We share great recipes, muse about building the best playsets for our children, and delight in objects that add a little beauty to our days. But what post from more than five years ago is still getting regular comments from readers? Dog poop composting! With that kind of interest, we decided it was high time to revisit the topic.
My dog poop composter: no longer in business
First, my update: we stopped using our DIY dog poop composter after a few months. (If you’re not the DIY type, you can purchase dog waste composters, too.) Reader comments had tipped me off to some potential hazards of the compost, and as I said in my original post, two big dogs = a lot of output. Our bin filled up fast, and it seemed the waste wasn’t really going anywhere. So we went back to bagging. I’ve done more research for this post, and here’s what I’ve found out.
Dog poop composting: the negatives
Maybe it’s because the Pacific Northwest is full of environmental types and ample waterways, but it seems a lot of the negative press on dog waste composting originated here:
- The Public Works department in nearby Snohomish County, where a four-year study was conducted on pet waste composting, flat-out calls dog poop composters a bad idea: “They may seem practical, but they do not kill hazardous pathogens that may be in the waste and can pollute water. Landfills are designed to safely handle substances such as dog waste, cat litter, and dirty diapers. Yards are not.”
- King County (where Seattle is located) is officially okay with it, but Tom Watson from King County’s Recycling and Environmental Services was less than enthusiastic in this 2009 article for the Seattle Times.
- The City of Eugene, Oregon is cautiously okay with burying the waste, but discourages against using the actual resulting compost. Their study found that harmful bacteria and disease is present even when dog waste has turned to compost. Compost Gardening sums it up well:
Compost specialists obtained samples and tested them for salmonella, coliform bacteria, and other nasties. “We then allowed the material to sit for another six months and tested it again, hoping time and microbial competition would bring the material into the ‘safe’ level,” wrote compost specialist Anne Donahue. “It didn’t.”
Eighteen months after the crumbly-looking compost was set aside to cure, it still contained enough microbial pathogens to contaminate a planting of leafy greens.
Dog poop composting: the positives
That’s not to say opinions out there are 100% negative:
- The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District offered dog waste composting as a solution for sled dogs. This publication from 2005 gives a detailed how-to, along with troubleshooting tips. (Note: PDF at the link takes some time to load.)
- How-to articles from National Geographic and the Sierra Club are also pretty good endorsements for the practice.
- This CNN/Mother Nature News article is for composting, but not for using the resulting compost: “bury it deep” is the advice (there are also some good links to more information in the article).
- Sharon Slack at City Farmer, where I first got my compost bin how-to, has had practical success. Because Slack lives in a part of Canada where putting dog waste in the garbage is forbidden, she has been composting it for more than 15 years and says she’s only had to empty the bin once in that time.
Pet waste composting caveats
It’s a simple fact that pet waste composting poses more potential hazards than regular food and yard composting. These are the big cautions:
Don’t compost pet waste anywhere near water sources or edibles gardening
Keep the bin away from your growing vegetables, fruits and any water sources (one source said at least 100 feet from water sources). Once the waste has broken down, you can use the compost on ornamental plants, but never on something you intend to eat. (Or as the City of Eugene recommended, bury the waste, but don’t use the resulting compost at all.)
Cat or other animal waste?
Do your research on other types of waste, but make sure any cat litter is biodegradable. This Root Simple post may help.
Make sure your pet waste compost will heat up consistently to 145ºF
Temperatures in fresh compost mixtures rise quickly—up to 160º F and greater—then decline slowly until the compost temperature approaches air temperature. If you do not see this rapid rise and gradual decline of internal temperatures, the compost recipe may need to be adjusted.
The bottom line: whether you compost doo or bag it, ALWAYS PICK IT UP
The worst thing you can to do the environment is just leave your dog waste lying where it is. Check out this dog waste infographic at Mother Nature News: dog waste left on the ground can contaminate water up to 20 miles away. Dog waste contains parasites that can sicken humans. Decomposing dog waste in the water robs fish of oxygen. And on and on.
So, dog waste composting wasn’t right for me, but what about you — what will you do with the doo?
Photo by Flickr user Nick Herber; used by Creative Commons License.
Last Sunday our neighbors hollered over the fences and invited us to come sit around their fire pit in the backyard. It was a chilly but gorgeous, evening with glowing skies. The kids romped around, occasionally swinging by for warming laptop pit-stops, while us grownups nursed a few beers and savored the last few hours of the weekend. Later back home, I loved the smoky smell that clung to my clothes, and I suddenly realized, fires aren’t just for winter anymore!
Before we rush out to HomeDepot to pick up one of our own, or invest in something as stunning as the Daze ($689 from Haskell), above, I’d love to get your take on backyard fire pits.
So tell me, fire pit owners: Are they safe? Where’s the best place to put them — on the grass? On a patio? And most importantly, what’s the secret to making perfect, gooey s’mores? ;-)
After Craigslist scouring, I ended up with nearly enough cement blocks to build two raised garden beds (I had to buy about seven new to fill the gaps, which added up to around $8). The next step was to calculate how much soil I would need to fill each, starting by using this really nifty soil volume calculator at Gardener’s Supply Company, which told me that I would need 75 cubic feet (or 2.765 cubic yards) of soil to fill one bed. Gardener’s Supply lists a “recipe” for raised bed fill as follows:
- 60 percent topsoil (I would need 45 cubic feet for each of my beds)
- 30 percent compost (22.5 cubic feet)
- 10 percent soilless growing mix that contains peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite (7.5 cubic feet)
That kind of volume meant that bagged materials were out of the question. If I went the Home Depot route, buying Earthgro ($2.47/cubic foot), Ecoscraps compost ($5.97/cubic foot) and Grower’s Gold Outdoor Growing Mix ($10/1.5 cubic feet), I’d end up paying nearly $300 to fill each bed!
