PinkPetalPolygon
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Some Composting Questions

Hello Everyone! I read a lot in this forum, but still had some questions I wanted to ask directly.

I have been reluctant to make a compost pile due to not wanting to increase traffic of (bad) bugs and/or rats or mice.

1. Is there anything I can do to prevent rats from getting into my compost pile besides caging it off? Is that even an issue?

2. Would it be okay to have a compost pile IN your garden?

To be more specific, "How far away should your vegetable plants be from your compost pile?"

My MIL has a sort-of compost pile in her garden. Should I tell her to move it/quit burying stuff randomly? (Instead of making a compost pile she has been spreading "kitchen scrap greens" either everywhere or just in a main pile which is now next to a tomato plant - is this problematic/a good practice/should she stop?)

3. Would a large plastic garbage can be okay to turn into a compost bin? (Assuming you had your carbon/nitrogen ratio correct)

Or do you need the open space provided by a pile on the ground?

4. Does a compost pile stink? / How do you make a compost pile not smell bad / What can you do if it does stink?

Here is a different question kind of on the subject (And I am aware that this will/DOES stink:)

5. Is it "not good"/good to put a whole fish directly into the soil to decompose/rot into your garden near your plants? The pros and cons of this would be good to know.

My Father-in-law recently asked me why we didn't have a compost pile and I got super happy by that question... I had assumed that because he wasn't "into gardening" especially he wouldn't of ALLOWED a compost pile. I never asked because I didn't want to get blamed if it went south/yucky! Now it is a different story. :mrgreen:

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Some Composting Questions

Hi - so glad you are getting started composting! Best thing you can do for your garden!

1. Depends on where you are whether rats can be an issue or not. If you are in an urban area, where rats are a problem, then yes, they can get into your compost pile. Other critters can as well. Where I used to live (in the city, four miles from downtown) we had lots of raccoons. If allowed, they would tear the compost pile apart and drag stuff all around the yard. The answer to that is easy. You need some kind of tight bin or cage (NOT air tight, just animal proof).

Something like this but with a lid:

Image

or one of the plastic ones (they come in many different versions)

Image

Now that I live out in the country, but much less wooded, I have lots less critter problem and nothing has been disturbing my open three-sided bin.

2. Yes, you can have a compost pile in your garden. One way this is done is keyhole garden - Its a compost pile surrounded by garden.

Image

Or you can just put a compost pile in a garden spot that you will plant next year.

My only concerns about compost pile in a garden, right next to your veggies, would be if you are putting manure in your compost pile. That's an okay thing to do, because ultimately the manure will be nicely broken down and just compost. But in the meantime, while fresh, it can contain pathogens. So I wouldn't want it right next to my veggies. But if your compost is just leaves and grass and kitchen scraps, then there doesn't need to be any distance.

3. People do make compost bins out of large plastic garbage bins. It needs to have LOTS of air holes. I still think it is trickier to get the balance right of air / water/ brown/ green doing it that way. It is likely to be a smaller pile that way and bigger piles actually work better. And if your pile is not sitting on the ground then, earth worms and beneficial soil microbes can't get into it and they do a lot of the breaking down. Personally I would take the bottom off of the garbage bin, so your pile can still sit on the ground, just have the bin around it for protection. If you don't do that, then you should add handfuls of good garden dirt as you add other stuff, and hopefully add some earthworms as well. You can't really tell in the picture, but the plastic compost bin pictured does not have a bottom.

4. Managed properly and working right, a compost pile does NOT stink (at all - has only a slight pleasant "earthy" smell). If your pile is smelling bad, something is wrong. Probably that means it either does not have enough air circulation or it does not have enough "browns" for how much "greens" there are, or some of both. (If you don't know what that means, please read the composting basics and composting 101 threads at the beginning of this Composting Forum.) Fix the problem by increasing the air circulation and mixing in more browns and the smell goes away.

