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Composting in city

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

I would like to make a compost pile in my yard. I'm not interested in buying a compost bin nor building a compost bin. I would like to pile my compost in a spot in my backyard behind my shed. My only concern is if my pile of decomposing material attract rodents (mice or rats). Has anyone had a problem with rodents in the compost pile? I only plant to add soil, hay, newspaper, yard waste (plants and flowers), coffee grinds, etc. No meat scraps or anything of that nature will be added to my pile.

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

I'm surprised no one has jumped on your question yet! I did pretty much exactly the same thing as you are describing...except I was in a more rural area. However, please don't think that means rodents don't abound!!

I NEVER had a problem with any animals getting into my compost heap. I did put kitchen scraps into my heap (no meat or dairy, as they shouldn't go in anyway). We had stray dogs and cats wandering around. There were squirrels, mice, rats, chipmunks, bunnies, skunks, raccoons, and other small rodent type animals in the area and none ever bothered my heap. As a matter of fact there was an abandoned garage about 20' away from my heap...and I often saw "rodent type" animals hanging out over there...I know some of them took up residence there, but none of them ever bothered my heap...and here's why....

If a compost heap/pile is done right it will NOT stink so it will NOT attract such things. I had a heck of a time convincing my neighbors of that...they had to see it to believe it. Once they saw it, they all started bringing me all their yard & kitchen scraps, lol! Be sure to research the things that will make a compost pile stink, because that is what will bring in the critters. No smell, no critters. Be SURE to keep anything the critters may be intersted in eating well buried...don't ever allow it to lay on top of the pile.

I even had a bear visit my garden a few times. He tore down my bird feeders and made a mess of other things, but he walked right passed the compost pile and ignored it.

Now, if something does go wrong with the pile and it starts to stink....cuz everyting doesn't go according to plan sometimes...you may get some critters hanging out until you get the pile back to balanced. If the critters you are dealing with are ONLY mice & rats then put out some rodent poison or traps until you know they are and the pile is balanced and no longer stinky/drawing them in. If the pile would end up attracting other animals like cats also then you can get humane traps that will catch anything that's prowling around....you can deal with what you find in the traps according to whether it'd be a pet or not, lol. In other words, take a cat to a shelter, release a squirrel somewhere else, and poison a rat. Those type of traps allow you to do such things without ever having to worry about touching the animal. Most likely you'll never even have to worry about this type of thing....but if you do, now you have a plan for it.

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

That's exactly what I want to avoid. I love animals but I cannot pick up a dead animal, nor one in a trap. I have a home made composting container that works fine. It's not very bit and I was hoping to expand my compost.

Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

Yeah, I would just say be sure and bury the new stuff. Especially sweet things like fruit - coons and such love that.

It is probably worth either making sure you have a cordial relationship with your neighbors, or tucking the pile up where they can't see it. If there is a pest problem, an open compost pile can easily get blamed, even if the real problem is something like an unsecured trash can lid, or someone leaving out food for their pets.

(I'm not sure why you're so set on not making a bin, but you know it doesn't have to be some big deal? Just some wire mesh and a few stakes, but you'll have stuff well-contained. Simple enough to add a wire lid if critters do decide they want to paw around.)

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

I don't have the resources to make a bin. I don't own a saw or any tool used for cutting. I could buy the mesh and hammer stakes on the ground but beyond that I'm not much of a builder. LoL I was looking for a way to make a compost pile and keep critter out that was without spending $100. I have a lot of material to compost so I would much rather recycle the material than to send it to throw it away.

Weedville, PA(Zone 6a)

As long as you keep things balanced (carbon/nitrogen) you'll be fine. Just do your homework. Chop everything up so it breaks down faster and bury it. I really doubt you'll have any problems. Monitor the pile as much as possible to keep an eye out for problems. It will be fine...and if a problem does arise you can correct it.

