What to do about bugs in your outdoor compost

Hands holding soil with worms

You will encounter bugs in your compost, but you need to find out if they are beneficial to the ecosystem or not before removing them. Some bugs help your compost immensely, while others don't.


Beneficial and Non-Beneficial Bugs in Compost

Earthworm in grass

You may see several different types of bugs in your compost bin. You will also wonder if you should remove them or embrace them to help your compost deteriorate more quickly to be used as lovely additions to your gardens. Some of the bugs are super beneficial, while others aren't. You need to be able to identify them first to decide if they should stay or go. Read on to find out everything you are wondering about in your buggy compost.

What Kind of Bugs Live in Compost?

maggots in soil

Many different types of creepy crawling, flying, burrowing insects, and other organisms, will find your compost bin and think that all of the items you put in it smell like lovely food. It is definitely not a concern to keep moving your compost bin or compost pile around to a different area constantly, which can be a lot of work.



Beneficial Bugs and Insects

red worm in soil

Beneficial insects and bugs in compost include worms, black soldier fly larva-called maggots, roaches, rollie pollies, and mites. These bugs act as physical decomposers and speed up the decomposition by introducing oxygen to the materials. The extra oxygen helps to break down the ingredients in your compost, and in doing this, they help prevent rot and mold.

Worms and maggots will burrow around in the compost, so they are the best at this job. These bugs will also eat the larger pieces of organic substances to increase the temperature of the entire amount of compost, making it decay faster. They also excrete in the compost, which increases the nutrients and fertility of the compost, just as animal manure does when added to your gardens.

Non-Beneficial Bugs and Insects

Ants in branch of tree

Non-beneficial bugs shouldn't be in your compost, such as bees, ants, centipedes, spiders, slugs, and houseflies. Bees, ants, and houseflies can be overwhelming in your compost, especially if they reproduce and cause you not to turn it as often as you should, resulting in mold and mildew. It doesn't help your compost decompose because it needs oxygen.

Centipedes and spiders will hunt and eat beneficial bugs such as worms and deter them from being beneficial for you. Slugs are also found in compost and can also eat a lot of matter in a short time and may decide to invade your garden and feast on your lovely plants and leaves.

Other insects and bugs found in a compost heap include fruit flies, earthworm mites, rove beetles, insect carcasses, tiny flies, predatory mites, feather winged beetles, soil flatworms, as well as fomicid ants, carabid beetles, and other insects of the scarab family. These are not as common in compost piles, though.

Bugs and Insects in Compost Identification

Rollie pollie in soil

Most of the bugs and insects that you see in your compost bin are pretty easy to identify, but some you may not see very often and aren't aware of what they are. It helps to know if you have beneficial compost insects and bugs so you can keep them instead of killing or deterring them.

Rollie pollies, as they are commonly called, are also pill bugs or sow bugs. It's the only crustacean that doesn't live in the water and instead lives its entire life on land. When it is disturbed, the pill bug rolls up into a ball, earning the nickname of rollie pollie. These bugs are anywhere from 1/2 inch to 5/8 inch long and are dark brown to black.

They have seven pairs of legs that move like caterpillars when they walk, and they have two very small antennae. Their bodies are oval-shaped from side to side, so they look like a ball when they roll up. They have a back with seven hard plates or body segments that look like armor.

In the early stages, fly eggs in compost piles turn into maggots as insect larvae and look like little white grains of rice. These eggs hatch into larvae or maggots, about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long and are cream-colored and greasy looking in appearance. After staying in this stage for about a week, the maggots turn into flies--most commonly the black soldier fly, the common housefly that we all know of.



How do I Get Rid of Bugs in My Compost Bin?

compost bin

You are most probably wondering how to get rid of bugs in the compost bin. Some items can help to deter bugs from your compost. If you have a compost pile and not a bin, you can put wire mesh over and around it to help. Otherwise, if you have a compost bin, it already has a wire cage to help deter bugs and aid in the decomposition process.

