Saturday, May 16, 2009


One of the big problems facing urban composters is that the bins can serve as a smorgasbord for rats. Compost bins can attract large numbers of rats, and the neighbor next door might not be as jazzed as you are regarding your attempts to create humus out of table scraps.  

The other day I went to dump our recycle bucket into the large bin.  I opened the lid and was startled by movement amidst the rotting apple cores and onion skins -- a big rat!  I shrieked like a little girl and instinctively jumped back.

Moments later, my manhood back intact, I peered down into the ground cover next to the base of the bin to where the rat had scurried.  A tunnel entrance the size of my fist gaped at me. I had set the compost down on uneven ground and therefore the plastic bottom that is supposed to keep rodents out was not fully meeting the edges.  The rat's tunnel came up right next to the bin, just like a subway entrance comes out right next to Times Square.  Instead of hot dogs he was eating corn husks from my tamales.

I half-assed fixed the problem (I was too preoccupied with coop construction) by setting a large chunk of concrete over the hole.  I figured he'd move the tunnel entrance accordingly, but I wasn't that worried about it.  I thought back to one of my favorite cartoons as a kid, Charlotte's Web, and Templeton the funny rat who was always pigging out on the rotten garbage around the farm and later the fair. (As a boy I believed the voice to be Jack Nicholson, I later found out it was center Hollywood square Paul Lynde!)  I figured the rat had to have a name, so Templeton would work.  I wondered how many more Templetons there were.

Two days later I found Templeton laid out in the center of the lawn with tooth marks around his neck. I can only imagine that Cricket had done the deed, as he was in the open and there were no fallen anvils around him. I have a basic love for all animals, but I felt especially proud of my dog at that moment.

I buried the rat in the flower beds next to a tree stump that I had dug up.

The next night I struck up a conversation with my next door neighbor. Our chat drifted from coops to chickens to his Shar-Peis and their experience with previous chickens (messy), and how they killed three rats earlier that week.  I mentioned Cricket's score as well. He voiced support of composting but lamented that it brought rats.  

I'm going to do my part to churn my compost more often, add lots of carbon and other soils to speed up the breakdown, and to make sure that I level out the bin so there are no more backdoors!

As for Templeton,

"From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity."

             -Edvard Munch

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