Joyce McMenamon unloads contents into the Speedibin Scholar, the newest model of composter from Fresh Earth Products. Photo by Paul McMenamon

Merville couple designs rat-proof, backyard composters

A Merville couple has designed a product that is encouraging people to grow food in their backyards while keeping rats and other pests at bay.

Joyce and Paul McMenamon are the owners of Fresh Earth Products and the Speedibin composter, which converts garden and kitchen refuse into rich compost in a span of one to three months.

“One of the big reasons that people don’t compost at home is fear of rats, and we resolved that obstacle,” Joyce said. “Rather than have organic material trucked around the countryside where no one wants it, people can make compost at home where they know what has gone into their bin. It seems counter-productive to pay good tax money for the infrastructure to pick up and process the organic waste, and then to buy the stuff back as compost and soil amendments.”

Since rodents can’t make their way inside the bins, the McMenamons are able to compost meat, fish, dairy and pizza crusts — ‘taboo items’ that otherwise attract rats.

“Worms are not vegetarian and when we started adding meat, the worm population exploded,” Joyce said. “You need a good bed of wormy compost before you can add meat, though, and it needs to be dug into the bed of compost so it doesn’t stink. No organic matter leaves our property. It is a resource, not a waste.”

Joyce’s father, Fred Francis, started the Speedibin composter business in 1989 in Victoria. Fred had been unable to find a rat-proof compost bin, so he decided to design one. Working with Vancouver non-profit City Farmer, he realized composters needed to be made out of metal as rats can chew through plastic. He sold some in Victoria, but found there was no business case because the cheaper plastic bins were flooding the market.

In 2012, a rat problem in Vancouver prompted City Farmer to ask the McMenamons to re-ignite the metal composter business. Fred had passed by then, but Joyce and Paul found his drawings and started tweaking. After dozens of design changes, they came up with the Speedibin Classic, which has a large lid, a front door that slides up, a metal screen on the bottom, and a latching lid to keep out raccoons and dogs.

They designed a second model, the Deluxe Speedibin, with a hinged lid that makes it easier to manage.

The Speedibins have been popular with school gardens.

“Edible Schoolyards in New York City has bought many for their school garden programs,” Joyce said, noting the tendency of schoolchildren to jump on bins, which bends the metal.

She and Paul have made a tougher composter called the Speedibin Scholar — which is purpose-built for school gardens.

“The corner posts and lid frame are red and yellow cedar, so they are way tougher, and some say they look more stylish,” Joyce said.

The new bins are made locally. The McMenamons have a fabricator in Black Creek and another in Victoria.

“It feels as if this business is just ready to take off,” Joyce said. “So many people are starting to grow food. At some point, they are going to connect the dots and realize that they shouldn’t be giving away their organic matter, and then buying it back again…The compost that you buy could never be as alive as the compost that you make at home.”


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