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posted: 7/12/2013 1:00 AM

Ants help process a compost pile

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By Mary Boldan

Q. With all this rain we have been getting, there is a very large ant kingdom in my compost bin. Can I use Diazinon in the compost bin? If so, is that good to be mixing in with the soil? I just want to make sure it is OK to do unless you have another suggestion. Please let me know. Thank you!

A. As far as using Diazinon, don't. It is a pesticide and will kill the beneficial insects and earthworms that help create healthy compost. The term "cide" is Latin meaning to kill.

Before deciding to get rid of ants, realize that ants play an important role in the composting process in the following ways:

• Ants are natural compost mixers. Brown and green material on the outside of the pile is moved to inside as the ants carry material to and from their nests.

• Oxygen is needed to create compost and works in a process called aeration. Ants dig out hundreds of tunnels to and from their nests. By creating 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.

• As ants eat on kitchen and plant waste, they create their own waste, which becomes fertilizer in the compost pile.

As you can see, they serve a purpose. However, you can avoid a surplus of ants in your compost pile by doing the following:

• A dry pile where the pile is not mixed sufficiently will attract ants. Make sure you mix the compost pile and bury the food materials. The compost pile should be moist, but not wet or soggy. It should be turned every few weeks.

• Make sure the compost pile is hot. This can be accomplished by covering the pile with plastic.

• Cover the compost pile with 2 inches of manure or carbon materials such as dried leaves, bark, sawdust, coffee filters, and egg shells. This will help make the compost healthy, improve its smell and discourage ants.

• Provided by Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Master Gardener Answer Desk is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email

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