Rain barrels & composters

Asked March 28, 2020, 11:16 AM EDT

Hi, Do you have any recommendations for rain barrels and composters? I know our neighborhood has experienced an uptick in the rat population and need something pest-proof.

Baltimore County Maryland

3 Responses

If you have not done so, take a look at composting information from your county. Due to problems with rodents and other animals, the Baltimore County Code prohibits composting of food scraps in compost piles or bins. https://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/publicworks/recycling/composting/yardcompost.html#Step1

Rats can make composting a real challenge. They can chew through plastic (eventually) so could potentially breech solid plastic composters. "Rat wire" also known as hardware cloth, can be used as the "skin" of an outdoor compost bin (use 1/2 inch mesh). You need to also have a top that will exclude rats. Since rats burrow you may want to consider a hardware cloth bottom as well although this could make moving/turning bin materials a bit difficult. Some gardeners place the compost bins on concrete.
Tumblers can be useful in a community where you have a rat problem, but, unfortunately, we are not allowed to recommend a given brand. Tumblers can be ideal for hot composting, but can be problematic when it comes to passive composting. See our video on bin types https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/composting

If you have lot of kitchen scraps you could try indoor redworm composting. https://extension.umd.edu/sites/extension.umd.edu/files/_docs/programs/hgic/HGIC_Pubs/Soil_Amendments_Compost/HG%2040%20Indoor%20Redworm%20Composting_2018.pdf

We suggest you search "rat-proof composters" as there are many good ideas and plans based on the collective experiences of gardeners. Also search "NYC Master Composter Manual" for plans and ideas on best practices for city composting.

We do not have information on sources for rain barrels. You can check on your county web page, dept of the environment, etc. https://extension.umd.edu/watershed/rain-barrels-and-cisterns
Be sure to prevent mosquito breeding by using mosquito dunks or granular bits containing Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) in rain barrels.


Thank you so much! This is very helpful and I will research the options you suggested.

One more question - I am planning to create a raised bed veg garden soon and am worried about squirrels and rabbits sting through any produce. Any suggestions for preventing this?

For rabbits, a physical barrier may be more effective than repellents. https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/rabbits

Squirrels are harder to deal with, as they are clever in the face of challenges to food access and are able to jump much further and higher than a rabbit. Repellents could be tried, but will probably not be reliably effective for long, if at all. Using floating row covers or tulle-type fabric over the bed may help, but would be best in cases where the vegetables underneath appreciate a bit of shade during hot summer afternoons (greens, peas, rhubarb, etc.). The more dense the fabric is which reduces airflow, the more the temperatures might rise underneath it, stressing the plants and increasing drying of the soil. Trapping may require a permit from the DNR (and at least a verification of legality), plus it is tedious and still may not solve the problem if nearby squirrels expand their territory into the space yours vacated.