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.