Wasps in the compost bin

Filed in Blog by on August 5, 2008 25 Comments
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a wasp, found in the compost bin
Just when you think you have the hang of things, and are a seasoned zero waste family, a new experience jumps up and bites you on the bum.

Or, in the case of Mr Green, stings you on the hand.

This weekend, Little Miss Green went to empty our kitchen scraps into the compost heap when she was confronted by a small swarm of wasps.

It’s a bit of an insult, as we haven’t really had a summer yet. But there they are swarming around as if we’re having a hot, balmy summer.

Mr Green put the lid on the bin, got stung in the process and decided that LMG shouldn’t be responsible for emptying the compost any more. He thought that if he got up early and put the goodies into the bin first thing, the wasps might not be around.

Evidentally, wasps aren’t really into lie ins, and they were up and about hungrily feeding from our offerings at silly o’clock this morning.

I looked up this problem in books and on the internet and learned that our compost might be too dry. Interestingly, Mr Green thought he might empty the contents of our fire in there this evening and I said ‘if we add water to it, we’ll get lye which might deter them.”

So, perhaps there was a little bit of sense in that. Who knows? This is unchartered territory for us.

We’re also going to start covering the kitchen scraps with a layer of grass as recommended by one website. The next time Mr Green cuts the grass, instead of putting the clippings straight into the compost bin he’s going to put it to one side. Every time we add fruit or vegetable peelings, we’re going to cover it with a layer of grass to see if this helps.

Wish us luck, and if anyone else has dealt with this problem and has some advice, then please leave us your comment. We’re not into killing the wasps, but as the compost bin is under Little Miss Green’s treehouse and next to her climbing frame, we’d like to prevent any nasty experiences.

As an aside note, we find the juice of a cut onion is one of the best things for soothing a wasp sting. It helps to get rid of the pain and reduce swelling.

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (25)

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  1. Hi Mrs Green,

    Sorry to hear of the mishaps around the compost bin. This is not covered in the instructions.
    Wasps are beneficial insects but nests are always a problem. Is the nest near the compost bin or in it? I have a large Rose of Sharon bush, currently in flower, beside my compost bin and this keeps all the insects busy.
    When the flowers fade later I usually put out jam jars to catch wasps. Cut 2 hole in the lid and 2/3 fill with water. It is a source of food, water and a final resting place.

    John.

  2. I’ve never had a problem with wasps in mine, but then again, my compost tends to be on the wet side(we’ve had a fair bit of rain this summer). I have a WAY bigger problem with fruit flies. Happily, they don’t sting, but they are super annoying.

  3. Mrs Green says:

    Hi John,

    I rather suspect we have a nest. We seem to have them most years. Our garden is full of ivy growing up trees, fruit trees, piles of wood and thick hedges. We removed two nests at the beginning of the season – we happened to catch them while they were small, so broke them up (again, only because they are near where Little Miss Green likes to play).
    But there we are, no doubt they have found somewhere else to call home.

    Kristen; the compost bin has now been saturated, so we’ll see if that makes a difference. I have a friend visiting tomorrow who might gladly take my last couple of days kitchen scraps, just so that we can give it a rest for a few days.

    For fruit flies, the key is to cover your scraps with other materials – a thick layer of grass clippings is ideal :)

  4. Hello from Europe. It is interesting to read these compost stories, and see they are similar everywhere.
    Grass clippings however are tricky, you have to balance the use of these, as they might sufficate the compost if too much is added, making the compost a stinking slimy bunch. I would limit the thickness to max 6 cm. To avoid the grass clippings, you could use a special lawn mower (mulching).

    What works perfectly for me, I have 2 bins, a large one and a small round bin. The round bin is used fro the fresh stuff. When added the compost litter, I cover it with a small layer of leafs which were kept in a seperate heap. When that heap is gone, I take the dry upper layer from the large bin. Whenever the small bin is full, I try to harvest most compost from the big bin, mingle the rest and turn over the compost from the small bin into the big bin. Giving the benifit that this process is adding air into the bin. This enhances the process and avoids problems.
    Good luck with the wasp problem.

