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Updated 20 February 2013

Compost heaps - problems & solutions

Compost heaps consist of decomposing organic matter.The accompanying high temperatures and moist conditions add to the fact that these heaps are ideal breeding gounds for bacteria

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Compost heaps - a health risk

Compost can do wonders for your garden. Many prizewinning gardens have their own compost heaps, but these have to be managed well, otherwise they can turn into a nightmare.

Compost heaps consist of decomposing organic matter. The accompanying high temperatures and moist conditions add to the fact that these heaps are ideal breeding gounds for bacteria. And, while some bacteria and pests are necessary to aid the decomposition processes, others can cause dangerous diseases.

Some compost heaps also contain animal manures. In bacteriological terms, these are particularly dangerous since Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria infections can be spread via animal faeces. Tetanus bacteria are also found in manure. When these bacteria get into an open cut, they can cause muscle spasms (lockjaw), convulsions and death.

Rats, mice, cockroaches, bluebottles and other pests are also naturally attracted to compost heaps. These pests will soon infiltrate your house if you don't take proper care. Cockroaches may carry germs that cause dysentery, gastroenteritis and typhoid. Germs can be spread from the body of the cockroach or from the droppings they leave behind.

How to rid your compost heap of germs

Place your compost heap in an enclosed area, as far away from the house as possible. Keep the heap covered with a tarpaulin and place a few fly traps near the compost heap. 

Try to avoid animal products when you add matter to your compost heap. These substances, especially the fats, take longer to break down and may attract rats and flies more readily than plant material would.

Keep small children and house pets away from compost heaps. Children may contract diseases and animals can spread the germs indoors.

Handy hint:
Pour citronella oil into a plastic container and place it next to the compost heap. This will keep the flies away. If the flies become more persistent, light a citronella candle for a while - this will chase them away.

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