There’s got to be a cheaper way.
And there is! If you have access to clippings, cardboard, and kind neighbors, check out this simple recipe at Eco Films Australia:
- Top layer: straw
- Layer 2: compost
- Layer 3: newspaper and cardboard
- Layer 4: grass clippings
- Layer 5: rough mulch
- Bottom layer: branches
The gardener in question swears by this mix for growing great plants. But while I do have great neighbors, what I don’t have is patience. So I ended up contacting a local green landscaper for a bulk delivery of their growing mix: topsoil mixed with compost. I paid about $248 to get five yards delivered, and this was more than enough to fill each bed and have a big pile left over for another section of the yard that needed some love. And then came the plants — in my next garden post.
Image via Eco Films Australia.
Note: Sorry for the poor quality of these photos. I took them last year in a different home, so I can’t retake them.
For the few months we lived in Chicago, we rented a house that was wonderfully renovated — inside. Outside, a garage that opened onto both the alley and the backyard was convenient, except the door on the yard side was permanently stuck in the “open” position. That meant that being or even looking outside meant staring at our cars and garden tools. The trellised sitting area was cute, but it was next to a covered walkway between the fence and garage that was dark, creepy, and littered with broken pavement.
I can’t live somewhere where I can’t enjoy my yard, but we weren’t going to spend big bucks to fix up a rental. So with the help of my very talented husband, we put in some quick fixes that made a surprisingly big impact.
I’ve always liked the looks of curtains on a porch, and anything was better than the current view, so I decided to give them a try. Because they would be exposed to the elements and we wanted to keep things on the cheap, we decided to buy shower curtains. (Also a great idea because there are so many cute options.)
For the walkway, we bought a striped curtain from Target, using a cheap tension rod to hang it. I can’t even tell you how happy I was to see cheerful curtains instead of creepy walkway!
Once the stripes were up, we realized that anything too busy would look a little nuts on the garage. We ended up buying two extremely thrifty, plain white fabric shower curtains from Menards — $9 apiece. To hang them, we went back to our trusty extra-long conduit curtain rod DIY, attaching the rod inside the garage door frame.
Because outside curtains blow a bit in the wind no matter what, I used a bit of picture hanging wire to secure the end curtain hooks around the rubber stoppers on the tension rod.
The final touch was so easy that I’m kind of surprised I didn’t do much of this before: we pulled some banged up and neglected containers out from under the porch, including two big flower pots and a small plastic garbage can, and filled them with several different sizes of ornamental grass. This was the biggest splurge, and probably cost about $60 total. It was amazing, though, how much it softened the hard edges of the yard. The result was a yard I could live with (for a few months, at least).
I spent most of my life in Ohio, so moving to the Pacific Northwest was a shock for this laissez-faire gardener, who used to just throw tomato seeds on the ground, then sit back and harvest all summer long, thanks to the hot weather and frequent storms. Our first summer in Seattle, I got a reality check: it was in the 60s most of the time, so my tomato plants just kind of did…nothing. Silly me. The disappointment put me off vegetable gardening for five years, with last summer moot as I wasn’t living here at all.
This year, I decided to finally learn to vegetable garden in Seattle. I knew this would take a lot of planning, and it seemed that raised beds were the key. Not only are they better in a cooler climate because the soil warms up faster above ground, they are easier to weed and, in my case, easier to keep out of range of two big, nosy dogs.
Cement Block It Is
After doing some research, I realized that I didn’t have to go all spendy on (admittedly nice looking) wooden raised beds. Instead, I could simply use concrete blocks to put a bed together. I’ve been using this SHTF blog tutorial on building a concrete block raised bed as my guide. I love the idea of cement block because they’re heavy (so there’s not as much digging required, as “Ranger Man” at SHTF points out), they’re inexpensive, and you can even plant inside the holes in the bricks. We’re putting our beds in a section of yard that’s oddly shaped and not visible from our house, so it didn’t matter to me that the cement block wasn’t quite as pretty.
How Much Will Blocks Cost?
After measuring the space where our beds will go, I calculated what I might spend, figuring that prices at the Home Depot site were probably a good standard to follow. The typical 16″x8″x8″ blocks cost $1.32 each at Home Depot. If each bed was three blocks high, three blocks wide, and seven blocks long (exactly the same as the SHTF post, basically), for a total of 60 blocks, I would be spending about $80 a bed. That was more expensive than I had hoped, so I went to plan B:
I posted that I was looking for concrete blocks, and got two responses in less than a week: one from a man dismantling his old retaining wall (those are his aged blocks above) and one from a woman whose blocks were just a few years old — and all for free!
I ended up with 60 blocks total, and we decided to try to break these into two smaller beds rather than keep trying to find more blocks for two bigger beds. Partially this is because I don’t want to burn myself out by taking on too much garden since it’s still a learning experience for me. Partially this is because, well, remember how I like the idea of concrete blocks because they’re heavy? Yeah, they’re heavy! Which means, they take some effort to transport. Our van just could not handle more than 30 blocks at a time — we really didn’t want to see how low we could make it sink onto the tires and still move forward. So we decided to call off the block search for now until we get what we have in some semblance of order. More to come!