how to get rid of cockroaches in compost bin

What To Do About Cockroaches in Compost

Discovering that you have cockroaches in your compost pile isn’t pleasant, but it’s not the end of the world. If you use your compost bin correctly, you shouldn’t have a problem, but there are times when you’ll need to take action to get rid of a cockroach infestation.

Cockroaches live in compost because it’s an abundant source of food and moisture. You can remove cockroaches by sprinkling diatomaceous earth, increasing the compost’s temperature, covering it with a container, and using chickens as a form of pest control. However, you might want to reconsider removing roaches. Cockroaches are decomposers that will help fertilize the waste that you add to your compost pile. 

Compost is commonly kept close to homes, leaving you vulnerable to roach infestations. If you’re concerned about roaches are getting into your home, act quickly to prevent roaches from breeding and causing an infestation.

Will Compost Attract Cockroaches?

If you use your compost bin correctly, you’re unlikely to have a pest problem. Compost piles should have a 20:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen materials.

Carbon includes dried materials, such as straw, branches, leaves, and shredded twigs. Nitrogen materials include grass clippings and vegetable matter. When you mix carbon and nitrogen materials in the correct quantities, the compost should smell earthy and pleasant and shouldn’t smell at all pungent.

Unfortunately, as soon as you start adding too many nitrogen-based materials, such as decaying meat, grease, and dairy, into the compost, it’ll start to smell foul. This is when you’re most likely to get a cockroach problem.

Cockroaches are attracted to rotten stenches because an abundant source of food usually accompanies them. While roaches usually prefer to dig through leaf litter when they’re outside, they’re far from picky when choosing a suitable home. As long as it gives them access to food and water, they’ll make do.

Do Cockroaches Live in Compost?

Cockroaches predominantly feed on waste, including rotting and decaying food. As described by Biotropica, cockroaches are a clade of detritivore-herbivore insects. This means they eat all kinds of garbage. In fact, there are not many things that cockroaches won’t eat. They commonly feast on:

  • Meat carcasses
  • Decaying fruit and veg
  • Newspaper
  • Food scraps, such as potato peel and avocado skins
  • Leaves and grass clippings

It’s also likely that you keep your compost outside, either exposed or in a bin. This means cockroaches have easy access to drainage pipes, hoses, watering cans, and frost ­– all of which offer ample hydration. Water, food, and shelter are all roaches need to survive, so for some, compost makes an ideal home.

While compost is an excellent way to utilize food scraps instead of throwing them away, cockroaches will undoubtedly be drawn to it, especially at night. Compost also provides them with all the nutrients they need to survive and keeps the pests protected. That’s why you might find you have a roach problem inside yours.

Why Are There Cockroaches in My Compost Bin?

The truth is, compost bins create the perfect environment for cockroaches to live in. Not only do they provide an abundant source of food, but they’re packed with moisture that roaches need to survive.

Cockroaches also forage in groups. Unfortunately, if you see a cockroach in your compost bin, there are likely more lurking nearby or hiding deep inside of it. That’s because roaches communicate in several ways to alert each other about available food. These methods include:

  • Stridulation: Wild roaches create friction with their wings and legs by rubbing them together. They also open and close holes in their exoskeleton to make a soft chirp.
  • Pheromones: According to Chemistry of Pheromones and Other Sociochemical, pheromones allow roaches to give commands to one another.
  • Aggregation Pheromones: This pheromone is specifically used to get cockroaches in one area as a large group. They’re made up of skin, poop, and fatty acids.

Because of these communication abilities, you might discover your compost becomes infested with cockroaches due to the entire colony moving into it. You’re more likely to find them in your compost during winter, where cockroaches can be warm and sheltered from the elements.

how to keep cockroaches out of compost bins

How To Get Rid of Cockroaches in Compost Bin

If you suspect there are cockroaches in your compost bin, inspect it at night with a torch, as you’re more likely to see them at night.

When doing so, turn the pile to find pests that have rooted themselves in deep. If there are cockroaches living amongst the composting matter, you should see them scurrying for cover as you expose them. Even if you only see one, there’s likely to be dozens more lurking nearby, so don’t assume that your compose is safe.

Thankfully, you can deal with your cockroaches in compost problem in the following ways:

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is one the most effective natural pest control treatments. Over the years, cockroaches have developed a resistance to pesticides, meaning they’re no longer as effective.

Also, you probably don’t want to use hazardous chemicals in your compost in order to prevent contamination, particularly if you’re planning to use it in your garden later on. That’s where natural pesticides come in.

Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring powder extracted from diatoms. It looks and feels like sand, but it’s much finer, consisting of 80 to 90% silica. When a cockroach comes into contact with it, the silica absorbs the water, oils, and fats from the roach, killing it.

It does take 2-3 weeks for death to occur, but it’s safe for humans and pets to use. As a result, it’s become one of the most popular methods of pest control in recent years.

Increase the Compost’s Temperature

Compost needs to be between 130 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit in order for decomposition to take place. Not only that, but cockroaches can’t nest and reproduce in these temperatures.

If you’ve created your compost pile correctly with the right material ratio, it should naturally generate heat. But if you’ve got too much carbon, the compost won’t be hot enough,  and the cockroaches will rapidly multiply. To increase the heat, add an activator, such as:

  • Chicken manure
  • Horse manure
  • Weeds
  • Waste coffee grind
  • Blood meal
  • Volcanic rock

You can purchase these items from a standard garden center. Similarly, avoid putting large branches and thick piles of grass into your compost at once, as these items reduce the overall heat your compost pile can produce.

Chickens

This won’t work for everyone, but chickens make excellent pest control companions if your yard is large enough. They also need access to an open compost pile. Cockroaches are a rich source of essential nutrients, so it’s safe for chickens to snack on cockroaches every now and then.

As mentioned, chicken manure is also an effective compost activator, which benefits your compost. While chickens are unlikely to cope with a full-scale cockroach invasion, they’re ideal at keeping the odd few away, preventing them from breeding and reproducing.

How To Keep Cockroaches Out of Compost Bins

To keep cockroaches out of your compost bin, you must make it as unappealing as possible. You might also need to seal cracks and gaps to stop roaches from squeezing in. The good news is keeping cockroaches out of compost is relatively simple if you follow these steps:

Seal Off Access

One of the most fool-proof ways of stopping cockroaches in their tracks is to seal off all access points to your compost. If you don’t already have a sealed container for it, it’s a good idea to get one. A closed-reactor or in-vessel system is best, as they’re already fully enclosed.

You could always cover the compost with a plastic sheet to stop cockroaches from gaining access. Whenever you add organic matter to the pile, place a layer of soil or plant matter over the top to cover the scent.

If you’ve already got your compost in a secure container, inspect the outside and lid for any small nooks and crannies. Adding a layer of gravel up to 12 inches wide around the container should also help deter roaches, as they can’t eat it.

Regularly Turn the Compost

Regularly turning the compost pile displaces cockroaches and their hiding spots. Whenever you add fresh materials to the pile, place them right in the center as you turn the rest of the matter over.

By burying the materials instead of letting them lay right at the top, you’ll hide them from cockroaches, making the pests less likely to make your compost their home.

Turning the pile is also beneficial in other ways, as it increases the temperature, killing harmful pathogens. If you don’t fancy doing this by hand, an aerator might help. The motion will be quicker and sharper, wrenching cockroaches out with speed and ease.

Add More Water

Your compost pile should be 40 to 60% water. You should be able to squeeze water out of your compost pile, but it shouldn’t be soggy or saturated. If you think your compost pile’s too dry, add more water. This will make it more difficult for roaches to navigate and they won’t enjoy sitting in water. There’s also a greater chance they could drown.

To test your compost’s water levels, put on some gloves, pick up a handful of compost, and squeeze it. It should feel like a wet sponge. Instead of placing lots of water into the compost in one go, gradually add it so that you don’t oversaturate it.

Limit Food Waste

To keep cockroaches away from your compost pile, be careful with how much food waste you put into it. If you add too much in one go, it’ll start to smell, and roaches will be attracted to it. Adding food waste gradually is best – at least until you know your compost pile is safe from roaches.

As mentioned, whenever you do add new food to the pile, make sure it’s thoroughly mixed with a dry material to offset the tempting odor.

Are Cockroaches Compostable?

Like all other living things, cockroaches decompose. Roaches degrade within one to three days, and as they do, their bodies release water, nutrients, and energy back into the ecosystem.

Within a compost pile, dead roaches fortify the soil, eventually giving life to plants and other greenery. Even if you choose to eliminate the pests in your compost heap, leave them in there instead of picking them out. Through death, they can have a significant impact on the quality of your compost.

Are Cockroaches Good for Compost?

Even though your first thought might be to remove all cockroaches from your compost, they are highly beneficial and can be a helpful asset in turning the waste matter into reusable compost.

