Raccoons and Compost: A Common Sense Primer

Raccoon digging for worms in my garden.

Raccoons live among us. They lived here before we composted. They lived here before we put out cat food, garbage cans, or bird feeders.

 If everybody stopped composting tomorrow, raccoons would still thrive here.

Raccoons will eat whatever is available. If you ever wake up to find holes in your lawn, it is likely from raccoons going after favorite treats: grubs and/or worms. They also eat pet food, bird seed, snakes, mice, rats, fish, birds, frogs, eggs, insects and garbage. They will also, of course, eat some items in compost.

Raccoons are clever and crafty. They’ve been known to open latches, doors and garbage cans, climb tall buildings and use their nimble paws to accomplish many complicated tasks. There’s a reason that “raccoon-proof” products are widely hyped but rarely work as advertised.

Whether you and your neighbors choose to compost or not, raccoons will still visit your neighborhood and, probably, your yard. Unless you’ve paved your entire neighborhood, killed off every last plant, animal and insect, and incinerate all of your food waste before going to bed every night, your neighborhood has food they want to eat and places they’d like to sleep.

Knowing raccoons will visit your property doesn’t mean you should throw your arms up in defeat. Instead, it allows you to take a more rational approach. Here are some simple and appropriate steps you can take to dissuade raccoons from your compost:

  1. The only animal product to compost is egg shells. No meat, no dairy. No “fake” vegan/vegetarian meat.
  2. No oily/greasy foods in your compost.
  3. No grains. (eg, bread, rice, cereal, pasta, pizza crusts.) Or, if you really want to add bread, soak it in a bucket of water two hours, then stir to break it apart until it forms a mushy gruel. (This does not work with bagels, pasta or rice.)

The above three steps will generally solve the problem, but if you want to “raccoon proof” your compost:

4.  Cover your compost bin well. Best practices depend upon the unit type.

    1. Bottom-door styles can sometimes lock down with a stick or landscape spike.
    2. Municipally-sold “New Age Composter” Bin-24 cylindrical units can be easiest sealed with a tarp and a bungee cord or two. (At full size, it requires two large bungee cords tied together to go all the way around.) I strongly recommend bungee cords with plastic hooks that will not rust or jab you if you’re not paying attention.

5.  Place “hardware cloth” or chicken wire under your bin and/or over any air holes. (This is really for other varmints – raccoons typically won’t tunnel into compost from below.)

6.  Do not go out to your compost bin at night. As a rule, raccoons are more likely to be out and about then.

 A short story:

In the fall of 2013, our very tall, inedible-apple tree produced lots of fruit, much of which clung to the tree 20’ and higher in the air. Several nights I woke to the sound of apples falling or raccoons screeching, just outside our windows. Night after night they climbed to the uppermost branches to eat the fruit. They also dined on the plentiful worms in our garden and yard, before retreating to a neighbor’s property.

They never approached the compost, or our garbage cans.

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