Many of us are convinced that leaves, peelings, and coffee grounds belong in the compost bin and not in the municipal landfill. We know our plants and our budgets both appreciate free and rich compost. But something that may hold people back from getting started is a nosy neighbor of the two-legged or four-legged varieties. You can maintain a successful pile and change perceptions that it unattractive to neighbors yet attractive to animals (read: rats).
Reassuring two–legged neighbors
Appearances count in small urban spaces or tightly regulated neighborhoods. Consider a compost bin, as opposed to pile, if you live close to others. Sturdy plastic bins with lids are commercially available at Green Culture – Gardener’s Supply and here locally at Green Builders Source. If the price seems high, remember that by the time it produces about 10 bags of high-quality compost, it has paid for itself. Do-it-yourself-ers can find plans for a variety of compost containers at this resource.
If your chosen compost container is itself likely to be considered a visual blight, construct a very neat screen fence around the area. Cover fresh kitchen scraps, so that they will not attract the attention of neighbors or other animals. In time, more people will come to see a compost area as no more unattractive than a laundry room or potting shed.
Discouraging four-legged neighbors
Tell anxious folks that you discourage animals from hanging out in your compost by making it both inaccessible and unattractive to animals.
To inhibit easy access, use a container with a lid, such as the above-mentioned commercial bins. Enclose other types of bins with heavy gauge-galvanized wire on the bottom and sides. Locate the compost in a high-traffic area, ideally near the kitchen door, so that wildlife have no privacy there.
What keeps a rodent from chewing right into the bin? Low payoff for his effort. Don’t add dairy products, meat, or grease to the pile. These high-fat items entice animals and also slow the composting process down. Keep a hand trowel by the bin to scratch the fresh scraps into the mix or cover them with leaves to discourage flies. If you feel the compost still attracts animals, make the menu more boring. Leave out the fruit, pits, and nuts. Garden cuttings and low calorie fare such as wilted lettuce will be fine. The warmth of a pile can appeal to animals in the winter. Keeping the pile moist and periodically turning it discourages their nesting, while speeding the rate of decomposition.
Keeping a pile healthy and productive.
For every amount of wet “green” material like grass clippings, banana peels and collapsed eggplants, add several times more than that amount of dry “brown” materials like leaves, straw, or shredded newspaper. The dry materials keep the pile from getting sour and smelling bad. This can be harder in the summer, when dry leaves are scarce but watermelon rinds are plentiful. Try to save bags of autumn leaves for use during the summer, or use the confetti in your shredder. While the pile needs to be wet down to start the decomposition, too much rainwater can make it go sour, so again, a lid is needed. If the pile just won’t rot because it is too dry, it should be soaked again and
turned with a garden fork.
Next month we will share tips for setting up and harvesting your compost.
Mary Carol Edwards is a landscape designer and owner of Luminous Ground Design. She specializes in landscapes which unite the environment and architecture, and support natural ecology. She considers a landscape a success if it can do all that and be fun, elegant, and creative, too.