Sunday, November 16, 2008

Will Termites Invade Compost Piles?

Someone recently inquired on one of my favorite listservs about whether or not their newly established compost piles would attract termites.

I would not worry about termites as much as rats and raccoons. Termites want standing dead wood. Healthy piles of compost are not what they like best.

After years of experimenting with completely open bins, I found that unwelcome animal visitors were a real problem. The one I have now is rat and raccoon proof. (I also was lucky enough to buy it for $10 a yard sale...recycling at its finest!)
The bin works well, although because it is small I cannot do all of our yard waste. I can do kitchen scraps year round, though, and most of our garden waste except the leaves.

The leaves are staying put around the root zones of my larger trees. I've raked them neatly with a sort of a serpentine edge, so that it looks like a garden, and not like someone just forgot their chores. They are forming a border to my yard, basically, with grass in the middle. (In past years we raked them to the curb where they were vacuumed up and recycled into leaf mold for gardens by the county.)

Some people say you should shred the leaves before winter, but most of the info I read from cooperative extension offices online said that wasn't really necessary if you were leaving them under their trees. I'll see how it goes. Admittedly, my leaves are mostly small maples and break down pretty quickly, so they won't blow away or anything. I might spread some finished compost on top in a few places, just to give the breakdown process an extra jumpstart.

In the spring I plan to augment some of the native wildflowers under the trees, by planting more Virginia bluebells. I already have white wood aster, violets, golden ragwort and snake root plants that come up in those areas. We also get some lovely green moss, which I think is dreamy-looking in early spring. All of these native plants have proven themselves to be kid proof, and come back stronger each year, providing an area where my kids can run through wildflowers any day they want to, just because. It is so shady, no lawn would grow under there anyhow, and I have not mowed under my trees for three years. I just have to constantly make sure the invasive exotics don't pop up and take over. This takes constant vigilance on my part, and a pretty good knowledge of the differences between native sprouts and non-native sprouts.

I hope that now the leaves will help feed the soil and the trees. I also think it will increase the food available for birds, because the number of worms and other insects available will increase.

I keep my closed compost bin away from the house, but its on rollers and I can move it through the year. During winter we put it right over top of the veggie garden, which is now at rest. That way, any excess moisture that runs out of the bin feeds the soil, and the worms and come and go as they want on warm days, in and out of the bin's little air holes. (Two days ago when I opened it there were hundreds of them going crazy in the warm, fresh, rainy air at the top of the bin. )Also, on cold or rainy winter days we do not have to walk far out the door to put our kitchen scraps in there, which means we are more likely to actually make sure to put them in the bin at the end of the day.

In the summer, we roll it back to its base by our shed in the far back of the yard, where its smell cannot permeate the play areas. I am proud to say our bin is alive and well and that the smell is one that is supposed to be there... It is a smell I actually like because to me it is like smelling the freshness of a garden in summer, akin to the way some people feel about the salty smell of the beach. But I am sensitive to the fact that my guests to not always have the same happy associations. (Also, it is important to note that the back of my yard is not close to my neighbor's house, so they don't have to smell anything in summer, either.)

You can find a lot of the basic info on compost by hunting around, but the
EPA's compost site is a good place to start.

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