If you’ve come across these writhing wiggly guys in your bin, you’ve probably asked yourself: maggots in compost good or bad?
For the writhing, wiggly larvae lovers among us, the sudden appearance of maggots is great news because they can be an incredibly beneficial guest in your pile.
But you have to know how to leverage them.
Whether you’ve decided to keep the maggots in your pile or get rid of them, you’ll find everything you need to know in this article. So, let’s dive in!
What Are Maggots Exactly?
A maggot is a term given to the larval stage of a fly. However, not all flies’ larvae are called maggots. The term is more exclusive to some species than others including the larval stage of Brachycera flies, such as house and cheese flies.
When you look closely at a healthy pile, you should always see a variety of larvae and other bugs minding their own business, helping along decomposition.
The maggots that we’re talking about though are unmistakeable and easy to spot.
Black Soldier Fly
The most common maggot that you’ll find in your compost is the larvae of the common Black Soldier Fly, hermetia illucens.
Also known as “the window fly” because it has a transparent section at its abdominal region, the Black Soldier Fly is native to Latin America.
In the last century, Black Soldier Flies have spread across all continents, which is why gardeners will find them in compost almost anywhere in the world.
Why Are there Maggots in my Compost?
Black Soldier Fly larvae are produced in large quantities. A female fly is able to lay anywhere between 200 to 650 eggs at a time!
Like any good mama, females seek out nutrient-rich environments to lay eggs, and what environment is more nutrient-rich that an active compost pile?
These flies are all about decaying food waste. The environment in your compost is moist, warm, and potentially safer than outside.
All these factors make it great protection for vulnerable eggs, and about 4 days later, a never-ending buffet for newly hatched larvae.
You’re likely to find more black soldier fly larvae than other bugs because again, like any good mama, the female will fight any threat or competitor to protect her larvae and nest.
How To Identify Black Soldier Fly Maggots
It’s easy to identify these maggots due to their distinct appearance. They’re chubbier than the common larvae that you may find in a garbage bin.
They are also naturally white. However, depending on the kind of food they’re eating, they can change colors including light brown, dark brown, and grey.
After hatching, these maggots are about 0.05 inches in length. They can grow up to 1 inch after less than a month before they enter the pupal stage to become adult flies.
These larvae are a great source of protein and nutrients for many animals, which is why they’re farmed and sold in pet stores.
Maggots in Compost Good or Bad?
Not every grower thinks of maggots as a benefit to composts. While some gardeners, like me, celebrate maggots as a welcome guest to expedite a pile, others assert that the bugs are bad for compost because they devour a lot of valuable nutrients along the way.
Both sides are right. Maggots do speed up decomposition…at the expense of getting some nutrients for themselves.
One thing is for certain: the real problem comes when you have too many of them.
That’s when these larvae officially become a pest because they will, if left unabated, leave you with an exhausted compost that has no value to your garden.
To ensure that maggots are working for you, and not depleting your pile, you have to control their numbers.
The best way to control numbers is to regularly monitor your compost ratio of 3:1 browns to greens.
Remember that mama fly and her babies thrive in moist, living, nutrient-rich environments. For the composter, this means that maggots love greens.
To control their numbers, ensure that you’re not adding too much food waste to the pile. Maggots will speed up the break down process but you don’t want too much of a good thing.
If it’s too late and you notice an infestation, simply remove as many of the maggots as you can see (ew! or cool!) and crank up the browns until you don’t notice them anymore.
TIP: If you have a pet lizard or bird around, they will LOVE to feast on the maggots that you removed from the pile. They’re a great source of protein for them.
How to Get Rid of Maggots in Your Compost
If you’re grossed out by maggots, or you’ve got an out of control infestation, here’s how to get rid of them.
Don’t Allow Them Inside
The simplest way to eliminate maggots in your compost is by preventing the Black Soldier Fly from getting there in the first place. However, your compost needs steady airflow.
Poking tiny holes that are too small for the adult flies to pass through can do the trick. You can also cover the compost bin with a mesh screen for an extra layer of protection.
Edit Compost Composition
Like I mentioned earlier, mama and baby maggots love moist, living waste. To cut down on your maggot count, add more dry brown material to your pile.
Turn Compost Regularly
Turning your compost pile regularly will prevent the creation of moisture pockets where maggots thrive. It’ll speed up the evaporation process, and of course the breaking down process in general.
Add Lime to Compost
Adding lime will turn the compost’s pH acidic. You can do it by adding citrus waste, pine needles, or a cup of lime per 25 cubic feet of compost.
This turns ammonium alkalis to ammonia gas, which is toxic for the maggots.
Be aware that this method will make it more difficult for the good microbes to do their job.
Having maggots in compost is great if you’re careful enough. If you inspect your bin regularly, you can make the most out of the maggots in your compost bin.
They can speed up the composting process, and they can also be a nutritious meal for your birds or pets.