low cost rat resistant home composting

i teach composting and often get questions about keeping rats out of compost piles.  i’d had the good fortune of not having too many problems with rats in the past, and would often smugly answer that all one needed to do was to bury food waste deeply in the pile and you were ok.

in this last year the rats started finding our compost pile at the old house, and it turned into a rat buffet.  despite putting scrapes deep in the pile, despite not using any post consumer food waste, those rats would just bury though and rip it open.  coming home at night, when they were most active, i could see at least a half dozen, and i can only assume more were lurking about where i couldn’t see them.

i’m determined not to let the situation arise again in this house hold, but still feel the need to compost kitchen scrapes.  good friends recommended using trashcans sunk in the ground for a rat resistant kitchen scrap composting solution.

first thing that needed to be done was to dig a hole.

IMG_2342the soil in this photo makes it look like i’m dealing with better quality soil than i think we are.  while it’s not bad, this spot appears to have been a dumping spot for the household, and at least a good portion of the darkness in the soil is from old coal and other junk.  i pulled out all sorts of pottery etc.  i also was able to find the old slab of what i assume to be the garage.  i didn’t explore too far as to how big it is, but at some point i may find my self with a sledge breaking up concrete.

with the hole dug, i just needed a trash can.  holesdrilledi’d been toting this trash can around for years, it had mainly been used for sanitizing beer bottles for home brew.  since i haven’t been  brewing too much, the current needs out weighed the possible needs.  with a large drill bit and cordless drill, in a minute or two it was full of holes, to allow excess moisture out and microbes in.

barrelsetsunk into the ground, and then covered with a lid lidit doesn’t look too bad.  certainly less unsightly than a bunch of rats chowing down, and it costs a lot less than some of the those fancy compost machines that you can buy.  i plan to use this one mostly for food scrapes, throwing in some leaves and straw to absorb liquid and balance carbon  and perhaps some worms.  i’ll still use am open pile for other organic matter that’s not so tempting to the rats.  once this can is filled up, i’ll dig another hole and sink another trash can next to this one.

while i fill up the other can the first one can do it’s decomposing thing, and when both cans are filled up, i’m thinking can number one will be finished with the decomposition process and can be spread on the garden.



7 responses to “low cost rat resistant home composting

  1. Ps – why sink it? – just keep it above the ground??……..

    Kenneth Weikal, RLA, ASLA


    33203 Biddestone Lane

    Farmington Hills, Michigan 48334

    248 477 3600 office

    313 820 2311 mobile


    • so you don’t have to look at it, nasty leachate can drain off, and microbes can travel in more easily? certainly advantage of having it above ground would be to greater aeration, but pit composting has a long standing tradition as well.

  2. how does this deter rats in any way? Even chipmunks make short work of plastic trashcans. Rats will have no problems and will most likely make a home of it since they prefer living underground anyway.

    • eating though lid/plastic = more work than open air pile = a deterrent. i called it resistant, not proof. most of the rats i run into are lazy and will go for something easier. but i’ll keep you posted and will certainly move on a more hardcore solution if they decide to chew though.

  3. We have tons of rats in our compost area at FoodShare but we compost everything including meat. No one seems to mind them but they did attract a red tailed hawk just last week- spotted him sitting on top of bin one morning! I like to joke that no self respecting city rat would be caught dead in a backyard composter here in Toronto- there’s just too many easier and better options!

  4. Patrick,

    Good ideal. I found out the hard way when I built a pallet bin last year. Between the rats, possums, and the squirrels, they had a buffet on the first batch I put in. I don’t remember where I had read this, but I heard that coffee grounds were a deterrent. I decided to take the used coffee grounds that my Grandma saves for me and soak them in hot water in a 5 gallon bucket. I also added old onions and garlic to the mix. After a day or two, I took my peelings and other compost items and added them to the bucket. I let them sit for several days and then, I transfer the batch to some old discarded utility sinks that I had found dumped in my neighborhood. I mix the batch with dirt, leaves, and wood chips and let them sit for several months before I transfer to my pallet bin. Yes, it is work intensive and sometimes smelly, but at least I am not directly feeding the critters anymore.

  5. I know this is an older post but had a similar situation. I cut the bottom of the trash can off with the hope I can pull the can out and re-use it on the next hole. Don’t know how long it will last but since I was drilling the sides full of holes and burying it thought I would give it shot.

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