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Soil and Composting: RATS! I dumped a mouse in my biostack compost bin!

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CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

November 14, 2008
8:51 PM

Post #5791232

In three years, I have never seen a rodent or varmint in any of my biostack compost bins, because they have plastic covers. So today I dump a large garbage bag of garden clippings (maybe 3-4 weeks old) into a partially filled bin and guess who looks up at me in surprise, and then immediately burrows down into my bin? You guessed it. THEN I notice the chewed hole at the bottom of the plastic garbage bag. There were no food scraps in the bag--maybe he/she was looking for a good place to keep warm for the winter?

Anyway, I only have Bokashi-composted food scraps in the bin--wonder if rodents eat these?

The only way I can think of getting rid of the mousie is to toss my compost, as usual by taking the three tiers apart. You'll know where I live when you see the woman who is frantically dancing up and down hoping nobody small runs towards her while she tosses her compost--and hoping she doesn't impale anything with her pitchfork either!

Moral of the story: look for suspicious-looking chewed holes in bags of garden clippings BEFORE dumping them into your compost heap/bins.
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

November 14, 2008
9:59 PM

Post #5791449

He's probably more scared of you than you are of him. I'd bang a shovel on the side of the bin, maybe scare him off. Then flip the whole contents so he knows this isn't a pet friendly hotel looking to shelter him for the winter. If nothing else the shrieking woman should scare him off.

Are the materials hot and cooking? If you can get it hot enough, that would discourage them, too. He might be looking for warm and cozy but probably not 150 degrees,

Karen
CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

November 14, 2008
10:21 PM

Post #5791502

Thanks, Karen, for the advice and the reassurance. You're right that he's a least as scared of me. Tomorrow I'll toss my compost. I really don't want to hurt mousie, just scare it away so he/she doesn't establish a nest over the winter. Not that I disapprove of mice, really--I just don't want to stab a bunch of young ones next spring while tossing.

Your remark about maintaining a hot compost pile brings up something I've wondered about: Do worms prefer cool temps when they process compost or do they care? I've been keeping "cool biostask bins" for a year since I've began dumping a 5-gall. bucket of Bokashi-fermented food scraps into my compost bins every 2-3 weeks or so. This is because I am under the impression that the red wrigglers that THRONG to my scraps prefer cooler temps to work their worm-castings magic. (The resulting rich compost seems to break down quick enough for me.) But I could be wrong about this! Maybe the worms don't care! Maybe they like hotter temps--and that would certainly tend to discourage varmints and weed seeds.
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

November 14, 2008
10:51 PM

Post #5791577

Worms don't like it too hot, either. I never have worms in my hot compost until it's almost done. However, they're really not important to the composting process. I believe they work it when it's nearly finished, and of course find it in the garden.

Karen
CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

November 15, 2008
1:01 AM

Post #5792026

Karen, I've learned something in this exchange. What you say explains something I've been wrong about. I SHOULD be hot-composting my "browns 'n greens" with regular tossing, watering, etc., and not putting my Bokashi bucket contents in until the process is pretty well finished (and cooled down.) I think I've been dumping my fermented scraps in too soon. I do get lots of worms attracted to them, but the rest of the materials don't decompose that quickly, since they haven't been through the hot process.
I never really understood this.
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

November 15, 2008
1:46 AM

Post #5792183

I don't do the Bokashi thing, and really don't know anything about it. I can't comment on that at all.

I use 2 Biostack bins which I really like. I actively compost only when I consider the weather tolerable for me (as opposed to my compost). Here in Ohio, that's about March through November. I'll flip all theat's in the bin, add new stuff. If I use a small amount of grass clippings, it usually gets to 140 to 150 degrees in a day or two. It stays hot for about 4 days, then cools. I'll flip it again in a week or two, add fresh stuff, it heats again. When a bin is looking pretty well done, I let it sit for a while and work the second bin. In a few months I use what's in the first bin, let the second sit, start a new batch again. The hot process and frequent flipping and checking moisture really help it move along faster. I never find worms in there through this process.

Now, I'm going into winter mode- slow, cold, passive composting. Both bins are full and will sit untouched until we get a warmer day, probably around late February or early March. I'll probably flip it one more time, and there will be some worms then.

