Maggots in the Pile?

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: Humanure Composting Around the World: Maggots in the Pile?
Author: Daniel Ernst
Thursday, August 12, 2004 - 1:27 pm
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We recently moved into a temporary dwelling, started using an outdoor sawdust toilet. We have been impressed with the system - the lack of odors - the ease of management. However, I recently have discovered what I think are maggots in the compost pile. I'll try to describe my situation:

We live in North Central Arkansas. The climate is hot / humid throughout the summer. We have a ready supply of oak hardwood sawdust, which we use as a cover material in the toilet. The toilet is outdoors. We sometimes find small flies (size of a fruit fly) in our toilet, and notice a few house flies around the lid, but they are a minor nuisance. The oak sawdust has a fresh odor and is an excellent cover material. The only time it stinks is when the bucket is first emptied onto the pile (ammonia smell from urine at the bottom of the bucket).

At the start we built a two bin composting system, each side having a volume of 80 cubic feet. We typically place our kitchen scraps in the pile first, followed by humanure / sawdust, then cover with wheat straw (another readily available material).

I dug into the pile, after about two months, and found thermophilic conditions ~ 8" from the top layer, but about this time I also started seeing white / beige worms (~3/4" long) near the outside edges of the pile. They appear to feed on garden scraps, which we sometimes place in the pile. I have witnessed them devour a half-rotten bell pepper in a matter of hours.

I have a couple of theories on how they made it into the pile: 1) My four year old didn't always cover his deposits very well, when we first started using this system. 2) I have found birds digging into the pile, scratching away the cover material, to look for food (bugs? worms?). This left the humanure / sawdust mixture exposed to flies.

I have a number of questions. Should we be concerned about the maggots? Are they good, because they are a natural part of the decomposition process? Or do they spread illness? Am I doing something wrong? Am I not using enough cover material at the pile?

We don't seem to have a larger number of house flies in our dwelling compared to when we lived in a suburban house, so I'm not too concerned about the house fly population. It may be that our pheobes, bats, and dragonflies are helping! I'm simply wondering if this is an issue.

I read The Handbook several years ago, when planning our new country lifestyle. Since moving here we have made composting, humanure composting, and gardening some of our main priorities. Thanks to Joseph Jenkins for the book, and this internet resource!

Author: admin
Saturday, August 14, 2004 - 12:12 pm
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Use more cover material and keep a piece of wire fencing or wire mesh over the top of the pile to keep the birds and any other animals from digging into it. Dig a shallow hole in the center of the top of the pile and add your deposits there (remove the wire before adding material, of course).

The toilet should be indoors, too.

Joe Jenkins

Author: Daniel Ernst
Saturday, August 21, 2004 - 5:59 pm
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Thank you Joe.

I'm kicking myself for not searching your site more thoroughly before posting. I found another discussion in your Handbook forum that helped me figure out what was going on . . .

Here's the story:

After researching on the internet, I realized that the larvae were not likely house fly maggots. They appeared to be black soldier fly larvae. Common house fly larvae are whiter in appearance, somewhat assymetrical (pointed head, tubular on the other end), and smaller. The larvae in our pile are significantly ribbed, biege in color, fairly symmetrical in form. Here's a good link for anyone interested:

I was able to confirm this one day when I discovered a "swarm" of blue/black insects hovering over the pile. What I thought were parasitic wasps - feeding on the larvae - were actually the black soldier flies. They looked very similiar to what we call "dirt daubbers" (solitary wasps that build tubular mud houses), but were smaller in size.

We have not seen these types of flies at the actual sawdust toilet, just at the compost bin.

I'm not sure what to do now. Various universities indicate larvae pupate over the winter, so I can't count on a significant population reduction from the cold weather. I've thought about letting a few chickens into the bin, but that doesn't sound so sanitary. Some studies show that these flies do not invade households and actually can reduce the population of house flies (by quick processing of manures). Perhaps it is nothing to worry about . . .

BTW my family and I are currently living in a one room "workshop" while we improve our land, plan construction of our house. We placed the sawdust toilet outside 1) due to my wife's initial hesitation and 2) to provide some element of privacy for ourselves and guests. My wife is now sold on the system, so we are planning to use the system in our house. She's even bragging about it to some friends, so although the outdoor configuration is not optimal, I count it a success!

Also, based on some figures from various posts, it seems we are actually using => cover material than many indicate they are using (one book of straw per deposit). I think part of the problem is the fact that we only use one bucket, and typically have to empty it several times per week. In my mind this creates a larger available surface area for new deposits (does that make sense?). I like the idea of filling multiple buckets, emptying no more than once per week. Perhaps this would allow a more liberal application of straw (which isn't free like the sawdust), but reduce the overall straw consumption.


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