Don’t Toss your Cicadas, They’re Garden Gold in 2024

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    It’s really happening. Cicadas are popping up in waves all across the US (especially in Illinois and the Midwest). The 13-year and 17-year broods XIX and XIII are co-emerging in 2024 and it’s leaving a lot of people wondering how to dispose of them.

    Whether you find the critters fascinating or disgusting, you can leverage their arrival to benefit your garden if you’ve got the gall. Understanding how to use the bodies of cicadas and their shells can transform this once-in-a-generation event into some sustainable gardening goodness.

    Cicada Disposal: A Sustainable Solution

    Using cicada carcasses and shells as fertilizer is an eco-friendly practice that recycles natural waste and enriches your dirt. This method promotes a healthier garden ecosystem and reduces landfill waste, contributing to a more sustainable environment.

    Using Cicada Carcasses and Shells in Your Garden

    Nutrient-Rich Fertilizer

    Dead cicadas are loaded with nitrogen—an essential nutrient for plant growth. Nitrogen and other vital minerals are released into the soil as they decompose, promoting healthy plant development.

    Whether it’s the 7-year cicada or the 17-year brood, these natural fertilizers can significantly boost your garden’s productivity for years to come.

    Improved Soil Structure

    The exoskeletons of cicadas contain chitin, a natural compound that’s good for the soil. Chitin promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the ground, helping to build a thriving ecosystem that supports your plants.

    By incorporating molted cicada shells or dead cicadas into your potted plant soil or garden beds, you help improve its texture and fertility. And hey, you’re cleaning up a bunch of dead bugs while you’re at it. Win-win!

    Natural Compost Enhancement

    This is easy mode. Adding cicadas and empty shells to your compost pile can speed up the composting process. Nitrogen acts as a fuel for the microorganisms that break down organic matter. It is arguably the fastest and easiest way to get rid of these bugs in a productive manner.

    How to Use Cicadas and Shells as Fertilizer

    Sprinkle in your Garden

    Dropping cicada carcasses and shells directly in your garden is a straightforward and effective method of boosting soil fertility. Still, it pays to spend some time on it. Here’s how to turn those cicada piles into a fantastic fertilizer:

    1. Crush ‘em: Collect cicada shells and bodies, then crush them into smaller pieces. You can do this by placing them in a sturdy bag and gently stepping on them or using a garden tool like a shovel. Yes, it’s gross, but crushing them helps speed up the decomposition process, breaking down the bodies and allowing the nutrients to be released more quickly.
    2. Scatter ‘em on the soil: Spread the crushed cicada remains evenly over your garden soil. Aim for a light, even layer to ensure that all areas of your garden benefit from the added nutrients.
    3. Mix ‘em in: Use a rake or hoe to lightly till the crushed cicada material into the top few inches of soil. This helps mix the nutrients in, making them more accessible to plant roots. It also helps hide the fact there are dead bugs all over the garden bed.

    Compost Those Insects

    Incorporating cicada carcasses and shells into your compost pile can significantly speed up and enhance the composting process due to how nitrogen reacts with organic material. Let’s dig into the steps:

    1. Add Them to your Compost Pile: Collect cicada bodies and shells and mix them into your compost pile along with other organic materials.
    2. Balance your Compost: Ensure a good carbon-to-nitrogen ratio in your compost. Cicadas are rich in nitrogen, so balance this by adding carbon-rich materials like dried leaves, straw or cardboard. Aim for a mix that is roughly two-thirds carbon materials to one-third nitrogen materials.
    3. Maintain Compost Conditions: Keep your compost pile moist but not waterlogged, and turn it regularly to aerate the materials and speed up decomposition. With proper management, the cicada-enhanced compost will be ready to use in a few months.

    Burying the Bodies & Shells

    If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of periodical insects you’ve collected, consider burying them in your garden for a natural boost.

    Dig a large hole in an area of your garden that needs more nutrients. When in doubt, dig a bigger hole than you think you need.

    Dump those cicadas in the hole and cover them with soil. This will speed up decomposition, contain any odors and provide a nutrient-rich area for future planting. It’s a cicada recipe for success to your home-grown food pantry.

    Natural Decomposition on Lawn

    If you prefer a more hands-off approach, you can allow cicadas to decompose naturally on your lawn. Simply leave them where they land, and over time, they’ll break down the old-fashioned way.

    While this method is easy, be mindful of potential odors and the appearance of decaying insects, which may not be pleasing to you or your neighbors, and might attract pests.

    Bonus: Cicadas Aerate your Lawn

    The tunnels cicadas create when coming out of the ground can naturally aerate your lawn, improving drainage and promoting root growth. Consider this an added bonus to the nutrient boost their bodies provide. Don’t do anything with those holes; just leave them be.

    More Unique Ideas To Get Rid of Cicadas

    If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry, there are a lot of other unique ways to get rid of the overwhelming amount of bugs heading your way. Here are just a few ideas:

    • Sell Your Cicadas: That’s right! This is such a garden gold-mine that some gardening neighbors are actually buying them. Give it a try and you might be surprised.
    • Eat Them: You won’t want to try this if you’re squeamish, but you can safely consume them or mix them into a recipe from your cookbook. Cicadas are a high-protein additive, like many other insects. Heck, why not give fried cicadas a shot?
    • Feed Your Chickens: If you don’t want to eat them, maybe some domesticated critters would love to take your leftovers. Just set the bucket of cicada bodies in their pen and the chickens will go cluck-wild for them.

    What to do with those cicada shells and bodies – Answered

    By using the cicadas and shells as fertilizer, you can enhance your garden’s fertility naturally and sustainably. Just collect the bodies, smash and sprinkle them, bury in your garden or add to your compost pile. Nature will take control and convert it into a nutrient boost for your soil, lawn and plants.

    Embrace this unique opportunity presented by the seasonal cicada broods to enrich your garden and contribute to a healthier ecosystem. It may seem distasteful, but you’ll likely be cleaning them up in one way or another. Might as well get some use out of them.

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