Why Do I Have Maggots in My Compost?

Why Do I Have Maggots in My Compost

Composting is an art and a science that always keeps you guessing. I can’t tell you how many times I have opened a compost bin or lifted a lid to see some new decomposition agent chowing away at the pile.

Beetles, wiggler worms, and flies are always somewhere in the pile, breaking down food scraps into soil. Sometimes I find little white worms and other types of maggots devouring the food waste. 

Are Maggots in My Yard Waste Pile?

Maggots are attracted to a moist environment and often take over composts with too much green and not enough brown material. Too much wet organic material can lead to a maggot infestation.

Maggots can be present in compost heaps, but they also frequent worm bins and other worm composting farms. Only certain types of maggots are attracted to compost bins, and they can have a brown color or white color based on the food scraps they eat. 

Composts that are heated to high temperatures will be less likely to have maggots than a slow cool compost pile in a humid environment. You may not see maggots if a mesh screen is around the compost or your compost has small entry points. 

Is It Ok to Leave Maggots in Home Compost?

Not only is it okay to have maggots in compost, but the common grub you see is a black soldier fly larva (hermetia illucens). What makes maggots bad for compost isn’t that they are there; it’s the number and type of maggot. 

While the diet of most maggots is similar to the decay found in compost, adult flies vary drastically in appetite and annoyance levels. Horse flies, bull flies, and even common house flies can cause all kinds of problems if they are the source of your maggot infestation.

Fortunately, black soldier flies usually get to compost first, and once they are there, they have a way of making it theirs alone. The adult flies will use pheromones, similar to what ants and other insects use, to alert other fly species that this compost is theirs and theirs alone.

Black Soldier Fly Larva

These flies are amazing composters and may break down food scraps faster than any other insect. The smell of organic matter decaying, specifically citrus fruit and vegetables, attract adult soldier flies. When the flies find a way to the food source, they mate, and the female lays eggs. There can be anywhere from 200 to 650 eggs laid.

It only takes 4 days for the eggs to hatch, and then the brood spills forth and consumes everything in its path. The cool thing about black soldier flies is that the adults no longer have a mouth; they do not eat or bite. The larva will be the only stage this insect has to eat.

After 20 days, the maggots can grow as large as 1 inch before entering the pupa stage, which leads to the adult fly form. Because they do not bite and eat our food waste, but not manure, they are considered good flies to have in the garden. 

Other Types Of Maggots

Fruit flies and other types of insects may lay eggs and breed maggots in your compost. Large biting flies like horse flies will be present if there is manure in your compost. House flies will breed in an open compost without a screen. 

It can be hard to tell by looking at the maggots what type of fly it belongs to, so it’s best to keep an eye on the adult flies in your garden. The adults of whatever maggot is present in your compost should be easy to spot in the garden or nearby. 

Are there Benefits to Having Maggots in Your Compost?

There can be great advantages to having maggots in your compost. When you let the natural ecosystem handle decomposition, you can enjoy better compost faster. Helping make the best environment for composters like black soldier flies will help you get the best compost out of your scraps. 

BenefitHow to Enhance ItBe Aware Of 
Attracts Wild BirdsPlace compost with maggots near places where birds eatBringing birds near your garden can lead them to dine on your fruits and vegetables when the bugs are gone
Food for ChickensGive the larva a ramp to climb, and they will fall into a bucket to escape the moisture when they are ready to transform. Wear rubber gloves when picking them upThe best time to use them as feed is when they are larvae. At the pupa and adult stages, they lose most of their nutritional value. 
Aerates SoilPlace fresh food scraps regularly on top of the pile to draw more maggots to the surface. Too many maggots can turn compost into sludge with less nutrition than worm castings. 
Breaks Compost Down Much FasterThick leaves and gardening waste can be sandwiched between nitrogen-rich materialsBlack soldier flies look like wasps, so be cautious not to mistake them and get stung.

Attract Wild Birds

Birds bring seeds and fertilizer to our yards and can help eat the pests in and around our compost. Having black soldier flies and other beneficial insects attract wild birds can help your compost process and break down faster without worrying about insect infestations. 

Food for Chickens

It can be hard to find enough protein for an egg-laying chicken diet. Hens eat a lot and need the right balance of nutrients, and food for birds can get expensive.

Black soldier fly larvae have one of the highest percentages of protein of any food source on the planet. Imagine how much you can save on chicken feed if you harvest these from your compost. They make great lizard and fish pet food too. 

Aerates Soil

Compost is often referred to as black gold, but only nice oxygen-rich compost can claim that title. Black soldier fly larvae help to turn the soil and break down pockets of moisture that can lead to stagnation.

Turning the pile and placing fresh food scraps on top will drive the maggots through the pile and create tons of breathing spaces preventing an anaerobic environment. 

Breaks Down Compost Faster

Maggots, like black soldier flies, only have 20 days to eat everything they will need for their adult lives after growing wings. They will eat anything that is put in front of them in the compost but prefer plant materials. You can stick thick leaves and yard waste in between food waste to break compost down faster. Watch out for wasps, as they look similar to adult soldier flies. 

How To Remove Maggots from a Compost Pile?

Maggots

If you don’t want maggots because you think they are gross or your maggot infestation has gotten out of hand, then you can remove maggots in a few ways. Some proven strategies are manually removing the maggots, eliminating food sources, changing the environment, getting a predator, and preventing reentry. 

Manually Removing the Maggots: You will want to wear rubber gloves for this one. Reach in and grab the maggots on top and scoop them into a bucket or trash bag. Keep putting new food on top and removing the maggots until you go a few days without seeing them. This method should only be tried if you have prevented new flies from laying eggs. 

Eliminate Food Sources: A quick way to reduce the maggot population is to stop adding food to the compost. add a layer of compost that is all dry material to trap the existing maggots and prevent them from surfacing to change their life cycle stage. Flip the compost tumbler or pile to ensure more maggots are not underneath. 

Change the Environment: Raising or lowering the pH even slightly can give your compost a break from maggots. Pine needles or a cup of lime can be added on top to lower the pH. Lime also makes the soil uncomfortable for adult flies to land on. Flies use smell to find food and places to breed, so a sprinkling of lime also eliminates those scents. 

Get a Predator: Sometimes, the best thing to do to get rid of maggots and insects is to find something that eats them. Opening your compost to birds and other critters who would love a maggot feast may solve your problem. Having a chicken or reptile that loves going through your scraps can be both fun and rewarding for your animal friend. 

Preventing Reentry: It is important that once the maggots are gone, no new ones can enter. A window screen or mesh can be used to cover the entrance to your compost. Makes sure to remove or kill as many adult flies near the opening as possible to stop them from breeding again when the composting process starts.