kind of funky looking actually,” Feather say. “When they’re mature, they can be more than an inch long—maybe a little bit longer.
So what are you seeing out there? We want to know. All you have to do is go to iSeeChange.org and share your thoughts, photos or videos.
How to get rid of maggots & flies in compost?
A HOT HOTBIN will prevent and/or kill maggots and flies
The HOTBIN should not have any flies or maggots inside. 99% of customers state they are satisfied or very satisfied with how the HOTBIN reduces and prevents flies.
However, in certain circumstances flies and maggots can occur in the HOTBIN. Below we outline how this happens and more importantly how to get rid of them quickly and stop them reappearing.
House flies and fruit flies (aka vinegar flies – the tiny little ones) will eat food waste and lay eggs in ANY/ALL food waste or exposed compost. They can lay eggs in the waste anywhere from the kitchen, kitchen caddy / bags holding waste and possibly at any time when the lid is open or the door is not fastened tightly. Your HOTBIN has a tight fitting lid and door. Always ensure they are tightly closed. Flies are unlikely to enter when you are tipping in waste.
In a ‘cold’ normal compost bin, the eggs in the food hatch into maggots (you can see house fly maggots, but not fruit fly ones) and eventually a fly or in extreme cases a swarm of fruit flies exit when the compost bin lid is taken off.
In a correctly operated HOTBIN, once the heat gets above 40C, all creatures (except thermophilic bacteria) will die off. As soon as the temp rises above 30C, you start to see an exodus – some creatures (crawling ones) migrate down to base of bin, the rest try to escape up the walls towards the lid. As the lid is closed they are trapped. As soon as the HOTBIN starts to get above 40C they die off – within days at 40C, within minutes at 60C.
A HOT HOTBIN will prevent and/or kill maggots, flies and fruit flies.
Now here’s the tricky bit – when you start the HOTBIN it’s cold, it warms up to 20-30C. At 30C this is the perfect breeding temperature for flies. If your HOTBIN ‘sticks’ at this temperature and your waste had eggs laid in it before adding into the HOTBIN – you will get a fly problem.
You need to ensure the HOTBIN gets hot – once hot, within a few hours NO maggots or fly issues. If you have flies it is an absolute indicator you are not Hot Composting yet.
The basic control of flies in HOTBIN is down to two key items:
- They can’t get in and rarely will enter via the open lid if you are present
- If they have laid eggs on waste before it was added to the HOTBIN, as soon as the HOTBIN gets above 40C they will die and not hatch.
If you have flies it is an absolute indicator you are not HOT Composting yet.
How do I get rid of them?
Easy – Get the HOTBIN HOT and the next time you add waste, there will be no flies inside the HOTBIN.
Please re-check the ‘how do I get to 60C check list’
Please consider the following fast but very quick and effective cheats to get your HOTBIN to 60C:
- Adding a box of grass mowing and mix them into the waste already in the HOTBIN
- If no grass, add 2-3 cups of either chicken pellets or chicken poo
- Check excess water is not seeping from aeration/mesh in base – if it is, add half a bucket of cardboard pieces and half a bucket of wood chip (from black bag)
NOW Stand back and give it 72 hours – it should race ahead to 60C, and all flies will be composted in about 2 days time..
Please note: you might occasionally have flies hovering around the valve or crawling on the door hatch panel. We can’t stop this. There is always some residual odour around the valve, and often some old compost on the door. They normally give up and move on when they are unable to find the food source that generates the odour i.e. they cannot find the place to eat and lay eggs.
If they bother you and you are not adverse to using chemicals, then any of the fly/crawling insect sprays can spayed on the HOTBIN parts to keep them away – but outdoors this is a bit of a losing battle – it will wash off in the rain quickly. But do try to keep the area free of dropped food & compost.
If you are still “Struggling to get your HOTBIN hot” please check this post.
I am sure many of you have noticed when looking at your compost bins that there something new that maybe squirming in your compost and it’s most likely a Black Soldier Fly’s Lava. Actually, they’ve been around for ages. However, lately some of the attention they’ve been generating is quite new, especially with Garden enthusiastic.
If you’re someone who raises chickens or you’re known as a “Backyard chicken rancher” you already know and most likely are already benefiting from Black Soldier Flies. Black Soldier Flies are harmless to humans and pets, and helpful to the average organic gardener. I’ve taken some time to write about them here because most of your traditional gardening books lack basic information regarding them.
Black Soldier Fly Larva
Here’s a basic description of the BFS Larvae looks like. They’re natural color is very close to beige. They have dark color (brown) like rings around their bodies. The average size of the Larvae is approximately ¾ of a inch long, however, depending on what they are feeding on they may reach 1 inch length, as they are known to be very aggressive eaters, not uncommon for them to consume twice their body weight in a day. The Black Soldier Fly Larvae absolutely thrives in a damp environment. Together with decaying, nitrogen-rich organic matter only will only enhance the composting process. A warm environment will cause the BFS Larvae to be active within your compost. The BFS is so effective, you simply won’t notice pest like creatures, such as the common household fly or gnats in or around your Composting Bin. Did you know that BSF Larvae can be ground up and fed to earthworms or red worms for a second round or just used as compost. Their larva can be dried, is friable (edible), and is odorless.
Black Soldier Fly
You’ll find that the Black Soldier Flies are common in the USA, and basically part of a large fly family or the Stratiomyidae family. Look at that lovely insect to the right. Doesn’t it resemble a small wasp with pretty black and white legs? It’s actually a Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens.) Black Soldier Flies have made themselves quite at home in many a suburban compost, whether the compost bin’s owner is aware of it or not. You’ll find that the internet has generated quite a abuzz with ongoing discussions of “BSF” (black soldier fly) and the usages of their Larvae. Yet Soldier flies aren’t well known. That, no doubt, is because they lack the kind of annoying behaviors that make “housefly” and “mosquito” household words. You find many people who raise chickens, welcome Black Soldier Flies up to the point of even buying special growing chambers for these tiny creators. If you’re a Gardner, like myself you should be welcoming them as they have so many beneficial qualities.
This might be a good time to mention the BFS cousin i.e., the Yellow Soldier Flies. Its scientific name is “Genus Ptecticus” and the Yellow Soldier Flies are also common in North America. Even though they are smaller in size when compared to the BSF, they have a golden thorax, tan wings, hazel colored eyes, and short yellow antennae. The adult flies are timid and may look like some sort of wasp hovering or resting near the compost. Even with hundreds of Larvae squirming in the bin, only a few adult flies will be seen at any one time.
