A loud thump awoke me from my sweet slumber the other night, quickly followed by the sound of something rattling and dragging across the terrace. Lead by my barking dog, I stumbled down the stairs by the green glow of my night light, grabbing a broom as I rounded the corner to the kitchen. There at the door—palms pressed against the glass and hairy legs spread wide—stood the masked bandit. Unfazed by our presence, Mr. Raccoon simply turned and went back to his stinky buffet. Having spread the contents of the compost bucket clear across the patio—eggshells, rotting potato peels, and moldy fruit glowing in the moonlight—he boldly began gorging himself on the feast. 


Seasoned gardeners are quick to tick off the many advantages of gardening with your own compost. Increased soil fertility and accessible nutrients are usually the first things mentioned, quickly followed by benefits like improved drainage and texture, as well as moisture retention and temperature moderation. And all of the compost enthusiasm is well justified. Adding compost to the garden—either by working it directly into soil and/or by adding a top dressing of the dark mulch to your planting beds, is one of the simplest—and least expensive—ways to improve your produce quality and yield. Once a gardener experiences the improved harvest, making your own compost can become a real obsession. But simple as the process may be, there are also many challenges to backyard composting—take my new midnight guest for example.


I have a good sized kitchen garden, and an ever-growing compost pile to match. And although my simmering heap of 'black gold' is surrounded by high wire fencing, the scent of decomposing kitchen scraps has clearly become an advertisement for evening dinner guests; a fast-food beacon at the edge of the forest, so to speak. Luckily, over the past couple of weeks, I have been reading The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin. While I consider myself reasonably capable of producing decent quality compost, I obviously need a bit of help with pest management. Not only is this book an excellent resource for setting up, managing, and using home compost piles, it is also a refreshingly realistic guide to dealing with the inevitable problems as well.


One of the helpful tips I discovered in this comprehensive guidebook is a simple method for deterring raccoons which I have never seen before. Martin and Pleasant suggest surrounding the compost bin with ammonia-filled saucers, or stringing rags soaked in this common household cleaning fluid around the perimeter, to throw the critters off the tempting compost scents. I've never tried using ammonia to discourage raccoons, but it certainly makes sense. The book offers other helpful tips for managing midnight raiders, as well as excellent plans and material lists for sturdy homebuilt bins. If you're serious about your garden compost, then Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin's The Complete Compost Gardening Guide is well worth adding to your shelf. This is the most complete, how-to composting guide I've ever seen.


Do you have masked bandits visiting your compost bin? How do you deal with the problem?




Michaela grew up gardening, studying plants, and picking organic produce on the family farm. When she isn't spreading compost or pruning shrubs, she can usually be found writing articles or giving seminars on all things gardening. Michaela has worked as a gardening professional for 15 years and is author of the popular blog, The Gardener’s Eden.


by on ‎08-11-2010 06:40 PM

Coon no, birds yes. Those feathered ruffians love digging though for fermented tomato scraps. Wouldn't be bad if they didn't then toss them on top for easy access. Of course birds don't wait till the night to forage either. It's a tad disconcerting that the moment I finish the leaf cover on the latest deposit and turn and walk 4' away, a mixed flock descend apon the bin. Rather reminiscent of that Hitchcock movie.


by -Michaela- on ‎08-12-2010 04:58 PM

Yikes Tippi, watch for signs of 'flocking'! Have you tried strings of clanging pie-plates? One of the solutions in this book was covering the bin entirely with a wire-mesh 'lid'. I thought that was a good idea, and it might work for you.

Good luck! 



by on ‎08-12-2010 06:09 PM

Someone made a "Birds" Doll!!?!???! Wow! (laughs)


We've discussed a cover. Wire mesh isn't a bad idea.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-13-2010 02:41 PM

My raccoons are practically pets. Several were born in my yard about four years ago and my cats made friends with them. I'm down to one cat (the 17 year old died last year), and my fat orange cat hangs out with the raccoons instead. The mama raccoon, who we think is the last one still around from that first litter, comes to our patio door and stands up to get our cat's attention. As soon as he sees her, he wants to go hang out. Sometimes a little possum joins them, too.

by -Michaela- on ‎08-14-2010 09:35 PM

Oh my goodness, Becke. That sounds wonderful - and very, very Dr. Doolittle! When I lived closer to civilization, the raccoons would occasionally come in the pet door and raid cat's dish or even pull things from the countertop. But, my cats were never friends with the masked bandits. 

This raccoon is a relative newcomer here at my place. I think the growing compost pile is drawing him in. I never see skunk or possum at all. Living as far out as I do, I'm used to seeing wilder animals though. I have had visits from deer, moose, bear, fox and even bobcats. Oli (my Lab) has had several run-ins with the local porcupine. I do wish they could be friends, but I'm afraid it's just not in their nature!



by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-14-2010 10:55 PM

Yikes - porcupines? I get deer, the occasional coyote, lots of hawks and woodpeckers and even quails, possums, squirrels and I've counted as many as 11 raccoons on my deck at one time. I have a big field behind my house, and sometimes the snakes that live there find their way into my yard. I've seen black rat snakes, racers and lots of garter snakes, even a cobra-like (but non-poisonous) hog snake. There are foxes, too, but not as many as I used to see when I lived in England. That's about it for Cincinnati!

by on ‎08-16-2010 12:48 AM

Me I get so far.... birds, hawks, squirrels (just love to make the make them fat), rabbits, dogs, cats, moles, 2 copperheads, black garden snakes, green snakes, lizards, toads, honey bees, and a chipmunk.


Expect for the copperheads (killed), the hawks (scared away), honey bees (sent to a local bee farmer) and the chipmunk (who I think eat all my herb roots this year); a good relationship with them.


by -Michaela- on ‎08-17-2010 05:40 PM

Wow. You ladies live where the wild-things dwell! I thought I'd have more critters here in no-man's land... But you have sure opened my eyes! Watch out for those rattlers TB... Cringe!


by on ‎08-18-2010 09:38 PM

Copperheads don't have rattles. Horned mountain rattlers, copperheads, cotton mouths, water moccasins, black widows, and the brown recluse; those are the deadly vermin native in the state I live in. But home is out of range of all but the spiders and the copperheads. The one out in the yard wasn't an issue really, we killed it for safety reasons. The other though came in the garage late season to get warm. Encountered on the way to the deep freeze wearing only flip flops one morning. Woke the whole house with my fright shriek. And yes ever since, I do walk into the garage muttering "no snake no snake" softly.


The wild has long since invaded suburbia. Our own fault really, we started it.


by -Michaela- on ‎08-20-2010 08:22 AM

As you can see, I have vast snake knowledge (giggle). I had to Google copperhead snakes to get a look at them; pretty patterns and nasty looking fangs. Yikes. I know very little about poisonous snakes, because they don't live this far north. I have seen vipers out west when hiking in California, Arizona and New Mexico. I like the little ribbon and garter snakes I find in gardens when I am out working, but copperheads, rattlers, water snakes, etc.... um.... No thanks! This is one very good reason I love the cold northeast!


The coyotes have been howling here all night for the past 4 nights. I do like knowing that the wild world still exists.





by Premier on ‎05-12-2011 03:27 PM

Composting is definitely worth the obstacles and raccoons are a clever opponent. Is there anyway you can coexist? This isn't a new problem so it had to have been tolerated in the past.

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