One of the battles that gardeners have with wildlife is over compost. We see our piles as a way to transform plant waste into nutritious compost that will help the next generation of plants grow and be healthy. Wildlife often sees compost piles as a 24/7 diner where they can sample the latest seasonal fare.
I used to be very laissez-faire about the construction of my pile. Some pieces of old fence, some 2-by-2 posts hammered into the soil surrounded by some extra chicken wire, old shipping pallets, etc. have all been used. The trouble with these constructions, however, is that during certain times of the year, my pile would not grow regardless of how much stuff I put in. In the summer I would see corn cobs that had been placed inside the pile the night before, emerge scattered around the back yard the morning after. In the fall, the remains of a pumpkin has its seeds scattered around the outside of the pile. And in the winter, little footprints and pieces of an apple core make a trail into the woods. The panoply of creatures dining in my yard fill a big list: Crows, wild turkeys, groundhogs, squirrels, raccoons, possums, deer, chipmunks, etc., etc., etc.
So a few years ago I bit the bullet and purchased a proper wire compost bin from Gardner’s Supply, which also included a top to keep the creatures out. And after I figured out an easy way to keep the top shut (and most creatures out), I was in compost city. My production of compost tripled in the last year and my plants this past summer responded to the extra nutrients with fantastic growth and harvests.
I did miss seeing the occasional wild turkey and its babies come round the pile looking for food, but I told myself that it was worth it. Until today.
As it has been a cold fall, we have been burning wood at a rapid pace and if the weather continues as is, we will be out of wood within a month. So I thought today was a good day to get out and make my back and shoulders sore by splitting logs to replenish the pile. As I was walking out the back gate, the compost heap was to my right as was a possum. Upside down. Very frozen. Very dead.
Poking it a few times to see if I was mistaken, it was motionless as its tail was wedged in a corner of the compost bin while its little paws were gripping the mesh and its mouth clamped on a wire. It must have been looking for food last night and upon climbing down from the top got its tail caught and was unable to move. It froze to death.
My daughter Sarah came out and took a few pictures of it before I went to split wood. As I was swinging my maul, I kept thinking about the possum, its search for food and bad luck last night.