Yellow Soldier Fly
Black Soldier Flies do not sting, bite and won’t bother you, like the normal common house fly. According to most sources, adult soldier flies do not feed at all. Most of their brief adult life is basically spent mostly on reproduction. The Black Soldier Flies normally lay their eggs near rotting material, animal manures and even kitchen scraps. The Black Soldier fly Larvae spend most of their initial life eating. After two weeks of devouring your compost you see that they will start to crawl out of material where they have been living and begin to work their way into some soil or dry matter. At this point they take on the form known as a “Pupa”. Emerging adult flies will have no trouble finding the compost bin to continue the circle of life. Adult soldier flies become inactive during cold months.
How To Attract Them
It can be as easy as your morning cup of java. Absolutely, Black Soldier Flies love coffee grounds. If you’re new to composting and you would like to have them in your Compost, you can easily start a colony of them by adding coffee grounds to your compost. Collect a gallon or two of used coffee grounds and put them on the compost. Make sure the grounds stay moist. Dig into the grounds after a week and check for small tan wriggly “worms.” If you’re successful, supplement the herd by adding kitchen waste, more coffee grounds, or spoiled fruit or vegetables. The waste these Larvae make is very moist. This waste can be diluted into a compost “tea” to use in the garden, or help the breakdown of “brown” compost material.
Black Soldier Flies Nutritional Benefits
Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) make a nutritious “home grown” feed supplement as well a special treat for livestock. They contain up to 42% of protein and 35% fat. Black Soldier Flies can even help process the waste from the chicken bedding. Chickens can hunt the Larvae themselves, or chicken owners can buy or design special growing chambers for BSFL. These special chambers are made to capitalize on the larva’s natural instinct to crawl out of their food source when they have grown. Crawling larvae are then channeled into a collection bucket or bin. You can even design it so that the larvae will crawl right into the forging area of your chicken coop (if you have one).
Worm Bin Owners & Black Soldier Flies Don’t Mix
Worm Bin Owners should know from the start that worms and BSF don’t mix. Worms basically do not like the environment that the Black Soldier Fly Larvae live in. Here is the reason why:
The fly larvae are very active, so active that they’ll make your compost bin soggy, warm, and in some cases slightly acidic. These are not ideal conditions for raising worms in a Worm Bin. If you raise worms you’ll want to play close attention in terms of the environment you maintain in your worm composting bin. Take care not create an environment that is conducive for the BSF. This means you’ll want to watch what you put in your worm bin in terms of nitrogen-rich waste, which will attract the Black Soldier Flies. Existing fly larvae can be lured into a feeding frenzy under moistened bread or cut open vegetables. Every few days I would recommend that you check your Worm Bins and if necessary remove any BSF Larvae that might have taken up residence.
Remember, the BSF Larvae is an excellent source of protein for your animals. The adult soldier flies will not invade living quarters, and they do not carry harmful pathogens from where they originate from, meaning manure to food items. If soldier flies inhabit a compost, it is because they are exploiting a natural resource for them and speeding the transformation of waste to something that supports green plants. You might be someone who suffers an innate aversion to anything remotely “maggoty,” but the Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSL) are harmless to you (humans) and domesticated animals as well.
By now you should have a different opinion of Black Soldier Flies and their beneficial usage in your composting bin. They are a natural way of developing and maintaining efficient Composting Bin. The larvae will consume twice their body weight in day and will demolish all of your waste material and at the time will discourage the growth and/or development of normal house flies. After eating their fill, soldier fly Larvae crawl away to virtually disappear. The emerging adult BSF will be your source for laying new BSF eggs, which in term become a food source (both protein and fat) for your backyard livestock such as chickens and ducks. Nature recycling nature.
About The Author
Troy Brooks Managing Director for MyHeirloomSeeds.com Heirloom Seed Company. He together with his family have been homesteading, raising livestock and living Off-Grid on their Ranch in West Texas. He is also a Certified Master Herbalist and enjoying living a Self-Sufficient lifestyle.
This article first appeared on Ed That Matters.
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FIGURE 1. Soldier fly adults are weak fliers and spend much of their time resting in bright, sunny areas on vegetation or structures.
FIGURE 2. Soldier flies are bluish black with dusky wings that are held over their backs when resting.
FIGURE 3. The black soldier fly’s first abdominal segment has two clear areas near its second segment giving it a “wasp waist.”
FIGURE 4. Soldier fly adults are ¾ to 7/8 inch long, with large eyes and long antennae that project forward from the head. Legs segments are whitish and black colored.
Black Soldier Fly
Genus / Species:
|Size:||¾ to 7/8-inch long (adult stage)|
Type of Beneficial:
Recycler / Decomposer
Type of Metamorphosis:
Immature stages appear different from adults (i.e., complete metamorphosis)
Larval stages (known as maggots)
Feed on manure, compost, and other organic waste
|Notes:||Adults do not bite|
Yes (mounted specimen for viewing available in insect collection at County Extension Office)
About 120,000 different species of flies annoy folks around the world. They are found everywhere including the Antarctica. Sometimes it is hard to remember that flies are an integral part of our ecosystems.
Flies can be beneficial and necessary, aiding in controlling other insect pests, acting as pollinators, recyclers and scavengers, and they are also a part of the food chain. Remember only bees (and a few wasps) pollinate more plants than flies.
The multi-beneficial black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) is probably the best-known member of the Stratiomyidae family in the Diptera order. Diptera is taken from the Greek “di,” which means two, and “ptera” meaning wings, as most flies only have two wings.
Aristotle used the term more than 2300 years ago. In the order, Diptera, the word “fly” is always separate from the rest of the common name. Insects of other fly orders are always written as one word, such as dragonflies and sawflies. But we digress. The black soldier fly is one of a group of true flies. They are found mostly in the tropical/subtropical Western Hemisphere and Australia, breeding in compost, manure and outdoor toilets.
Black soldier flies can be seen in bright, sunlit areas, resting on nearby structures or vegetation and frequenting flowers of the daisy and carrot families. They are one of the most beneficial flies in existence and are considered non-pests. The adult black soldier fly does not have mouthparts and does not feed upon waste. They do not bite, and as only the larva feed, are not associated with transmitting any diseases. Also, this species makes the breeding areas of houseflies less desirable.
The hale and hearty adults are about 7/8-inch long. Adult black soldier flies are weak fliers and will spend their time resting in and around animal production facilities. They are black with dusky wings held over their backs when reposing. The black soldier fly’s first abdominal segment has two clear areas near its second segment giving it a “wasp waist”.
Gender-wise, the female’s abdomen is reddish at the top and the male’s abdomen is rather bronze. Their upper legs are black with white-yellow tarsi or forelegs. Black soldier fly’s antennae are elongated, projecting forward from the head, which is tapered and does not have an arista (sensory organ of touch).
Adult black soldier flies might be mistaken for an organ pipe mud dauber wasp as both have long antennae, the same pale colored tarsi, and the two small transparent areas in the abdominal segments. Adults appear as early as April but many do not emerge until late summer. However, it is the black solider fly’s larva that is of most interest.
