Compost Q & A: Pet Waste, Vermicomposting and More

This post is part of our Compost Q & A series.

As many of you probably already know from experience, composting at home is one of the most economical and eco-friendly ways to reduce your waste and improve your garden.

The best reasons for learning to compost can be summed up in these four points, which I found in the Backyard Composting Guide published by my county’s environmental center. Composting:

  • Saves you money by conserving water and reducing the need to purchase commercial fertilizers and soil amendments.
  • Benefits your yard and garden by improving soil health and fertility and preventing erosion.
  • Conserves water by helping the soil hold more water and reducing the need for frequent watering.
  • Helps the environment by recycling valuable organic materials and extending the life of the landfill.

If you are totally new to composting or need a refresher as we head into spring, I encourage you to go back and read Katie’s excellent article, Gardening 101: Make Your Own Compost.

Today, I wanted to look at a couple of specific aspects of composting, and then I’ll talk about a special opportunity for learning more.

Reader Question: Is it possible to compost pet waste?

This question came to me a few months ago, and after doing a bit of research, I’ve come up with a simple answer: it depends on the pet. If you have a dog or a cat, the answer is no, due to the particular bacteria that is formed when these omnivorous animals excrete their waste.

However, if you have an herbivore for a pet, by all means, add that waste to your compost pile! Rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens and the like– animals who eat a strictly-vegetarian diet, and were created to do so– provide in their waste an element that you can feel free to include in your compost pile.

As Katie mentions in her post, you can also include the waste from larger herbivores such as cows and horses, if you happen to have those animals nearby.

Vermicomposting

If you don’t have room for a traditional compost bin or pile, and even if you live in an apartment, have no fear, you can still compost!

Set Up a Worm Bin

For smaller-scale composting, you’ll want to try vermicomposting, or worm composting. We’ve had a “worm bin” for over a year now, and while we aren’t able to put much of our food waste into it (you don’t want to overfeed your worms), it still provides the opportunity to do some composting and provides entertainment for the little ones as well. I love hearing my daughter say to the neighbor kids, “Want to come see our worms?”

For a homemade bin, Rachel at Small Notebook has a great tutorial on making your own bin out of plastic storage tubs, or you can invest in a specially-designed worm bin. We have one called the Wriggly Wranch (pictured below) that we bought at a city-subsidized rate at our local environmental center.

Once Your Bin is Set Up

From the Backyard Composting Guide:

Make a “bed” for your worms.  Worms like to live under lots of moist paper or leaves.  You can create a moist bedding for your worms by tearing strips of newspaper and soaking them in water, wringing them out and placing them in the bin.
Add your worms and a handful of food scraps to  the bedding, burying them underneath the newspaper.  Feed your worms slowly at first, about a handful of fruit and vegetable food scraps each day. No meat, oils, or dairy products, should be placed in your worm bin. Gradually increase the amount of food scraps you give to your worms.  Bury the food in different areas around the bin, so that you don’t disturb the worms where they’re feeding.
Your vermicompost will be ready to harvest in about three to four months.  To separate your worms from the castings, place food in one half of the bin only.  Most of the worms will migrate toward the food, leaving the other half of the bin full of worm-free castings.  Start the process over by adding fresh bedding to the side of the bin that was just harvested.

For a plethora of information, visit howtocompost.org’s vermicomposting page. Make sure to note that these aren’t just your standard earthworm, but a special type called red wigglers that you’ll need to acquire for your bin.

Even if you have the space for a larger compost option, you might want to try worm composting anyways, as it provides another option for reducing your food waste (especially when you stop feeding your compost while you’re letting it finish “cooking”). It also provides a more richly concentrated natural fertilizer for your garden, with the bonus of “worm tea,” the liquid fertilizer that is a by-product of the worm bin.

Photo by superfantastic

More Composting Questions

I feel like I always have questions on composting, like there’s always more to learn. Lucky for me, one of my close friends is a Master Composter!

Today I wanted to offer all of you the chance to give me your best composting questions. I’ll be putting together an interview made up of your questions, with answers from a Master Composter. She can answer anything from the ratio of greens to browns required to vermicomposting.

What would you like to know about composting?

