Tuesday, June 4, 2013

If You Think the Mosquitoes Are Bad This Year...

It's not just you.

What is the deal with mosquitoes in Michigan this year?  I wouldn’t let my two-year-old play outside the other night for fear she would be carried away by the tiny monsters.  For the first time ever, we had a company come over and spray our yard to get rid of the bloodsuckers.  Everyone is commenting on social media outlets about this year’s epidemic.  There is an obvious cause this year - the Great Flood of 2013.  With all of the water pooling up and around West Michigan, it has provided an extra large area that is perfect for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  Because I have spent so much time researching food compost and commercial compost, I began to wonder if compost attracted mosquitoes.  The answer may surprise you.  

Food compost is decomposed organic material made of plant waste, food waste, and animal waste. The process of decomposition is called composting, and in order to have efficiency in composting, you need high temperatures and humidity within the core, or center, of the compost pile.  This is the same for commercial compost.  
So what happens if you do not have an efficient compost pile?  Pests invade looking for food.  Mosquitoes are one of those pests.  Additionally, you might find midges and gnats; these are two of the most common type of pests mistaken for mosquitoes. The largest difference between mosquitoes and pests that are related to them is that mosquitoes do not swarm, but gnats and midges do.
A compost pile can go very, very wrong if certain elements are not in place.  Heat and humidity are two vital factors in the composting process. Unfortunately, they can also produce favorable conditions for mosquito eggs to hatch. The temperature at the center of the compost pile must be within 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. It is important to avoid moisture buildup because this attracts mold, pests, and insects that lay eggs in the compost. Mosquito eggs thrive in these conditions.  

There is a time frame needed for compost piles to cycle through the process of composition, which can take as little as 60 days - the optimal range is between 90 and 120 days - after the process first starts. During this time you must turn the pile daily. This will help keep the environment clean of mosquito eggs. The eggs will not have enough constant heat and moisture to hatch. To control the moisture level, use a ratio of three parts dry material to one part wet material. Also, to make sure you are controlling the heat in your pile, you have to turn it every day.  Don’t get lazy!  Make sure you are maintaining an optimal environment for your compost so that you can avoid contributing to the mosquito population this summer!

--Megan Cooperider lives in Grand Rapids, MI and occasionally blogs for New Soil.