I have a compost bin with a lid, but I'd like to start just an open air pile of compost next to it for many reasons. I am, however, concerned about attracting rats, racoons, stray cats, etc... What's the likelihood? Or how do I prevent it?
If you don't put meat or dairy in there, it's pretty unlikely to attract coons. Rats, depends on what they have available and the rat population density. If you're the only food goodies in the neighborhood, you will have rats.
On the other hand, it takes a very robust container to keep determined rats out...
I have done that for years, just open compost heaps. I do not incorporate any meat products in the open heaps.
For meat scrap composting I use an above the ground, mounted on rollers tumbler bin. This keeps critters out very well.
My preferred size for open heap composting is 4'x4'x6' tall, this allows enough material in one heap to make about a half a cubic yard of finished compost.
I like to build one completely before starting another. The most heaps I've ever had working at one time is four.
I sometimes use chicken wire to contain a heap, just depends on where I'm making it.
I don't turn my heaps, I just poke a long piece of pipe all over to get air in as they settle.
When you are doing open heaps, just take the food scraps (vegetative and egg shells only) and bury them in the center of the heap, Most animals aren't going to want to get to them there.
If you want to put meat scraps or bones into a compost heap, it's best to use a tumbler or sturdy enclosed type bin.
(a 55 gal barrel can be turned into an awesome tumbler, very easy to do)
I've got an open pile and it's loaded with mice. I see five or six make a run for it every time I mess with it at all. I'm really hoping that when we get our chickens later this spring that they will thin the population.
I have had good luck minimizing pests with trench composting. It seems like the smells fade away quickly enough that critters don't really get attracted to the spot. Trench composting also seems to speed up decomposition of bones.
Trench composting also relieves one of the need to turn piles, while still getting rapid breakdown. It also probably retains more nutrients and specifically nitrogen, so there's that. Plus, you put it where it's going to go, and then you're done, so that's a big efficiency measure.
Yes, I am a big fan of trench composting.
I still run a couple of open piles, one for grass and weeds, so they don't sprout in my annuals garden, and one for sticks and stalks that take a while to break down. Neither one attracts any vermin, because there's nothing for them to eat.
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