Vermicompost 101 — Pests

Compost systems attract fruit flies — any composter has experienced these little blighters (see yesterday’s post about a fruit-fly trap) — but vermicompost systems mimic the soil and attract a wide variety of creepy crawlies. This is a quick rundown of these insects, many of which are beneficial and help break down the organic matter being dumped into your worm bin.

A few general measures can be taken to prevent most unwanted pests. Store the worm bin in an enclosed location (garage, shed, basement, etc.). Make sure the lid is secure or, if you need to let the bin breath, use fabric or mosquito netting covering the opening tightly. Fresh food scraps should be buried and some report success cutting the scraps small and freezing them to kill any incoming eggs. Also feed small scraps regularly rather than a large pile occasionally. Keep it vegan: do not add meat, dairy, or dog poo (which shouldn’t be added in the first place), as these attract different bugs.

Beneficial

Many organisms are beneficial for your vermicompost because they either help break down the compost, or they indicate a good growing environment.

Earwigs

This dark-loving insect will help decompose the compost and will not harm your worms. They can’t really pinch you — at least not hard — with their fierce-looking rear-end.

Springtails

These hexapods (not insects) are one of the most abundant life forms on the planet and carry spores and bacteria that help break down vegetable matter. They’re unavoidable but are beneficial to the worm bin and indicate the right environmental conditions. They get their name from their tail, which can help them bounce away as you turn the compost.

Millipedes

These arthropods are one of the oldest land animals and get their name, as every third grader knows, from its “thousand” legs. These guys have two pairs of legs per body segment and are beneficial decomposers, unlike their predatory cousins, the centipede, which have one set of legs per body segment (see below).

Soldier Flies

These nocturnal flies are likely to lay eggs in your worm bin and the resulting larvae look like maggots. As long as you’re not putting meat in the bin(!), then you’ve probably got soldier flies and it’s no big deal. The larvae help decompose rotting organic matter (faster than worms) and the flies, while pesky, do not bite, nor do they spread disease. These flies actually deter house flies. Many people actively cultivate these larvae to feed to their chickens, reptiles, or amphibians.

Benign

AntsSome bugs are not harmful to your worms, but they may not provide any benefit either. Some indicate that your worm bin might not be an ideal environment (i.e., too dry or wet).

Roly Polys

This vegetarian crustacean is not interested in your worms and helps with decomposing rotting vegetation, but it thrives in a wet environment, so keep an eye on moisture levels.

Pot Worms

These worms look like infant red wrigglers, but they are their own species. Although they won’t harm your worms, they indicate too much moisture is present in the bin. Dry it out with some shredded paper and insure good ventilation.

Fruit Flies

These flies are annoying but won’t hurt your worms. Still, it is worth getting rid of them as soon as you can, before they become a cloud of tiny, zipping worms: be sure no food scraps are visible on the surface of the worm bed, do not leave out fruit on the counter, protect your dishwashing sponge, take out the trash, and clean counters and surfaces. And finally, make a trap from vinegar and soap.

Ants

These could go in the malignant category, but they aren’t as actively harmful as those bugs, just pesky. Ants compete for resources and can cause an infestation in your home, so it is best to get rid of them. They can indicate a too-dry worm bin, so moisten it up! Cinnamon sprinkled around the bin (or diatomaceous earth) will encourage them to move on. Or, if your bin is small, create a moat: place pans of water  with blocks of wood as supports for the bin and the ants can’t gain access.

Malignant

While I won’t comment on the individual character of the following organisms, they are not helpful, and are often harmful, to find in your worm bin.

Centipedes

These arthropods are related to millipedes, but they use toxic venom to incapacitate their prey, which can include worms. Remove them if you spot them. Gloves might be a good idea, as some can bite humans.

Earthworm Mites

These little red mites come from a diverse group of arthropods, most of which are found in the soil, breaking down organic matter. These little blighters will compete with worms for food and, some sources say, will hurt your worms (but I think this is just mites eating dead worms). At any rate, it drives the worms down away from the fresh food, so it is best to discourage them. A slice of bread (plain or soaked in milk) on top of the heap will fill up with mites and can be removed and destroyed daily. Also, letting the bed dry out a bit might help drive them out. An emergency method is to flood the bed, driving the mites to the surface and burn them with a blow torch.

Slugs and Snails

These are not common nor problematic to the worms per se, but should be picked out of the bins if seen, as they will lay eggs in your compost and then you’ll have a slug infestation wherever you use it. Yikes.

References:

Worm Composting HQ
Gardening Know-How
Working Worms
Nature’s Footprint
Worm Farming Revealed

Image Credits: Roly Poly, Earwig, Springtail, Millipede, Pot Worm, Black Soldier Fly, Centipede, Fruit Flies, Mites, and Ants


This is the first in a series of posts about vermicompost, or using worms in compost systems. Follow this link to see all posts in this series.

Check out these other resources:
Sustainable Table
Red Worm Composting
Composting Junkie
DIY Natural
Worm Composting HQ

 


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