Dear Home Ec 101,
Every time I have tried composting, it gets full of ants and I freak out and spray the compost pile. That’s probably not so good, eh? Is it okay for a compost pile or bin to be full of ants?
Scared There’ll be Ants in My Pants¹
I hadn’t experienced this phenomenon so it was off to the garden forums and county extension office for advice. The answer depends partly on where you live.
In some parts of the country where ants avoid moist areas, that may be prone to flooding, getting rid of ants in a compost pile may be as simple as turning it occasionally and keeping it damp. In other, drier place, they are attracted to moisture. If you live in an area with fire ants, please use a long handled rake and wear closed toe shoes before even approaching the pile. Having your feet full of ant stings can make for a miserable few days. A hazmat suit and galoshes would probably be better, but most of us don’t have that laying around.
If fire ants are a problem, look for ant baits that contain spinosad, this is available in several organic ant baits. This organic method of fire ant control, works best when it’s an attractive alternative to your compost pile. What would make it attractive? Proximity to the nest in most cases. Follow the ant trail, if you can. Distribute the bait on a dry day when it isn’t likely to rain for at least twelve hours, if you’re in Florida that may be an issue, I get it.
I’ve never had a problem with ants in my compost pile, while they are all over my yard. The reason? My passive compost pile has an obscene amount of coffee grounds, which ants don’t seem to like. If you are not a coffee drinker, try asking your local Starbucks for grounds. If you have a local shop, talk to the owner, they may also be willing to get rid of their used grounds.
If you have invested in a compost tumbler, you can try setting the legs in buckets of water. Ants typically won’t swim for their snacks.
If it’s just a few ants, the answer may be as simple as burying any kitchen scraps in a few inches of other material making it less accessible to the six-legged scavengers.
¹Ants in my pants, ants in my pants, lookin’ like a fool with ants in my pants. I don’t even watch American Idol and the Pants on the Ground song has been stuck in my head forever.