Letters to Green Guru: Composting

I saw your advice column in the Jan-Feb issue (2009) and have started my compost bin. I wonder when it gets really hot how can the worms survive in the bin? I am adding newspaper and soaking it down to keep it moist, but the temps here in Alabama can get up to 80-85, and the mixture heats up, too. My yard is really shady, but the bin is in the sun for at least six hours a day. Also, I have a lot of ants in there. Is that good? Will the ants run the worms off?
Hellon Millard

Dear Mr. Millard,

Don’t worry about your wigglers. Worms thrive in temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, according to New York City’s Lower East Side Ecology Center (LESEC). Your heap will naturally generate a bit of heat, and the temperatures can help the scraps break down.

A bunch of ants are usually a sign that your pile is too dry. Make it wetter by adding more scraps or adding newspaper the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. The ants could also help your pile, according to the Santa Cruz County Department of Public Works. “Ants may actually benefit the composting process by bringing fungi and other organisms into their nests. The work of ants can make compost richer in phosphorus and potassium by moving minerals from one place to another,” the website states.

Too many mites, however, could lead to problems. “Some mites are fine,” according to the LESEC, “but if you notice an abundance, take out the food where the mites are congregating. Add dry bedding to reduce the moisture level.”

In worms we trust,

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