How can I compost without attracting rats?

rats drinking

QUESTION: How can I compost without attracting rats? I want to get started, but I really hate the idea of rodents. – Mitchell B

ANSWER: Rats or mice or other rodents could potentially get into your compost for several reasons. If you use your composting system to recycle kitchen trash, it provides rats with a food source. If your compost is creating strong odors, it is especially susceptible to rat infestations.

Properly balanced compost should never smell bad. If your compost is stinking, it is likely a sign that you need to add more brown materials to the mixture. You can also bury your food scraps better under a thick layer of brown materials when adding them to the pile.

You may also want to turn your pile more frequently to keep your pile hot and decomposing at a fast rate. Properly functioning compost piles are a good heat source, so If it’s cold outside in your area, rats may be attracted to your compost pile just because of its warmth. Compost bins are usually kept in dark, tucked away locations, which rodents tend to be very fond of as well.  

Thankfully, there are a few simple preventative tactics that you can implore to rat-proof your compost bin and keep rats away from your compost, and out of your garden area in general. First, use a solid-sided container as your compost bin. If you are using a wooden, open-slatted bin for composting, switch to only using it for garden waste and keep your kitchen scraps and vegetable peelings in a closed bin with solid sides and a well-fitting lid instead. 

The majority of commercial compost bins are made to be pest resistant, with a thick rodent-proof base. However, if yours doesn’t have a rat-proof base, place it onto a galvanized light welded wire mesh that is at least ½ inch by ½ inch thick so that rats can’t squeeze through the holes or chew through the material. Set the bin up squarely, ensuring that there is no gap between the sides and the lid and keep an eye out for holes in the plastic.

Rats hate being stuck out in the open, and always attempt to stick to the sides and edges of buildings or pathways where they have some security and a protected passage to scurry across. Place your compost bin or pile right out in the open, as far away from fences, sheds, and structures as possible to discourage them by giving them no place to hide near your compost to take them out of their comfort zone.

Rats also hate loud noises and surprises. So place your compost bin in a location that you pass by regularly and use a stick to whack the side of the bin loudly every time you pass it by. This will make them think twice about setting up home base in your compost heap. 

Look around your garden and try to eliminate places where rodents can easily hide, such as tall grass, or wildflower meadows. While ornamental grasses and wildflowers may look nice in your garden, they can be a hotbed for rodents.

If you don’t want to remove your tall grasses and wildflower meadow areas, then make sure your compost bin is far away from them. Birds are messy eaters and can easily leave enough seed on the ground to keep a few rodents well fed. If you have a birdfeeder, put a slab of pavement or some sort of flat surface beneath it so that you can easily sweep up fallen seeds so that they don’t attract hungry rats.

Lastly, watch what you put into your compost. Avoid adding any cooked food, especially meat or fish products, or anything that is particularly strong-smelling like cheese and fats to your compost bin.

Eggshells seem to be a personal favorite for rodents though, so be sure to keep them out of your compost, and if you’re going to use them in the garden for any reason, such as to deter slugs and snails, be sure to wash them well first, removing any trace of egg residue. If you successfully carry out several of these rat-proofing measures, most likely, the rats in your area will move on to less hostile environments.

You could also try trench composting and simply bury all your compost to keep rodents away.

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