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Compost bins: Open vs. closed

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Compost bins:  Open vs. closed Empty Compost bins: Open vs. closed

Post  Megan on Sun Mar 20, 2011 6:47 am

I currently have a closed-bin composter. It's heavy-duty plastic, roughly 3 feet wide and not quite waist high, with removable lid. It works fine as long as it's hydrated.

I would like to change over to a larger, open-bin system, double-pallet wide. That area backs onto privacy fence, so I'd need to line the back pallet, at least, with a few layers of cardboard to keep the compost off the fence.

I don't THINK my HOA will have a hissy (knock on wood!!!) over an open compost bin in an enclosed area so long as it doesn't reek, and there is no reason it should reek. The area will not be visible from the common area, and it's directly adjacent to our neighbor's deck so they won't see it. (The deck is about 14 feet up and they'd have to lean all the way over, nearly falling off, and crane their necks to catch a glimpse. Plus, they really don't use the deck.) The other neighbor doesn't have a deck.

My real concern, though, is rats. There is a rat problem in this area. Am I begging trouble by moving to an open bin system? Should I keep the closed composter for the "fresh" stuff, and use a smaller open bin for the more finished material? When I was growing up, a compost pile was a compost pile and that was how it was... but I can see where the HOA might get after me regarding attracting rats. I do plan on planting lots of catnip everywhere. Not only will it bring in the feral cats in the area, but apparently rats don't like it.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Someone is interested in buying our bin composter, so this affects not just me but them also.
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Compost bins:  Open vs. closed Empty Re: Compost bins: Open vs. closed

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:16 am

I see your dilema and wish I had more to offer. My dog, yesterday, ate 2 ziploc baggies full of potatoes I had put out to compost. So, I can only imagine if you build it....they will come. But, I really like your idea of catnip. Seems a double-whammy, though, in attracting cats to rats.

I can see a more persnickity HOA having a problem with your compost, but how do they know? Doesn't it take someone to "rat" you out? And, if you are friendly with your neighbors, possibly sharing your bountiful harvest, that could take a very long time, if ever.

I would be interested in anything you find, as I have an open compost pile, myself.
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Compost bins:  Open vs. closed Empty Re: Compost bins: Open vs. closed

Post  Megan on Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:30 am

Sorry to hear about your potatoes!

It would take someone ratting me out, or an HOA person looking over the top of our 6 foot privacy fence. Which I wouldn't put past them....but a) I could then make a case for breach of privacy, and b) I want to make a tall "side" to the bin closer to the back property line which would hopefully block most of the view. And/or do something semi-decorative there. Maybe even give it a "roof" that is water permeable.

P.S. An interesting note: Apparently valerian ATTRACTS rats. (So that idea for a cat attractor and kitty-toy went out the window quickly.)
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Post  Lavender Debs on Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:43 am

I've always had open compost in the mountains. But it was kept in a wire cylinder that was turned weekly in summer. It did "reek" occasionally, at least I occasionally gagged while turning the pile. We did keep chickens and rabbits and their litter and poo went into the bins. But I personally think that it was wet lawn clippings that made the stink because it only smelled bad in the spring when the lawn grew fast. Since I turned it all the time rats were not a problem (than again, we were far enough away from the river that we didn't have rats. The hens HATED any kind of rodent, lots of red squirrels; I think they thought they were getting even with the raccoons by attacking other pests)

Since moving to town I have had a closed plastic bin and it is so much less work. We saw rats fairly often in town (no wild cats because of leash laws). I now have one open compost that I do not turn as often as I should (arthritis) but I don't see the rats anymore because 1. I took down the bird feeders and 2. We have two terriers.

Mel says to always dry grass before putting it into your bin. I am sure that would help, but I don't mow the lawn around here. The guys collect it in a mower bag and empty the bag right into the open bin. As long as I don't turn it very often it doesn't smell bad, but give it a turn and p-u. The stink goes away after a couple of hours.
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Compost bins:  Open vs. closed Empty Re: Compost bins: Open vs. closed

Post  Megan on Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:50 am

Well, the good part about putting the garden in the front yard last year is that there is very little grass left to mow, so I doubt any clippings will make it to the backyard! It will be mostly leaves, garden waste, and kitchen waste. All our pets are carnivores so can't use anything from them. When I lived in California I built an open bin using chicken wire and that worked out really well. I'd prefer to have the front be open, for better access, but I guess it would be neater looking if I did string something across the front. Hm.