Pleasant Grove, UT

I use what I think was called "hog wire " which I purchased at Home Depot several years ago. The roll was 4 feet wide and I don't remember the length but have made several bins with it. Have also made a pen for puppies out of it. I cut the length for the bin size I want and then hook the ends together to form the bin. Don't be to fussy about hooking it together or it will be hard to dismantle and move when you want to turn the stack. I have two that I fill with leaves in the fall and then take apart , move, and then mix the leaves with fresh plant material such as grass clippings or horse manure in the spring. I heats up, I turn it several times, and have compost by fall. The wire bin stands up well enough that I don't bother with stakes,

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

Sounds interesting, Paul. Do you have pictures?

Heat, do you live in the city limits with neighbors close by? I can probably get some manure but I know the smell might upset the neighbors.

Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

If cutting tools is the problem with building something, just go to Home Depot (or whichever such chain yall have there) with the measurement, and they will make the cuts for you. But like Paul said, the basic is a cylinder of wire mesh. Or stack up blocks, no tools required.
http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/sws/zerowaste_composting_bins.htm#bin_making has some little drawings

(A pile is perfectly fine as far as decomposition, just sometimes it's easier to manage in a yard if it's contained a little. But don't stress either way.)

( Pam ) Portland, OR

In the city ? Ha .. that must be me. :)

I can tell you about mine. Long, long ago ( thirty years) I started with a few cinder blocks and a dream. That turned into a cute , standard three bin set up..new, working, and finishing. It was in the very back corner of the yard next to my first tiny vegetable bed. The small set up worked fine with a small garden.

Well then my self confidence grew and before you knew it could happen, I was knee deep in more yard debris. Thus began the series of compost experiments.

Today I have a mix of bins, many of which have been given to me by neighbors that saw one for free at a friends or by the side of he road in a free pile. Love my neighbors, and they know me pretty well at this point.

Three Earth Machines placed strategically to add kitchen scrapes plus to, easy to get to from the doors, and possum/ raccoon proof. I use each one, mixed with leaves and such as I go, until it's full..then move on to the next one. One is easy from the door I use in the winter, and one close to the back door to the garden, so those get the most use. Sometimes one sits full for longer than needed, as a reserve.

http://www.earthmachine.com/ Many cities run composting fairs in early spring and sell these for about $25 in hopes of reducing waste disposal . And one reason I have three.. short attention span gardeners. lol.

I also have a wonderful old Rubbermaid composter..much larger and completely contained. Useful for some of my over abundance of fall leaves, but mostly for fallen fruit, some kitchen waste and whatever is on that side of the yard. Again, critter proof.

This still leaves the bulk of the problem. More fall leaves, trimmings , weeds, and more fall leaves. I have the largest bin made from lumber in the far back. At six by eight feet, and as tall as I am, it is the most useful, but I still have wire bins I use at times.

During the heat of this last summer I was chopping and puling stuff out from way back behind things and ended up dumping a huge pile in an open area. Adding each day, plus adding each days kitchen scraps, Starbucks coffee grounds, dirt here and here, old nature bad compost from weird places, and even urine ( hey..I was desperate..and it did speed things up) , more bagged chicken manure.. watered and turned every third day, all with a tarp over it... this worked GREAT! I only had this pile during July and August.. sifted it out and only had a couple big plastic lugs to put in a new pile. But it required attention, tired muscles when I really didn't want to deal with it, turning and watering.. sweat. but it worked.

Newest plan.. A wonderful new leaf shredder.
Spent ages considering all brands and reviews. The negative reviews told me as much as the positive. This is a LEAF shredder. It is not a chipper. And the chippers under $600 or so, are not made to shred leaves. This one has the highest voltage and stores like a dream. I just leave the legs outside during the season , so its easy to run it out after work and do a bag or two. Simple to pick up and bring in.

I shred leaves...green, brown, green brown, shovel of bagged chicken manure, green, brown.. repeat. Stacked to be put in the biggest composter when I empty it. It's looking good now as my fall leaves are finally starting to drop and I'm able to stay on top of things. This gives me room in my yard debris can for sticks and small branches. The city can compost those.

