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From Dog Poo to Quality Vermicompost with the Turn of a Worm!

That's one guilty looking dog!

That’s one guilty looking dog!

Some stories being with ”Are you sitting comfortably?”. I think I should begin this post by asking ”Are you eating?” because if you are, or you just have, you might want to put that sanswich down or come back to this post a bit later!

Ok, we’ll begin.

Most owners of the UK’s 8 million dogs act responsibly and clean up after their canine pals but it’s the minority that don’t that create an almost unique public nuisance that is as dangerous and it is unpleasant.

The public menace that is dog poo!

The public menace that is dog poo!

Contact with dog faeces can lead to infections by not very nice bacteria, parasites and pathogens such as toxocariasis with some very unpleasant consequences, particularly for young children.

Recently Keep Britain Tidy ran a very successful campaign of raising awareness of the dog fouling issue.

Apart from anything else, it’s costing your local council a fortune to deal with this public nuiscance – money they could be spending on essential services.

Bag It and Bin It was the slogan of the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign – I think they should have said Bag It and Worm Bin It 🙂

That’s right! I collect the dog and fox poo our canine and Vulpes vulpes friends leave in the back garden and using worms, turn it into a rich vermicompost that feeds the non edible plants and bushes we have growing in the garden.

The bolded part above is very important, and I’ll come back to some basic precautions everyone should be aware of when handling and composting dog and fox poo.

But for now, put down that sandwich, and read on with awe to see how the humble worm can turn a digusting public menace into a valuable rich compost. 🙂

Locate and collect your dog (and in my case fox) poo.

Dog Poo

Hunting down the dog poo

Store your dog poo in a suitable container until it dries out. How long this takes will depend on the diet of your dog. We feed ours Iams and the amount of egesta is minimal. If you feed your dog a tinned diet and the poo is very loose it may need something mixed with it such as wood shavings to bulk it up and help dry it out more quickly.

Dog Poo Container

Dog Poo Container

When the poo is dried out, get out your Poo Crushing Stick of Doom!

The Poo Crushing Stick of Doom!

The Poo Crushing Stick of Doom!

On a large piece of cardboard, crush the poo into smaller crumbly pieces. It doesn’t have to be as fine as dust but the finer the poo can be crushed the better.

Weilding the Poo Crushing Stick of Doom

Weilding the Poo Crushing Stick of Doom

Crushing the Poo

Crushing the Poo

Crushing on a piece of cardboard makes it easier for all the small pieces to be loaded into the worm bin.

Crushed Poo

Crushed Poo

When the poo looks like the above it’s ready to be added to the worm bin.

A new poo worm bin

A new poo worm bin

Here’s a new poo bin I’ve just set up. The bedding for the worms is ripped cardboard, soaked for two days in the water barrel, with some crushed egg shells for grit and a handful of the finished vermicompost from the old poo bin to kick start the microbes in the new bin.

Dog poo in the new worm bin

Dog poo in the new worm bin

It’s very important to remember not to add anything else to the poo bin other than poo, and the occasional sprinkle of crushed egg shells.

New Poo Bin ready for action!

New Poo Bin ready for action!

Cover the poo with bedding and continue to feed as you would a normal bin, checking to make sure most if not all of the last feeding of poo has been processed before adding more poo. Feed in different areas of the bin each time and make sure the dried out powdered poo is well covered and then just leave the worms to get on with converting what started out as a public nuisance and health risk into a lovely, dark, rich vermicompost.

Here’s my old poo bin ready for harvesting.

Some considerations when processing dog and fox poo:

* Because of their diet dog and fox poo contains micro – organisms and pathogens not commonly found in the poo of herbivores, cows and horses for example, so extra care must be taken when handling these waste products.

* Exercise normal hygiene practices – wash your hands thoroughly, always wear gloves, avoid handling the dog poo directly even with gloves on, wear gloves at all times when harvesting the vermicompost and keep all gloves and tools used for the poo bin seperate to all your other gloves and tools.

* Hot composting, something like 70 degree C over 3 to 5 days, will kill most if not all pathogens in the dog poo but worm composting never gets that hot! (or it would cook your worms!) There is research out there that suggests the very nature of how the worms process the faeces renders the pathogens harmless, but this is not wholly agreed by all so it’s wise I think, when the dog poo vermicompost is harvested, to set it aside for 12 – 18 months before using it (any not very nice pathogens with a major PR problem will be long gone after a further 12 – 18 months of the compost maturing) and then only use the finished product on non edible plants, shrubs and bushes and away from your vegetable plots and flowers.

* Alternatively, if you do have an effective hot composting bin going, you could add the finished vermicompost to this so it’ll get exposed to the much higher temperatures and then just harvest and use with your normal compost.

* Don’t mix your food scraps in with the dog poo. Keep the dog poo bin exclusively for dog poo. This is because if you mix with other food scraps, these scraps can provide an environment for the nasty pathogens to flurish to such an extent that the worms simply can’t keep up with processing them through their gut and you will end up with a bin you might as well rename Salmonella City.
Feeding just dog poo and nothing else, the worms will adapt to their bedding and food source very quickly and process it without any difficulty.

