Do compost bins attract rodents?

Maggies Garden Forum: Compost Confessions: Do compost bins attract rodents?

By Barbara Finholt on Saturday, January 12, 2002 - 11:55 am: Edit Post

My husband refuses to allow me to start a compost pile(bin) because we live in a wide open area and have had some probs with rodents getting into the attic. He fears that adding fresh kitchen scraps to a compost heap would be like putting out a welcome sign to the furry things that already live close to our home and visit our patio with regularity. I want to develop the rich amendment to our awful soil without the high cost of purchasing it. Any comments would be most welcome. Thanks much. B.F. in Benbrook.

By Maggie on Saturday, January 12, 2002 - 9:29 pm: Edit Post

Some sources state that as long as you do not add any meat scraps, you will not attract rodents. I cannot promise you that, but here is my experience. This old neighborhood has rodents running through it – they live in the storm drains. I usually only add vegetarian ingredients myself, but even then, when I adhere to the following steps I don’t have scavengers ravaging the compost piles.

Don’t just dump food scraps on top of the pile. Cover them with at least a foot of material and water thoroughly. This usually seals in odors that would attract critters and they are not interested in setting up housekeeping in wet piles. Coffee grounds in the scraps are also great at dispelling odors – in the kitchen as well as in the pile.

You can compost without using food scraps at all, but keeping the pile damp is necessary anyway, to cause decomposition. Any addition of nitrogen to dry brown materials (carbon), plus moisture will compost rapidly until it runs out of oxygen, which can be reintroduced by turning the pile.

Some sources of nitrogen other than food scraps are manure or small amounts (a handful every 2ft.) of purchased granular organic fertilizers, such as Redenta’s Own or other packaged brands found at many feed and grain stores and organic nurseries around Ft. Worth. I have seen small packages labeled as ‘compost boosters’, but the above products do the same and are more economical.

Handfuls of a friend’s finished compost or even just some healthy dirt will instantly inoculate a new pile with litter-munching microbes. Adding liquid fertilizer that contains live microorganisms is another source.

I am wondering what is attracting the critters to your porch. Winter shelter or a food source is what usually invites them to take up residence. They love to find a buffet of pet food bowls! Free-roaming cats can usually put an end to unwelcome furry guests. They tend to camp out around the attractive area and lay in wait.

Even though I only add vegetarian scraps from the kitchen --- about once a year, my husband brings me a bonus from his coastal fishing trips. This year's diamond in the rough was:
I turned half a new pile, added shark and water, then another 2-3 feet of new materials and more water and haven’t had any rodent problems. Last year’s big fish went from ashes to ashes and dirt to dirt in about three months, and I am sure that I will find no remains of the shark when I use that finished pile this week. Well, there might be some of those cool teeth.

Also, be sure to use our search button (on home page and at the bottom of the navi column) to bring up compost entries in Gail Morris’ Organic Guide pages.

Ocean ingredients aside ;-), I hope you get to try these methods Barbara. We would love to hear back from you on this thread when you unearth that first pile of Black Gold – it is the most satisfying experience!!! Well, next to watching the garden prosper from it, that is!

By Carolyn Crouch on Sunday, January 13, 2002 - 7:30 am: Edit Post

Good Answer, Mags.

Barbara, years before I was into gardening, our next door neighbor in West FW sort of sheet composted her kitchen waste. She just tossed it on top of her garden spot in the back yard. We could see it from our yard, and were always wondering if there would be additional critters around because of it. There was never any rodent infestation, and there was a field behind our houses, so you know there had to be field mice there. Anyway, the only result I ever saw from her composting method was a great garden every year.

I once improved a raised bed over the course of one growing season by grinding all my kitchen waste in the blender and pouring the slush on top of the soil. By the Fall of that year, I had great soil in that bed and lots of earthworms. No smell or unwanted critters either.

By Barbara Finholt on Sunday, January 13, 2002 - 3:50 pm: Edit Post

Thanks, Maggie and Caro, for the positive info. I'm encouraged and will now attempt conversion armed with your experiences. Maggie, what the critters are after on our patio (we've only seen racoon and possum) is bird seed. We store it in 3 lg.tightly sealed containers on the porch for our ease of access. They've never succeeded in getting the containers open but try now and then during the night. Our small rodent problem was contained to the attic and think we've finally seen the last of them.

By B. Finholt on Wednesday, January 30, 2002 - 10:44 am: Edit Post

I have begun to grind all vegetable scraps in the blender with adequate water to make a slush. This I pour on top of mulch that is surrounding all plant material in my beds. Sometimes I water it in with the hose if it looks too icky just sitting there. Am I doing this right or should I move aside the mulch to get the slush directly into the soil?

By Maggie on Wednesday, January 30, 2002 - 2:30 pm: Edit Post

Sounds perfect Barbara. No need to move the mulch aside - besides hose, rain and gravity, the earthworms will help get it to the roots as well. This is right up there with folks who make their own pets' food! Chopping it up first is a true labor of love ;-) It sure makes the nutrients more available to the plants sooner, when it is chewed up first. Some folks just throw the whole bits on the garden, esp later on in the season when the foliage will hide the strewings. Egg shells will always need to smashed first tho - by foot is easiest.

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