We have plenty of mice and rats in the city. Move or kill one..and other will take it's place. Same with the squirrels . Poison bait for the rodents would be a big problem. Kids and dog could find bits drug off by the dirty rats. Then there's the stench of the dead critter under your porch or where ever it goes. With the new rat / mouse already moved in and comfy.

Bins with access to leaves provide nice rodent housing. So it's going to happen unless the piles are completely sealed, all the way around. Here we require resident working cats. Different than pet house cats. These guys sleep all day and work all night. Here it takes three cats for our 2 1/2 sq. block area , plus one warehouse and a Buddhist Temple. Everybody watches out for these cats, and they never go hungry. They have owners, vets check ups and are super friendly... but they have jobs ... jobs than they love. They wake up for a light dinner before work, just as most of the local workers leave for the day and home owners arrive at the end of their day. As soon as the sun goes down they are off on patrol. It's interesting to watch over the years. The route is always the same and each area investigated at about the same time of night. There's a leader and two followers ( understudies).
Diamond.. you may already have a team out there working for you ?

Thus.. my wood and wire bins become cat feeding stations... an easy place to consistently find something. They keep it clean.. it's only been maybe once every year or two I startled a wee mouse. Cute.. but they carry Hantaviruses and chew house wiring, causing house fires. Even without the compost bins.. they are still here.
So cats it is.


Oh..and the reason I use bagged chicken manure to help add nutrients and nitrogen to my compost is because that's what I can buy close enough I can take my garden wagon down the street, over the railroad tracks, to the feed store. Of course the RR tracks are part of the mouse problem.. grain spills.sigh...

There ya go.. straight from a city gardener. :)

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

City, I haven't seen any alley cats in a long time. LoL I know this is the time of year that mice or voles are looking for a place to keep warm I just dont want to attract them. If they are already there and we don't run in to one another I'm fine with that. If we meet there begins my problems.

The wire mess or the hardware cloth sounds like something I can manage. What is best to cut it with, tin snips?

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Just came upon this interesting thread, Anita, and wanted to add my 2 cents . I think that rodents are a fact of life, be it in the city, country, or suburbs (where I live) and it's more a matter of minimizing their presence then ever eliminating them completely, unless perhaps with poison or traps, which I don't use. Even in my plastic bags of leaves-only, I sometimes find small holes gnawed in the sides, where mice tunnel in to keep warm in the winter.

All the methods people noted above can help: keeping your compost "hot" to reduce smells and create quick compost turnover, encouraging visits from outdoor cats, making a lid for your bin or pile (and putting some sort of mesh on the bottom as well 'cause they can tunnel in)--all these methods would help but short of putting out poison or traps I think it's a losing battle to think that they will ever be eliminated.

I'm not any crazier than YOU are to actually meet the rodents that come around, so I always make a preliminary couple of loud "raps" with my pitchfork on the sides of my plastic compost bins before I start tossing. Mousies/voles seem to leave pretty quickly.

I've heard that mice hate the scent of peppermint oil so I bought some little anti-mouse peppermint sachets and scattered them around my bins and pile--couldn't tell if this helped or not but it made the compost smell nice! Some folks plant mint around their piles.


(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

CapeCod, thank you for your "2 cents". LoL Your info was very helpful. Some people may not understand it but I have a serious fear of mice, rats, voles and probably moles. I put on show you would not believe in Lowes one day. A mouse ran out right in front of me. Every time I screamed he turned aroound and ran back across my path. I knew he was just as frightened as I was but I couldn't stop screaming and running in place. A fellow shopper stopped shopping and fell over in laughter. The employees came running trying to figure out what was going on. I was never so embarrassed in all my life. Each time I see a mouse my body has the same reaction. I can't even bring myself to pick up a trap with a dead mouse in it. I can set it but I'm done after the trap is set. I am sincerely grateful for ideas for keeping rodents away or ideas for not attracting rodents. I can live with them as long as we don't have to occupy the same space at the same time. LoL I fight with the chipmunks because they did up my bulbs and are so destructive. I have heard horror stories about people flipping up moles when turning over their gardens. I would have a nervous breakdown, seriously. LoL

Back to composting, I have been adding leaves and garden waste. We had some rain recently so I plan to turn it over today. I added some nitrogen to the pile today with a lot of leaves. Hopefully, by next summer all of my compost will be ready. I wish I could report that my pile has heated up already but I don't think much has happened in the past week. Our weather has cooled down quite a bit. I recently invested in a pitchfork, so we'll see what happens.