As described by Indiana Public Media, cockroaches are decomposers that break down the trash as they eat it. Because cockroaches are detritivore-herbivore insects, they eat detritus, including leaf litter, rotting fruit, and decaying matter – all the things you’re likely to add to your compost pile.

By feasting on the food remnants stored in a compost bin, cockroaches process it and help turn it into fertilizer, ready to help flowers, plants, and lawns grow. Their bodies can cope with this because they contain bacteria and protozoa that help convert waste into nutrients.

Cockroach waste also nourishes plants. Organic matter, such as leaf litter and wood, traps nitrogen. When cockroaches eat them, they release the nitrogen into the soil through their feces, nourishing plants and trees and helping them grow.

While you might need to control the cockroach population in your compost pile to prevent it from being overrun, it’s wise to leave at least a few roaches in there to speed up the process. If you choose to do this, ensure you keep your compost away from your home to minimize the risk of cockroaches sneaking in. 

Wood cockroaches are most beneficial for compost. They’re chestnut brown with a flat, oval body and spiny legs. They’re different from American and German cockroaches, but they’re commonly confused because they look very similar. They live outside but sometimes wander into homes by mistake.

The best thing about wood roaches is that once decomposition is complete, they move on. They don’t stick around because they only feed on decaying vegetative matter. Similarly, human homes aren’t a suitable environment for them, so you shouldn’t have to worry about them invading your house.

Why Do I Have Cockroaches in My Yard at Night?

As mentioned, you’re more likely to see cockroach activity at night. Roaches are nocturnal, so they’re at their most active and alert after dark. Sadly, this makes them difficult to spot in the yard unless you look closely or already know where to find them. Not only will you find cockroaches in your compost, but they’ll hide in:

  • Flowerbeds, especially mulch
  • Garbage cans
  • Wood piles
  • Piles of leaves and debris
  • Inside tree holes
  • Around drains

Similarly, the roach species you’re most likely to find outside include:

  • Florida woods
  • American
  • Oriental
  • Smoky brown
  • Brown-banded
  • Turkestan

Yards are often a haven for pests. If your yard is wet or moist, roaches will be drawn to it. This is even more likely if you have leaf and wood piles that cockroaches like to use for shelter and sustenance.

Roaches also hide in fissures and cracks in walls and gaps under patios. In the daytime, it’s doubtful you’ll ever spot them as they’ll be expertly tucked away. Yards are also the pathway to get inside the home. Most cockroaches would prefer to be warm and cozy inside the home, and drains, doorways, and windows give them access.

will compost attract cockroaches?

How To Prevent An Outdoor Cockroach Problem

There are specific steps you can take to prevent and control an outdoor cockroach infestation and stop the pests from gaining entry into your home. These include:

Seal All Entry Points

We’ve mentioned that yards lead into the house, so seal all cracks and gaps to stop roaches from squeezing through. If you have any damaged soffits or window screens, replace them as quickly as you can. Roaches can get through the smallest of gaps and won’t waste any time in doing so.

Similarly, caulk openings around pipes, plumbing, windowsills, doors, and electrical outlets. Seal all drains with a mesh screen if possible, as some cockroach species will crawl up them to get inside the house.

Eliminate Food and Water Sources

Cockroaches won’t stay in your yard if there’s nothing for them to eat and drink. While they find water easily through puddles and dew, you can minimize the chances of them choosing your yard as their home by removing anything that has the potential to harbor water.

Also, be careful not to overwater your plants. Roaches will drink the surplus waste. Because the plants will remain wet for a long time afterward, the pests will be hydrated for days.

Keep the Yard Tidy

Another great way to prevent cockroaches from causing a nuisance in your yard is to remove all woodpiles and dead leaves, tidying them away before roaches can get to them. Similarly, cut off tall grasses and overgrown bushes.  

If you need to keep mulch and wood in your garden, move them at least one foot away from your house. Instead, place an inorganic material around your home to prevent cockroaches from breeding. Pebbles or gravel will do.

If you notice any tree holes, fill them in with cement and keep all trash cans covered with a secure lid or plastic sheet. Keep all plants and shrubbery well maintained and monitor them for any suspect bite marks.

Cockroaches have a high number of compost benefits. They can help fertilize it and speed up the composting process. For that reason, you might want to reconsider removing them from your compost heap. Even in death, roaches have their uses as they decompose into the ecosystem.

However, be sure to keep the roach population under control; otherwise, there’s a risk that they could overrun your yard once the decomposition process is complete.