Monday, December 13, 2010

Waste not, Want not
- the story of crumbs - prt 1

Thank you to Colin Purrington on Creative Commons for this lovely shot.

Part 1 - Baby Flies

I have always been an avid composter - the kind that offers to mow neighbours fall lawns if I can take home the rich mix of grass clippings and shredded tree leaves in trade. Despite approving of the city's green waste recycling program, I didn't actually add much to it as I needed my compost for my own garden. That said, as we were preparing the house for moving, I did start to use it so that our composter wouldn't be too full for the new owners. And on several occasions I noticed a mass exodus of adorable fat, baby flies. Apparently, the appearance of these young insects has caused some of my friends to quit the green bin program because they were too grossed out. Signs have gone up around the city of a little child's hands holding some dirt and a seedling to encourage participation.

I think we can all agree that we love the Earth. Right? There are only a few that are craving its wanton destruction, the rest of us have converted to latter day hippies. Who among us has not felt shame when they have to apologetically ask for plastic bags at the checkout counter because they left their reusuable ones at home? Unfortunately, too many of us have been taught to step on ants, and feel faint at the smell of manure. We clutch our hand santizers and avoid thoughts of death.

The thing is that the wonderful biological film covering our planet is a dynamic system with parts growing and others dying and being recycled. We are all part of this green program. The man that eats the steak and defecates what his body does not need. The sewage bacteria that turn this 'waste' into fuel. The fungi that live in symbiosis with the forest and equally consume its dead limbs. The plants that thrive on the lightly textured, water retentive soil rich in humus. The person that eats a salad made from those plants and well...

Insects of all sorts are involved in consumption of dead organic matter - both of the square and round cell type (plant and animal). Of course, we associate maggots with bloated dead bodies which is just freaky so when we see our green bins crawling with fat little grubs, some of us feel a bit woozy. The usual fix is to put your waste meat in the freezer until collection day. However, I have to disappoint people by pointing out that I have seen maggots on entirely vegan fair - my lawn mower blades got clogged with rotting grass and grew a fine crop of baby flies. Fruit fly maggots are just as gross cute but more dimunitive in size. You can guess what they eat. Of course freezing your meat will also mean less smell in the summer - it freezes naturally this time of year. You could even freeze all your compost in those handy little mashed up and dried tree bags that they sell for lining your indoor mini bin OR you can learn to love baby flies.

I might be unpopular here.

But, the visceral reaction to seeing these harbringers of death can be changed into a wonder how Earth herself wastes not. Just keep telling yourself "Awe, baby flies. How sweet. Look at them," as you gag and quickly turn around.

Other methods include:

1. Add dry material
2. Freeze your compost
3. Make your kids empty the compost in the bin
4. Wear rose coloured glasses and sing an earth loving folk song
5. Pressure wash your bin once in a while*

And my no. 1 tip: Ignore them. Really, they will either die of dehydration on your driveway, get eaten by something else or pupate into flies. Assuming you are like most North Americans and have both screened windows and air conditioning, you probably aren't too bothered by flies inside the house. Outside, the sky is big enough to share.

* It won't really help either but your bin will be sparkling for a whole half a day. Cuts down on that hard to scrape crust of goodness too.
** Only 1 picture? Yes, I apologize but I was too captivated by the beauty of nature to remember to take pictures of the maggots that have graced my garden.


What other people say:

cbc story about squirmy people and pressure washers
Ottawa Citizen's working mom encounters the adorable fly babies


Stay tuned for: Part 2 - Binning the green bin compost style


thyme2garden said...

I really enjoyed reading this well-written post! While I admit to being one of those people whose first reaction to a bug/maggot encounter is "eww," I do agree with all the points that you're making here. That said, we somehow seem to have a profusion of tiny fly infestion (both little fruit flies as well as even tinier gnat-like things) in our house due to keeping the indoor growbox, and I'm getting so tired of having to swat the little buggers all day long!

Laura Kaeding said...

People are really stopping composting/green-binning because of flies? Talk about rose coloured glasses... my mom had some maggots growing on hers... she just rinsed out the bin and left it open after it had been emptied. It's all part of the great circle of life! I think they're kind of cute, in a "I'm not going to touch them" kind of way. :)

CyberSyb said...

Great post! I have to add:
Chickens! Chickens! My compost is the favorite foraging spot for my chickens and they snap up every fly/maggot/insect they can find. In fact our compost "heap" is the chicken run and they love it! Backyard chickens make all of these things so much easier - they really do have a weather of "jobs" in the small homestead.
with a grin, Sybil @

meemsnyc said...

I've been composting for a year now, and luckily we haven't had any maggots growing in our bins. We do have a lot of flies and other bugs in there. Anyone who composts should expect bugs, how else would you get good compost?

Ottawa Gardener said...

Thyme: Last year, for some reason, we didn't get as many fruit flies. Usually, by mid summer, I'm swooshing them away at the table.

SimplyGreen: I think they weren't thrilled with the idea to begin with or they are really afraid of maggots.

Sybil: Chickens aren't legal in urban Ottawa sadly though I love the idea and I'm sure the chickens would too.

Meem: I've never seen them in my compost bin just on the city green bin. It's plastic and lidded so the moisture content is higher and probably the predator pressure lower. Maybe it's additions too - lots more high nitrogen stuff.

Daphne Gould said...

I've rarely had bad fly infestations of my compost. I always layer the brown material on top of the green. It keeps them down. Or I put new kitchen waste down a bit in the bin. I've never ever had flies in the grass clippings. Only in the kitchen waste. And I definitely go ewww and wish I had chickens to take care of it all. So I avoid it and bury the kitchen waste. Now if I could just find a way to get rid of the centipedes that freak me out. But no. I wear gloves when handling my compost because I don't want to get bit.