  5. Mr Green says:

    Thanks Didier Van den Meersschaut for that informative summary. It’s so much more valuable when someone talk from experience, rather than just theory. We have an added problem in that our soil is very acidic and this encourages a different eco-system in the compost bin. We also have many red ants that nest, even if we keep the mix very moist. If we raise the PH to more alkaline, the ants are not so happy. There are many factors to a good compost, but we will try to use your advice to air the compost better, if the wasps let us get close enough! Thanks for your comment on our site.

  6. Mrs Green says:

    Wow Didder; that is some system to be proud of – I have one of those in my head and my imagination, but not in my garden yet :D

    Interesting about the grass – for a few years we had only grass clipping in our compost bin and, you’ve guessed it, we ended up with green slime and no compost! Now I know why…….

    We need to start taking better care of it I think. I’m convinced we have wasps nests; several of them perhaps, so we’ll see how things fare over the next few weeks.

  7. Sue says:

    Good luck solving the wasp issue.
    I have little knowledge of wasps, we had them in a roof space above ds bedroom at the old house, and they used to find their way into the bedroom.
    We have a compost bin in the garden, and 2 at the one allotment. They are the plastic darlek style bins that you can buy from the council. We are just starting a new allotment, and plant to make a compost area with pallets (still neeed to source these!) I have been told that 2 ‘bins’ next to each other made from 7 pallets is ideal for allotments, and they can get hot enough that you can add ‘nasty’ weeds to them to compost down as well. So we will see how that goes. so far we have one pallet! I might have to put a request on freecycle!!

  8. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Sue,

    yes, these wasps are in the dalek style bin – we had a visiting horse who found a way to break the lid off and eat our kitchen scraps every day :D

    He’s left now for pastures new, and so the wasps have taken over.

    Good luck with finding pallets – hot composting sounds great.

  9. brodie says:

    great post and some helpful comments. We too have wasps in our compost bin and if numbers are anything to go by I think it must be a nest.

    We went for the square plastic bin with small holes in the side rather than the darlek one in the hope that the holes would let the compost breathe. These holes are just big enough to let the wasps in and out!

  10. Mr. Green says:

    I really can’t see a sure-fire way to deter the wasps at this time of year. They are just part of nature’s eco-system trying to do their bit. What I have found is it’s best to just leave them well alone during the day and take the composting scraps to the compost bin late at night, just about after dusk. Most wasps have gone to bed if it’s cool and it’s safer to throw the scraps in.

  11. Mr Morton says:

    i have gotten tired with my wasps hovering about the compost heap as soon as i lift my carpet which covers the heap the wasps leap to the disturbance leaving the solution to keep composting ineffective at this time of the year any suggesions i have recently started to apply some grass covering most of the heap each time i add other kitchen “scraps”. ANY HELP WOULD BE AAPRECIATED.

  12. Mr. Green says:

    Hello Mr Morton and thanks for your comment. I have not found any ‘magic’ solutions to this problem. In addition, I fancy we have seen more wasps this year, maybe due to weather factors.

    One idea that we’ve not tried, but looks possible is using a tumbling composter. There’s one in the Natural Collection that may be suitable. One question you need to ask is are the vents large enough to allow wasps to pass through? Then you need to consider the cost of over £100 The decomposition is apparently much faster and the whole thing easier to manage. That’s all I can think of for now. W are asking questions about this problem of wasps, so we’ll keep this posted if we find out more.

  13. Hi Mr Green,

    I have wasps in the latter part of summer. The trick is to block any entry point they could use. They will fly on elsewhere if no place is available.

    For compost bins, fully sealed types are ideal. If you use a wet compost that will discourage them as well.

  14. Mr. Green says:

    Thanks john, I’m still learning the tricks. We still have a standard, static bin and I’m thinking that a tumbling sort would suit us better. I would pefer to use an oak barrel and not a plastic version though.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    I had this response from WRAP, via the Recycle Now website:

    Wasps are often attracted by the fruit waste in the bin. Keeping the lid on tightly should prevent them from entering.

    It may also help to leave a layer of paper on the surface of the compost to be mixed in with the next addition of fruit waste and replaced with fresh paper with each
    new addition of fruit waste.

    Remember, for all the ‘green’ waste you put in the bin you should always mix it with the same amount of ‘brown.’
    Refer to http://www.Recyclenow.com/compost ‘How to make compost’.

