Friday, June 15, 2012

What’s Crawling in the Compost Pile?

There is truly an abundance of living creatures that inhabit compost piles.  They range from slugs, centipedes and beetles to tiny microorganisms like fungi and bacteria; some can be seen but most cannot.  Some of the giant inhabitants may be toads and rats.

 The insect population of compost piles will include ants, beetles, cockroaches, centipedes, earwigs, millipedes, sowbugs, springtails and termites as well as flies laying their eggs.  Some insects like earwigs and sowbugs feed on the organic matter; springtails and some beetles like fungi to eat, as do ants; termites, of course, eat wood, and cockroaches like decaying wood.

Spiders and tiny mites are eight legged creatures classified as arachnids rather than insects.  Spiders feed on other insects while mites feed on many things including decomposing plant material, nematodes and fly larvae.

    Nematode on plant root

Some nematodes are garden pests, infesting ornamentals and edibles.  But many are helpful and thrive in compost piles.  They feed on decaying matter, bacteria, protozoa, fungal spores and other nematodes.  Earthworms are especially beneficial.  They help breakdown the organic matter, make N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium) available to the plants and help till the soil.