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Maggots in Compost? They Aren’t As Bad As You Think – Here’s Why

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All gardeners take pride in their compost, and I’m no different. I love to touch it and let myself be amazed by the fact that the waste destined for the smelly, maggot-infested garbage dump was instead turning into black gold – right there in my little compost bin.

However, there was an instance when my enthusiasm felt drastically curbed in a second. I raised the cover of my bin nonchalantly, wanting to put my finger in to check on the humidity and the feel of the compost. 

My hand jerked back, and in some instinctive terror, I let out a small shriek (well, at least I like to think it was a small one). There were small, wiggly, fly maggots on the compost surface – just striding around and poking their tiny heads up!

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? 

If you have, I feel for you completely! Dealing with living insects was a part of my education, graduate research, and a large chunk of my daily life, but I still can’t help but feel a distinct kind of dread when I find maggots in my compost bin.

After the discovery, the questions start to multiply at maggot-reproduction speed. You may ask yourself: Why are there maggots in my compost, and is it OK to have maggots in my compost? And the question above all questions: How do I get rid of maggots in my compost?

Wiggle on through the article to find out!

What Are There White Worms In My Compost?

maggots
Maggots love soil rich in nitrogen and organic materials. You can imagine why maggots might gravitate toward your garden, manure, or compost bin!

‘Maggot’ is a common term for a fly larva. There are thousands of species of flies, and many of them reproduce on decaying organic matter, like compost. 

Fly babies are worm-like, dull-colored, chubby, and visibly segmented. They tend to be gregarious, and they wiggle, wiggle, and wiggle, which adds to our cringe when we encounter them.

Larvae that we most commonly encounter in compost bins come from several kinds of flies: house flies, black soldier flies, and fruit flies (fruit flies are tiny and may go unnoticed). These maggots love moist environments with plenty of organic matter to munch on.

Gnats are also there, flying around compost bins, and they too have maggots – only too small to see. Still, they will get an honorable mention due to their frequency and impact.

Read More – The Beginner’s Guide to Composting

Why Are There Maggots In My Compost?

As you know, compost is alive and full of nutrients, especially nitrogen. Such an abundantly living thing is sure to attract other living things. 

While we cherish the microorganisms and their performance in our compost heap, we may be less enthusiastic about the uninvited wiggly manifestations of life we may find in it. 

Nature wastes nothing. When aerobic compost bacteria can’t degrade something, anaerobic ones will take over.  Then, it will turn smelly!

Maggots gravitate towards the smell of decomposing organic matter, which might be why you have found maggots in your compost bin or pile. The fact is that even the slightest odor of decaying nutritious matter attracts flies.

They are particularly excited about the protein or sugary waste bits. 

They come with a higher purpose, flying in to work for you and your heap by eating it. Talk about the “will work for food and shelter” philosophy!

Read More – Worm Farming and Composting In a 5-Gallon Bucket

Are Maggots Bad for the Garden?

Maggots are not bad for your garden, nor are they bad for your compost. Maggots and flies are beneficial to your compost. They will degrade what the desirable compost microorganisms can’t handle due to size or chemical composition. 

Take soldier fly larvae as an example. This species of flies is the superstar of biodegradation, reducing the mass of organic waste by two-thirds in just one day! SFL farmers manage composting operations based solely on soldier fly larvae. 

To learn more about these incredible flies, you might want to check out this video on Black Soldier Fly composting in Singapore:

Maggots convert food waste to

The nutritious soldier fly maggots are sold or used as food for birds, pigs, fish, and reptiles. Your chickens and backyard birds could reap the same benefits.

Did You Know?

Black soldier flies (hermetia illucens) are all the buzz lately! Merritt Drewery, an assistant professor for the Department of Agricultural Sciences, is studying if black soldier fly larvae can potentially replace soy as livestock feed.

That’s excellent news since some livestock feed, like soy and corn, requires a ton of resources to produce! 

Read More – The Complete Guide to Starting a Vegetable Garden from Scratch

How to Avoid Maggots In Compost?

fresh-compost-no-maggots
Fresh compost – with no maggots! Maggots have many natural predators, including backyard chickens, wild birds, and beneficial insects like hister beetles. Hister beetles (Carcinops pumilio) keep fly populations in check!