This species mates in flight and females deposit egg masses (about 500 eggs) near edges of decaying organic matter. Eggs incubate anywhere from four days to three weeks before hatching. The oval egg can be up to 0.039 inches in length. Initially the egg is a cream color but darkens over time. Once hatched, the larva is an off-white and about 0.07 inch long.
As it develops through six instars, it becomes a reddish-brown. Mature larva can be anywhere from 1/8 to over an inch in length and quite plump. Larvae have been described as “torpedo-shaped and slightly flattened” with an exoskeleton, or skin, that is firm, tough, and leathery, and its back has spiracles (breathing pores). The yellow to black head is tiny and narrow.
What is of interest is that larvae are being used in manure management. Not only does the black soldier fly larva do its duty in manure reduction, but carries through as a feed supplement, and battles bravely in the war of pest fly control. Best of all, this is all interwoven. Read on, as this is really cool stuff.
First off, manure management reduces environmental damage that can result from large accumulations of manure. Black soldier fly larvae are scavengers and thrive on many kinds of decomposing organic matter, including algae, carrion, compost heaps, manure, mold, plant refuse, and the waste products of beehives.
They have large and powerful chewing mouthparts allowing them to shred and devour waste. These gluttonous little creatures are able to digest organic compound before the compounds have time to decompose, thereby immediately eliminating odor. The black soldier fly larva’s digestive system leaves behind a fraction of the original weight and volume of waste.
Statistically, food waste in the United States, could be significantly reduced and waste reduction of farm animals (chickens and pigs) might even reach 75%. Simply put, manure is rapidly decomposed by the black soldier fly larvae, greatly reducing the amount and odor, along with any potential disease problems.
Secondly, this non-pest larvae converts the manure’s nutrients into 42% protein and 35% fat feedstuff. This conversion of waste into feedstuff is called bioconversion and, consequently, the larvae can be fed right back to the animals or birds that generated the waste or used as feed for fish or livestock. It can be ground up and fed to earthworms or red worms for a second round or just used as compost. The larva is dry, friable, and odorless.
In addition, many experts believe that the high calcium content of the larvae (also called “phoenix worms”) may halt or reverse the effects of metabolic bone disease. This biomass, of larvae harvested nutrients, is worth about the same as meat and bone or fishmeal. It can be easily and economically transported, unlike unprofitable manure, and reduces the need to import concentrates that are added to other types of feed.
Thirdly, the larva’s eating style discourages the development of pest flies. As large populations of black soldier fly larvae churn manure, they make it more liquid and less suitable for, not only egg-laying (oviposition) by the pest fly, but the actual development of the pest fly’s larvae, thus reducing them substantially.
As a side note, at one time in the southern United States, the black soldier fly was called the “privy fly” as it controlled the common housefly around the privy. Again, leave these tough little flies alone and allow them soldier on with their job in waste management, as a feed supplement, and protecting us against “pes(t)ky” flies.
Beneficials in the Garden & Landscape is an Earth-KindTM program coordinated through Extension Horticulture at Texas A&M University. Earth-Kind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting our environment.
Big maggots in your compost? They’re soldier fly larvae
This European insect (scientific name Hermetia illucens) seems to be found everywhere in North America where people reside. They are especially common where flies can get to a wet, rotting food source, garbage or other unsanitary conditions.
In the “old” days, these large flies and their larvae were found commonly in slum, emergency hospital, army triage and unchanged diaper conditions.
Young soldier fly larvae are a gray-white color, segmented, about an inch in length and very active. As they mature they turn a dark brown color. They are torpedo-shaped and flattened, with tough-looking skin. The larval head is small and narrower than the body and the body bears no legs or other features except hairs and spines. The rear end of the body is blunt and bears breathing pores (spiracles).
Adult compost-dwelling soldier flies are black and about 5/8-inch long. They have smoky black wings. Their wings are held over the back when at rest. The first abdominal segment has clear areas. Adults feed and lay eggs on food waste (such as in a composter or uncovered compost pile), especially where conditions are moist.
The adults will emerge, mate and die in two days. The adult flies are black and often are mistaken for black wasps, said Wise. They do not bite or carry disease, as they have no hair on their legs.
Soldier fly larvae are voracious consumers of nitrogen-dominant decaying materials, such as kitchen food scraps and manures.
“Don’t worry, soldier flies don’t usually invade houses, unless your compost pile is close to your house,” said Wise. “They almost exclusively populate compost bins or sheet mulch compost piles and manure piles,” she said. “In the southern United States they are being utilized to reduce hog manure, as they can consume up to 30 tons of hog manure in two days.”
Soldier fly females lay eggs on the surface of nitrogen-rich material that is exposed. So, if you want to avoid having these large flies and their maggots in your compost pile, make sure you have enough leaves, dry grass, shredded paper and other organic “brown” material in the pile to cover the nitrogen food sources by at least two to four inches. Be sure to bury food scraps deeply in the pile and cover them well.
You can further discourage these flies by putting window screen over any holes in the bin and gluing it down with a waterproof caulking (like an exterior household caulk) on the inside of the bin to help exclude the flies in their egg laying stage.
They often thrive in worm bins, as well as compost bins, where they may out-compete the worms for food.
“In a worm bin, bury food scraps down at least six inches for the worms and let the flies eat what is on the surface,” said Wise. “The flies don’t eat the worms or their eggs so they aren’t predators of the worms.”
If you aren’t too grossed out by the maggots, you can feed them to wild birds, suggested Wise.
“Birds love soldier fly larvae so you can remove them and feed them to chickens or just toss them on the ground and other birds may find them,” she said. “They are actually very high in protein.”
Wise and her colleagues are experimenting with soldier flies in compost bins and then analyzing the resulting compost to see what differences there may be in the nutritional content of the compost.
The maggots are known to break down organic material in the pile so it can further decompose. And the flies inoculate the compost with beneficial bacteria from other sources.
Pests In Vermicompost: What To Do For Vermicompost With Maggots
Vermicomposting is a great way to put your kitchen scraps to work growing compost worms and creating lots of castings for your garden. Although it seems like a straightforward pursuit, all isn’t as it appears with vermicomposting. Often, you collect hitchhikers in your bin, resulting in vermicompost with maggots. Before you panic, take a breath and read this article about dealing with vermicompost maggot infestations.
Maggots in Vermicompost
Keeping a worm bin can force you to come to terms with the varied creatures that help break down living tissues. For many, these pests in vermicompost have come to be associated with filth and disease, but the truth is that many are complementary to your worm bin. One of the most commonly friendly foe is the black soldier fly. Outdoor worm bins are perfect environments for soldier fly larvae to develop, resulting in the appearance of maggots in vermicompost.
