Rats are everywhere, and many people are hesitant about making compost at home because they believe it will attract rats to their garden. But following a few simple rules will keep your compost rodent-free. Making compost at home is environmentally friendly and provides a free source of fertility for your garden.
Site your compost bin carefully. Traditionally, compost bins and heaps are kept out of sight at the bottom of the garden. A better option is to site the bin near to the house, where you'll remember to use it. Rats are shy creatures, and will avoid compost bins that are regularly used or passed by. A sunny spot helps the waste to compost faster, too. Try to avoid putting the bin near to walls or fences - leaving a space around it will discourage rats because they like to stay hidden.
Use a closed bin. A plastic compost bin, with a lid, is much harder for rodents to gain access to than an open, sprawling heap. It's neater too, and the plastic walls help to retain the heat and moisture that the composting process needs.
Be careful what you compost. Although everything that was once alive will compost, adding certain items to your heap will attract rats. Garden waste, raw vegetable waste, cardboard, paper, coffee grounds, tea bags and eggshells are all fine to compost. Avoid adding cooked food, meat and fish, dairy products, bread and bones to your compost bin - all of these could attract rats looking for food.
Get the mix right. For the composting process to work properly, you need a good mix of 'greens' and 'browns' in the compost bin. 'Greens' are wet, soft materials - like grass clippings, leafy weeds and vegetable peelings. 'Browns' are drier, woody materials - like fallen leaves, straw, cardboard and paper. There's no need to be exact, but try to add similar amounts of browns and greens. If you have a lot of grass clippings to add to the bin, add some crumpled paper or cardboard at the same time. A happy heap is less likely to attract rats.
Add some water. Even in a closed bin, with the right mix of materials, compost can still become too dry. Compost needs to be pretty wet - like a wrung-out sponge - so add some water if yours looks too dry. A rat might set up home in a dry heap, but they don't enjoy nesting in wet conditions!
In the unlikely event that you follow these rules, and your compost bin is still attacked by rats, then you can take action to keep them out of the bin. You could site your compost bin on stone or concrete - it doesn't have to be on open soil. Or you can wrap strong, narrow gauge metal mesh (look out for it among construction supplies) under the bin and up around the bottom to prevent digging and gnawing.
Emma Cooper produces a weekly podcast (internet radio show) called The Alternative Kitchen Garden. You can read regular updates on her garden on her blog.