I live on a raccoon superhighway. We’re pretty close to a river and a creek, and the savvy critters use the storm drains to travel. This is fun for me and my neighbors—we get to see them shimmying up trees late at night, and sometimes they bring their little ones to the neighbor’s koi pond so they can learn to fish. (OK, maybe that’s not so cute.) There are also skunks, opossums, and the occasional rat family. The rats have been known to use the warmth of a compost pile to make a cozy nest for their babies.
This makes composting kitchen scraps not impossible, but a little tricky. An open bin will not work for us, as rat families are not welcome. We have a plastic tumbling compost bin, which gets the job done and keeps the critters out, but it’s hard to open, and I have to remember to crank it every day or so.
I think I found the perfect solution for my yard. A little gem of a publication on the CalRecycle website called Building your Own Composting Bin: Designs for Your Community has a bunch of great bin designs. My favorite is a composter made from a trash can with a tight-fitting lid—it keeps the varmints out while letting in air, and it allows earthworms work their magic without my having to remember to turn the pile.
This beauty took hardly any time at all to build. We bought the can for $25 at the hardware store, dug a hole in the backyard, drilled some holes in the can—in the bottom for the worms to get in and out, and in a ring around the top for air to get in—and we buried the can in the ground. (The directions said to bury the can 15 inches deep, but we were a little overzealous with our digging, so ours is deeper than that.) We won’t need to stir the pile because the worms will aerate it for us. It should be easy to keep smells to a minimum by covering our food scraps with dry leaves or soil (we left the dirt from the hole nearby to make it easy). The lid fits tightly, so hopefully the critters will leave it alone. If the raccoons figure out how to open it, bungee cords through the handles should keep them out. Of course, we won’t put in any meat or dairy scraps, but the worms will love our fruit and veggie scraps.
Composting at home is the cheapest, easiest, most Earth-friendly way to keep organic waste out of landfills. The gorgeous soil that’s created keeps our vegetable garden healthy and productive. We’re closing the loop—garden to kitchen, and back to garden again—with a minimum of bother. That’s my kind of DIY project!
For more on composting, check out this CalRecycle composting guide.
Lisa Garner is an environmental scientist at CalRecycle.