The Q&A Archives: Compost Questions

Question: I built a compost bin early last spring. When I recently added the compost to my garden, I noticed that it contained a lot of brown beetles and slugs. I saw no ordinary earth worms, though. Are these critters supposed to be in the compost and do they help the process of composting at all? The compost has a slight foul odor to it as well.

Answer: A healthy compost pile should be teeming with creatures of all kinds, ranging in size from microscopic to inches long. You've probably uncovered some potworms, and some scarab beetles. These are normal discoveries in a compost bin. Earthworms are sensitive to heat and generally stay out of compost bins, preferring to live in the cool, moist soil. Don't worry about most of the creatures you see, as they won't hurt your garden or growing plants. Their preference is to feed on and break down organic debris. Slugs are another matter, though. They will feast on your plants, so keep an eye out for them and remove them.

Foul-smelling compost is a sign of too much moisture. Try turning the compost to incorporate some air, and helping excess moisture evaporate. The pile will heat up when it has the right moisture content, and you can keep things cooking by moving the cooler material on the sides into the center of the pile. The insects and worms will stay in the cooler parts of the pile to continue feeding on decaying organic matter. Your compost will be ready to use when it's brown, crumbly, and has unrecognizable bits of organic matter. It should smell like clean soil. If you can still identify roots or leaves, the compost needs more time.

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