When you are piling up yard debris and food scraps for composting, you may start worrying that snakes may decide to make a home under that nice, shady canopy that you are building. Your concern is not without merit. Trust me. I recently had an experience that sent chills down my spine and after a great deal of research and anxiety therapy, I’ve come to the conclusion that dealing with the root of the issue is your best chance to prevent finding a surprise in your decomposing pile.
Does compost attract snakes? Compost can attract snakes as a protective shelter and as a food source. Piles of leaves and debris offer a welcoming canopy in which to hide and food scraps can attract rodents for the snakes to feed off of. To prevent snakes in your compost, keep rodents out of your pile.
We need to explore both factors and discuss practical solutions to preventing snakes in your compost but first, here’s a short video I prepared sharing my experience and summarizing the recommendations for keeping rodents out which will, in turn, lessen the attractiveness of your compost as a home for snakes.
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Why Are Snakes Attracted To Compost?
We have to remember that a snake requires both shelter and food for survival (source). At least one of these offerings is what will initially attract a snake but in order for them to stay, they are going to require both.
Our goal, then, is to interrupt the offerings and make our compost pile less attractive as a permanent settlement.
Compost Piles Can Offer A Food Source For Snakes
It’s important that we begin here because, although a snake may wander into your compost pile out of curiosity, it is the availability of food that will entice it to stay.
Snakes are carnivores and prey on small live animals (source). Rodents are an excellent food source and when found in abundance can offer a strong incentive for a snake to stay.
Compost Piles Provide A Snake With Shelter
Snakes are explorers but they are not exhibitionists. They prefer to stay hidden and tend to satisfy their curiosity by slithering into areas that offer visual camouflage. This can be behind plants and rocks or a nice thick blanket of decaying organic material like you find in a compost pile.
Not only does this help protect them from prey but it also allows them to hide in wait for their next meal. In this way, a compost pile provides a perfect offering of shelter.
And there’s another reason that your compost pile may look cozy to snakes…
Warm Compost Is Welcoming To Snakes
As compost heats up, it can provide a source of warmth for snakes. They can curl up on a nice warm mat of decomposing leaves, grass clippings, or whatever organic matter you may have added in and just wait for dinner to arrive.
Since the compost pile provides such a nice resting area, they can wait patiently, monitoring for movement of a potential meal. So you see, it all leads back to the food source. If we can eliminate rodents from our compost pile we stand to make it a less inviting location to settle in for permanent residence.
And so, we need to figure out how to keep rats out of our compost.
So To Get Rid Of Snakes We Need To Get Rid Of Rodents
But why would rats be in a compost bin?
Rats are opportunistic feeders. They will get into just about any digestible material they can find and that includes the food scraps that you are putting in your compost pile. They’re even known to eat worms in a vermicomposting bin if they come across them. The bottom line is this: once the rats come, snakes are not far behind. I’ve found this to be true not only when composting but even in the case of bird feeders where rats come for the fallen seeds and a snake comes for dessert.
Here’s the mistake that I made. My routine was to gather a day or two’s worth of kitchen scraps at a time and bring them to the compost pile at one time. I’d simply lift away a layer or two of the heap and drop the scraps into the center. My logic was that this would help to keep the pile heating up.
But it was too much at a time and all condensed together. I created a treasure hunt where the lucky rodent who found it had an endless supply of food. I learned two values lessons from this.
- Add smaller portions at a time
- Spread and mix the fresh kitchen waste throughout the pile
Of course, you want to avoid meat and dairy products but I wasn’t adding those anyway. But the quantity that I was putting in each time was overwhelming to the pile. It couldn’t decompose the waste fast enough before I was adding another batch. And so, I created my own problem. Odors from the excess food attracted rats. The availability of a food source then attracted the snake. I participated in the cycle of life.
The really bad part is that I knew better! The truth is, I just got lazy. But you can avoid my mistakes by just following these simple practices.
Food Attracts Rats – Rats Attract Snakes
Let’s look at some best practices for reducing snakes in your compost by limiting their food source.
Add Smaller Amounts Of Kitchen Waste To Your Compost Pile
If you want to keep snakes from making a home in your compost pile, starve out the rodents! Only add a reasonable amount of food waste at a time. The amount will depend on the size of your compost pile but stick with the tried-and-true rule of thumb: two parts dried browns (carbon) to one part greens (nitrogen).
That not only will reduce the odors but also keep the slime to a minimum as nitrogen-rich foods break down.
Mix The Food Scraps Up With Dried Carbons
The second part of this strategy is to not just dump the kitchen waste into the middle of the pile and cover it up. Spread it out in smaller amounts over various areas of your pile. You should still cover it with a dry carbon source but the point is not to just toss it into one area.
Remember, we want to minimize odors so that rats will less likely to hone in on our decomposing food waste. If we can keep the rodents out of our compost it is unlikely that a snake will take up permanent residence.
Consider Using A Tumbler
If you just can’t stand the thought of finding a snake in your compost (believe me, I can understand!), consider moving to a compost tumbler. These not only have the advantage of keeping critters and snakes out, they also make the composting process tidy and faster. Click here to see our recommended compost tumblers.
Snakes may wander into your compost while exploring but if they find a food source they are more likely to stay. If you take steps to limit the appeal of your pile to rodents, you’ll lessen the likelihood that a snake will make a home in your compost pile. Granted, snakes don’t just eat rats but rodents are one of the most common pests that are known to get into compost and they happen to be high on the snake preferred menu.
Compost piles do provide shelter and warmth for snakes but without a food source, they will be less likely to settle in.
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