Composting: When a Maggot Infestation is a Good Thing - The Public Goods Blog Composting: When a Maggot Infestation is a Good Thing - The Public Goods Blog

Composting: When a Maggot Infestation is a Good Thing

Despite the fact that you are dealing with garbage, for me, there has always been a certain beauty to composting.

grass, dirt, compost, rocks

Perhaps it is the cycle of taking the produce of the earth and returning it so that new organisms can grow. In this cycle is the essence of nature.

I started composting six years ago because I found it is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce waste. The results are beneficial to my garden, making it a win-win.

I picked a tumbler-style compost bin that was elevated above the ground and could be spun manually to aerate it. I enjoyed the process of tossing in my fruit and vegetable scraps and yard clippings, watching as, over time, it turned into a nutrient-rich, dense soil that I could use in my garden to grow more produce.

Sometimes I cook more often, and other times, the busyness of life keeps me from being able to do so. Eating out means I contribute to my compost less, and contributing to my compost less means I forget to check on it and spin it.

One day, during a particularly busy season, I took some scraps out to feed the compost. A large fly was hovering over the compost bin, buzzing in my face. I swatted it away and opened the bin to find little beige and white worms crawling all over my precious compost. I immediately panicked and slammed the little door to the compost shut.

“Were those little worms maggots?” I wondered.

Then I did what any modern person does. I performed an image search online for maggots.
Let me be clear here: Do not ever do an image search for maggots. Never. There are some things that cannot be unseen.

Maggots are notorious for being disgusting little creatures, showing up in the most unsanitary conditions and feeding on rotting food and flesh, and now my beautiful compost was suddenly ruined with the ugliness of maggots. I asked myself, how did I get maggots, and how do I get rid of them? I had a fear they would climb out of the compost bin and start chewing on me. The thought made my skin crawl.

Then I started to educate myself on maggots.

Then I started to educate myself on maggots. There was a lot I didn’t know. Specifically, I didn’t know they are harmless and one of the best things that could have happened to my compost.

Maggots are fly larvae, usually from the Black Soldier Fly. There’s no need to fear these flies, even though they are often mistaken for wasps, because they do not bite or carry disease. That was the fly that was hovering over my compost bin and didn’t want me to disturb it. Basically, it was telling me, “Leave my babies alone. They’re eating.”

And eat they do. Maggots, essentially, are born into food waste, especially in moist environments, and live their lives feeding upon that waste. Additionally, I learned I shouldn’t have been worried about them biting me, as maggots only feed on things that are already dead.

These little guys eat and eat and eat, creating compost faster than I ever could have without them. There has been a video on YouTube for several years of a horde of maggots consuming an entire pizza in just a couple of hours. It turns out that maggots can play an important role in decomposition and recycling those nutrients back into the soil. A watermelon rind that would normally take months to turn into compost was composted with the help of the maggots in a matter of weeks.

Because I use a compost bin that is outdoors and away from my house, as well as the fact that I educated myself on the benefits of maggots, I did not need to worry about getting rid of them.

If you happen to find maggots in your compost, first of all, don’t panic like I did. Remember that they are harmless and helpful.

But if you’d like to get rid of them, here are some tips:

  1. Add more browns. Your compost should be a balance of wet and dry materials. Dry materials, also called browns, are things like dried leaves and cardboard. Maggots need a moist environment to survive. Adding more browns would create a dryer compost and help banish the maggots.
  2. Cover holes with a screen to keep out flies. If flies cannot enter your compost to lay larvae, you will never get maggots. To make sure you keep them out for good, try covering air holes with a mesh screen.

Eventually the maggots in my compost died, and their bodies then decomposed as well. I was a little sad to see them go.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for all the work they did, and the thick, rich soil they left behind. Who would have thought that maggots could be a part of something so beautiful?

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