Finding ways to have your compost heap and chicken coop — minus the rats — was a hot topic this weekend at the 13th annual Good Earth Home, Garden & Living Show at the Lane Events Center.
In December, four local pest control companies told The Register-Guard that during the past year or so, they’ve seen an increase in calls and complaints about rodents. The representatives all connected backyard gardens, compost piles and chicken coops to the growing problem.
The Eugene Backyard Farmer, a full-service urban supply farming store, shared practices for successful backyard farming and owning chickens — all without fear of rodents.
“Rats and mice are like every other creature, including you: They need food and a place to live,” said Bill Bezuk of Eugene Backyard Farmer. “To be a responsible urban farmer, you have to simply eliminate those two things.”
A well-designed compost system is necessary to accomplish this, he said. Too often, backyard farmers leave their compost piles open and available at ground level, creating a warm and food-filled habitat for rats to enjoy.
The Eugene Backyard Farmer sells a double-walled spinning composter that destroys the ideal rodent habitat: The spinning makes it a less rat-accessible spot, and it helps compost material — such as coffee grounds, vegetable peelings and egg shells — to break down sooner, making it less appetizing to rats.
Because chicken coops also can attract rats, Bezuk said, his biggest advice is to store all chicken feed in an enclosed, sealed container at the end of the night, instantly showing rats that there is no available food. If rats attempt to dig under the coop, seal up holes immediately.
“Again, you have to in all ways make everything inhospitable for them,” he said.
The Eugene Backyard Farmer also sells a rat killer that is non-toxic to all other animals.
“If everyone who urban farms and composts were to do so responsibly, we’d reduce the rat population to something much more manageable and have far less of a problem as we do now,” Bezuk said.
Down to Earth: Home, Garden and Gift also had exhibits at the show, displaying its natural and local products and sharing successful gardening tips with the crowds.
“Everyone can have a backyard garden,” employee Sarah Bast said. “Starting small with a garden you can tackle is a great place to start, and composting is a great way to keeping things out of the stream of waste.”
She said the biggest solution against rodents also connects to smart composting. Down to Earth also sells a different kind of an insulated, two-chambered, spinning composter — one that stands a few feet tall.
“Keeping it totally off the ground is a major factor in making sure rats simply can’t get into it, and the way it seals, locks tightly and spins are all major factors in making it perfect for your garden, not for the rats,” Bast said.
Bast said that Down to Earth also features scented products to help keep rodents away from your backyard garden before they even get near the compost or chicken coop. Peppermint, she explained, is one scented deterrent that most people like but rats hate.
“It’s an important two-pronged system: not giving rats food, and making them just not want to be there at all,” she said.
Down to Earth also hosts weekend classes focusing on educating the community on sustainable backyard gardening, Bast said.
“Learning beforehand can be very helpful,” she said. “But no matter what, the best way to learn is to get out there and get your hands dirty.”
The Oregon State University Extension Service, which presented different gardening seminars at the show, works with commercial and local backyard farmers on all of their gardening needs.
“People who are gardening or composting in their backyards and have questions can call us, and we walk them through whatever they need and help,” Master Gardener Deb Schmidt said.
The Extension Service makes an effort not only to help individuals with their gardening needs but to educate the community at large. The service teaches classes and workshops on successful backyard gardening and composting throughout the year.
In its 13th year, the three-day annual show at the Lane Events Center again focused on natural, sustainable living, as it first did when conversations about the need to reduce humans’ carbon footprint surfaced nationwide, show director Karen Ramus said. She decided to plan an event to showcase the ways people can reduce their impact on the environment.
The show was the first sustainable home and garden show in North America, Ramus said, and now is the longest-running and the largest overall, with more than 200 exhibits, seminars, workshops and presentations.
“This show is perfect for the start of a new year, to encourage starting the year thoughtfully with natural, healthy living techniques,” Ramus said.
About 60 percent of the exhibitors return each year, she said, but they bring and display something new.
“We try to work hard to create variety and make sure that whoever comes in from the community will have their needs met,” she said, “and the community is always so responsive.”
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