Ants nest in a compost bin more often than you think. It’s not an entirely bad thing. Ants can benefit your compost pile in many ways. But if you allow your ant population to get out of hand, it can ruin your compost, and all your hard work goes bye-bye.
In this guide, you’ll learn how ant colonies affect the composting process and how you can use ants to work for you and not against you.
How Do Ants Colonies Affect The Composting Process?
Ants contribute to good quality compost in the following ways:
- Ants increase biodiversity by bringing fungi and other beneficial organisms into the compost.
- Ant tunnels aerate composts, which speeds up the composting process.
- Ants prey on harmful pests and larvae in the compost, which will benefit your garden in the long run.
But having too many ants in your composting bin can wreak havoc. Here are the following reasons why:
- Ants compete with the worms. Compost is an excellent food source for ants and worms. Too many ants will consume much of the worm’s food, affecting the nutritional content in the compost.
- Some ants will even eat the worms. Poor worm production equals poor soil product.
- Ants protect against the aphid population that can harm plants.
- It will be very annoying to handle compost with a lot of ants.
The best way to make sure ants aren’t doing more harm than good is to check the compost bin often.
How Can I Control an Ants Nest In My Compost Bin?
Below are a few tricks to keep your ant population down.
Don’t Let Your Compost Become Too Dry
Large numbers of ants indicate that the compost heap is very dry. Moisten the pile with water when it starts to dry. Be careful not to soak the pile, only add enough water to keep the material damp.
To check whether you have moistened the compost correctly, follow these easy four steps:
- First, look at the compost material — it should look like a wrung-out sponge. Put the material in your hand and squeeze it into the shape of a ball. Make sure you squeeze as much water out as possible.
- Next, you want to observe if the moisture is absorbing into the compost or not. Sprinkle some water on top of the compost. If the compost doesn’t absorb the water, you want to insert the water into the soil than on top of it.
- To keep moisture, add fresh green materials such as kitchen waste, grass clippings to the compost heaps regularly. Don’t apply brown materials such as cardboard, shredded papers, twigs, and wood chips. These materials will dry out your heap.
- Cover the compost pile with plastic or bin cover to avoid moisture from evaporating. Use the plastic or bin cover sparsely. Good air circulation is vital in the composting process. Only cover your compost when it is too hot and sunny to prevent excessive evaporation.
Avoid Accidentally Introducing The Ants Into Your Compost
Check the plant debris for ants before introducing the new batch into the composting material. Turn the new batch upside down a couple of times and see if it contains ants or not.
If you see ants, spread the batch in the open air under the sun for some time so that ants can leave. Once you get rid of them, you may add the fresh material into your compost bin.
Mix the Compost on a Regular Basis
Ants are excellent sniffers and easily get attracted to the scent of fresh and rotting food. Turn and mix the decaying organic matter daily with a pitchfork or a shovel to expose the ants to the surface.
Disrupting the existing colonies will compel them to find a new home. This process will bury the fresh food under the old layers and cut down the odor. And there will be less of a chance to attract new ones.
Regulate The Compost Pile Temperature
Temperature plays a crucial role in the composting process and the nesting of ants in the compost bin. Insert a thermometer into different layers or parts of your compost. A temperature below 60 ºC is cool enough for insects to seek shelter in your compost.
Try to maintain the temperature between 60 ºC and 72 ºC.
Any temperature above 60 ºC, ants will not be able to survive. You can easily attain this temperature by placing a covered bin directly in the sunlight.
Apply Parasitic Nematodes
In the late spring, add parasitic nematodes into your compost heap. Parasitic nematodes are tiny worms that attack ants. Introducing these worms into your compost will deter ants from nesting inside.
These small roundworms are used for biological insect control to attack and kill soil insects. While they’re a nightmare to insects, parasitic nematodes don’t attack plants, birds, or mammals.
Parasitic nematodes are readily available at most garden centers and suppliers of wormeries. Use them to fend off many turfgrass and garden pests and have been recommendable for years.
Is It Safe To Apply Chemical Ant Repellent To Compost?
Chemicals are available in powder or spray form to stop ants from building their nests in a pile. But they can harm your compost. Be sure to read the label of chemical substances before applying these to your compost pile. The wrong substance in your compost will affect your soil, which affects your crop.
Compost treated with pesticides will cause damage to plants in your garden and may kill some beneficial insects. Instead of providing any nutritional value, all it does is kill the insects and harm your soil. According to expert’s advice, such chemicals are not a preferred control option.
Safest Ways To Treat Ants Nest In A Compost Bin
There are various means to kill ants quickly. But some may also damage the decaying material and alter the composting process. Below are some of the safest and cost-effective ways to get rid of ants nest in a compost bin. These techniques will not damage the microenvironment of your compost.
Coldwater: Douse the nest of ants with cold water. Target the ant queen, who is bigger than the workers — when the ant queen dies, the colony dies. Within no time, you will see ants leaving the compost. But there is no guarantee that the migration is permanent. After some time, another colony may move in.
But whatever you do, don’t use boiling water. Steaming hot water is harmful to compost ingredients.
Crushed limestone: Too much fresh food will decrease the pH level of the compost bedding. Ideally, the pH of the bedding should be close to the neutral pH of 7. The acidic pH below 7 is a welcoming sign for ants. To bring the pH too neutral, add crushed limestone. This will deter ant colonies from setting up their nests in the compost.
Coffee grounds: If used in a large amount, coffee grounds discourage ants from getting their feet into the compost heaps.
Cornmeal: Sprinkle some cornmeal around the compost bin and let ants eat this. Ants can not digest this grain. Having this meal inside the ants will kill them without posing any threat to your compost.
To Sum Up
Although having ants nest in a compost bin is irritating, you should have a few ants. If under control, ants add nutritional benefits to your compost and soil.
But if you leave the ant colonies unchecked, it could be very disastrous. Applying the methods above will help you control the population of your ant colony.
You now know why ants are beneficial to your composting bin. Now go out there and use your ant power to produce high-quality compost for your soil.