One of the reasons many people are reluctant to compost is the concern about insect invasions, whether that is in a small kitchen compost bin or a larger outdoor bin. And as anyone who has ever had an outdoor picnic knows: where there is food, you will find ants.
Ants come quickly to a food source. Think of the child who drops their popsicle on the pool deck on a warm summer day, and you automatically picture the ants that seem to appear out of nowhere.
Or think of the lengths your aunt goes to cover all of her prized recipes at the family picnic – once again, because of ants.
These can be very annoying pests indeed, and you’ve probably come here because you want to get rid of them. However, as a matter of housekeeping, we will take a look at the “good” side of ants before we dive into some practical tips you can take to prevent them from appearing in your compost pile.
How Could Ants Be Good for Compost?
There are several ways that ants can do something good for a compost heap. One of those is aeration.
Airflow is crucial to an effective composting process. After all, it is the right amount of airflow that both ensures odors do not build and provides oxygen to the microorganisms that help produce compost. Anyone who has experience in composting will tell you that air matters.
Ants may be tiny creatures, but you know they are also mighty if you have seen them at work. When they tunnel through your compost, they are essentially creating paths for air.
Certain organisms that are beneficial to compost, like earthworms and slugs, will actually eat and break down the organic matter in your compost. These include ants.
Ants may also bring other organisms into the compost heap which help with the decomposition process, as well as minerals such as phosphorus and potassium.
Why do ants like compost bins?
Ants are drawn to composting piles and bins because they are warm (ants turn “sluggish” in colder temperatures, not unlike many humans!), because their highly sensitive odor receptors alert them to the presence of food (especially if there are any sweet fruits in your pile), and because they like moist environments, like the kind where decaying wood may be found.
In short, compost draws ants like moths to a flame, but if you really can’t stand them you can take steps to keep them out. We will walk you through some tips for an ant-free compost bin.
I Already Have Ants in My Compost: How Can I Get Rid of Them?
If these creatures have already invaded your compost heap, take these steps to get rid of them.
- Use Your Lid, Each and Every Time. When it comes to composting bins, a secure lid is incredibly important to keep pests at bay. If you achieve hot (instead of warm) compost it will actually send the ants marching. They are drawn to a warm and cozy environment but not an excessively hot one. That’s particularly important with kitchen compost bins, as ants are more of a pain inside than outside.
- Add Some Moisture. If the compost is extremely dry, the ants can tunnel right through it. When it comes to composting, the ideal moisture content is around 40 to 60 percent. If ants are present, you may be able to deter them with some added moisture while providing the water the compost microbes needs to flourish.
- Add an Organic Pesticide. Diatomaceous Earth can be added to your compost bin or pile safely. This is an organic powder substance that kills insects by drying them out. The good news is that it will not kill the earthworms that you want in your compost.
If none of these methods rid your compost bin or pile of pesky ants, you can also try a chemical pesticide or ant poison. However, it should only be used when every other effort has failed.
Look for a chemical pesticide that has EPA approval for vegetable gardens. Your local lawn and garden center should be able to help you pick out the safest possible products.
I am a New Composter: How Can I Avoid Ants as I Get Started?
If this is your first time composting, set yourself up for an ant-free experience by following these practical tips.
Maintenance techniques are key to successful composting, and by following these steps, you will ensure that you will keep ants from invading and attract the right kind of organisms for healthy compost.
Pay Attention to Moisture
If you need a trick to figure out whether your compost is moist enough, gather some in your hands and make sure it feels as wet as a wrung-out sponge.
Also, bear in mind that more green matter (like food scraps) will produce more moisture than brown matter (like yard waste).
If your compost pile gets to dry, add water.
Turning the compost regularly
Turning the compost regularly can help discourage ants from settling permanently in your pile. Turning compost is also a major feature of some compost systems, as it is used to bring oxygen into the pile. However, you may find it less work to let the ants aerate your compost for you!
Bury the (Ant) Treasure
We know that ants will come marching quickly toward the sweetness of fruits and vegetables and other plant material, so make it a point to bury those items in your compost pile to avoid an ant infestation.
When you head outside to dump your kitchen bin after chopping fruit for a cobbler, do not just leave the food scraps on top.
Bury this feed deep into the pile to keep those odors from attracting an ant colony.
Try Eggshells and Ash
As odd as it may sound, two natural ant deterrents are eggshells and ash from burnt wood. If you sprinkle these items around the pile, they will send ants in the opposite direction. As a bonus, the calcium from eggshells is great for the composting process.
Herb Them Out of the Way
While ants may be drawn to the sweet smells of fruit peels, they dislike the strong odors of some herbs.
Try surrounding your bin or pile with some planted herbs like peppermint and sage to prevent ants in the compost bin from wreaking havoc on your composting efforts.
Ants can be pesky, and some people just don’t like them. If you’re one of them, I hope the tips in this article will help.
But before you do take action, it’s well worth considering whether it’s worth it. After all, it means more work to ultimately discourage a creature that is good for your compost.