You can also add more dry matter to your compost to deter bugs. You can add more dry leaves to all your shredded paper, or you can buy shredded paper bedding from a pet store for a nominal fee. You can add some dry soil or add some sawdust to your compost bin as well.

Another method that works well to get rid of bugs in your compost bin is adding hydrated lime. Bugs don't like the feel of it, and they will "bug out." You can just add a thin layer on the top of the compost in the bin each time you add materials to it to keep the bugs out. Another simple method is to dump the entire contents of your compost bin out onto the ground and spread it in a thin layer to dry out to repel bugs.

Does Compost Attract Flies?

A fly on a leaf

If your compost is very damp or wet with breaking down vegetable and fruit scraps, then yes, it will attract flies. Flies like these conditions to lay their eggs, then hatch into maggots. Flies also like a smelly waste to lay their eggs in, then the larvae hatch as maggots, and the cycle will continue repeatedly.

How to Get Rid of Compost Flies/Gnats?

A fly or gnat

Adding more dry material lessens the smell of decaying plant material from the composting process, and the flies and gnats won't be attracted to it. Dry pine needles or pine straw can quickly dry out your compost and reduce the smell in it as well as hydrated lime because lime will cover the smell up as it dries out the compost.

How Long Do Maggots Live For?


Maggots in compost have a pretty quick life cycle as the eggs of flies take only 2 to 3 days to hatch and become maggots. Then, when the maggots are about a week old, they become flies, and the cycle repeats itself. Maggots can live 2 to 3 days without any food or water. The life cycle happens faster in the summer when the weather is warm.

How Did Worms Get in My Compost Bin?

Hand palm with soil and worm

If your compost bin isn't very far off the ground, then worms can crawl up the framework or support legs and enter your bin as they are attracted to the decaying material. This is actually a good sign since they are beneficial bugs that help your compost to decompose, and many people add worms to their bins to help decomposition work faster.

If you have a compost bin that sits directly on the ground, it's easier for the worms to get into your bin. They will follow the smell of the rotting vegetation juices, and your bin will likely be leaking some of these liquids into the ground where the worms live. Worms come out of the ground at night to explore, and they can find your compost bin and take up residence there and reproduce quickly as the most beneficial bug or insect for your refuse.

The worms you find will not normally be the long brownish-gray earthworms but instead will be skinny red worms. Depending on where you live, these red worms have many common names, including panfish, brandling worms, red California earthworms, tiger worms, trout worms, or red wriggler worms. These are the same worms that fishermen like to use for live bait.

Are Maggots Good For Compost?

maggots worms

Maggots are good for compost for helping to break it down. However, they develop into flies, which can be overwhelming when you add materials to your bin, or you need to rotate them. You can either leave them be, let them multiply or deter them.

How Often Should I turn My Compost?

compost bin with organic waste

Most expert composters with years of experience suggest that you should turn your compost bin about two to three times a week. You need to turn the manual handle to rotate the bin at least 4 to 5 times to redistribute the materials inside.

Final Thoughts

Composting is a great way to use your kitchen refuse to make wonderfully fertile material to add to your gardens. You should try to balance your green materials and brown materials, to discourage bugs in it. Some good green materials or organic matter to add to your compost include live plants, rotting leaves, fresh corncobs, kitchen waste, food scraps, vegetable matter, plant material and organic material. The rule of thumb is to add 3 to 4 parts of browns for every 1 part of greens to it, and if it starts to smell, add more greens to your compost bins to deter bugs.

Avoid using meat scraps or dairy as these items will rot and attract small mammals and will not help your compost heap in any manner.

When you keep a correct balance of materials in your compost bin, it will decompose faster, and it won't rot, which in turn can attract bugs. The proper material balance will prevent excessive wetness while delivering just enough moisture. If you compost on a smaller scale in your kitchen, you can greatly benefit from using a Lomi, which can create fertile soil by breaking down, decomposing, and biodegrading your food waste. This process works very quickly and gives the highest quality soil available. It's fuss-free and mess-free composting at its best.


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Lomi allows you to turn food waste into plant-ready nutrients in under 24 hours. Boost your plants while reducing your waste.