Some worm farmers will elect to leave the black soldier fly larvae in their bins, since they neither feed on worms, nor significantly impact their ability to feed. A little extra material in your bin can ensure that the black soldier fly larvae also get their fill. While they eat, they grow and exude chemicals that discourage other flies from helping themselves to your compost. As an adult, a black soldier fly only lives for about a week, but has no mouth or stinger, so there’s no risk of harm coming from them.
How to Get Rid of Maggots in Vermicompost
If you’re of the opinion that your black soldier fly larvae are simply too much to bear, you’ll need to make several changes to ensure they’re destroyed and new adults can’t enter your worm box.
First, attach fine screens to your air holes, no matter where they are, and mind any gaps all the way around. Caulking fine gaps can keep flies from squeezing in.
Vermicompost with maggots of any type is almost certainly too wet, so the first thing you’ll want to do is dry out the top of the bin. You can let it dry out on its own, then be careful not to overwater in the future, or add more material that can soak the excess liquid right away – like newspaper or shavings.
Once the bin is dry, make sure you bury your food offerings to your worms deeper under the surface to discourage flies from approaching. Fly strips can help trap adults that mature inside your bin.
They are capable of consuming everything that tastes good to them but looks moulded or rotten to us. This is the world of worm composting.
When you see a group of worms squirming around and over each other, you may think that this is organised chaos. You would be right, it is. They follow their noses to wherever the food is and just eat. All of this activity is punctuated by moments of breeding and occasional periods of torpor.
This is what makes worms so useful. When the conditions are favourable to them they get to work for us. They will only eat organic material that has started to deteriorate. Evidence of this will be when there are signs of mould. The worms graze on mould that’s been generated from waste food. Because they have no teeth they find it easy to bite and digest mould, it’s rather like us eating candy-floss.
As the waste food decomposes, the food structure breaks down and softens. This makes it more accessible to worms. They can then begin the process of devouring waste food like an industrial process. This is vermicomposting, When you have a wormery fully set up with a good charge of worms you will be amazed at how much food waste they can consume. You must be aware that worms can only eat food waste that is either mouldy or well into the rotting process. We have another post that explains more about how worms help with making compost. See ‘Do worms help compost?’
Do you have to use worms in compost?
Earth worms in compost good or bad?
Can you put worms in a compost tumbler?
Can you put worms in a compost bin?
Are maggots in compost good or bad?
Can worms live in hot compost?
Worms in compost good or bad?
Worms in a compost bin will always be a good thing. It’s also a good sign if you see a lively population of worms at work. It means that the conditions are right and that you have achieved the right balance of mixture in the compost. If you don’t get the balance right and there is too much nitrate material and not enough carbon this will hinder the breakdown of organic matter. If the organic matter isn’t broken down enough the worms can’t eat and digest it.
Looking at worm composting
If you’ve got a wormery setup with a good population of worms you will have an ever-open door for all of the organic waste that you have to throw out from the kitchen. The volume of waste that you feed in is limited when operating a wormery but the worms should break it down fast enough.
This is not the same as a compost bin where you have plenty of capacity. You can throw in larger amounts of waste but don’t expect it to be broken down quickly by the worms.
A wormery will generate both solid and liquid material. Both are of value and can be used as a feed for plants. It would be wise to dilute the liquid with water because if you use it in its concentrated form it may be detrimental to the plants. To make the best use of the solid it would be wise to mix it with sand or soil. Worm castings alone may cause problems. This is a rich concentrated resource it can be spread far and wide making use of what would have otherwise been a nuisance waste.
A dedicated wormery can only work with worms in it. This type of system cannot be used as a composter it is purely a digester where everything must be done by the worms.
Do you have to use worms in compost?
No you don’t have to have worms to make compost. It’s quite possible to make a really good compost relying on just the naturally-provided micro-organisms. Find out more about how to make compost at Rolypig.com.
When you accumulate a lot of organic material and put it in one place e.g. in a compost bin or compost tumbler the material will very often become warm. This is because of the actions of the micro-organisms. Left alone compost will form but it will take longer.
With no worms in place you will need to have batches of compost forming in the number of compost bins. this would involve filling a bin until you can get no more in it and then closing it off and just leaving it for the micro-organisms and nature to take its time. If you have the space this is an option but you have to accept that these bins will have to be left in place for some time, possibly years.
If you add worms or if worms find their way into the compost at any stage they will accelerate the process. With most composting systems it’s very difficult to stop worms from finding their way into the forming compost. This is because the compost is very attractive to them they can smell it and it’s food. It’s irresistible to them and once they get in and take up residence they will breed very quickly.
Earth worms in compost good or bad?
It’s very unlikely that you’ll find an earthworm in a compost bin. Their natural home is in soil. They digest nutrients and organic material that they find in the soil. The quantity of food in compost would be too much for them because they need soil in the mixture to help them digest the food as it goes through their digestive system. To put it another way, compost is too rich for them. so they tend to avoid compost preferring to stay in the soil where you very often find them when digging over the garden.
If you do see an earthworm in compost it will probably be because the compost is very old. When compost has reached this stage of maturity it will not be too rich for the earthworms and they will be quite happy to live in it.
Worms know exactly what they like and if you see them anywhere it’s because they’re happy to be there and they’re getting what they want.
About worm composting
Worms in a compost tumbler
Most compost tumblers are off the ground. They are usually on a stand to make it easy to roll the tumbler over. Because of this the worms can’t easily find their way in because they have to climb up the framework to get anywhere near the food. This isn’t to say that none will make it because it’s always possible that some will. If you do see any worms in the tumbler that have just turned up by themselves it means that you’ve got some very acrobatic worms.
Can you put worms in a compost tumbler?
Yes you can put worms in a compost tumbler. It’s very important to note that before putting worms into any composting system that the compost you’re putting them into is suitable for them. if you place them into compost that is warm the worms won’t be happy and they will leave by any way they can.
If the contents of the tumbler are fresh green kitchen waste and nothing else they won’t be happy because there’s nothing there for them to eat.
They can’t eat fresh green waste. So before adding worms to a tumbler you need to wait for the kitchen waste to rot down to a point where the worms can see it as food.
The worms will feed on the mould that develops on kitchen waste in the early stages of decomposition but they need to have enough well rotted compost to live in. They actually need this to have somewhere to hide from predators and to be able to get away from light because worms prefer to be in the dark.
An added complication is that if there is too much fresh waste worms can be affected by the fact that gases are released in the early stages of waste decomposition. These gases are usually toxic to worms and will drive them from the area.
While it is easy to physically place worms into a compost tumbler if the conditions aren’t right for them they will leave by crawling out wherever they can. They will find their way down the tumbler stand and disappear straight into the ground before heading off to find food source elsewhere.
The tumbling action will upset them but, in my experience, it’s never enough to make them want to leave. You only need to roll over a compost tumbler occasionally to get the aeration effect that accelerates decomposition.