* A word about worming tablets – every 3 months you’re going to be worming your dog, right? I’ve read in various places this can be a concern for people who worry about losing their worm herd due to the effects of the medication in the egesta. I’ve never found this to be a problem with the system I use of ~ collecting ~ storing ~ drying ~ then feeding. Perhaps the time elapsed ensures any medication that would be harmful to the worms is long rendered ineffective but it’s not something I’ve ever experienced any problems with. I have at times even thrown the poo directly into the bin with no ill effects. The same caution about worming is raised if you’re using horse manure as bedding in your worm bins, but again, I’ve never had a problem because I use well aged manure from the local stables.

* Keep the dog poo worm bin away from your other worm and compost bins and make sure it has a secure lid if there’s a possibility of other animals or young children getting into it!

Now all this might sound like a bit of a faff but it’s just good practice and common sense and in reality it adds no hardship to the composting process. Think about making a cup of tea. You just get up and do it, right. But if you broke it up into it’s constituent stages and wrote them down for someone to follow, they’d probably give up, prefering to put up with the thirst than wade through a 200 point process! (1. Decide you want a cup of tea. 2. Stand up. 3. Turn towards the room door. 4. Walk towards the door. 5. Place hand on door handle 6. Rotate door handle. 7. Pull door inwards such that it opens. 8. Walk out through the door …… and we haven’t even got near the kettle yet)!!!!

So don’t let that put you off.

Composting your dog waste is easy with worms and you will have the satisfaction of knowing not only are you now no longer contributing your pet waste in it’s bag to landfill, or an incinerator but you’re actually turning it into a very valuable rich compost that will benefit your non edible plants, bushes and trees.

Remember, worms have been composting the poo from the ancestors to the domestic dog for hundreds of thousands of years. They just did it out in the wild, not in a box!

This might seem like a new fangled idea to us, but to the worms, it’s just another day at the office, doing what they do best – taking waste and turning it into the best soil amendment and conditioner known to mankind.

Londonworms

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Send your worms and plants to work on an egg!

Those of us of a certain age *cough* will remember the Go to work on an Egg ads run by the British Egg Marketing Board.

Eggs are a natural source of protein, vitimins and minerals and can be a useful element of any healthy, balanced diet.

What these ads didn’t tell us though, was what to do with all those egg shells we generated, after we’d eaten our egg and gone to work.

One answer would be to put them to work too.

Egg shells are rich in calcium carbonate but also contain zinc, sodium, potassium, manganese, iron and copper. We all know humans and animals need calcium for healthy growth, but how many stop to think that plants also need calcium?

Plants need calcium for healthy bones and teeth….



…(just checking you were paying attention!).

No, plants use calcium for healthy cell development and growth. The stronger the cell, specifically the cell wall, the better the plant is able to resist disease. But it gets better! Calcium plays many other roles in the life of a healthy plant, including regulating the uptake and movement of nutrients into the root and throughout the cells within the plant. Who knew?

So let’s recap – egg shells are in the region of 95% calcium carbonate and have many other useful elements; plants need calcium – so we have no excuse to ever throw away an egg shell again, where it could end up in an anerobic stench trench in landfill.

What do we do from now on? We compost them or feed them to the worms, that’s what we do. And here’s how:

Feeding your egg shells to worms

Egg shells perform two functions, apart from being a source of calcium, in the worm bin. They help reduce acidity, something worms don’t like, since calcium carbonate is an alkaline, and finely crushed, the worms love them, since they ingest them and use them in their gizzard to crush food.

On a hot sunny day (yeah, right!) spread out your egg shells and let the sun dry them.

Using the sun to dry the egg shells

Using the sun to dry the egg shells

In the absense of any sun you can also just let them air dry on a towel, or bung them in the oven for 20 minutes at 60 degree C, but I’d personally only bother doing that if I was going to use the ground egg shells as a source of calcium for myself.

Crush by hand and drop them into the coffee grinder. Depending on your domestic situation you may have no problem doing this, or you many want to a) do this secretly when nobody’s in the house or b) get a cheap grinder for the purpose if you’re going to be doing this a lot. Freegle and Freecycle are great places to look for secondhand, free items people are giving away and it helps keep perfectly good items out of landfill.

Weird coffee beans??!!

Weird coffee beans??!!

My worms just love well ground egg shells so I tend to grind mine quite fine. If you want yours a bit more coarse just give the grinder a shorter burst.

Egg shells well ground up

Egg shells well ground up

Well ground up like this, sprinkle a ”pinch”, just a small amount to your worm bin, each time you feed or they can be sprinkled around your plants or added to the base of the pots for the roots as you plant out.

These shells were ground quite fine

These shells were ground quite fine

Find a couple of big jars and reuse them to store your excess calcium carbonate.

Jar of egg shell calcium treats for worms and plants

Jar of egg shell calcium treats for worms and plants

If you haven’t a grinder or don’t want to use one, no problem. Just put the shells into a bag and roll a rolling pin over them several times. Or bash them a couple of times with whatever’s to hand!

Feeding your egg shells to the compost pile

  • Wash the egg shells
  • Crush with hand
  • Drop them into your compost pile and mix in well

That’s it!

The egg shells will break down slowly over time. Don’t be surprised then to find some in the compost as you’re using it. This isn’t a problem and will add a valuable source of slow release calcium to your soil.

Londonworms
(photography by Sorcha)