fire ants in compost bin

naomilovesflipflops(9b FL)August 27, 2008

Went out to turn by compost pile the other day and it had a trillion fire ants in it! Ugh. Luckily I saw them before they tried to kill me. LOL I have a nice big pile of compost out there that I was planning on using for my fall vegetable garden but that will be kinda hard with the crazy big ant pile out there. I have been turning it daily since I found it hoping they would decide to move (on the other side of the fence behind the compost bin would be so cool!) but they just keep on trucking. I'm going to suspend taking my kitchen scraps out there until I get rid of them. Another thing that surprised me about the ants moving in is the large amount of coffee grounds present in my compost. My husband John and I are faithful coffee drinkers and each morning the grounds go out to the bin. I thought all insects including ants were supposed to be anti-coffee. Somehow it doesn't surprise me that the fireants could care less. Anyway......any suggestions on handling the problem? I'm sure it goes w/out saying but I won't use any chemicals as that would totally defeat the purpose of using the compose to add life to the garden. :-)

Thanks so much!


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Organic is good and using compost is a wonderful thing, but why would a one-time use of an ant killer "totally defeat the purpose of using the compost to add life to the garden"?

Naomi, I'm not trying to be mean but I don't get that statement. If it were mine I certainly wouldn't want to use the compost and relocate the ants to my garden. I don't see a judicious use of insecticide as the same thing as using mounds of inorganic chemicals on veggies.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 5:16PM
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JerryatTreeZoo(Z10 So Fla)

One word: Amdro.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 5:51PM
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naomilovesflipflops(9b FL)

No worries Kate, I didn't interpret it that you were trying to be mean. One of the purposes in my using compost is building soil biology which is the foundation of any organic program. Putting insecticide down would most likely kill everything living in my compost- not just the ants. Hope that explains the statement I made. I certainly wasn't planning on using the compost in my garden while the ants were in it. Just thought somebody else might have any easy solution I hadn't thought of b/c I have never encountered this problem in my bin.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 7:17PM
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annafl(z9b/10a Sarasota)

Hi Naomi!

Sounds like a frustrating problem. I have crazy ants in mine, but no fire ants.....yet! Gosh, I hope I didn't jinx myself. As awful as fire ants are, remember that all ants are decomposers, so they are really assisting the process as they help themselves to your goodies. I really don't have a sure fire answer (no pun intended), but I would try a number of things. If you are up for it, put your boots on, get your pitchfork, and spend a couple of minutes every day disturbing them. Maybe they will move if there is regular disturbance. If your pile is not too wet from the rain, you might try adding daily water with a hose, to the disturbance time. In our heat, it can be difficult to keep a large pile moist, so it may actually be beneficial to water it daily, unless you've gotten lots of rain lately with Fay. I think small amounts of daily UCG may not be enough. Have you tried to get the large, plastic bags of UCG from SB and cover the mounds with them? Personally, most of the time, I put UCG straight on my plants. I use it as compost itself and I feel like it's precious and that I might be wasting some of it if I process it through my compost first.

If all else fails, and your pile is not too big, try covering it for a few days with a tarp. Fire ants generally like sunshine, so they will move somewhere else. Maybe not permanently, but long enough for you to be able to turn your pile without fear of being attacked.

I don't know if there is any basis to this, but I'll tell you what works for me in my yard. When we moved here, less than 3 years ago, this yard was sort of abandoned. Fire ant mounds were not uncommon. We are big mulchers (several inches of wood chips in many areas). We have no fireants except at the very edges of our property (where the mulch stops). Very rarely, in our utility area of the yard, when the mulch gets thin, I might see a small, linear mound forming by my stepping stones. If I get some wood chips and cover the exposed areas thickly, the ants disappear again. I don't know why, but that is my experience. If you can get wood chips, you might lay that as the foundation of your compost pile in the future? Or maybe just the immediate surrounding area?

Another note, if you have any way of getting your pile to heat up quickly, for sure they would go away, but this usually requires larger amounts of material at once.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that the compost pile I have on the ground in my yard I reserve for mostly yard waste.... and an occassional nitrogen burst from my DH. I end up putting my kitchen scraps in my two bins, where creatures can't get to it. Sometimes I put leaves and paper in these as browns if things start getting a bit funky, and it goes back to being fresh.

Wishing you luck and a pile of gardener's gold for your trouble. Please keep us posted on what happens. I'd like to know what ends up working for you so I can learn from it too. Don't let this discourage you. You'll find the solution. Happy composting!


    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 9:42PM
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rednofl(9b Goldenrod Fl hz 10)

Do a search for Anti Fuego Soil Conditioner it will work on fire ants and your compost pile will be happy don't know if ants are green or brown tho
It is basically orange oil, molasses and compost tea mixed
Hope this helps

Here is a link that might be useful: malcom beck anti fuego

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 9:58AM
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That's an interesting mix. Please let us know if it works!

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 10:31AM
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naomilovesflipflops(9b FL)

Thanks for the great suggestions Anna! I appreciate your response.

Hey Red- I have read much about the molasses/compost tea/ orange oil mix here on the organic forums of GW. Based on what I read often times the ants will be encouraged to move with the simple addition of microbes. Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the fact that they were present in my compost to BEGIN with......but who knows. Anyway, based on that reading I dumped an entire bag of Epsoma compost accelerator ($5 @ Lowes) that I had out in the garage into the bin and mixed it in well. They were gone the next night when I went to check it out. So not sure if that was effective or if it was the fact that I had been disturbing the whole bin daily for 3 days. Either way I'm happy!

Again, thanks!


    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 11:19AM
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linda441(z9 florida)

You have the crazy ants too???!! What do you use to get/keep them under control? From what I understand they like everything in my yard---rocks, mulch, plants, soil landscape timbers etc. I have someone coming Tues to start treating but there is no guarantee that they can get them totally under control.
These things are a major PITA, but they do eat fireants!!!

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 11:45AM
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Sounds like crazy ants are like puppies!

I've got a puppy who eats all of the above, plus whatever else fits in his mouth (he's quite fond of areca fronds because he drag them all over the yard. thank goodness ants can't do that yet!)

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 1:35PM
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linda441(z9 florida)

No comparison!!! These are ants that have been studied and to date there is NO WAY to eradicate them. Getting them under control is possible, but takes awhile and costly. Puppies you can contain--these crazies you can't!
They don't eat your plants but my plants are not doing nearly as well as they did on my other property. They are possibly taking nutrients out of the soil and may be damaging root structure. UF is doing research studies on these but nothing determined yet.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 1:55PM
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annafl(z9b/10a Sarasota)

Naomi, I'm so glad your problem is solved. Who knows what the reason was... maybe the turning, the compost accelerator, or maybe they just decided they liked someplace else better! What a great example and education you are providing your kids with the composting. I hope it is becoming a more 'fashionable' thing to do these days with the recent upsurge in the organic movement and locally grown, slow food movements. Do you think so?

Linda, I do have a number of different types of ants on my property but not so many that they are bothersome or that I would call them an infestation. I have the native ants that form the volcano type small mounds though I haven't really seen them since spring, the all-black crazy ants here and there, some other type of slightly larger black ant, and the carpenter ants that love the dead running bamboo on the property line shared by my neighbor. I don't know if I have the carribbean ant. My understanding is that they are red and move like the black crazy ants? Haven't noticed those yet, but maybe they will be here soon. I don't really do anything for ant control. They are not in my house and I don't really mind them too much in my yard. I figure they have their role in the scheme of things. I am not real squeamish with bugs outside and am actually quite interested in them. I have not noticed any damage to plants from ants.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 3:58PM
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