Ants in Compost

Ants in compost

Ants in compost... good or bad and how do you get rid of them?

I went out to check on our compost bin the other day and saw a bunch of ants around the bottom of it.  I have had a pretty bad relationship with ants in the past. They have invaded our homes, gotten into everything and have generally caused problems for us. So, I was not all that thrilled to find them exploring our compost bin. However, rather than run for my favorite natural ant killer, Terro, I decided to do some research on ants in compost to see if it was really a big deal to find them in your compost bin and, if so, what you can do about it.

It turns out that having ants in and around your compost bin is not that big of a deal. Ants actually help break down compost by continuously moving items around, which helps aerate the pile. However, opinion varies on whether having ants set up a colony in your compost bin is a good thing or not.

Some people argue that the ants help the compost pile and that when you take the compost out and put it down in your garden, the compost will be spread out and exposed to light and air, which will cause the ants to leave and look somewhere else for a home. However, others argue that having an ant colony in your compost makes it harder to deal with the compost, as ants crawl up your shovel or pitch fork when you are turning it, can bite you and just generally make your life unpleasant when you are working with your compost. This is especially true if you have fire ants living in your compost pile. The benefit that ants add to your compost pile, these people say, is outweighed by the negatives they cause when you are working with it.

Well, as I said before, ants and I don’t really get along, so while I don’t mind the occasional ant visiting our compost bin and helping aerate it,  I did not want them setting up a colony in it. So, I looked into how to prevent ants from nesting in our compost bin. It turned out that it is pretty easy to discourage ants from making a nest in your compost bin. Here are the main ideas that I found.

  1. Keep the Compost Moist. The most recommended solution to prevent ants from creating a nest in your compost is to keep the pile moist. Ants like cool, dry places, so if your compost is sufficiently moist, ants will not be interested in it. Keeping compost moist also causes the pile to heat up, which ants don’t like either. You want to keep your compost moist anyway, so there is no extra work or cost involved in this solution.
  2. Add Diatomaceous Earth to the Pile. Diatomaceous Earth, also known as diatomite or kieselgur, is a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder. When insects come into contact with Diatomaceous Earth, it pulls the lipids from the insect’s exoskeleton, causing them to dehydrate. Obviously, insects don’t like this, so they stay away from it.
  3. Pour Boiling Water on the Pile. Ants are tough little suckers. They can withstand crushing, drowning and many other attempts at killing them, but they can’t withstand boiling water. Simply boil some water on your stove and then take it out and pour it on your compost pile. Any ants that it comes into contact with will die instantly. Boiling water also has the side benefit of killing any flies, fly larva and weeds that are in your compost bin.

In my case, our compost pile was pretty dry, so I watered it down using water from our rain barrel and then turned the pile several times. This should discourage the ants from creating a nest in our compost pile. However, if it does not work, I will try one of the other natural solutions outlined above.

Do you have any other ways of keeping ants out of your compost?

photo credit: mrowa from Flickr

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Comments on Ants in Compost

April 10, 2011

Joe Smith @ 2:07 pm #

I found ants in my compost the other day too and was wondering what to do about them. Thanks!