Working with Ants in Your Compost Bin
Ants can be beneficial to the composting process in multiple ways. They are recognized as being macrorganisms or physical decomposers because they are able to break down vegetable and fruit scraps for smaller microorganisms to feed on as part of the decomposition process. Ants can be a great asset to a compost bin.
Before deciding to get rid of these decomposers, it's worth seeing how they can benefit the process of decomposition in your compost pile.
Benefit #1- Shred Waste
Ants have a steady diet of materials such as fungi, seeds, sweets and plant scraps in the compost bin for food and shelter.
When ants eat they chew, tear or grind on the waste. They also tear up waste to take back to their nest or to clear passageways in the bin. Both of these actions assist in the process of breaking down the green and brown materials in the compost bin. The ants eventually make the material more sizeable for microscopic decomposers.
The microscopic decomposers can not break down large scraps as quickly as they do smaller pieces so the smaller the ants create scraps, the quicker compost is prepared.
Benefit #2- Mix Waste
Ants are natural compost mixers. Brown and green material on the outside of the bin is moved to inside as the ants carry material to and from their nests.
As ants burrow and tunnel through the compost they are also moving fungi and smaller organisms to their nests which in turn move minerals around the compost like phosphorus and potassium. Although it is still a necessity to mix the compost manually, ants provide an ongoing army of workers to carry out a mixing program of their own!
Benefit #3- Create Aeration
Oxygen is needed to create compost and works in a process called aeration.
Ants dig out hundreds of tunnels to and from their nests in compost piles. This gives them quick access to food in different areas of the bin. As ants create these tunnels, they are also creating airways. Air is able to travel through the tunnels to multiple places in the compost bin allowing the process of aeration to begin.
Benefit #4- Add Fertilizer
As ants eat on kitchen and plant waste that is put into the bin, they create their own waste. Ant excrement is digested by a bacterium that creates more nutrients in the compost bin. As a result, ant waste is enriched fertilizer that is beneficial to the compost.
Ants not only help in processing compost, but they actually add their own brand of fertilizer to it.
Benefit #5- Eat Other Insects
An ants' presence will reduce the presence of other insects in the compost bin. If the compost bin is home to ants, they will keep many other insects from harboring in the bin.
Ants will eat other insects as well as plant waste. Ants are known to eat insects such as springtails, some types of mites, beetles, nematodes and soil flatworms.