Saturday, February 4, 2017

Rat Update and a Compost Bin Retrofit

Well...the rat wouldn't leave.  And my attempt at throwing kitchen scraps in a sealed-up bin didn't work that great either.  I just ended up with a stinky sealed up bin of kitchen scraps and a rat still in my compost.  So after a lot of research and pondering, I ultimately decided to retrofit the compost bin I already had, and simply seal it off from rodents.

Really, I love everything about my compost bin.  It has been a huge success, if it weren't for the one annoyance of a rat.  And after many hours of internet browsing on the subject, I realized I was half way to having a bin that rats couldn't get into.  I didn't need to break it down and start with something else.  I needed to simply make some design modifications.

So I emptied out my bin, which was half a day's work in it's own.

The uncomposted material got buried in the beds I don't plan to plant in for a few more months.  The finished dirt got thrown on the top of my spring garden beds.  The upside is my raised beds are ready for planting.

Then it was time to retrofit my compost bin.  I found my inspiration on the internet with this compost bin that is purportedly rat proof:

I loved the design elements of this bin, and decided to copy it, using the frame of the bin I'd already made. Gone was my warped plywood top and the big (also warped) front panel that has to be taken off in one large piece.  In it's place were lids like these, and front panels on "tracks".  Having the front come off is HUGE for me, as I find it a total design flaw to have closed compost bins that only open in the top.  Anyone who has tried to shovel and turn compost knows how problematic that is.

I started with the bottom.  Unlike the inspiration bin pictured above, I want my bin sitting on the ground.  My bin attracts worms, so it is very much a vermicompost.  But to make that work, worms need to come up from the ground.  I also don't like the idea of space under the bin, as that's the perfect hiding spot for rodents to gnaw their way through wood.

Instead, I put a double layer of 1/2" galvanized hardware cloth along the bottom.  I edged it in metal galvanized strapping tape, screwed down so the cloth wouldn't pull off with the weight of the compost on top of it.

I then put a single layer of hardware cloth across the back and sides.  Instead of simply relying on staples, I edged off the hardware cloth with wood lath (cheaper than the galvanized strapping tape), so it couldn't be pulled away at the edges.

With the bottom, back and sides done, it was time to work on the front panels.

I laid in tracks for 1 x 6 x 6 (cut to 3' lengths) redwood fence boards to slide into.

And here we have the finished panels!

The last addition was new lids for the top, heavier and sturdier than my original design.  

I framed out the lids, and used another double-layer of 1/2" hardware cloth for the top.  Another design alteration from my original bin was to make the top of cloth instead of enclosed wood.  When you research compost bins on the internet, they caution you to cover them to prevent them from getting too wet.  I've learned, that's advice for people who don't live in California.  Here, we want to take advantage of any rain we get to wet down our bins.  In the event we have major storms that could flood the bin, I can always put a tarp on it.  But for 99% of the time, I want to use free rain to water my bin, instead of hosing it with water I have to pay for!


And here is the finished bin!

Will it be rat proof?  Only time will tell.  But you can be sure that I will keep you posted!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

I'm back with a home made compost bin!

Blame Facebook for killing my poor garden blog.  I seem to put all my garden and art projects there now.  But there is still a wealth of information on this blog that I intend to save.  And because Facebook isn't set up well for going back in history and finding posts on projects, I do intend to keep this blog alive.  So here I am on a rainy morning to post a few projects I've been doing in the last couple years.

The first is this home made compost bin.

When I first set out to compost for my garden, I had bought myself a couple of these.  And despite the rave reviews on the Lowes website, this didn't work for me at all.  The main problem is, you can't turn it, and if you can't turn it, you perpetually have about half the bin filled with stuff that won't decompose well.  Also, those little doors on the bottom where you're supposed to fit a shovel are kind of a joke.  You'll break your back trying to get anything out of them.  So this ended up in the trash.

Instead, I set out to keep with the concept of the bin above, but improve on the design.  In my internet search for ideas, I stumbled upon this photograph of an open compost bin someone had made. I liked the design, it looked simple enough, but I would have to modify it a bit.  I live in an urban area with a small yard, neighbors and raccoons.  So having an open bin like this wasn't an option.  But I decided to start with this frame then cover it.

Which sent me off to Lowes.

 Here is me, bright and shiny and ready to dig into the project.  

And 8 hours, lots of dust and sweat later, I had this finished bin.

It is basically the open bin above, but generously covered with plywood and chicken wire.  The lids are hinged at the top.

The best feature of this is the ability to take the front off when I want to turn the pile or remove the finished compost.  Having the bin open on the bottom allows for worms and microbes to get inside, which they do!


 I made the bin in August of 2015, and began throwing in my materials.  I don't go out and turn my bin frequently, so the process of getting finished compost is a little slower.  But by the following Spring, I had several wheelbarrows full of finished compost.


Enough to amend two of my garden beds.

And now we have the October, 2016 Update

I'm still very happy with my compost bin.  It's still holding up well and working the way I'd planned.  However, this fall, I ended up with a RAT!!  He's come for the kitchen scraps I throw in there, and it doesn't seem to matter that I cover the scraps with paper or yard waste.  He is burrowing in to get them.  So now I am rethinking what I put in there.

Our first order of business is to get rid of the rat, so I purchased a Rat Zapper and placed it in a box (it's raining) and placed that in the finished compost side of my bin.

The second order of business is to figure out how to deter rats from coming back.  As he's come for the kitchen scraps, I decided that the big bin will only get yard waste.  Kitchen scraps are going to get decomposed in a closed bin before being tossed in here.