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Anita, it sounds like you're well on your way to a satisfying compost habit!! I predict addiction! Did you end up building a free-standing pile or a wire bin?
I like to use a pitchfork because it seems to aerate the compost as one tosses. This will no doubt creep you out, but another reason that I rap the sides of my bin and generally make noise before tossing is because I once impaled a small unsuspecting mouse. . . . ;-(
I understand the phobia-thing because I have a bit of a one with spiders and extra-large bugs. Don't mind the small ones, but I don't think I could EVER pick up a trap with a tarantula in it!
It might help a bit to consider that moles can be beneficial in the garden--they are insectivores. Voles, on the other hand, eat plant material.

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

CapeCod, I looked up the materials that I needed on Lowes website then went into the store to purchase the items. Before I could make it out to the garden area some birds started flying overhead. I got disgusted and left the store. I always run into the mice in the exact same area (by the bird seeds). So I have not built my bin yet. According to what I have read, things will heat up a lot better if I enclose them in
3x3 or 4x4 enclosure. I'm going to toughen up and head back to Lowes for my material. Right now the area with my compost is probably 10 ft long 4 ft wide and 3 ft tall. My plan is to get some of the wire mesh and wrap it around or 4 stakes. In the spring when my compost is ready I should have more than enough to start my new flower bed. I added a few leaves today and the remainder of my garden waste with some blood meal. I had been looking for manure but no stores had any. We are supposed to get rain tomorrow so that should help to get things cooking. Thanks again for all your info. I'm using all of your advice! I made quite a bit of noise going out to the pile. I didn't hear or see anything scurrying away. LoL

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Good luck, Anita--your plans sound great. Please keep us posted on how your compost-project goes. We all love talking about our piles! ;-)

Carmel, IN(Zone 5b)

Anita, I just started composting this year, and was very cautious about doing so. I live in a subdivision with very strict covanents, so I had to make sure my area was discreet and as critter-free as possible. I'm not handy, and I didn't want something too crude looking, so I ended up with this:


So far, it's done well--easy to put together, large enough to hold a decent amount of compost and inexpensive (fits in discreetly at the back of my garden, too).

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

Mom2, thanks I may be purchasing a few of those. I think I will need three of them with the amount of material I have. I'm going to scout around to see what I can find. So far so good! We had rain all day yesterday, so hopefully things are breaking down. I will have to take a before and after picture. LoL

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Mom2, thanks I may be purchasing a few of those. I think I will need three of them

Anita, I was going to suggest that you set up more than one compost-collector. You have the space for this (10' x 4' x'3') and it's very helpful to have a "receiving" bin, a second bin to hold the partially-composted material that you harvest from this, and a third bin to hold the compost that is finishing. Especially if you have lots of material, and it sounds as if you will.

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

Yes, I think I have at least 10' to work with. The area is actually part of an easement that I have to care for. I frequently have to collect trash from this area. So I an making it obvious that this is not an uncared for area. I want to spiff it up so the utility workers will know not to leave their scrap there.

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Anita, how nice that you will be transforming an easement-area that "collects" trash and scrap materials, into a lovely compost-pavillion that will be an inspiration to all who see it!! ;-)

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

And, what leaches out of your piles into the soil will transform the soil there into something excellent to grow in.


(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

I can hardly wait! I don't want to plant anything that will interfere with the work the utlity workers have to complete but I don't want people to throw branches back there and leave trash. Do you all have any ideas? It's a north facing area that is shaded by trees and my shed. I would like some kind of low growing, low maintenance ground cover. I have hosta garden that I just made. It's young and has not filled in yet but this picture will give you an idea of what I'm attempting to do. The compost site is at the end of the garden behind the shed.

Thumbnail by diamond9192002
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Ferns like shade ...