Worms in a compost pile
Worms will just turn up in a compost pile when it becomes attractive enough to them. You shouldn’t need to add worms to a compost pile. The only time you may need to physically import worms to put into a compost pile is if the pile is on ground that is totally bare or on concrete or stony ground.
But even if there don’t appear to be any worms around anywhere it is amazing to see how worms will find it because they have a very keen sense of smell. It will only take a handful of worms to find your compost pile, in the middle of nowhere, to take up residence and before long you will find there will be an ever expanding population.
Another important consideration here is that the compost pile must be moist because if it’s dry the worms won’t be able to function. By the same token if it’s too wet, although worms prefer moisture, they will leave for that reason.
Can you put worms in a compost bin?
You can import worms into a compost bin just in the same way as adding them to a compost pile but depending on where your compost bin is and what sort of compost bin it is you shouldn’t need to add worms.
If your compost bin is open at the bottom the worms will find their own way in. This won’t happen straight away. It may take several months of loading waste into the compost bin before you see any worms. This is because, as with any compost, it will take a while for the compost to form and be ready for the worms to take up residence. Also because a compost bin is a confined space the gases that are produced in the early stages of compost being made will be contained. This will deter the worms from wanting to move in, unlike a compost heap that has much more ventilation allowing any obnoxious gases to escape.
#wormcomposting will recycle any #greenwaste and turn it into prized #vermicompost. Check out the video https://youtu.be/wuIH-aWXW20 and see what worms could do for you.
Worms dying in a compost bin
What kills worms in compost? If you have a problem with worms dying in your compost bin you need to check the ventilation. Because of the gases that are generated when compost is being formed it is quite possible that some worms maybe overcome and expire. Other reasons for worms dying are dehydration. Worms need to be moist.
If you put a lot of dry material in the compost bin moisture maybe absorbed buy this material, so adding water maybe the solution. It is unlikely that a compost bin will be too wet especially if it is a compost bin with an open base. If the base isn’t open and there is no free drainage and rainwater can get in, it is quite possible that the worms will drown or leave in a hurry.
If you have a compost bin and there is a population of worms you need to be aware that most of the time you won’t even see the worms. This can sometimes suggest that the worms aren’t there, but they will be. They will be busy feeding deep down in the compost. A good way to test whether a compost bin has an active population of worms is to knock the bin to agitate the worms a little. When you do this they will all start to move because they don’t like being disturbed. When they move hold your ear close to the surface of the compost and listen carefully. You should hear them making a collective slurping noise. This is a good indication that there is life in your compost bin.
Where do worms in compost come from?
Worms are everywhere or at least you can expect them to be everywhere. The point is where you are trying to make compost there will be a perfect haven for worms. If there is soil near by, which there will be if you’re in a garden, there are going to be worms. You will find it difficult to escape them but who would want to?
All you have to do is to create the ideal circumstances i.e. a compost bin of any type, and the worms will go to it and take up residence.
The thing that some people struggle with is that they don’t see any worms until they set up a compost bin. Then, almost by magic, there’s a huge uncountable number of them leaving the question, where did they all come from?
It’s very simple. When you have created a massive food supply for worms it will become too much of a temptation. It will only take a handful of worms to move in to this new paradise. They will live well and start breeding. You won’t see evidence of this straight away. Because they breed very quickly, in the right conditions, it’s quite likely that the first you will see of any worms is when there has been a massive expansion in the population. When this happens your compost bin may have worms all over the inside surface.
Worms escaping compost bin
Worms are very mobile they don’t need to stay anywhere especially if they’re not happy with their local environment. It’s no good trying to keep them in. In a sealed container it’s not practical because there needs to be plenty of ventilation. If you notice that worms are leaving a composter then there will be reasons why they are leaving.
The overriding reason why they are migrating away from the compost bin will be that there isn’t enough food or there isn’t enough food that is digestible for them. If there isn’t enough organic waste material for them to consume they will digest compost that has already been digested to try and extract more nutrients from it.
This can only be done for a limited number of times before all the available nutrients are extracted. This is when the worms will feel the need to move on. In a compost bin the worm population is constantly expanding. There will come a point when the population is so big that it is inevitable that there won’t be enough food for all of them. This is the time when you will see worms leaving the compost bin.
You shouldn’t be alarmed if you see any worms leaving the bin because as long as there is any food at all that can be digested by worms there will be a population of worms remaining. It is highly unlikely that the entire population will leave a compost bin. They do not swarm and leave like bees.
If for some reason the conditions in the compost bin becomes so bad but there is a major exodus it’s always possible that there will be a small population remaining. The reason for the large number leaving will be for a number of reasons. It may be too wet or maybe gas is produced from a sudden abundance of fresh organic material during the early stages of decomposition. If there isn’t enough ventilation than these gases can’t escape. Some of these gases are toxic to worms which means they will feel the need to evacuate.
These are extreme adverse conditions and may only happen occasionally. you shouldn’t worry too much if this does happen because worms are a part of nature and as such are very resilient. They are tough little survivors, when the conditions become more suitable they will return and carry on doing what they do.
Are maggots in compost good or bad?
The thing is with maggots is that they are a necessary evil and they have to live somewhere. They are very efficient at digesting organic waste which means that they are competing with the worms who are after the same food.
If you want to reduce down your kitchen waste and convert it into compost quickly, maggots will play a big part in the process. The question is do we want the worms to be the masters of the compost system where they build up a strong population or are we happy for them to face the competition of the ravenous maggot?
Worms flies compost
The main downside of having maggots present in a compost bin is that at some point they will hatch out into flies. When they do you will see masses of flies all around the bin and you may find some will find their way into your house.
So while on one hand maggots will break down organic waste and turn it into compost on the other hand the flies that the maggots generate become quite a nuisance. On balance you are better off without the maggots.
We have a post that considers the issues concerning flies. You can see it at ‘Compost flies’ and judge for yourself about whether they are a real problem.
How do I get rid of maggots in my compost bin?
There are a number of ways to get rid of maggots but you need to find an option that doesn’t adversely affect the worms. The best way that I know of is to use white lime (hydrated lime). This will have the effect of either driving out or killing the maggots. There is an added bonus. If you use lime it will neutralize the acidity in the compost which will make it easier for the worms to digest and process rotting material. The worms will actually ingest small particles of lime which helps with them digest.
Can worms live in hot compost?
The answer to this has to be no. Worms in hot compost just cannot happen.
Fresh material that’s added to compost bin will tend to warm up in the early stages of decomposition. This is when bacteria are actively breaking down the material in the first stages of composting. If it’s just a small pocket area the temperature won’t rise too high because the heat will disperse throughout the rest of the heap. The heat that is generated won’t last very long.
Worms can only live in material that is cold but above freezing. They are very sensitive about temperature. It is not a problem if there is a hotspot in a compost bin but it is important that the worms can escape to a cooler part. Here they will thrive and explore the hot spot as it cools.