About worms and temperature: If you google it, you get many hits. Most seem to say that most earthworm species like it around 60-80 degrees.
http://isecco.org/papers/earthwmpaper.html

Karen
CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

November 15, 2008
4:19 AM

Post #5792601

[quote]The most favorable temperature for most earthworms is 13-18 degrees C (55-65 degrees F) (Minnich, 1977). Earthworms can't stand to be frozen, so their lower limit is 0 degrees C (32 degrees F), and most species do not thrive in temperatures above 22 degrees C (72 degrees F).[/quote]
(from the site you posted above.)
Thank you! Now I know!
I have learned A LOT today.
Tomorrow. . . I liberate a mouse!! ;-)



kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

November 15, 2008
12:18 PM

Post #5793191

Again a disclaimer: I know nothing about vermicomposting and required temps. I only do traditional composting. Just from information I've picked up when researching on the web or in books, and participating in soil and compost forums, it seems to me that worms aren't an important part of traditional composting. Much of the time conditions would be not only hostile to worms but downright detrimental (too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry...). That's why I hate to read about gardeners collecting worms in their gardens and throwing them into the compost bin. I feel like the stuff is there sitting in my yard. If the worms want it, they'll find it on their own. I find that they don't want the compost much until it's spread in a garden bed, where they then eat it and poop it and create castings for me, burrow down and till,improve drainage, tilth, etc, and mix that compost into the bed naturally. Judging from the huge burrows reaching deep into my beds, and the number of worms present when my soil conditions are favorable, I'd much rather have them thrive in the garden.

Have you ever read the book "The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms" By Amy Stewart ? It really is a fascinating read, more like reading a novel than a science book.
http://www.amazon.com/Earth-Moved-Remarkable-Achievements-Earthworms/dp/1565124685/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226750475&sr=1-1

Karen
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

November 16, 2008
12:54 PM

Post #5796727

CapeCod: I happened across an article that might interest you. (Yes, I always wake up long before sunrise and read about gardening and composting). Note the darker green box near the bottom "no worms in your bin?"

http://www.homecompostingmadeeasy.com/compoststages.html

Karen
CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

November 16, 2008
3:04 PM

Post #5797069

Karen, what a great site!! I have bookmarked it for more extensive reading later, but my first perusal has taught me a lot more about the function of worms in the compost pile. Now I know who does the real "heavy lifting" in my compost bins: all those different 'philes! Worms are sort of johnny-come-latelies to the process.

I now see that I have been really creating a hybrid-form of composting in my Biostacks, which may not be the optimum method. In order not to "cook" all the red wrigglers that throng to the Bokashi-scraps I bury in the compost bins, I haven't been tossing and watering my compost enough to raise the temperatures. Thus stuff isn't breaking down as quickly as it could/should, despite the fact that I have worm-city. What I'm going to do now--or at least for as long as the Fall weather cooperates; I'll resume next Spring--is put my fermented Bokashi scraps only into the bin that is almost completed. That one is just sitting there, "cool," and the worms will be very happy turning the scraps into castings.

I have a lot to learn. Thanks for your help. I enjoyed reading the reviews of Amy Stewart's book, too.

And just to return to the original subject of this thread: I plan on evicting Ms. Mouse (I've decided it's a she on no evidence) later today, when it stops raining. Rained all yesterday so she got to stay another day. I'm also going to toss and water all my bins so at least some of the microbes can get to work.

Thanks again! Isn't it fun to talk about compost? ;-)

kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

November 16, 2008
5:32 PM

Post #5797671

If you found that informative and helpful, I'd recommend another book too.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0881927775/ref=s9sims_c1_14_img1-rfc_g1-frt_g1-3237_p_si10?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=1MA3KBC6FQWF0AY2EV21&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=463383391&pf_rd_i=507846

It is the single most informative garden book I've ever seen. There's information about soil life, the soil food web, and composting, organic mulches... just about everything about organic gardening. And it's not written like a boring science text, it's very easy for the average person to grasp. (So many, I think, require a PhD in chemistry to understand).

Good luck with Ms. Mouse, and let us know it she turns up in there.

