Perspective Newsletter
Spring 2015
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Are beady eyes peeking out of your compost bin?

More and more Northwesterners are turning to composting as a green way to enrich their gardens and keep kitchen waste out of their garbage. If you're among them, you'll want to take care that your organic discards don't unintentionally ring the dinner bell for rats.

'Coexisting' isn't really an option

There's more to rats than their undeniable ick factor. Rats carry disease, can deliver a nasty bite to pets and, if they make the short hop from your compost bin to your cozy crawlspace, can wreck your insulation and wiring – damage your insurance typically doesn't cover.

From a rat's point of view, your compost bin looks like a four-star resort. It offers a dry, comfortable place to rest (with fresh "blankets" added with every layer of grass clippings) and it comes with room service when you dump the scraps from dinner. What's not to like?

How to roll up the welcome mat

The key to discouraging rats, say experts, is to think like one! Figure out what attracts them, then do the opposite. Here are five suggestions to send rats scurrying on their way:

  1. Vegetarian compost only. That means no egg shells, meat, fish, chicken, dairy, or oils – all of which rats (and raccoons) love. You can compost those scraps indoors using a vermicompost bin (earthworms) or a bokashi bucket (fermenter) before adding them to your outdoor compost.
  2. Hide the peelings. Keep yard waste packed toward the outside of the bin and bury tasty edibles like potato, carrot, and apple peelings toward the center. Then, cover them with a layer of grass, leaves, wood chips, or soil. If rats have already found your bin, you might need to skip the kitchen scraps altogether.
  3. Spray it with water. Rats love dry, insulated spaces. A moist environment speeds up decomposition and makes a lousy bed.
  4. Stir it up. The only thing worse than a wet bed is one that keeps getting disturbed and turned over with a shovel.
  5. Keep it in the open. Rats prefer to creep along fence lines and the sides of buildings rather than cross open, visible areas. Also situate your compost bin away from other rat-friendly features like bird feeders, woodpiles, and sheds.

Still seeing evidence of unwelcome guests? You may need to take your rat-busting to the next level. Switch to a solid-sided bin with a lid or try a commercial plastic bin that has a wire mesh rat-proof bottom with gaps no bigger than one-half inch.