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Roly Polys in the Compost


July 6, 2020

Hi, my compost is breaking down well. However; I am noticing an exceptionally large number of roly polys in the bin this year. Is this anything to be concerned about? I’ve heard this is because the pile is too dry? I am guilty of not always keeping it damp.  Maybe they are just breaking everything down at warp speed!


Answer by JZ:  Your question will be received by a few master composters who also may comment.  Here are my thoughts. Great to hear that you are home composting. Roly polys are insects which help decompose the organic material so they are benefitting the decomposition process, so all is well. Your composting setup should be 50% moist (damp) at all times – this moisture level is similar to the residual moisture in brewed coffee grounds. Your setup, if possible, should be in the shade in summer to decrease evaporation of moisture. If you have no shade, then you could cover the whole setup with 2 layers of shade fabric or large pieces of cardboard. During the summer months you may have to add water more often to maintain moisture.   Keep up.  Compost on. Hope that this is helpful.

From original questioner: Thank you! I’ve taken your classes in the past and follow all your recommendations. I water the bin about once a week but will up that. Thanks again!

Answer by RR: One note of caution, Ava. Before you use your finished compost as a soil amendment, make sure it is indeed finished and the roly polies (sow bugs) are gone.  They do a fine job of aiding the decomposition process, but if the process is not complete, and there are still sow bugs active in your compost, they will find nice tender green seedlings more appetizing than the undecomposed organic matter in your compost.  I speak from experience.

From original questioner: Thank you! So are the sow bugs “done” in below freezing weather? How many consecutive cold nights does it take? How do I die them off for useable compost? I’m glad I didn’t put my compost down this fall. I’m ok waiting till Spring.

Answer from WR: I’m not sure about the life cycle of roly polys or pretty much any other insect (was just wondering about ants recently) but, you can look through your finished compost for the bugs.  Maybe shovel it into a bucket or barrel before putting it in your garden and look through it there. (If the compost is “done” it should be pleasant to touch and run your hands through looking for the bugs.) If you find many bugs, your compost is probably not yet be ready to put on your garden.  I’m going to copy this to the compost-questions group and you might hear from others.

Answer by RR: This is in fact a good time to put compost on your garden, even if it is not “finished.” The months between now and when you are ready to plant will be plenty of time for your compost to do its thing. Just remember, compost is not like mulch; you don’t need 3-4” of compost. Just ½-1” is plenty.

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