After chatting with lots of gardeners who compost, I decided on this.  It's a 20-gallon Rubbermaid bin with a lid.  I drilled lots of small holes in in the top, sides and bottom of this can then filled it about 2/3 full with shredded newspaper.  I will start putting kitchen scraps in this bin, which is intentionally left small enough that I can shake it around a bit.  I've got a bungee on the top just for extra security.  In a sense, this replicates a tumbling compost bin, but where those can cost you upwards of $100 or more, this one cost $25 (including bungee).  I may get two or more of these going for my kitchen scraps. 

So we will see how well this does!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Eat Your Veggies!

The moment I've been waiting for since I started those first seeds on March 1st. Pretty much everything in the garden is ready for eats.

Have to pick pole beans every couple days. These are my garden favorite.

My Big Beef tomato plant is bursting with fruit.  Finally, the tomatoes are starting to turn, and this year, my Big Beef are living up to their name.  Nice slicing sized.  Happy plants.

The cucumbers continue to creep.  This year, they are producing in batches.  I get 10 cukes all at once then nothing, then 10 more then nothing.  I hear this is normal, but in the past, I've had them producing less more regularly.  Go figure.

Loads and loads of peppers.  This year, I may have enough to leave on the plants and turn red.  In the past, I've picked them green because the plants didn't produce as much as I wanted to eat.  This year is a different story. I've got peppers coming out of my ears.  That means I get to eat some green ones while the rest stay on the plants and turn sweet sweet red.

And it's official.  Four zucchini plants is too many.  I'm picking 2-4 zucchini a day.  Giving lots of it away.  Note to self:  Never plant more than 3, and even that's too much.

And (not pictured) I've pulled in my carrots and am trying a succession planting of carrots in the same spot.  Normally, it would be too hot for them right now, but the zucchini plants are big enough to keep them mostly in the shade.  I started them a couple weekends ago, and am just now starting to see the seedling sprout.  Cross my fingers.  Another batch of carrots would be great!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It's Officially Summer (Almost)

I love to use the summer solstice as an excuse to mark progress in the garden. This is a good garden year as the weather warmed up much earlier than normal. My bell peppers are extremely happy. In this mix are Ace and Lipstick, seeds left over from last year that still germinated just fine.

Looks like I'll be eating cucumbers in the next couple weeks.  I believe this variety is called Corinto.  Again, seeds from last year.  Gotta love the quality of  Johnny's Seeds!

The green beans are flowering.  These are Fortex, my favorite variety of pole bean.

The monstrosity of the garden, zucchini. 

I love the flowers they produce, such a beautiful yellow against those big green leaves.

Carrots are ready to start coming out, I just need to plan the right dinner for them.  I believe this variety is Nelson.  I grow both Nelson and Napoli and forget which ones I planted, but they are similar.  Both medium sized varieties so much more delicious than the carrots in the store!

Tomatoes are producing, but they're all still green.  I'm guessing I'm still probably a month out before I see any red ones.  This year, I'm growing Brandywine, Big Beef and Cherokee Purple from leftover seeds of past years.  New to the garden this year are Early Girl and Martha Washington.  Looking forward to those!

On the west end of the garden, my tomatoes are 3/4 of the way to the top of the trellis.  Here I've got the Big Beef and Brandywine.  The little one to the left is my Cherokee Purple, which is not happy this year.  It's got leaf curl and the blossoms are dropping.  Not knowing what the problem is, I've cut it back, only keeping a couple stalks that have tomatoes on them.  I'll monitor a bit but will most likely pull the plant if it doesn't improve at all.  My fear is it could have something that spreads to the other tomatoes, so it's not worth keeping.

Thus is the situation I have every year with tomatoes.  I always seem to lose one or two to something.  I never know which one or why.  I've grown Cherokee Purple two years before this and it's been one of my best producing varieties.  This year, it's tanked.  So who knows?

On the east end, I'm growing the New Girl and Martha Washington.  These aren't quite as tall as the ones on the west side, and I've been pruning them more so they aren't as full.  But both have tomatoes, so we'll see what we get.  They are my two new varieties this year, so that's something to look forward to!

And the nasturtiums are making their way onto the path.  They're the only flowers I grew this year among the vegetables.  Often I do marigolds, but they would have required more water, and with the drought, I decided I could do without.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend Garden Check-In

Yes, this blog is still alive! And Memorial Day Weekend is a good time for a check in to see what's cooking. Here in California, the word of the season is "drought". Thus, I've cut way back on how much I'm planting this summer. I've also mulched heavily to hold in water as much as possible. I've left one bed vacant, same with the wine barrels and a few other areas where I normally try to tuck in extras. I'm also enjoying a reduced amount of work, planting less. In that effort, I opted out of planting any salad or cherry tomatoes this year. Though I like them, they take too much time to pick!

In this bed I've got pole beans, carrots and zucchini.  As usual, I planted way more zucchini than I need.  Some things never change!

A peck of peppers, sharing a bed with tomatoes (not shown).

More tomatoes, cucumbers, and nasturtiums that I suspect are going to take over all the pathways like a 50's monster movie.

No veggies along the fence this year, but it's not without flora.  Clematis, climbing hydrangea, passion flower and potato vine are providing a gorgeous summer screen from my neighbor's yard.  Below them are the remnants of my bearded irises that have just finished blooming.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Cedar Waxwing

I looked out my kitchen window this morning to find a whole flock of these birds in the bird garden.  I managed to snap this shot before they all flew away.  The bird wasn't listed in my bird guide, but I was able to find it pretty quickly.  A Cedar Waxwing.  Absolutely beautiful!