5. I don't know pros and cons of burying a fish. But I know where I used to live with all the raccoons and other critters around, it would not have worked. The critters would have dug all the plants up to get to the fish. I know this because I tried fertilizing with fish emulsion. Even though the fish emulsion was diluted in a lot of water, still they tore up all my plants trying to find the fish.

hope this helps some. Keep us posted how it goes for you.
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digitS'
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Re: Some Composting Questions

I have taken many different routes in composting.

Here is one idea: if you are concerned about having a compost pile, buy a posthole digger. On a regular basis, take kitchen scraps out and bury them with 10" or 12" of soil over the top. Those scraps are the most attractive to pests.

I encourage you to also have a compost pile. Some of the most "acceptable" piles I have had were made with rain-spoiled bales of alfalfa hay and cow manure. It almost seems impossible to have too much compost but if you have a relationship with a farmer, you can sometimes make a real haul! In proper proportions of components and size, a pile like this will "cook" right through the winter months in sub-zero weather and covered repeatedly by snow.

Another "acceptable" combination has been frost-killed garden plants piled in the fall. I like to use bags of composted chicken manure. Plants like this are not always quick to decompose, especially if they are things like corn and sunflower stalks. That's okay. Leave them for 18 months. If the pile is right in the garden and still rather coarse-looking, put some soil on top and plant something that doesn't require a smooth seedbed, like squash.

I like the idea of a keyhole garden. However, I might prefer that with removable walls and use the entire structure for both composting and growing.

Fall leaves are easy to come by. If you are planning to use a higher nitrogen fertilizer, like that composted chicken manure, on your 2017 garden - mix it with the leaves in the autumn. You may find that the result next year will be a very good addition to your garden soil.

Steve
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toxcrusadr
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Re: Some Composting Questions

Great advice above so I don't have much to add. Other than to emphasize that the decomposition process itself is beneficial to soil and plants, so it is not only OK to compost right in the garden or bury your scraps, it may actually be better than making compost somewhere else. For one thing a lot of N and even carbon are lost in the process. If you bury kitchen scraps (which are high in N) you will probably get more benefit from them. Or a compost pile in the garden is great too. You can use a piece of chicken wire or wire fencing made into a circle, very simple and inexpensive. I've also made wide thin piles over an entire area of the garden during a fallow season to improve the soil beneath. Works wonders.
Tox

PinkPetalPolygon
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Re: Some Composting Questions

O:)

All of this was so great to hear, thank you everyone!

I started telling my DH about the compost pile I was thinking about making at his Mom's house and guess what happened!?

He asked me like 3 or 4 of the questions I asked HG last night! :-()

I told him I had asked those exact questions and would get back to him. :cool:

I am really comforted to know that we basically DON'T have problems with mammal critters then (currently). She has been burying food stuff and nothing, knock on wood, has ever dug anything up. But I think we might be done with fish for the season, we don't want to push our luck.

That picture of the keyhole garden with the compost bin in the middle kind of sort of reminded me of the situation that we have currently, and was a true relief! :)

That being said, I think we still might want to move the compost bin out of the garden. Actually, I am still kind of hesitant on the whole deal...

2 years ago, MIL had REAL problems with some sort of mammals taking huge bites out of her tomatoes or just taking the whole tomatoes. She was so disturbed (and at some point in the season MOST of her large red tomatoes were being bitten before they could ripen), I think it kind of spoiled the experience for her.

We never really caught the perpetrator(s), but the next year the were no bites taken out of anything! I was so relieved, you know, I don't want to do anything to bring them back.

I guess that leads me to the next question:

1. Is a compost pile more appealing to critters than tomatoes growing? / Is a vegetable garden with a compost pile more of an attractant to critters than one without a compost pile?

I am still sort of leaning toward making one in any event... I mean, if we already have hunks of fish decaying in the soil, how much more attractive to critters can you get!? :lol:

toxcrusadr
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Re: Some Composting Questions

Various animals eat tomatoes, including deer, raccoons and groundhogs. Probably there was a critter living nearby one year that is now gone. I once had a varmint eat half a head of cabbage at one sitting, and it never happened again. You can put cages around your tomato plants to keep at least some of the critters out.

