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Garter snakes in compost pile

 
Dave Miller
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Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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The last few times I've turned my compost pile, I have found a garter snake in the pile.  Today I found five of them in the pile (4 all together, 1 separate).  I am inclined to leave them alone since I know they eat slugs and I am overrun with slugs right now.  However I do need to turn the pile, so I am conflicted.

Does anyone know much about garter snake biology?  Is it mating season?  Are they nesting or something?  Or do they just like the heat & protection in the pile?  Will they disperse in the summer?

Surely I must not be the only person who has garter snakes in their compost pile.
 
Brice Moss
Posts: 700
Location: rainier OR
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donno I don't turn my pile but I've got lots of garters this spring
 
Nathalie Poulin
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Why do you turn your pile?
 
Dave Miller
Posts: 409
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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jaggednib wrote:
Why do you turn your pile?

Because I need the compost!  I have a bunch of seedlings I need to transplant into 1 gallon & larger pots.  I don't have good soil in my yard, so I use mostly compost.  Also I use it when planting my food forest plants.
 
Nathalie Poulin
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I know, but I mean, why do you turn it?
What does turning the pile do?

I don't turn my pile either and I get great compost....
 
Burra Maluca
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Turning speeds up the composting process. 

I've come to the conclusion that my time is better spent collecting things to compost and building twice as many piles.  They may take twice as long to break down, but I end up with twice as much compost. 

I'm also coming to the conclusion that, as my place is so big, my time would be even better spent mulching - I can mulch much bigger areas than I could ever produce compost for.  Doesn't stop me composting though as I like to give a really good boost to the main veggie growing areas whenever I can. 

 
Dave Miller
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Yes, like Burra said, turning speeds up the process, and I am in kind of a hurry right now.  When I don't need compost I just leave it unturned.  Although if I have a lot of grass clippings and don't turn the pile, it takes forever to break them down.

Turning also makes the pile hotter which will kill most weed seeds.  Also turning the pile kills any weeds that have sprouted in the pile.

I have heard that you can convert fresh material to compost in 2 weeks if you have the right mix and you turn it every day.  One time I tried doing that and sure enough it worked, I was quite amazed.
 
Burra Maluca
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And, back to the original subject of garter snake reproduction, Paul posted this video recently (May 8th) of mating garter snakes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho2SVKlLUwI

I'm not sure when he recorded it, but it seems likely that the garter snakes are or have been mating recently and are likely to be laying eggs around now. 
 
T. Pierce
Posts: 254
Location: Virginia
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i built two nice raised beds for a client yesterday.  shes using them for flowers.................on her property was a old very composted pile of hardwood mulch.  and a pile of very decayed fire wood.  the beds were tall so i put a layer of fire wood on bottom.  covered it with the mulch.  and then today added a layer of garden mix compost.

anyhow.  point of my rambling.  was while shoveling the decayed mulch...i uncovered two young copperheads.  not together. but seperately.  it was a surprise.  but its good to know they like to hang out in that type of environment.
 
Dave Miller
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Well I am learning more about my snake's preferences. In the fall a neighbor had some tree work done, and I asked the tree service to dump the chips in our driveway, which they did. I moved the chips to the backyard (which was a lot of work, the pile was huge). I wanted them to stay somewhat dry, so I covered the pile with branches (to allow for air movement) and then covered the branches with a tarp, and more branches on top of that to keep the tarp in place and camouflage it. On Saturday I uncovered a corner of the pile to use some of the chips, and in 4 wheelbarrows full I found 4 garter snakes. So apparently I have created a snake dream home.

BTW the chips are nice & dry, it looks like they only started to decompose before they got completely dry.
 
L. Jones
Posts: 80
Location: NW Mass Zone 4 (5 for optomists)
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Dave Miller wrote:Although if I have a lot of grass clippings and don't turn the pile, it takes forever to break them down.


At the right application thickness, grass clippings are far too useful as mulch to go into a pile in the first place, IME.

Too thick and they go all hot and slimy.

Too thin and stuff grows through too easily.

About 2-3 inches thick, I'll take all I can get. Look neat, form a good mat, and feed things, gradually.

Newspaper underneath if the weeds are out of hand, not if they are not too bad.
 
Megan Wantoch
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Location: Northern England
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Some studies (sorry, can't remember where) indicate that turning doesn't speed it up, and that its better to incorporate air pockets when you build the pile and then leave it alone. I use egg cartons and toilet roll inners (one folded and put inside another for more structure) and my compost is pretty fast.

I'm jealous of your garter snakes!
 
Kota Dubois
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Burra Maluca wrote: but it seems likely that the garter snakes are or have been mating recently and are likely to be laying eggs around now. 



I have thousands of garter snakes and have been observing them for 25 years. They mate in early summer and give LIVE birth in late summer (when the insects are bite size, and abundant).

Dave, I'm sure your snakes are there because it's warm. The reason you can find many together is that they are actually very social animals. They are really one of my favorite little beasts.

Here's one that just ate a frog. (That's OK because I've seen a frog eat a garter snake too)



Here's another who's letting a 6 spotted tiger beetle groom his scales (eating parasites too small for me to see)

 
              
Posts: 238
Location: swampland virginia
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I think garter snakes give live birth.

I keep them around because the more of them, the fewer poisonous.

my lizard, turtle, non poisonous snake population continues to go up.

if they'd do a better job, i'd buy them some treats.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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I always find snakes in my grass piles. I cut my field when the grass just starts to go to seed. The clippings dry out and go brown, then I rake them in long windrows. Usually the rows sit through a few rains before I use the grass for mulch. There are tons of snakes in the piles of grass where it's nice and warm. I'm careful not to injure them when I move the grass, as they do a great job with insects and rodents. I used to have them in my compost piles too but then some rats moved into the pile over winter and the snakes took off or got eaten. Now the compost bin has a steel mesh liner so nothing can get into it aside from bugs and worms.
 
Varina Lakewood
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Location: Colorado
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I think I'm jealous.
I just realized that despite the zillions of bugs, I don't think I have any garter snakes. Weird, because our apartment about ten blocks away certainly did. I just get more spiders here. Lots and lots of spiders. Maybe I should import a few garter snakes...
<lol>
That's an awesome beetle, never seen one like that before.
 
David Miller
Posts: 280
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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I've excavated an area that is 4ft wide, 1-2ft deep and 50 feet long at the base of my garden. I then filled it with brush (about 5 ft tall), windrow style. The snakes are loving the new habitat, along with the rabbits that taunt my dogs I hated unearthing the leaf blanket around my figs this spring because every day a garter sunbathed on top of it, I suspected that she was living in it but during unearthing I never ran into a nest that I could discern. There were most certainly little ones around the gardens this summer though. I'm hoping to extend frog/toad living quarters next for slug patrol!
 
Troy Boylan
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Garter snakes in the compost... same here. I love having more biodiversity in my gardens... and yes, since I live on the wet north coast of CA, anything that eats slugs is a huge bonus. I wrote this article showing how to build a composter that you need not turn in order to get at the ready compost... Build A Better Backyard Composter
 
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