Composting is magical. Take some orange peels, too-soft-to-eat tomatoes, strawberry tops, kitchen scraps, dried up stems and leaves, and put them in your composter; moisten, toss lightly, and a month or two later, amazingly rich soil! But as incredible as composting is, there’s a creepy-crawly side to composting too; a side that may require something more from you than just your lovely leftovers and yard waste… it may also require you to be a bit courageous.

Insects and invertebrates and those that eat them are aspects of composting. Just give the compost a little stir and see lizards, spiders, beetles of all sorts, roaches, earthworms, and earwigs scurry for safe cover. Many of these are decomposers and do a vital job of breaking down larger cellular material, and the rest are the predators of these decomposers which keep the health and population of those living in your compost in check, but seeing way too many of any of these for our comfort level can give even the most earthy and eco-centered of us the heebie-jeebies.

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Worms are amazing decomposers, but what to do about the abundance of predatory insects and spiders that may be creeping you out?

So when your composter reminds you more of a horror scene in a film than nature at work, take a moment to collect yourself; this is the perfect time to do some detective work to figure out if what’s going on is normal or a sign that your compost needs your attention.

Composting can be its own adventure. Just open up a healthy and active compost bin and Oh My Goodness, all the life limp greens, onion tops, and  berries gone bad can attract!

Below are a few tips to help maintain a healthy balance in your bin and therefore increase the feel-goods you get from composting while minimizing the times you need to summon up your courage to bravely go tend an out-of-balance compost bin–eek!

  • Know the difference between Greens and Browns
    • Greens are fresh from your kitchen and yard: fruit, vegetables, beans, grains, kitchen scraps; but they also include green lawn clippings, freshly pruned leaves and stems, etc. from your yard.
    • Browns are dead plant matter: dried-up leaves, wood chips, straw, pine needles, etc.
  • Maintain a 4:1 browns to greens ratio in your bin if you can. Browns heat up your greens. Heat helps break down cellular material more quickly. Browns also help to ameliorate the odor coming from your decomposing greens, and too many greens will attract way more insects than you probably want.
  • Cut your greens up into small pieces. Before adding large or bulky greens to your compost collection, reduce their sizes. If greens are smaller, then there’s more surface area for the fungi and microbes to begin their work. Your amazingly nutritious greens will be broken down in less time; as a result, your compost bin will be able to support fewer insects, and attract less of them too, which will reduce the number of predatory creatures that come to eat the insects, like wolf spiders, centipedes, and earwigs.
  • Keep your compost moist but not wet. Just like your plants need moist soil to grow, your compost is alive with critters both visible and microscopic, and they need water to survive too. Moist compost that’s the consistency of a wrung out sponge allows enough room for air and water to circulate the heap and to provide your critters with all they need to live well, metabolize their meals, and stay active.
  • Eek! Are you seeing way too many creepy critters? Try to figure out why. Balance is ideal in nature; too much of anything is an indication that something is off. Is the compost too wet? Is it too dry? Is the browns to greens ratio off? Has the compost not been aerated enough? Try to fix the imbalance(s) in your compost and see if that makes a difference.

Composting can be immensely rewarding. The feel-good we get from keeping food waste out of our landfills is great, and the gift of amending our soil with rich, homemade compost is the kind of gift that gives back to us tenfold when we nurture the land on which we live.

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Happy Composting!

Additional Resources to help you find your Zen with composting:

“You Can’t Compost Meat (And Other Ridiculous Myths” Mother Nature News

City of Orlando’s Free Composter and Composting Guide

“Compost Pile Health Can Be Judged by the Company it Keeps” University of Georgia

Compost Orlando

Image sources:

Worms: http://catesgarden.com/bugs-redux-vermicomposting-worm-composting/

Hands holding soil: http://www.theresiliencyinstitute.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Hands-holding-soil.jpg