I was using dog poop bags in the back yard to clean up. I was using dog poop bags on walks. I got very excited when my wife comes back from the grocery store, because it would mean...you guessed it...more dog poop bags. When I am at a store and the clerk asks me if I want a bag, the answer is always yes.
I got to be thinking, though.
I bag it up tight and throw it in the trash. It then goes to a land fill and sits there a really long time. Forever, as far as anyone can tell. Millions of dogs, pooping a couple of times a day, over a too-short lifetime of 10-15 years. (Please note, there are landfill biodegradable dog poop bags available. I have not yet tried them.)
Even human waste is collected, filtered, cooked, processed, compressed, and treated until it is deemed safe and spread in farmers' fields. But dog poop sits in bags in landfills. I had the thought before, but I did not do anything about it. Until now.
I have started composting my dog's poop.
The Necessity Of Good Compost
Among the things that I like to do, gardening is high on the list. Fruit and veggie gardening. I like being aware of where my food is coming from. I don't use chemical fertilizers, and the worst thing that comes in contact with my veggies is occasionally a little dog pee. I grow about 25 different varieties of fruit and veggie in my suburban backyard.
The key to a good garden is good soil. Without the use of chemical fertilizers, the only option is natural stuff. Compost is what happens when bacteria get into organic material and eat it. It breaks down. It turns into a brown, rich soil.
I have two compost piles in my back yard. I've had these for 10 years or so. This spring, I emptied one pile and spread it in the yard. Once empty, I begin adding compost-able material to it. Leaves, green kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, yard waste, etc. While adding to one pile, the second pile is just sitting there. Aging. Letting the bacteria do its thing. Next spring, the pile that has been aging will be emptied and the pile I was adding to this year will start aging.
If you were to Google the list of things you can and cannot compost, the list usually comes up the same way: no meat, no oil, and no waste. I believed this list because everywhere you look, the list is the same. Until I read "The Humanure Handbook". The author of this free, online book has been composting for quite a while. He composts all the common items, but he has broken with the above tradition and composts oils, meats, and (gasp) his household's human waste. He spreads the resulting compost in his vegetable garden and has had his family tested for parasites and come back clean. Give his handbook a read; it is fascinating. Much of his notions are very interesting, in a common sense way. Even if you never plan to start composting your own waste (and who could blame you), the ideas in the book are very enlightening.
For a few years now, I've been composting cooking oil. When I grill, I oil the grates to keep food from sticking. The oily paper towel and unused oil gets disposed in the pile. No problems so far.
I keep homing pigeons for training the dog. Those birds waste a lot of food and poop a lot. The poop and waste feed gets put in the pile also. People use composted cow and chicken manure. Why not pigeon manure?
Findings So Far
Over the years, I've been pushing the envelope of what is and isn't acceptable in a compost pile. This year, I decided it was time to try another experiment and start composting the dog's waste. So far, I'd have to say it is going pretty well. One thing I learned from "The Humanure Handbook" is the necessity of burying. Burying things keeps the smell down. So, when I've added the dog poop to the pile, I dig a hole in the existing proto-compost and bury the waste in there. After a couple of months of doing this, I've found a couple of things:
- There is no smell. The compost pile actually smells good. Natural. Not poopy or stinky.
- When I dig a new hole for more dog waste, I can find no remnant of the last deposit. In other words, the dog deposits are breaking down very rapidly.
But Is It Safe
As I mentioned above, the author of "The Humanure Handbook" has been doing it with human waste for years with no detrimental effects. Also, while doing some research for this article, I came across this article from the USDA in Alaska about the benefits and proper practice of composting dog manure.
You also need to be very aware that there is a disease known as tremorgenic mycotoxin which can affect our dogs. It comes from dogs exposure to compost spread in our gardens. A good friend of mine had her dogs contract this disease, and, as a result, has sworn off using compost. This can occur in any compost, it is not unique to a compost made from manure. I typically fence off areas where compost has been applied because the dog would trample the plants.
What I am not sure about right now, is what do do in the winter. We continue to compost our kitchen scraps in the winter, but the cold weather keeps the bacteria from being able to act. In the winter, the pile also may be a frozen block, so I may not be able to dig. As a result, I fear the poop-cicles may just be sitting on top of the pile, which may not be good. So, not sure what I'm going to do. But, for now, every morning, with an unhealthy level of excitement, I collect poop and move it to the compost pile. It's the highlight of my day!
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