Karen
CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

November 16, 2008
11:42 PM

Post #5798950

OK, I ordered the book--the reviews were just so positive. It will be fun to read a dirty book this winter LOL! Especially one that doesn't require a PhD.
I was happy to discover that Ms. Mouse was fat and sassy today as I invaded her home by tossing the compost in the Biostack (carefully, with a plastic-tined pitchfork.). She leapt out and ran to hide under an adjacent Biostack. I then tossed a third Biostack, and you guessed it, ANOTHER mouse (Mickey?) jumped out and ran away. Guess I got mice! I don't really mind as long as I am mentally prepared for the sight!
As I dismantled my Biostack tiers, I also noticed that short tunnels had been bored under the bottom one, which tells me that they don't really keep out determined rodents.
I'm also wondering if my fermented Bokashi scraps are more attractive to rodents that the usual all-vegetative greens (Bokashi scraps include meat and dairy.) I'll ask this on the Bokashi-thread.
Anyhow, thanks, Karen, for the useful links. As I said before, I've learned a lot in this exchange. I do appreciate your expertise.
kqcrna
Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a)

November 17, 2008
12:08 AM

Post #5799032

Which book did you order? Teaming with Microbes?

Sounds like you got a workout today tossing all those bins! I never knew there was such a thing as a plastic tined pitchfork. Hardware cloth on the ground under the bins keeps out rodents trying to tunnel underneath. I've not bothered but only once have I found a mouse in there. I compost few, if any, food scraps, though. Mine is mostly leaves and straw, yard waste, and UCGs. Again, I know nothing about Bokashi, but other food mixed with bran does sound like rodent food to me.

Hope the mice are gone.

Karen
garden_mermaid
San Francisco Bay Ar, CA
(Zone 9b)

November 17, 2008
12:31 AM

Post #5799107

It may be the worms that are more attractive to the rodents than your Bokashi itself.
When we lived in snow country, we had moles and racoons dig tunnels into our compost piles from underneath to eat the worms over the winter. A layer of wire mesh on the bottom and sides but a stop to that. With a biostack, you'd only need to attach the mesh to the bottom.

CCG, there are multiple styles of composting. Some are hot, some are cold.

The Bokashi method is more of a cold composting style. The worms do the bulk of the work turning the fermented kitchen waste into soil. The probiotic microbes in the EM/Bokashi keep the pathogens at bay. The biodynamic folks also have varying recipes for making cold composts to maximize nutrient retention

The hot composting method relys on the heat of the pile to kill pathogens. Unfortunately the high heat also destroys many of the nutrients.
CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

November 17, 2008
1:12 AM

Post #5799245

Karen, I ordered "Teaming With Microbes."

I have a wonderful, red plastic, very tough pitchfork. Also very light, which makes it easy to use. If you're interested, I'll research where I found it. As if remember, it's British.

[quote]The biodynamic folks also have varying recipes for making cold composts to maximize nutrient retention [/quote]

Garden Mermaid, tell me more. Do you use cold composting methods?
garden_mermaid
San Francisco Bay Ar, CA
(Zone 9b)

November 17, 2008
2:35 AM

Post #5799545

We use both methods. In one of the community gardens that we use, hot composting methods were written into the garden rules. In the other community garden, things are more relaxed. The hot composting method requires more work as the piles need to be turned regularly to remix the contents and keep the heat up.
We have a section with about 12 biostacks that are used for the hot composting. If the biostacks get too wet, or the mixture isn't right and they start to smell, I'll spray them with EM during the turning. That seems to get them set right again.

We also use the trench method to bury the fermented Bokashi and have some worm bins as well.

Here is a link to the ATTRA page to biodynamic farming and composting:
http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/biodynamic.html

There are some DG existing threads on Steiner's composting methods. I'll see if I can find them.
CapeCodGardener
Mid-Cape, MA
(Zone 7a)

November 18, 2008
8:21 PM

Post #5805921

Thank you! Fascinating reading about the biodynamic farming and composting systems. The section on cold composting was very complete. And not too technical to read; I actually could understand it, pretty much.

Interesting how US home gardeners/farmers are beginning to utilize these age-old practices again--compost tea; organic composting and pest control, complimentary and companion planting, among others. Maybe a lot always did (I think of Aunt Bett, as depicted by our own Sherran for DG.)

I wonder how the Farmer's Almanac astrological planting system is based on the one described on the ATTRA sites.

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