If there is a comprehensive warming up of a compost bin because of too much fresh organic waste being added in one go this could quite easily be devastating for the entire worm population. If there is nowhere for them to escape to within the compost bin, they will leave the compost bin completely. For this reason it’s very important that you do not add too much fresh material at any one time. If you have a lot of fresh green material that you want to turn into compost place it in a separate container and allow it to go through the early stages of decomposition. This will allow the heat to be generated and disperse without affecting the worms in the main compost bin.
You can accelerate this process by agitating this material and when you’re satisfied that there is no more heat being generated you can then place all of this in the compost bin where the worms are. The same process would work just as well when running a wormery.
How to keep worms in a compost bin
If you stick to the simple rules of making sure that the compost doesn’t get too warm and that there is plenty of free drainage, the worms will not feel the need to leave. The adding of lime will do much to improve the conditions for worms. This is the best you can do and in most cases should be enough.
There is no point taking action to seal a compost bin or wormery to keep the worms in. Doing this you would restrict ventilation and the worms would suffocate. It’s much more important to focus on providing the best conditions you can so that the worms want to be in your compost bin.
Does citrus kill worms in composting?
Citrus material will not kill worms. All that will happen is that they will move away from an area where there is excessive acid coming away from this material. They will stay away from it and only approach it when the citrus material has deteriorated and the acidity has become diluted to a point where the worms feel comfortable.
If there is nothing but citrus material being added to a compost bin then you must take action to neutralize this acid.
Acidity tends to preserve rather like pickling. Instead of rotting into compost it will just sit there without changing for some time.
Worms compost leaves
If you’ve got loads of dead leaves in the autumn/fall, make compost from them. The worms will eat dead leaves when they begin to decompose. The leaves must not be dry because dry leaves don’t rot down so it’s important to soak them generously with water to help accelerate decomposition.
Do not expect worms to thrive in the bin where there are just leaves and nothing else. It’s very important to add the dead leaves to compost that’s already formed and where there is a good population of worms already established. by doing this the worms will find their way into the leaves when they have decomposed enough.
They will break the leaves down completely and turn them into, possibly, the best compost you can make. Because of the potential volumes of leaves involved it would not be practical to feed them to a small wormery because they take up too much space.
You really need to load the leaves into a larger composting system like a compost bin or a compost tumbler. It would be more practical to store leaves in bags and feed them into your composting system a bit at a time.
The ideal way of using dead leaves is to add it to green kitchen waste so that the two become mixed. Dead leaves provide the carbon factor which is just what you want to balance the high nitrate content of green kitchen waste. So if you’ve got any leaves you really should make use of them in this way.
Types of worms in compost
There appears to be two types of worm that get the job done when it comes to turning fresh green waste into compost. If you wake up one morning and find that a population of worms has exploded in your composting device, these will have moved in naturally from the surrounding ground.
They are most likely going to be red earthworms. For those who want the Latin it’s Lumbricus rubellus.
The other one that has covered itself in fame and glory when it comes to turning green kitchen waste into black crumbly compost is the Tiger worm. Also known as the red wiggle worm and the red Californian earthworm. To give it the Latin it’s Eisenia foetida.
The Tiger worm is especially bread for the purpose of making compost and is used to commercially make compost on an industrial scale because it’s considered to be the most efficient out of the two.
If you can identify these worms and tell them apart then count yourself as clever.
We are free to debate which of these two is the best but who cares just as long as there is a good population of worms in the compost breaking everything down and producing something really useful.
If red earthworms have moved in and taken up residents and they appear to be getting the job done, there’s no point introducing Tiger worms.
Life cycle of worms in compost
The worms lay ‘eggs’ which are more commonly known as cocoons. They hatch into tiny little worms and reach maturity in around one month. It’s from here on that all the fun begins because apart from spending most of their time eating, they have the advantage of having both male and female organs. This gives them plenty of options in their mating habits from which they generate one or two cocoons every week.
3 weeks later 2 to 3 worms will emerge from each cocoon. This goes some way to explaining why such a big population of worms will appear in a short time. As a rough calculation every worm in a compost bin has the capability of producing around 600 more worms in its lifetime.
In good conditions a strong population of worms will double every three months so if you imagine the point where there are 500,000 worms, in three months time there will be 1 million. I’m not suggesting that you count them out but it is an interesting thought.
Worms compost winter
Worms will not survive below 35 degrees Fahrenheit or 2 degrees Centigrade. The maximum temperature they can cope with is 75 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Centigrade. The cocoons however will survive where are the worms won’t. They have their limits as far as temperature goes but they will cope In adverse conditions enough for a population to be regenerated.
In extreme conditions the worms will migrate away from areas of cold or heat. Where there is a reasonable mass of compost material it is well possible for them to find an area in the middle where they can survive comfortably.
If the volume of compost is large enough the inner volume area will be insulated enough to provide a winter refuge. they will stay where they feel safest and most comfortable until the conditions change following the seasons
Another factor is the moisture level. Worms don’t like being dry, they need moisture to stop their skin from drying out. It also provides lubrication for moving through the compost material. Moist material is easier for them to consume.
What what are worm castings
Worm castings can be thought of as an organic form of fertilizer produced by worms.
This is what are the worms produce when they eat and digest organic waste. Because they are eating all the time they are producing worm casts all the time. A pound of worms will digest half a pound of material every day and produce worm casts from it.
Because of the nutrients in the green organic waste material you can safely assume that, even though it’s been through a worm producing worm casts, that this will do a lot to feed plants. After having been thoroughly digested by worms there will be a range of available nutrients which plants can make use of straight away.
Worm casts, also known as vermicompost, can be made quite easily. There are a number of ways in which you can do it. You could set up a wormery or you can get pretty much the same effect using a compost bin but with this method you would need to have a closed batch system. This is because you need to be able to leave the compost long enough for the worms to convert the whole amount completely.
It’s very important that you don’t add any fresh material after the closing off point. this way you will end up with a consistent organic fertilizer that won’t be contaminated with any fresh waste material.
It’s not practical to try and make vermicompost using a tumbler-style rotating composter. This is because worms don’t like being disturbed. They don’t appreciate being mixed around with everything around them as though they were in a concrete mixer.
If you have a rotating compost bin and you want to make vermicompost the best thing you can do is to get a compost bin to put beside the rotating bin. when you have fresh waste from the kitchen load rotating compost bin and rotate it regularly.
When the rotating composter is full have a shut off point where you don’t feed any more fresh material for a while. Maybe have a holding-container to store waste in the meantime. This is to give the most recent addition of kitchen-waste a chance to rot down enough for the worms to start digesting and converting into vermicompost.
At this point remove the entire contents of the rotating composter and place it in the empty compost bin. If you are lucky some red earthworms will seize upon the opportunity and migrate into the compost bin. They will then begin to digest the contents.