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

I like ferns and they would be perfect for that area, along with jack in the pulpit, coral bells and lily of the valley.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Pachysandra, maybe?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> lily of the valley


From trash to compost to Muguet De Bois.

My mother's favorite perfume.


This message was edited Nov 17, 2010 6:34 PM

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

PuddlePirate, I am not familiar with Pachysandra. I will look it up. It sounds like something I would like. Is there a common name?

Corey, I have had Lily of the Valley for three years now. I can't say I remember the smell. Now I'm curious! LoL

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

PuddlePirate,I just looked up the Pachysandra. I love the Silver Edge! That would be an excellent contrast to the Hostas.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I'm trying to remember if it was Lily of the Valley that was considered endangered in the wild, in the part of MA that I lived in as a kid ... or maybe it was just that someone told us we "should not" pick it in the woods. Or "Lady Slippers"? I forget.

But the ones in the wild had a very sweet and slightly heavy scent.

Mom may also have l;iked the fact that they are called "Mary's Tears" since mary was her middle name and "
"Ave Maria" her favorite hymn. Though I see online that the name might have been "Eve's Tears" at some point.


(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

Corey, I learn something new from you everyday. Yesterday I didn't know Lily of the Valley was scented and today you peaked my curiousity with the other common names. This is some info I found:

Christian legend

The flower is also known as Our Lady's tears, since, according to Christian legend, the lily of the valley came into being from Eve's tears after she was driven with Adam from the Garden of Eden,[11] although this seems unlikely, since in Catholic parlance, "Our Lady" refers to the Virgin Mary. Another Christian legend states that Mary's tears turned to lily of the valley when she cried at the crucifixion of Jesus, and because of this it is also known as Mary's tears. According to another legend, lilies of the valley also sprang from the blood of Saint Leonard of Noblac during his battles with a dragon.

The name "lily of the valley" is also used in some English translations of the Bible in Song of Songs 2:1, although whether or not the Hebrew word "shoshana" (usually denoting a rose) originally used there refers to this species is uncertain.

It is a symbol of humility in religious painting. Lily of the valley is considered the sign of Christ's second coming. The power of men to envision a better world was also attributed to the lily of the valley.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thnak you very much Anita! That is quite a compliment.

>> The flower is also known as Our Lady's tears ... Eve's tears ... "Our Lady" refers to the Virgin Mary.

That is inspiring. My guess is that, since the flower predates Christianity, the name did also.

Long ago, "Our Lady" may have referred to any locally-revered female divinity. And then, when Christianity came along, polite pagans were willing to associate the God-images they worshiped with the new religion's closest analog.

Just my guess.

The change away from "religious indifferentism" to active disbelief of other people's religious beliefs is pretty recent, younger even than the idea of monotheism. I think they were pretty smart to say that everyone worships the Divine in their own way, and thought no less of you if you used a Name that differed from their Name.

I realize that many people now disagree with that degree of tolerance, and are sure that their belief is the only Truth ... but they don't agree with each other.

Give me that OLD time religion!


(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

LoL Corey, I remember singing that song in church all too well! I agree with you whole-heartedly. People tend to forget the bible verse that says, "Judge not, lest you be judged". I think our only mission here on earth is to love one another, regardless of any differences. We are all here for a reason. If we were all exactly alike our world wouldn't exist. LoL

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> "Judge not, lest you be judged".

That's good to remember - it doesn't even require virtue, just self-interest.

"Perfect justice? We don't want perfect justice!
If we had perfect justice, everyone on the PLANET would be in jail in a week!"


(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

LoL I don't think I would last a week, Corey! LoL

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

I'd be pushing up daisies. :)

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

LoL @ PuddlePirate I'd probably be leading the pack to "pushing up daisies" land.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I refuse to testify on the grounds that I'm guilty as sin.


North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

When you've screwed up as often & as spectacularly as I have, you gain a deep appreciation for mercy. :)

(Anita) Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 6a)

Screwing up is one of the things I seem to be good at. LoL. My mother always said be go at something. I think I have that mastered!

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