Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tip on Using Compost in Containers

It occurred to me that in my previous post I suggested using living, active soil in containers. I failed to mention that those containers are outside.

If finished compost is the most wonderful soil there is, why not use it to fill the pots for your houseplants, or at least amend the soil in the pots? Well, one simple reason: bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Big ones, little ones, benign ones and biting ones. Compost is home to lots and lots of bugs, which is only natural. After all, they do a lot of the breaking down of the material. They even become part of the material after they die. But you don't want them in your house. So if you are going to use the compost, you need to process it.

Now, you can bake, steam or boil it, but that kills ALL the life in the compost, not just the bugs. Part of the reason compost is so great is that it is so very alive. Plants thrive in a living soil. So how do you kill the bugs without harming all the beneficial fungus and bacteria? Use the metabolic rate of animals against them. Bacteria and fungus can survive in extremely low oxygen environments for extended periods of time without any serious detrimental side-effects. Bugs cannot. So put your compost in a ziploc-type (sorry, don't know the non-name brand term for those bags) bag or some other container that you know will be ABSOLUTELY air-tight and put it in a warm, dark place and make sure it is moist, but not soggy. Let it sit for a minimum of 3 days. A full week without air would be better. The active compost in the container will quickly use up the little oxygen that is there and kill off almost all of the bugs.


  1. Good thought! I toss mine in the freezer, figuring that most of the good beasties will be able to respond to the cold a lot faster than the bugs coming from high temps to zero in a matter of an hour or so.

    I also turn wood for a hobby, and have found it useful to nuke ash for a few minutes before turning it. A couple freeze-nuke-freeze-nuke cycles seems to take all the fight out of the emerald ash borer.

    And dry them out enough that I don't get spashed with bug guts.

  2. Bill - Yes, freezing can kill lots of the baddies. I keep hoping it will get cold enough at my place to kill the huge numbers of fruit flies in my compost. Problem is, it gets too warm during the day. Oh well, I'll just get some beneficial nematodes this spring. Should take care of the problem. Should also take care of the fungus gnats. I know they kill fungus gnats. I think they kill fruit flies.

  3. It's so exciting to find a blog about all of my favorite subject - mushrooms, plants, compost, bugs, microbes...keep up the good work!