Thursday, May 29, 2008

Compost Condo

Garden Path Japanese Maple
I like my compost bin. I'm amazed by the magic that turns garden clippings and vegetable scraps into rich compost. But a few years ago, things didn't go according to plan.

It was early summer, and each time I removed the lid of the bin, the mound of compost moved ever so slightly. It was like a tiny earthquake that immediately settled. By mid-summer, I heard them, and soon after, saw them. A mouse and her babies had set up house in my bin. I couldn't blame them -- the compost provided food (replenished almost daily), warmth, safety, and a great view of the garden (pictured). Knowing the mice were there, I was afraid to tun the compost with a fork or shovel, fearing I'd injure one of them. I left the door at the bottom of the bin open about an inch, but they seemed to use it only for quick day trips, never taking the hint that I'd served them an eviction notice.

I decided to bodily remove the mice on Labour Day weekend because when I opened the lid, five well-fed mice jumped madly on top of the pile of compost. Perhaps the heap had become too hot, or their tunnels had collapsed and they were unable to escape. Whatever the problem, they appeared to be going nuts.

I grabbed my daughter's flimsy, dollar store butterfly net, and a bucket with a lid. Drawing a deep breath, I scooped the critters out of the bin, one at a time. I was successful in getting four of them into the bucket, but the fifth jumped out and ran into my neighbour's backyard (I hope they don't read this blog). With a parade of kids following me, I carried the bucket into the forest across the street, and deposited the mice deep in a grove of trees. I didn't have much hope for their continued survival -- after all, they'd never had to forage for a meal in the short lives.

Last year, a mole set up home in the compost bin. I spotted his funny, little nose poking out from a tunnel near the bottom of the bin. I don't think he stayed long because I never saw him again. I do have a lot of worms in my bin. When it rains, they all congregate under the rim of the lid, and I'm always afraid that I'll squish them if I put the lid back on. I don't like touching worms, so using a twig, I gingerly place them back into the bin. Although now that I think about it, they may be trying to escape, and I've just thrown them back into their compost jail.

Ah, wildlife. Yes, I have rabbits and birds visiting my yard regularly, but it's really the compost bin where all the action takes place.


NuclearToast said...

Cute story about the mouse!

When I lived in my house and had a compost bin, I was continually moving worms from the bin to the garden. I know they're good for the ground, and I didn't want to mess them up when I turned the compost.

The compost bin: Mother Nature's garage sale.

Lynn Sinclair said...

The compost bin: Mother Nature's garage sale.


Good idea -- moving worms to the garden, but I just can't bring myself to dig into the compost with my hands and pick them out, one by one. Yet I hate it when I cut one of the poor guys in half when I turn the compost.

jan said...

I'm so envious. I've had compost piles for years with no tenants except the occasional earthworm.

Lynn Sinclair said...

I'd gladly transport my compost critters to you, Jan, if I could. I don't mind the odd bit of wildlife passing through, but having them in the bin brings the whole process to a bit of a standstill.

I did read that if you keep the compost moist, the mice will be less inclined to take up residence.

Raggedy Angst said...

When you cut a worm in half, don't you get two worms? I thought they could regenerate, like star fish. I am NOT advocating doubling your worm population this way, but is that true or an urban legend?

Lynn Sinclair said...

I'd always heard that about worms, but I wasn't sure if it was true, so I looked it up. This from a BBC website:

It's a common myth that if you cut a worm in half the two halves will grow into worms, leaving you with two worms instead of one. This is untrue. If a worm loses a small part of its body, it will live, but if you cut it in half it will almost certainly die. So please don't do it. It's not pleasant.

Georgie said...

Thanks for the cute Mama and baby mice story, Lynn.

It's a shame these little critters catch such a bad rep compared to all the other little creatures out there. Shreiks of: "Ewwwww," when some people even see a mouse, just isn't fair.

So I'm happy to hear Mama and babies were able to at least eat well in the compost bin, without anyone... passing judgment.

Good on you, Lynn!

Lynn Sinclair said...

True, Georgie, that I didn't say, "Ewwww", but I did feel like my compost bin was being held hostage that summer.