Our Crustacean Farm

Three months ago, we established a compost pile in our Columbia, Missouri, yard (see Building a Compost Bin).  Since that time, the grass clippings, dead leaves, sawdust and kitchen leftovers (fruits, eggshells and vegetables) have decayed into a darkening mound of maturing compost, fueled by the heat and humidity of a Midwestern summer.

Feasting on the organic matter and facilitating the process of decomposition is an army of insects, including ants, fruit flies and various beetles; of course, earthworms are doing their part from within the pile.  But the most numerous and conspicuous residents of the compost bin are pill bugs, those prolific Backyard Crustaceans known to children as rollie pollies.  Relying on gills for respiration and consuming a diet of carrion and rotting vegetation, they thrive in the warm, moist confines of the bin; indeed, peering into the structure, a novice might assume that it was designed to raise pill bugs.

Unfortunately, there is not a lucrative market for these ubiquitous crustaceans; in fact, the internet is loaded with advice on how to keep them out of your garden and basement.  While they may do limited damage to ground-spreading plants such as strawberries or melons, pill bugs are, for the most part, beneficial creatures, recycling organic material and enriching the soil.  They are certainly welcome in the compost bin!