With the rotating composter empty you can now start loading it again every time you have waste from the kitchen to dispose of. When the rotating composter is full just repeat the whole procedure until the static compost bin is full.
At this point it may be necessary to have an extra compost bin to allow the worms in the first compost bin to completely convert the contents to compost.
If you have a Rolypig composter you won’t need to stop feeding in waste at any time because the waste goes in one end and emerges at the other. It’s a constant throughput system. But it may still be an option to have a compost bin to go with your Rolypig because what comes out of a Rolypig could be further refined allowing worms to completely break the compost down into vermicompost.
Slow worms in a compost bin
Slow worms are often mistaken for snakes but they are actually a member of the lizard family. They are lizards without legs. It’s relatively unusual to find a slow worm in a compost bin but if there is a warm spot in the mass of material, this is what will attract them.
Their normal habitat Is among dry sticks or rocks, generally anywhere where they can hide from predators. They are carnivorous themselves and pray on slugs which makes them useful in the garden. They also like worms, so if you see one in the compost bin it’s probably a good idea to remove it. Take it to somewhere away from the compost bin and place it in long grass where it can slither off and hide.
If you know you’ve got slow worms around be prepared to see them regularly as they have a lifespan of anything up to 30 years and they can grow up to half a metre long.
To sum up:
Anything that’s food to us will be food to worms
Worms will keep going until they’ve broken down every crumb of food-waste
They will only eat food-waste when it has started rotting.
Worms will multiply to match the quantity of food-waste available
As long as you keep feeding them, they will keep thriving
Worm composting will provide you with a black crumbly compost that will beat all others
“The worm makes life below ground just
as busy as life above”
Tell your friends about the Rolypig composter
When I opened my compost tumbler a few days ago, I got a nasty surprise.
Maggots! Gross! Disgusting!
Or are they?
Maggots in compost can be a disgusting sight to behold, but are they bad for your compost? I recently got a question from Steve R., an Epic Gardening reader:
“I have been using a compost tumbler for the first time and am seeing a lot of big maggots. I think I am composting correctly (no fats, meats, etc.) but they are still there. Are maggots bad for my compost? Or what’s up?”
Let’s answer this question once and for all.
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The Culprit: Black Soldier Fly Larvae
While there are a few other types of maggots that might show up in your compost, the most common culprit is the larvae of the common Black Soldier Fly, or hermetia illucens.
You’ll be able to identify them easily due to their fat appearance, usually in a whitish, greyish, or brownish color. The color can change depending on what they’re eating.
Black soldier flies might be annoying when they’re buzzing around your face, but these flies are actually incredibly useful. In fact, there are farms that cultivate the larvae and sell them to pet stores, as they’re a great food for birds, lizards, and even fish!
But what does this have to do with them being in your compost? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
Let’s look at why they show up in the first place.
If you’ve ever gone crazy trying to swat flies in your kitchen, then you already know exactly what causes these maggots to show up in your compost: food waste. Black soldier fly (BSF for short) larvae absolutely devour food waste, so long as they have a warm, moist environment to chow down in.
If you have too many ‘greens’ in your compost and not enough ‘browns’, you shouldn’t be surprised to see a bunch of these guys in your compost.
Another potential cause is not mixing or turning your compost pile, leading to moist pockets of food waste that maggots will flock to.
Solutions for Maggots in Your Compost
While you don’t HAVE to do anything if the maggots you’re dealing with are black soldier fly larvae, you may want to for one of two reasons:
- You find them gross and don’t want them in your compost, no matter what
- There are simply too many and it’s interfering with the progress of your compost
Solution 1: Add more browns
These maggots do well when they have a lot of food material to feed on and a relatively moist environment. To combat that, simply add more brown materials to your compost to dry it out a bit and lower the percentage of food matter that larvae can find and feed on.
Solution 2: Lime your compost
Usually you don’t have to add lime to your compost — it breaks down just fine. The danger of adding lime is that the pH of your compost may be too high by the time it’s done. But if you want to combat maggots, you can:
- add about 1 cup of lime per 25 cu ft. of compost, or
- add pine needles to your compost, or
- add citrus fruit waste
Any of these will work to combat the proliferation of maggots in your compost.
Solution 3: Make sure you aren’t allowing flies in to your compost bin / tumbler
The only way you can get maggots in your compost is if an adult BSF lays eggs. So while compost needs good airflow, that doesn’t mean that you need to provide huge holes for the flies to enter and exit from. Covering the air holes with a mesh screen is often enough to stop more eggs from being laid.
Solution 4: Let them be!
Like I said, you don’t have to get rid of these maggots. In fact, some gardeners love having them in their compost because they break down food waste so quickly. As long as you give them a warm and comfortable environment, you’ll probably never see faster compost than when black soldier fly larvae are processing it for you.
If you have chickens or pets, they also may like to hunt for the BSF larvae once you’re compost is finished. They can be a great food source for the other animals on your property if you keep them around!
However, the compost that comes out may not be the most appealing. It usually doesn’t have that rich, earthy smell and seems a bit ‘off’. It’s understandable that they may not be the most appealing things to have in your compost, and they also get less effective as the weather cools down, so you can definitely remove them and use the classic composting method as well.
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Don’t destroy grub worms in compost
I have begun to compost in a tumbling bin and have discovered grub worms. What can I do to get rid of them?
M.G., Cedar Hill
Most of the grubs you see in the compost pile and in healthy soils in general are the good kind. They primarily feed on dead and decaying organic matter rather than live foliage and roots. Their recycling and aeration by tunneling is quite helpful in the organic management of the garden. That doesn’t mean they won’t damage plants if the population gets out of control, so keep an eye out. If necessary they can be killed with spinosad products and beneficial nematodes. You might look at the information about rhinoceros beetles in the Library tab on my website or in my Texas Bug Book.
We’ve had an addition put on our house and need to do all the following, but in what order should we do them?
Sprinkler system reworked and hooked back up.
Install French drains.
Aerate the yard and put down Sick Tree Treatment amendments.
Excavate soil to install a stone patio.
I would prepare the soil, then have the utility lines installed, install the paving system, and then finish with the drain inlets and sprinkler heads. And finally, of course, install plants.
Black locust trees are overtaking 150 acres I inherited. Eventually, my family and I want to run cattle on the land and also are entertaining the idea of growing pecan and peach trees. I would like to know if there is an organic option for getting rid of the black locusts.
The only natural organic option is to keep cutting down the trees until they use up their stored energy in the roots and crowns of the plants. The larger trees will have to be knocked over or torn out with rippers, but the small trees that return in their place can be mowed down. The emerging new sprouts also can be killed with the organic herbicide Avenger. In the meantime, enriching the soil will help. Use as much compost, Garrett Juice and dry molasses as the budget will allow.