It is understandable why an average gardener would still prefer flies and baby maggots to stay away from their compost bins and heaps despite the perks. After all, no one likes to see a maggot infestation in their compost.

So, how do you get rid of maggots in your compost pile or bin? Well, there are likely one or two culprits behind your new wriggly compost buddies.

First of all, the very fact that they’re here means that there could be an odor coming out of the compost – and usually, it’s not a pleasant one. 

Eliminating the smell of decaying matter can help you avoid maggots in compost. Maggots and smelly compost often (though not always) go hand-in-hand. Smells usually occur because the compost doesn’t have enough aeration or has too much moisture.

Ultimately, anaerobic, oxygenless processes are undesirable in regular composting, so the flies might be a symptom of a greater issue.

Secondly, maggots will become flies, and if enough food is still available, the cycle will continue. That means more flies in your garden and yard. 

While compost-born flies usually aren’t harmful to your garden, they can be a nuisance, especially during summer when their activity is peaking.

Prevention is always better than cure. Here are the ways to make flies stay away from your compost.

Cover Your Compost To Keep Flies Out

Keeping a compost bin with no lid or with a lid even slightly opened will inevitably allow the flies entry. Ever since I started using a compost bin with a well-fitting lid, I haven’t gotten any fly maggots. 

If fly maggots are still appearing in your compost despite having the lid on, you may want to cover the holes in your bin with pieces of window screen. The screen will allow oxygen in but keep the bugs out.

To make a screen cover for your compost bin:

  1. Cut a piece of screen or mesh about 1 cm (0.4 inch) wider than the hole. 
  2. Apply a waterproof caulk inside of the opening and then press the screen over it.
  3. Then, tape the edges of the mesh to the wall of the bin with some waterproof tape.

However, know that the tiny gnats still manage to squeeze in through most obstacles, but more on these little beasts a bit later.

Read More – Why I Don’t Grow Vegetables in Raised Gardens

Aerate Well

Turning your compost and adding more brown material as you add green material will help bacteria degrade all the waste before flies get a chance to settle in. Plus, it will increase the airflow under all that organic matter, reducing the smell and facilitating the composting process.

Additionally, aeration is essential in getting the composting temperature up, which works against grubs and other pesky macro-organisms.

So turn your heap often and toss more dead leaves, twigs, lawn waste, and shredded paper into your compost bin. Not only will it shoo the flies, but it will help keep your compost healthy.

Add Pine Needles or Citrus Rinds

Maggots are not big fans of bitter and sour flavors. Thus, adding some fibrous, vitamin-C-rich pine needles or citrus fruits can prevent them to some degree. However, a couple of orange peels won’t cause all the maggots to migrate away, so take this tip with a pinch of salt.

Be Careful About What You Put Into the Compost Bin!

Certain types of kitchen waste will attract flies to your compost more than others. After all, maggots in compost bins need food sources to multiply.

In my experience, grass clippings, leaves, and herb and vegetable scraps are unattractive to larger flies. However, be careful with the following green waste materials:

  • Animal scraps. Never put food scraps of animal origin, such as meat or dairy, in your compost pile. Since it takes a while for these foods to degrade, they will attract flies of various kinds.
  • Protein scraps. Soy meal and soy food scraps, oatmeal, cornmeal flour, and other cereal products are rich in protein. Protein-rich foods will attract various flies.
  • Fruit scraps. While you can add some fruit scraps to your compost pile, make sure they are outnumbered by the neutral, low-sugar, or carbon-rich compost ingredients. Still, I prefer to avoid them altogether.

Since bacteria can’t digest them quickly, large chunks of food waste in your compost also have the potential to linger and attract large backyard predators that you wouldn’t want lurking nearby!

Read More – The Best Compost Bin Only Costs About $40

Can You Compost Directly In the Garden (and Not Get Maggots and Flies)?

Many people with a high amount of plant waste opt to create an outdoor compost pile somewhere in the garden instead of having special compost bins. That is perfectly fine, but you should make peace with the fact that you can’t control the larvae as well as in a closed system.

Since maggots can’t harm your garden and help the decomposition process, it’s no big deal anyway.

Avoiding adding food items mentioned above and putting the heap to a far corner of the garden should make all the unwanted maggot and fly activities very low-key and unnoticeable.

