Gardener clearing leaves last autumn
The compost heaps need turning. Gardener is still on sick leave, and there's nobody else whom I would trust with my compost heaps. He empties them, shovelful after shovelful, takes out all the bits which haven't finished composting; all the nasty white roots, which are just waiting to pounce and turn into perennial weeds, end up in a special little pile. They are either donated to the Municipal Composter or burnt. The compost is put back into the neighbouring bin for further 'cooking' or, if ready for use, put into bags which can easily be transported from bed to bed.
my compost bins
Leaving the compost bins undisturbed this autumn, means that they will provide a cosy and warm refuge for mice and rats. I don't mind mice but rats scare me. It is said that you are never more than six feet from a rat in the UK. Some estimates also say that there are 50 to 60 million rats in the country, almost as many as there are people. They are nasty creatures, which carry diseases.
In our previous garden the compost heap was much smaller; I wasn't nearly as passionate about the gorgeous, dry, friable, blackish-brown treasure trove then as I am now. We made a pretence of turning it in a very haphazard manner. We'd only just acquired a large garden, had joined the local gardening society and tried to do what the experts advised.
On one occasion Beloved found a small cache of little pinky-white, naked creatures, with tiny limbs, about half way down in the heap. "Oh, how sad," said he, "look, I've disturbed a birds' nest. Shall I put the muck back?" He has a very kind heart. Anything small and vulnerable immediately brings out his caring and protective side.
I took a look. "A birds' nest? Halfway down a compost heap? Not-bloody-likely."
All of you who might now think less of me for swearing, let me reassure you: 'not-bloody-likely' is only a mild expletive and always used in this combination, or so I'm told by native English speakers.
"That's a rat's nest. Get rid of it," I screeched.
Beloved chucked them on the grass, where they squirmed for a second or two, then lay still. I couldn't bear to stay around; we went away and let the birds clear them away. Not a trace remained.
A long time ago, a rat took up residence in the pipes running through the cellar of the house where I lived in Germany. A ratcatcher was called to dispose of it, a man with a dog, a large Alsatian. I have no idea if poison was used as freely then as it is now; in those days, in the countryside, the ratcatcher was the proper authority to approach.
I remember standing in the cellar silently, hiding behind my Papa whilst not wanting to miss a thing. I had been told to stand absolutely still. For a long time nothing happened. The dog sat quietly, ears pricked, on a very short leash, the man himself frozen, like a statue.
After what seemed an eternity, but was probably no more than thirty minutes, the man whispered :"he's here". I strained to see what he had seen, shivering in anticipation. I saw nothing. And then, in the blink of an eye, a large black shadow darted along the upper pipe, and appeared to jump straight into the dog's open maw. Dog and rat moved as one, there was the sound of bone crunching, the dog swallowed and silence returned. The actual kill was over in seconds. Even now, so many years later, I can see the rat taking a flying leap and the trajectory somehow ending up in exactly the spot where the dog was waiting.
"He was a big one", the man said, when my father paid him.