Today I completed a really unpleasant, but totally necessary job. I disassembled and moved my compost pile in an attempt to get rid of habitat that I suspect has been attracting undesirables to our yard.
For several months, bunnies have been running rampant in my garden, nibbling beans down to the nub and leaving their calling cards around for my dog, Lily, to munch on. (Yuck.) I knew we had another animal in the yard, too, but the signs were less clear. Walking across the grass, I would sometimes feel the ground give under my foot. Then, I started to notice tunnel-like patterns, with raised areas, which sometimes (not always) were raised again the day after I would push them down. My neighbor’s cat, Leo, started hanging out in the yard. But, unlike the pocket gophers who tormented me two summers ago, these critters did not leave huge mounds of dirt in the yard that seemed to scream, “Ha, ha, let’s pretend you’re Bill Murray in Caddyshack!”
Recently, a neighbor, who grew up on a farm and knows all about critters, confirmed that we likely have a mole. I’ve also noticed chew marks on one of my smaller trees, which might indicated voles, too. One of the standard ways to deal with critters is to remove potential habitat, such as a messy compost pile. Oh-oh. My bad.
My compost pile, which grew to two piles over the past couple of years, is not one of those neat, enclosed affairs turning out black gold every six weeks. The first pile was enclosed in a wire cage, about 4 feet across and 4 feet high. The height of the cage made it hard for me to turn it, and consequently, I did not, and it seemed nothing ever rotted in there. It became a pile of dry weeds and sticks. So, I started a second pile next to it. At first, this was just a pile of sod removed from the yard to which I’d add spent perennials, weedings, and vegetable kitchen scraps. This baby rotted like crazy, which I think was mostly due to the dirt clinging to the sod that was the foundation of the pile and the fact that I could flip it around without climbing on a ladder.
Well, it took a couple of afternoons of work, but both piles have been flattened. I did not find any critters or obvious critter nests, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there. Here’s the good news: Both piles yielded a remarkable amount of compost. After I took apart the cage and pulled all the dry stuff off the top of the first pile, I pulled out four wheel-barrows full of gorgeous compost that had sunk to the bottom. The second pile yielded three smaller wheel-barrows of compost. I spread most of this on my raspberry and vegetable beds. I took a big load of the dry stuff to the Northfield compost heap, which is open through Nov. 16, and I also started a smaller, open compost pile closer to the vegetable garden.
What to do next year? I’m not sure. While doing research for this post, I came across this video on how to make a raised compost bin that you can rotate, mostly using things from around the house. It’s a good idea, and the couple in the video are kind of cute.
Final note: The cherry tree with the bite marks on it now has a nice collar of hardware cloth to prevent future chewing, I hope.