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It's very difficult trying to do your bit to be eco-friendly, such as having a compost heap, when rats and other pest animals keep making such a mess of things. Compost heaps are renowned for attracting all sorts of unwanted pests, but rats and mice have got to be a couple of the worst, well-known for spreading around disease and generally being unhygienic, bitey, and unpleasant.
You don't need to get rid of your compost heap to get rid of rats, though; you just need to make a few modifications here and there to make sure the rats can't get too close. The steps are very simple:
1 - Don't add dairy or meat produce.
Adding these two items to a compost heap are a recipe for disaster and are guaranteed to invite in rats, mice, opossums, foxes, raccoons, and all sorts of other unwelcome scavengers. Keep the dairy and meat away from the compost heap and you'll have less of an attractant.
2 - Layer your waste.
When you add a layer of leftover food to the compost heap, throw some mowed grass or other garden debris to the top of it. Better than that; bury the new material along with the other garden debris to try and mask it a bit. This isn't a step that always works, with animals being able to find food in the weirdest and most wonderful of places, but when used with other steps can actually help to keep your compost heap safe from unwelcome pest advances.
3 - Don't add food for a while.
We know that not adding food to a compost heap defeats the point of actually having a compost heap, but by removing all sources of food from your garden until you have successfully gotten rid of the pest, you aren't adding to an already growing problem.
You can keep a leftover food bucket in the kitchen to add food scraps to, as long as it can be completely sealed. The built-up waste can always be added to the heap a few days later, when the rats aren't hanging around.
4 - Water your waste.
When rats look for a place to nest-up, they'll look for a place that is dry. They don't really like damp places for too long, although it must be remembered that rats do survive quite well in sewers and other damp/wet conditions.
If you water your compost heap regularly, always making sure it doesn't have the chance to dry out, the rats are less likely to try and nest there. They will still look for food there, but they won't set up camp. The harder you make it for them, the less likely they'll be to stick around. You will need to work hard to make it hard for them, though.
5 - Peppermint repellents.
Repellents and deterrents are rendered virtually pointless against an animal as adaptable and hardy as the rat, but there are a few plant additions that you could add close to your compost heap to try and keep those pesky rodents at bay. Peppermint and other mint smells have been advised to repel rats for generations, and although it doesn't work as a long-term or guaranteed method of rat control, there does seem to be some evidence (albeit word of mouth and online forums) that it can help when used alongside other measures. As we said before: it's all about making life tough for the rodents.
We hope these tips help you to keep rats away from your compost heap, but a persistent rat problem may require a professional control and removal operation.
Go back to the Rat Removal page, or learn tips to do it yourself with my How to Get Rid of Rats guide.