Can you buy commercial manure that doesn’t come from feed lots? I’m concerned about the chemicals heavily used there, such as hormones and antibiotics.
P.H., Fort Worth
Probably not. People involved in organic cattle production realize the value of clean manure and keep it on their own properties for soil improvement. Manure that has been properly composted, no matter where it comes from, is better than synthetic fertilizers.
Are you familiar with the Guardian Outdoor Electronic Pest Control Repeller for keeping raccoons out? They are digging holes all over my lawn, going after grubs, I’m told. They take fruit and dig up new plantings. Garlic and pepper sprays no longer work. I’ve also had coyote urine recommended to me.
R.J., Fort Worth
I’m not a big fan of the electrical devices, but this one might be worth a try. I also would recommend making the garlic-pepper tea a little stronger, with more hot pepper, and see if that helps. This spray has worked very well in many similar situations. Use the hottest pepper available, such as habanero.
Online: Download free organic recipes and handouts from dirtdoctor.com.
Radio: 660 AM The Answer, Sunday 8-11 a.m. ksky.com. The call-in phone number is 1-866-444-3478.
Mail: P.O. Box 140650, Dallas, Texas 75214
White grubs are the larval stage of many insects and often live just below the surface in the topsoil. With white grub infestations, plants can be damaged and will likely die. It’s not uncommon for a single lawn to host hundreds of grubs, which devour the roots of turf grass and leave unsightly brown spots. As the infestation progresses, an entire lawn may be destroyed.
Azadirachtin is an insect growth regulator derived from the neem seed (neem oil), which is often used as a grub killer. Neem sprays can be applied on a lawn to directly target these pests. Once a grub comes in contact with azadirachtin, the oil interferes with a grub’s ability to molt, resulting in its death before it can reproduce.
So… What’s a White Grub?
White grubs are the slug-like larval stage of many insects. They root around just below the surface, eating the roots of grass and other plants as they grow. The most commonly encountered white grubs are the larvae of June bugs, European Chafers, Masked Chafers, Billbugs, Oriental Beetles and Japanese Beetles. All of these species start as soft-bodied grubs, and are practically indistinguishable from one another. They are white-colored, C-shaped and often have small legs and tiny heads. Most are between a ½ inch and 2 inches long.
Reproduction Patterns of White Grubs
Because of the variety of species that fall into the white grub name, reproduction methods also vary. That being said, white grubs start out as eggs that hatch and grow into larvae. As larvae, they eat to fuel their transition into adult insects. For most, this process takes about 12 months.
Interested in the more information about how specific grub species develop?
- Facts About Japanese Beetles – The Japanese beetle growth cycle includes time in your lawn as a grub.
- Facts About Crane Flies – These insects start out as “leatherjackets,” another harmful grub.
White Grub Habitat
White grubs are most often found just below the surface of a lawn or garden where they live in the soil. If the soil is exceptionally moist, or at night, they may emerge to feed on the plants in lawns and gardens. In lawns, the damage can often be so extensive that the sod can be rolled up like a carpet.
Using azidirachtin as an effective grub killer will allow your organic lawn or garden to be free from white grubs, which can damage your grass and ruin your vegetable harvest.
Symptoms of White Grub Damage
One of the first signs of a grub problem is an influx of birds to the infested area. Animals can further damage the lawn or garden because they dig up the areas where grub scents are the strongest. A number of animals may be responsible for this damage, including raccoons, opossums and moles. Nighttime visits by skunks to your property is another indicator of a white grub infestation.
Dead spots on the lawn is another giveaway, and in these areas the grass will turn brown and die. This results from the grubs severing roots, which kills the grass. As the grubs move around and feed, a large section of the turf will become so damaged that the grass easily pulls away in large chunks.
Grubs can also cause serious trouble in gardens, particularly rose gardens.
Results of a White Grub Infestation
When grubs infest your lawn or garden, expect the following:
- Brown, dead spots in your lawn.
- Increased animal activity in your lawn or garden.
- Damage to non-grass plants, which may result in their death or stunted growth.
- Above- and below-ground feeding.
- Increased appearances of beetles, flies and other adult insects later in the season.
- A more significant infestation in the following season – unless treated.
How to Test for White Grubs
Dig up a 1-foot-cube section of your lawn or garden and place that dirt in a wheelbarrow. With gloved hands, break up the dirt and look for C-shaped grubs in the soil. If you count more than five grubs in this space, a grub problem is brewing. Also be sure to check the soil exposed from your excavation – if there are any grubs there, add them to your count.
After looking through the soil, remove and destroy the grubs you find and then place the soil back in the hole. Fit the turf back into place and water thoroughly to help it settle back into place.
Why Are White Grubs in my Front Lawn, but Not in My Back Lawn?
Despite being voracious eaters, white grubs need very specific conditions to thrive. You may have a microclimate in a part of your yard. A positive microclimate will promote their reproduction and growth, while another section of your lawn or garden may be the equivalent of Death Valley for grubs.
Further, remember that grubs, and even the adult insects, may not populate certain areas that are hard to get to. For example, if your home sits in the middle of your property and a thin strip of land connects your front yard to your back yard, then the insects may not have found the bridging area that leads to the other part of the yard. Walls, sheds and some types of landscaping can also block the spread of grubs.
The same can happen between neighbors – your lawn may have grubs while your neighbor’s doesn’t. Your neighbor may have already treated his lawn for them or they may not have found the “bridge” between properties.
Azadirachtin is an insect growth regulator that is derived from the neem seed (neem oil). The neem is a tree in the mahogany family, and is native to India.
Safer® Brand BioNEEM® works in multiple ways to get rid of white grubs. The first effect stops the insect’s molting process, which traps the larvae in its current form while it continues to grow. Next, the neem acts as an appetite suppressant, which triggers a starvation cycle. Finally, the BioNEEM® treatment also acts as a repellent, driving these insects away from the area.
Each 16 fl oz bottle of BioNEEM® makes up to 5 gallons of grub-fighting solution, which can be added to a tank sprayer. Alternatively set your mix rate at 2 fl oz per gallon of water.
Apply Safer® Brand BioNEEM® at the first sign of grub activity. Re-apply Safer® Brand BioNEEM® after every 7 days or so to affect newly hatched grubs.
As always, follow all instructions completely for application.
BioNEEM® is OMRI Listed® products, meaning they are compliant for use in organic gardening. As such, these pesticides break down quickly into their natural elements and do not persist in the environment long after application. They are preferable to synthetic pesticides, which leave residue that can remain in the environment where it can affect beneficial bugs or be absorbed by your lawn, plants and vegetables, resulting in accidental exposure to you, your family or pets.
Safer® Brand leads the alternative lawn and garden products industry, offering many solutions that are compliant with organic gardening standards. Safer® Brand recognizes this growing demand by consumers and offers a wide variety of products for lawns, gardens, landscapes, flowers, houseplants, insects and more!