Reading Time:

3 minutes

 

 

 

18 Comments

  1. Mika

    Thanks for the informative post. I would like to know a bit more about composting on a balcony. We are just setting up a heap on ours, but aren’t sure about having it sitting directly on the (brickwork) balcony. What should we be putting under the heap? (At the moment we’re using one of those fibre sheets you can get to throw over the top of a heap to keep off the rain).

  2. Kara

    Since I can’t put a compost bin/pile on the ground at my rental (because it would kill off a section of grass), I’m looking into one of those tumbling composters (the ones that look like a teeter-totter, but with a barrel instead of a plank of wood). My questions are:
    1. What sort of vegetable waste to leaves/grass clippings/newspaper ratio do I need to effectively compost in a tumbling compost bin?
    2. Can I put eggshells, onion peels, or banana peels in my compost? (I have a feeling that the answer is no.)

    • Kristina Strain

      I would say, yes, absolutely! Because eggshells can be very attractive to animals (such as skunks) you might want to omit them if you have an open compost pile close to your house or in a populated area. If you have a tumbler, or a closed system like a worm bin, then go for it. Eggshells are a great source of calcium. Eggshells and banana peels might take a little longer to break down, but eventually they will. Onion skins compost perfectly– I use them in my pile all the time.

      Read more about composting here.

      • Melissa

        You can also look into a NatureMill Automatic Composter; very cool stuff!

        • Kara

          Thanks for the advice Kristina and Melissa!

  3. Michelle

    I really want to start composting this year, thank you so much for sharing this as it is certainly new to me! 🙂

  4. Minde Herbert

    We’ve been composting for years! It’s a great lesson for our twin 5-year olds (reuse!) and, of course, it makes our happy garden even happier. 🙂

  5. Ashley

    I would also like to know more about composting on a balcony. I live in an apartment and have no idea how to compost on the concrete balcony. A step by step with suggestions for a bin as well would be awesome! I’ve never composted before so I would really appreciate the help 🙂

  6. Angie

    I know this is a gross question, but what is a green solution to dealing with cat and dog waste, specifically the litter box?

  7. Brina

    I always thought that you could compost anything from your garden. But then a farmer in our area told us never to compost tomato plants. He said that our humongous pile of composting material we now can’t use on our garden because of the bacteria that tomato plants can grow. Is that true? Just looking for a second opinion. 🙂

  8. Alicia

    I have a compost ball and I’m not that fond of it. It gets very heavy even when it’s not very full, and stinky compost tea gets all over us when we roll it (since it’s covered with drainage/air holes and the liquids all leak out all over it once it’s been rolled).

    As for questions, I’m curious about paper products. We garden organically and I’m always a little reluctant to put shredded paper in the compost because so many papers and inks are treated with nasty stuff. Any suggestions on what’s safe for organic veggie garden mulch and what’s not?

  9. Johanna

    PPs have many great questions!
    Last year, I wanted to increase our composting, clean up our yard and give our son “worms” for his 2nd birthday, but we never got around to it. Currently all we have is our envirocycle composter and a pile. In my research I learned that you CAN compost dog waste with the worms, but you should not add food items, only the “bedding” and dry matter. I wonder what your composter friends thinks of this.
    Also, thoughts on wood vs plastic? I am partial to wood units since they can be repaired, or returned to the earth when finished their composting life-cycle. Any feedback on what the most affordable, practical option is?

    • monique

      I was under the impression also that you could vermicompost pet waste. You just don’t use the resulting compost in your veggie gardens, but you can use it in houseplants.

  10. Rachel

    RBC Ministries / Day of Discovery put out a video called The Wonder of Creation: Soil that I found really interesting. It doesn’t give much practical information on composting, but it did fuel my interest in it. It’s really amazing how much of an impact soil has on the world. God was so clever when He created it! 🙂

  11. Melissa

    There IS actually a way to compost pet waste, only not for usable purposes; mainly to keep it from the landfill and from leaching into the water sources:

    http://www.cityfarmer.org/petwaste.html

    This site gives a great overview of how to make a pet waste composter.
    Love the blog!

  12. Kitter

    Great info!
    The two issues we continually have with our compost are smell and flies. Re: smell, we don’t put any meat or dairy in – just plant matter (food & yard), egg shells, coffee grounds plus occasionally some paper & cloth.
    Re: flies – every summer we get them BAD. There are several varieties, but it’s the “house flies” that really “bug” us. I’d love suggestions. Thank you so much!

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