It’s a Bugs Life!

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Season 3 – Autumn/Winter 2019/20

Doin The Dirt Directory

It’s a Bugs Life!

I feel sure that many a time as you have read these episodes you will have seen me make mention to ‘Microbes and Microbial Life and Activity’. But what do l mean by that? 

“You are never truly alone when composting, there is always something … just over there, watching you and waiting for dinner!

The compost pile is a thriving location for micro and macro organisms, good and bad bacterias. There are many life forms to be found during the decomposition process – some of the bugs are more visible, these are your larger life forms, whilst some cannot be seen with the naked eye but you would need a microscope to view them.

With regards microorganisms- such as bacteria, fungis and actinomycetes,  we are talking literally millions if not billions of life forms present in the tiniest amounts of compost soils – we are talking here their presence is in grams of compost, so a handful – well you are holding an entire galaxy of life – which is why you should NEVER eat raw compost!

I remember reading a few years ago that there are various levels of microbe decomposers – first are the really small ones, next you have marginally bigger life forms and then you have the macro’s which are much bigger and most of these, you are probably all too well aware of. In a easier to understand format – lets look at it like this :

Microorganisms – like bacteria, fungis and actinomycetes ….

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Bacteria

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Fungi

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Actinomycetales By GrahamColm at English Wikipedia

… are at the smallest level of the process of breaking down materials. This lot are really found at the end stage of the decomposition process itself and are mostly found in the actual final product level of humus.

Your next stage upwards would involve the likes of  nematodes, mites, springtails and protozoa which eat the organic matter of your waste products as well as they will predate on the smaller organisms previously mentioned.

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Springtails By Mvuijlst – Own work

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Nematodes By Bob Goldstein, UNC Chapel Hill

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Beetle and Mold Mites

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Protozoa By Picturepest

After these, and going upwards again we have what are more commonly known as your first line of decomposers and these you will know really well, more so if you are gardeners and of course composters. These bugs are the first ones to attack and start on the waste products of your compost heap. They are also referred to as ‘macroorganisms’ – but these are the visual insects you see with your naked eye, so: worms, flies, ants, slugs, snails, woodlice, spiders, beetles and  the centipedes too. I have seen all of these first hand at various stages of the whole process.

This lot tend to start the break down process, they crunch, munch, lunch,  suck, tear and chew and every other variation of ‘eat’ the organic waste matter you provide them and they relish their job.

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Ants

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Earthworms

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Flies

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Slugs

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Snails

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Woodlice [Sow Bugs/Pill Bugs]

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Spiders

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Beetles

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Centipedes

You Are Never Alone!

So, as you can see, you are never alone when composting, but more importantly, it’s not just you doing all the work. As composters we move the content around, we flip it, turn it, mix it, air it, heat it up, cold compost it, calm it down and then wash, rinse and repeat. But this buggy gang are responsible for all the hidden detailed work. I remember talking to a chap who said he was planning on spending an entire week attending to the bug life and to eradicate them from his heap! He would not have it , that they are all a valuable part to the decomposition process. But there are many composters who do not like bugs in their bins!

I do, l have done a lot of  research since my panic over an ant infestation and now – well they are ALL welcome!

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In 2017, l had an enormous ant nest in the heap, l also had one visiting last year and panicked at first not knowing that it wasn’t a bad thing to have ants in the heap. The conditions were just right for them. They arrived not long after the hot composting process had finished. But ants are great – because with their arrival you also enjoy the extra benefits of their presence …

They build tunnels with their nests and this helps, airflow.

They introduce nutrients  in the form of minerals.

Ants feed on compost scraps as well as the smaller organisms.

However, once l started researching it all – what l learned was that the hot composting period was over and that the heap was cooling down. This would mean that the worms present during the cold composting stage were not under any threat in so far as food competition from the ants and that if anything the heap required a turning, sifting and sieving, flipping and dampening down.

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I love my worms, and will do what l can to ensure they are always happy – these are one of the truest friends to your initial compost pile breakdow. They eat the shit, digest it and shit it back out in the form of castings which are highly nutrient filled  and hold many valuable minerals the composting process needs. Also, as l have said before – worms create tunnels and chanels and this helps to assist with the airing process as well as moving these nutrients around the heap. You have got to love your soil suckers.

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I am not a great lover of flies, it has to be said – BUT, they are still more welcome than mosquito’s! I have not had a great deal of hassle with them admittedly, but mostly because my compost heaps are covered .. but flies are an important part to the decomposition process.

I do see however the little annoying flies especially when l have put fresh kitchen scraps in and these are the fruit flies and the fungus flies or gnats l should say. Now you can keep this annoyance down if you up your level of carbons – like cardboard, paper or just leaves on top of your moist waste content.

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I have only occasionally seen a few millipedes in my heap since 2016, but on occasion l do see centipedes and these are great indicators to me and more so if they are present in higher quantities as that means my compost might be too wet, damp or moist. I see them more often during the cold composting process. However they pitch in to the over all responsibilities as well – by predating on insects, small spiders, dead slugs and so on. They are great scavengers also.

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Woodlice, pill bugs or sow bugs have a number of differing names depending where you are in the world. The typical woodlice is the one that curls up into a tight little ball, where as the others do not. But these too are always welcome, they eat leaf matter, vegetable waste and rotting down wood and twigs.

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I don’t want the snails eating my garden, but l am not adverse to putting them into my heaps – they scavenge through waste matter as well as feed on bacteria and fungis. In addition to that, when the snail produces its own waste, the springtails and mites will eat this – which further aids the whole breaking down process … nothing is every truly wasted in a waste heap.

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Well like the snail, l prefer to have the slug working with me as opposed to against me. I am not into cutting these blighters up with a pair of scissors but will deposit them into my compost heaps. Slugs like the snails  will feed on living matter, but they are highly profficient fungi and decaying matter feeders.

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I encounter a lot of spiders in the compost heap, and more so when l have added a lot of leaf matter to the bins and the prime species l encounter is the ‘wolf spider’. Spiders are superb with population control, they will feed on insects and springtails and basically keep balance to the order of life in the compost bin. When l had the pallet set up, l tended to see more of the web building spider species, however l am currently not seeing these that much anymore – but l do see the wolf! “It’s the wolf, it’s the woooolf!!”

“Not So Buggy!”

Of course as l have mentioned before there are other visitors to the compost bins who themselves work like the spiders in so far as keeping, order and balance in the heap – these being the likes, of frogs, toads, newts and slow worms. I know some time ago, a heap l was visiting had a few grass snakes visit – so always be aware that you are not the only one attending to your heap, especially with the bigger feeders like just mentioned – take care when turning your soils over.

And as a little treat, check this out too!

Anyway l’ll take my leave of you now

Thanks for reading everyone, till the next time …

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