I don't think the compost makes it any more or less appealing. Probably depends on the setting and there are so many factors. But I wouldn't avoid composting because you once had a critter problem. The benefits outweigh the risks.
Tox

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Some Composting Questions

If the critters have a choice between a fresh ripe tomato and one rotting in the compost pile, most of them (the mammal size ones anyway, not talking about earthworms and such) will go for the fresh tomato. I don't think the compost pile will attract more critters than the garden would.

Squirrels are one of the critters that like to just come by and take little bites out of every tomato... :evil: grrr!! If half the tomato or all of it is missing, that is likely deer if they are in your neighborhood. I always had to guard my plants with deer netting. Gardening in raised beds makes that very easy - put stakes around the outer edge of the bed and wrap deer netting around them. Easy and cheap.
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toxcrusadr
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Re: Some Composting Questions

I wish I didn't live in the suburbs, I'd get me one of those .22 caliber squirrel nets. :-P
Tox

Mr green
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Re: Some Composting Questions

Swedish critters must be so much nicer than yours! I have deers and Squirrels, and the deers are very common, but they never eat anything i don't like them too, i always leave some apples on the trees they hang all winter and the deer come to eat them if is alot of snow and hard for them to find food. They take occationally some flowers, but thats ordinary pruning to me and new flowers will follow.

What will mostly go into your compost if its open is birds i would say. Voles like to come in and steal some of your kitchen greens, they have found their ways into my so called safe bins with only small holes.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished - Lao Tzu

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Some Composting Questions

You must indeed have much more mannerly critters. One garden I had, deer ate every tomato. I would come out in the morning and tomatoes I had been watching and waiting for would just be disappeared (but the deer left their footprints, so I knew who did it). That was before I learned how to fence in garden beds with deer netting.
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Re: Some Composting Questions

Varmits are critters that eat the stuff you want to eat. Wildlife eats other stuff. Sort of a weed is anything growing where you don't want it to.

Mice voles chipmunk will at times seek sugars. making plants that have them prey, which may need a critter proof barrier.

Compost will only become a persistent menu item if it contains too many fats or meat products. Compost may be (briefly) visited by critters even if it does not have any fats or meat in it. Kitten skunks have been the most common raider in my compost. With hold all compost for a few days if you meet Peppie at the bin when you make a deposit. he will move along and life can go on. If you don't have the garbage he wants, he'll move along.
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Some Composting Questions

RE: Compost will only become a persistent menu item if it contains too many fats or meat products. Compost may be (briefly) visited by critters even if it does not have any fats or meat in it.

My compost pile never has any fats or meats in it. When I lived in the city (but a very wooded one, with lots of little bits of woods around, including the back half of our yard) we had tons of critters: lots of raccoons (one time we watched a mama raccoon parade across our patio with NINE babies behind her), but also oppossums, woodchucks, voles, mice, and various others. My compost pile had to have four sides and a lid. Any time it was left open, it would be visited and all the kitchen scraps pulled out of it. Now that I live in the country surrounded by meadows, pastures, etc, with much fewer trees, I have the three sided bin like MG pictured, and it is not disturbed.

I do think some of the critters like raccoons, woodchucks, possums have become very well adapted to city life, thriving on garbage cans, litter, people's gardens, etc.
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Mr green
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Re: Some Composting Questions

rainbowgardener wrote:I do think some of the critters like raccoons, woodchucks, possums have become very well adapted to city life, thriving on garbage cans, litter, people's gardens, etc.
Good point! That is sure a part of the problem many critters don't have much wild habitats left in some areas, also most animals are lazy, so if they learn a easy way to get food that doesnt cost much energy they tend to keep it.
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toxcrusadr
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Re: Some Composting Questions

American deer do seem to be voracious. They are not polite and will eat everything to the ground. My wife was complaining just the other day that they ate all her tulips. I keep telling her not to plant stuff outside the electric fence, it's in the middle of 16 acres of woods full of deer, what does she expect? They are nefarious.
Tox

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