There are those – most of them probably non-gardeners – who hold us compost-makers responsible for rodent uprisings. I feel that this is somewhat unfair, but here are some rat facts for gardeners that I have gathered from personal experience (being an avid compost maker and sometime poultry keeper) of which we should be aware.
Rats are unwelcome trespassers in our gardens, making their homes in sheds or greenhouses – or, indeed, in compost heaps. These vermin can spread serious diseases but being mostly nocturnal, they’re pretty hard to find. Look out for their tunnels and tracks alongside walls, fences and buildings and also keep an eye out for their cylindrical droppings and any gnawed wood around your garden.
I am sure there are other rat facts – with which readers will no doubt acquaint me. (Yes, I do know they are vermin, that they, via their fleas, brought us the bubonic plague and that they are responsible for the spread of Weil’s disease.)
Facts about rats
Rat (and other rodent) numbers normally increase massively after mild winters.
Many gardeners are either in denial (and determinedly turn a blind eye to) or are genuinely unaware of the fact that rats will frequently take up residence in compost heaps and bins and old undisturbed grass piles, not for food but simply because they provide ideal warm, sheltered places for them to breed and generally hang out.
Rats are far more likely to do this near food establishments with slipshod dustbin hygiene; or if there are chickens or even pet rabbits kept in the vicinity; or especially where there are well-stocked bird feeders. They will nest and breed near any source of easy food.
How to keep rats out of the garden
Realistically there are limits on what we gardeners can do. Most of us are wise to the fact that in order to minimise the risk of attracting rats, meat, fish, dairy and egg-based kitchen waste should never go into compost heaps or bins.
We can use a bokashi system for these (the fermenting creates a vile whiff that rats hate) before adding the contents to the compost bin.
Be scrupulously tidy about storing pet, poultry and bird feed in garages and sheds in lidded metal bins and also site hanging feeders or tables over a paving slab that can be swept daily if necessary.
Fortify our (firmly lidded) compost bins: stand them on stout welded metal mesh bases (rats will chew through chicken wire), disturb/stir the bin contents regularly and/or bash the sides sharply with our spades every time we pass by to disturb any snoozers within.
If the rat population in an area gets to really upsetting levels, groups of concerned neighbours can simply get together and call in a ratter (your council will recommend one). He or she will quickly identify local rat runs and ratty hidey holes and will then just get on with doing what is necessary – safely.
This article is kept updated with the latest advice.