On the other hand, large compost heaps, if aerated well with brown matter like yard waste, will reach that desirably high decomposition temperature easily. This temperature is not favorable for the development of most macroscopic organisms – including maggots!

Read More: Bucket Gardening – The 30+ Easiest Vegetables to Grow in a 5-Gallon Bucket

Pro Tip: What If Fruit Flies Invade My Compost Pile?

If fruit flies invade your compost pile, you can’t just manually remove the fruit fly larvae – they are way too tiny. However, there are things you can do to get rid of them:

  • Check if there are any larger pieces of fruit in your pile and remove them (I was once baffled by the number of fruit flies around my compost, only to find that one of my kids has stuck a whole apple in there; even if you are sure you haven’t filled your pile with fruit scraps – check!)
  • Set up a simple cider and vinegar fruit fly trap.
  • A large and well-aerated compost pile that reaches high decomposition temperature will not allow fruit fly maggots to develop.

How Do I Get Rid of Maggots in My Green Bin?

Luckily, getting rid of maggots in your green bin is easy. Unlike various worms, maggots usually stay near the top of the compost, burrowing deeper only when it’s time to pupate. You scoop them up using rubber gloves or an appropriate garden tool.

To be sure you’ve removed them all, you can scoop up the entire upper layer of compost.

When you finish, put the maggots in an open tray with smooth vertical walls and leave them as a treat for wild birds, who will be especially appreciative of the gift during the nesting season when they have many hungry beaks to feed.

If you have chickens, you can make them a feast – they have likely earned it.

Read More – Can You Eat Bay Leaf + 14 Other Things You Should Eat, Not Compost!

How Do I Get Rid of Gnats?

Fungus gnats are the only kind of compost-loving flies that can harm your garden plants, and unfortunately, they are compost pile regulars. You won’t see fungus gnat maggots because they are too tiny, but if adult gnats are hanging around, their kids are surely crawling through your compost.

Fungus gnat flies are attracted not to the nutrients but to moisture and the presence of fungus, which is a compost bin default setting. 

Once the larvae from the compost end up near your plants, they can go into the soil and damage root hairs. That is especially true if you are using your compost for potted plants.

The best way to handle gnat flies seems to be biological control by adding beneficial nematodes or mites

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06/13/2024 03:17 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Finding maggots in your compost isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean that your compost is ruined – even though it might be startling to lock gazes with them. While we have been trained to look at maggots as gross creepy crawlies that always come uninvited, they’re not so bad.

So, let’s break down – or degrade – some common misconceptions about maggots and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about finding them in compost:

What Are the Most Common Types of Maggots in Your Compost?

The most common types of maggots in your compost are common black soldier flies, house flies, fruit flies, and gnats. None of these maggots or flies are harmful to compost or gardens, so there’s no need to worry if you find them in your bins.

What To Do if You Find Maggots in Your Compost

If you find maggots in your compost, don’t fret. Maggots are not bad for your plants, gardens or compost. However, to get rid of them, you can scoop them out, turn your compost frequently, add brown material, and avoid adding foods with high sugar and protein content to the pile.

Are Maggots Good For Your Compost?

Maggots are good for your compost since they can break down large food scraps and other materials much faster than the other beneficial microorganisms in the compost bin. However, if there are many maggots inside, your compost pile likely needs more aeration and brown matter.

How to Avoid Maggots – and Give Your Birds a Treat!

Now that you’ve wiggled to the end of the article, let’s sum it up.

  • Maggots won’t harm your compost or your plants and help degrade your waste.
  • You can avoid maggots in your compost by physically preventing flies from entering by using a lid, a dry layer on the top of the compost, and protective screens over the holes.
  • Keeping a healthy compost pile, choosing what waste you put in your compost, and avoiding high-sugar and high-protein food waste will also go a long way in keeping the maggots at bay.
  • Removing the existing maggots is easy to do manually, and the birds will be happy to take them out for you if you leave the maggots in a tray.

People usually fear what they do not know. I hope that by getting to know the tiny wigglers and their purpose, you will be less disgusted by maggots and maybe even accept their biological role in your compost enclosure.

Do you have anything to add? What do you do when you find maggots in your compost? Let us know in the comments!

More Reading:

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