Hi Umbra,

I live in Providence, R.I., and I have a basic composting bin; it’s about three feet tall, made of black plastic with ventilation shafts on all four sides and on top, but it has no bottom. I want to set this up in my tiny side yard for my neighbors and me to use. However, we have a big rat problem here and I am afraid all this delicious, rotting food will attract them. Is there any way to keep a rat-free compost bin in a city?

Michelle
Providence, R.I.

Dearest Michelle,

Rats are amazing creatures that have adapted perfectly to survival in urban environments. They can chew through metal, slide through half-inch holes, spring a foot into the air, swim underwater for long distances, and generally outperform high school students on the Presidential Fitness Test. I truly admire them.

However, do not lose hope. It is possible to maintain a rat-free compost bin in a city, and here’s how. Head on over to the hardware store and buy enough quarter-inch hardware cloth to encase the sides and bottom of your bin. Hardware cloth is thick wire mesh, and the quarter-inch size is difficult for rats to get a tooth-hold on, as well as too small for their skulls. You’ll need wire cutters, protective gloves, and some short lengths of wire to tie the cloth to itself. Wrap the cloth around and under the bin until there is no place for rodent access. Find a heavy brick or rock to hold the lid down.

The other recommended rat-deterrent in urban areas is to limit the diet of your composter to unprocessed food and to avoid meats and fats (butter, cheese, Ranch dressing), which apparently are more alluring to members of the rodentia family. Some fans of composting cannot tolerate throwing any food into the trashcan and will recoil at this suggestion. However, as you have already identified your yard as High Rat Risk, I believe you will have more success starting slowly and testing additional materials in the bin as time goes on.

I hope you have no rat problems and can transform your food waste into garden gold. If you do see signs of rats, however, don’t be angry. Reflect on their similarity to the Bush administration — driven, goal-oriented, highly effective — and use their example to inspire your own dreams. By the way, the high nitrogen content of urine makes it a great compost additive. I have no information about its effect on vermin.

Squeakily,
Umbra