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How to keep animals out of the compost pile

If mismanaged, backyard compost piles can turn into playgrounds for unwanted furry critters. Following these simple strategies will help keep the animals away.

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Burying food scraps at least eight inches deep, among other tactics, will help keep animals away from your compost pile.

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Q: Dear EarthTalk: My husband and I want to start a garden this year. I really want to make compost from leftover food scraps and yard materials. He says it will attract unwanted animals, and refuses to agree to it. Is he right? If so, how do we deal with that issue in a green-friendly, non-lethal way?
-- Carmen Veurink, Grand Rapids, MI

A: It’s true that outdoor compost piles and bins can be a draw for wildlife — be it bears, rats, raccoons, skunks, opossums, or some other creatures of the night — but there are ways to minimize the attraction.

For one, make sure everyone in your household knows to keep meat, bones, fish, fat, and dairy products out of the compost. Not only will these items “overheat” the pile, they’ll also stink it up and attract animals.

Otherwise, home composters should keep in mind that critters aren’t actually eating the compost but are sifting through it to find fresh edible kitchen or garden scraps.

Ways to keep animals away from compost

To discourage animals, the website OrganicGardening.com recommends mixing kitchen garbage with soil or wood ashes before burying it in the hot center of your compost pile.

Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends not putting any food scraps in open compost piles, but says that if you must, bury them under at least eight inches of soil and then place a wire mesh barrier over the top held in place with a heavy object or two.

Putting your compost pile in a pest-proof container is another way to prevent tampering with your precious organic soil-to-be.

Compost tumblers are popular because they mix and aerate by just being turned occasionally, and they keep raccoons, rats, dogs, and other interlopers at bay. Otherwise, compost bins with wire tops or sealed lids work well too, but require a little more manual labor in terms of stirring.

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