Sow Bugs in Your Vermicomposting System

Here are a couple of questions I received about sow bugs (aka “wood lice”, isopods, “basketball bugs”):

I found sow bugs in my bin. Lots of them. What to do?
~ Patty C.

If the population of wood louse in the worm bin is increasing, how do i control its numbers? Do i flood the bin regularly to maintain high levels of moisture in the bin?
~ Jasmine T.

Let me start by pointing out that sow bugs (which are actually crustaceans, not insects) are not “bad” by any stretch of the imagination. They are actually quite beneficial since they help to break down bulky and resistant materials, thus rendering them more microbe-friendly.

That being said, it’s important to note that they DO tend to prefer a somewhat drier habitat than the composting worms – so if you are seeing a population explosion it may indicate that the moisture content of your system is getting a little low.

Jasmine has the right idea – simply adding water more regularly should help. I am assuming when she says “flood the bin” she’s referring to a bin that has excellent drainage. The idea here is to greatly increase the moisture content of the system without any pooling (and subsequent stagnation) of liquid. Obviously, this approach wouldn’t be ideal for an enclosed plastic bin – but then again, it’s unlikely that this type of system would end up drying out too much in the first place.

Bottom-line, if you provide your worms with lots of moisture (while keeping everything well-oxygenated) and you still have a healthy population of sow bugs, you should welcome them! They absolutely won’t harm your worms, and (as I touched on a minute ago) they should really help to speed up the processing of waste materials in your system.

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    • ron
    • October 23, 2012

    I have quite a bit of those in my outdoor wooden worm bin. They seem to just borrow in the bedding and mine is far from dry in my opinion. We call them rollie pollies here in kentucky. 🙂

    • thuan
    • October 23, 2012

    Seriously, CRUSTACEAN? Man, I won’t be able to eat crab and lobster again without thinking about the sow bugs. I will need some serious therapy!

    • Jasmine T
    • October 25, 2012

    Yes, i do refer to a bin that has excellent drainage. I am referring to my worm factory set up. 🙂

    Thanks for clearing some of my doubts. 🙂

    • Dave P
    • December 2, 2012

    They are actually supposed to be superior in flavor to shrimp. You’d have to collect quite a few to make, say, a risotto.

    • Ravihar
    • December 19, 2012

    We’ve had sow bugs in our vermicompost pile for several years now. They do help break things down, but the problem is that when I put the compost into my garden, the little sow bugs and sow bug babies (which are miniscule) go with it. And those guys LOVE to eat seedlings. I’ve had many seeds germinate, only to disappear, and could never figure out why until I learned they like seedlings. My “workaround” is to keep seedlings UNmulched or barely mulched because the sow bugs hide from the light in it (yes, this makes it harder to keep the soil moist as you must do when you’ve planted seeds) until the seedlings are about 3″ tall when they are pretty much too big for the sow bugs. Last year I rushed adding some mulch when my cucumber seedlings were a little less than 3″. Mulch went on at 10:00 am, and by 6:00 pm I had not a SINGLE seedling left!!! Anyone else have a better system of avoiding their damage? I’d love to be able to mulch my seeds/seedlings here in dry New Mexico.

    • ArcherB
    • January 7, 2013

    Ravihar is correct that sow bugs will absolutely destroy seedlings. They love my tomato transplants unless they are transplanted fairly large. I have found that an easy way to protect the plants is to put a collar around the base. I start my tomatoes in plastic cups. When I transplant them, I cut the bottom off the cup and place the rest of the cup around the base of the plant and bury the bottom half inch or so. With this method, I usually only lose a plant or two out of 40. Without the cups, I’m lucky if any survive at all.

    • lohrasb ataei
    • November 20, 2013

    I have garden .

    i am planning to have composting in my garden behind each tree a worm

    bin in the natural ground is it possible ?

    let me know your comments .

    thank you

    • somayyeh
    • September 30, 2014

    Is vermicompost may be contaminated with white insect (prongs with)? How to fight with them?

    • Trish
    • September 30, 2020

    I worry about the sow bugs when I spread the compost in my garden. I read to spread the compost thinly on a tarp in the sun and they will move out but what about the earthworms? Any advice. I have more red wrigglers than soil right now along with sow bugs and slugs but I don’ t want munchers in my garden.

    • Bentley
    • October 10, 2020

    Hi Trish,
    Honestly – I think trying to get rid of critters is just going to end up being a frustrating, time-consuming and somewhat futile exercise. I just let nature go wild in my own yard and everything seems to turn out ok (or at least no hassles relating to vermicomposting creatures). If you really want to discourage them – take a similar approach in the garden itself. Make sure a lot of sun and air flow reaches the soil, giving them fewer good habitats to hang out in.

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