Good point about the bird feeder, too... I was thinking of putting one back up.
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Post  Lavender Debs on Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:58 am

I MISS the birds but not the rats.

Maybe you could make a removable wire door that latches on (and off) with hooks and eyes (no hinges)?
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Post  camprn on Sun Mar 20, 2011 10:01 am

Megan, what about round wire cages?
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Post  Blackrose on Sun Mar 20, 2011 6:49 pm

I was going through old threads looking for information on strawberries and came across the thread where Theresa posted pictures of her Strawberry Tree. She posted a link to the plans and while looking at the list of plans on that page, I came across these plans for a garden screen. Something like this may help you hide an open compost bin and you can put flower pots on the shelves to make it look pretty. flower

http://www.bhg.com/home-improvement/outdoor/installation/build-a-garden-screen/
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Post  Megan on Sun Mar 20, 2011 6:59 pm

Oooh, that's very nice, BlackRose, thank you!!! I love you

I was toying with the idea of trying to make chicken wire or hardware cloth panels and thread them through with colored venetian blind slats or something similar. Your idea is much nicer. I may not get there this year, but I will show hubby and see what he thinks. (I am so psyched... I spent hours in the backyard today, cleaning up after the tree removal. Hubby went out to buy a replacement light fixture for the backyard, and came home with a bird feeder and other goodies. Yay, buy-in to project!!!!)
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Post  Blackrose on Sun Mar 20, 2011 7:03 pm

There was also another idea where they used lattice and stapled shade or frost cloth on the back to fill in the holes. Then they put a planter at the bottom to make it look pretty.

I was out in my yard doing some spring cleanup today too. Unfortunately, the TT's are still pretty frozen. I was kind of hoping that I could start planting out some cool weather crops soon.

Yeah for new stuff!! cheers
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Post  Old Hippie on Mon Mar 21, 2011 12:05 pm

Megain, have you thought of just using the wooden lattice? My compost bin is made of pallets, which didn't look very nice but worked very well. We put some wooden lattice on the outside and I stained it to match the shed doors. It hides the compost very well and gives me place to grow climbing plants. Your squash would love it. LOL! If you made a removable panel to set in front it would be fine. We were going to but didn't bother because the open side faces the garden shed.

As far as smell goes, like Lavender Debs said, the grass is probably the worst. But if you want to get heat in a hurry, it is marvellous. If you just throw it on top and let it dry, it makes a wonderful "blanket" that keeps flies away. We don't have an issue with rats here, but my daughter, who lives in Vancouver, does. They get in ANY kind of compost bin, even the closed ones. What I don't like is the flies but as long as I put the fresh stuff deep in the pile, odour and flies are not a problem.

Best of luck!

Gwynn
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Post  herbarium on Mon Mar 21, 2011 1:28 pm

I have a plastic compost bin and also two round wire ones. I put everything in the plastic one and when it needs turned (I don't turn it very often) I turn it into the first wire one. By then there is not really anything to attract rodents. When I need to turn the contents of the plastic one again I turn the compost from the first wire one into the second and the plastic into the first wire one. I would love to have a bin like this eventually.
I have had a rodent problem in the past and as a precaution I put hardware cloth on the ground and put my plastic bin on top. That way they cannot dig into the bin from underneath.
You may also want to sprinkle hot pepper flakes into the bin once in a while.
I now have cats so don't worry about it so much.
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Post  Nonna.PapaVino on Mon Mar 21, 2011 1:44 pm

The Oregonian (Portland,OR) newspaper sometimes features articles by master gardener Vern Nelson. Here's a link to his recent article on an open compost to help amend soil, and result in a "raised bed."
http://blog.oregonlive.com/homesandgardens/2011/03/daily_tip_for_homes_and_garden_6.html Well worth the read.
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Post  Megan on Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:52 pm

Thanks everyone! I may go with lattice/landscaping fabric route. I like the idea and it sounds cheap and easy (all good things!)

One reason I want to get away from bins and into open-front is that my space is limited. I can do a double-wide bin at most, I think.... and the aisle right there is planned at 3 feet wide before the next adjacent box. This does not give me a lot of room to back up and shovel stuff around.... plus, I think it would be harder on my back to try to dig down into a small bin rather than in from the front. I really need to get some pictures up so you can see what I am talking about.

I am dreaming of some sort of wild contraption involving pvc. Stay tuned. ;-)
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