The Q&A Archives: From Compost To Garden

Question: Our kindergarten class has a lively, ever-growing compost pile, full of hard-working decomposers. We have a problem, however. Our garden is growing well, but we have a terrible pill bug problem. They demolish our strawberries, radishes, and seedlings. We think that when we add composted soil to our garden we are probably bringing a lot of pill bugs and their eggs along with it. What do you think, and what can you recommend? We know our compost is the best soil we could add to our garden, but we don't want to bring pill bugs (and sow bugs and slugs)along with it.

Answer: The roly-poly pill bugs actually feed on decomposing organic matter, so generally they're considered beneficial in the garden. However, when populations are large there's quite a bit of competition for food. It sounds as though the critters have moved on from consuming organic debris to feeding on your fruit and veggies. That's not a good thing! You can trap the pests by making tubes out of rolled up newspapers and placing them in the garden in the late afternoon. Early the next morning, collect the tubes (and the hiding critters) and throw them in the trash (or release them somewhere other than your garden or compost pile). To reduce the pill bug population in your compost pile, you simply need to help it heat up. This will drive the pests away. Make sure you have a balance of green and brown debris in your compost pile, and be sure to mix the contents of the pile every week or so, moving the warm center out towards the edges and the material around the edges into the center. As your compost decomposes it will generate heat, which should drive at least some of the pill bugs out of the pile. Best wishes with your gardening project!

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