    The rat (yes, readers, we found rats in there too!!) may well have been looking for somewhere warm to nest. To prevent it happening you can stand the bin on wire builders mesh or layers of chicken wire. (see the website on ‘setting up your bin’.

    Try to use the bin as often as possible as rats are quiet creatures that do not like to be disturbed and of course, don’t add cooked food to attract them.

    Your compost can still be used even with these problems but give it time and to restart in springtime would be my advice, if you wish to avoid the risk of wasp stings.

  16. esteban says:

    to all who are considering a tumber… we have one and still have wasps! there are lids on both ends of the tumbler with small vents, and it seems that the wasps have been able to get in through the vents. i went out today and discovered the wasps for the first time (there were a lot!). i thought that tumbling a few times might bury them and “fix” the problem, but every time i turned it over they were on the other side trying to poke themselves out! i’ll most likely just try to cover the vents for now.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @esteban: Hi esteban; welcome to the site and thanks for sharing your comment. What a shame the tumbling composter isn’t the answer. Good to have the info first hand – thank you :)

  18. Nena says:

    We also have a wasps’ nest in our compost bin. There are so many coming in and out that we no longer use the bin. I have even been avoiding our washing line which is next to it. I am afraid allowing them to stay there is not an option. What I want to avoid is pouring any toxic material into the bin. Any advice on what else could be used with intention to destroy the nest. Boiling water? Would lifting the lid when frost comes do the trick?

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Nena: Nena, in the autumn the wasps will die / leave the nest anyway so you shouldn’t need to kill them. I’m not aware of anything that is eco friendly that can be used to destroy the nest.

  20. Nena says:

    Thank you. Any advise how to avoid the same problem next year?

  21. Mrs Green says:

    Hi again Nena,

    As I wrote above, the best pieces of advice seem to be “We’re also going to start covering the kitchen scraps with a layer of grass as recommended by one website. The next time Mr Green cuts the grass, instead of putting the clippings straight into the compost bin he’s going to put it to one side. Every time we add fruit or vegetable peelings, we’re going to cover it with a layer of grass to see if this helps.

    and “Wasps are often attracted by the fruit waste in the bin. Keeping the lid on tightly should prevent them from entering.
    It may also help to leave a layer of paper on the surface of the compost to be mixed in with the next addition of fruit waste and replaced with fresh paper with each new addition of fruit waste.
    Remember, for all the ‘green’ waste you put in the bin you should always mix it with the same amount of ‘brown.’”

    The other thing appears to be to not get things too dry in there – a little moisture is good; wasps favour hot, dry places so making it a little more humid will deter and is better for the compost any way.

  22. Mrs M says:

    I found out by accident that wasps like my OH’s home brew beer. It was put out to help with a slug problem but all I have in it so far are about a dozen wasps.

    I have watered my compost heap today, as suggested above, and have moved the jar of beer nearer to the compost bin too. Fingers crossed it helps.

  23. Mrs M says:

    Just letting you know that it worked… well, sort of. The wasps moved from the compost to the rhubarb. Time to move the beer…

  24. Sara Mann says:

    I have just come on to try and find an eco solution to the wasps that have taken up home in my compost bin in the last 10 days. Wow they move quick into new territory which has a lovely pineapple peelings and core.
    And I got stung for the audacity of hanging the wasp pots up which have jam in them. Hoping I can seduce a few.
    They are my pet hate, so I am delighted to read of where I have gone wrong with my compost bin and how to make it better next year.
    My bin had slid and the lid does not fit right which I suspected and have confirmed to be a Major part of the problem.
    Well I shall try the onion on the sting. The vineagar is now wearing off and it hurts :-(
    Going to have a coffee and contemplate the problem with the windows and doors shut !!
    Good luck to all

  25. sara Mann says:

    http://www.wasp traps.co.uk. Just ordered some traps off this site as my traps fell apart :-( Have watered the bin but obviously not enough as I only appear to have mad them madder !!!
    Cyder vinegar takes the sting out and swelling down from a wasp sting. Bicarbonate of soda for bee stings.

    I remember it as the B’s go together and in v (vinegar) is next to w (wasp) in the alphabet.
    Thanks for all the comments on this site which have been helpful.

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