I want to compost my dog’s poop at home to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich compost for my garden. However, composting dog waste takes some extra care to do it properly and avoid health risks. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about composting dog poop safely and effectively at home.
Should You Compost Dog Waste?
Composting dog poop can be a sustainable way to dispose of pet waste rather than sending it to the landfill. However, there are some important factors to consider first:
Health risks – Dog feces can contain harmful pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, parasitic worms, etc. Proper composting technique is crucial to eliminate these risks.
Nitrogen content – Dog poop is very high in nitrogen compared to carbon materials like leaves and wood chips. The carbon-nitrogen ratio needs balancing.
Odors – Decomposing dog waste can create strong odors. A well-managed compost pile should have minimal smell.
Use of compost – Finished compost containing dog poop should only be used on ornamental plants, not edibles.
If done correctly using the right methods, composting dog waste can be safe, effective and eco-friendly. But special precautions are required.
Choosing a Composting Method
There are a few composting systems that can work for dog poop:
Deep Trench Composting
This involves digging a deep hole or trench, placing the waste inside, and covering it with a thick layer of soil. The soil creates an anaerobic environment ideal for eliminating pathogens and breaking down waste.
Pros: Simple and effective for killing pathogens.
Cons: Can’t produce usable compost. Requires space to dig.
Maintaining a hot compost pile (130-170°F) generates enough heat to kill pathogens in dog waste. Turning the pile periodically is required.
Pros: Produces usable compost. Destroys pathogens and odors.
Cons: Requires frequent monitoring and labor to turn.
Letting waste slowly break down over 6-12 months at ambient temperature. May not get hot enough to kill all pathogens.
Pros: Less active maintenance.
Cons: Higher health risks. Compost might not be safe for food crops.
Special composting units create anaerobic digestion of dog poop in a closed system. Bokashi ferments waste.
Pros: Contained, fast breakdown of waste. Lower odor.
Cons: Specialized equipment required. Compost might not be pathogen free.
Based on my needs, I’ve decided hot composting is the best method to eliminate risks and produce garden-ready compost. Now I’ll focus on how to build and manage a hot compost system for dog waste.
Choosing a Hot Composting Bin
To maintain the high temperatures needed, a properly designed compost bin is essential. Here are suitable options:
Multi-chamber bins – Allows turning compost from one chamber to the next. Promotes aeration.
Tumblers – Rotating drum design makes turning simple. Increased aeration speeds hot composting.
Pallets or fencing – Create a 3-sided bin with an open face to turn piles easily. Low cost.
Geobins – Woven polyethylene tubes with breathable fabric. Insulates while airing.
For my needs, I’ve chosen to construct an open 3-sided bin from reused pallets and hardware cloth. It’s inexpensive, simple to turn, andpromotes air flow.
Achieving Proper Carbon-Nitrogen Balance
Balancing greens and browns is crucial for hot composting. Dog poop is high in “green” nitrogen materials. I’ll need to add a lot of “brown” carbon-rich ingredients:
Leaf litter – Dried leaves are ideal. I stockpile leaves in fall for use all year.
Wood chips – Easy to source for free from local tree services. Avoid treated wood.
Sawdust – Adds porosity when mixed into compost. I get from a local carpenter.
Straw – Harvested wheat straw has a high carbon ratio. Available at garden stores.
Paper/cardboard – Shred junk mail, newspapers, boxes, etc. Provides carbon.
I’ll layer 2-3 inches of browns like leaves or chips for every 1 inch of dog poop. Sawdust and straw will be mixed throughout for aeration. Monitoring temperatures and adjusting the pile will achieve the optimum C:N balance.
Maintaining Proper Moisture Content
My compost needs the right moisture content – around 40-60%. Too much or too little water slows the composting. I’ll monitor and adjust the moisture level:
Add dry materials like sawdust, straw, wood chips if the pile gets too wet.
Turn the pile to distribute moisture if the center is too dry.
Water occasionally if needed, but don’t soak the compost.
The materials should feel damp but not soggy. I’ll use a moisture meter to check the water content if needed.
Aerating Through Turning
Frequently turning and mixing the compost pile provides vital aeration to maintain temperatures.
Turn initially after setting up pile to evenly distribute contents.
Turn every 2-4 days at first while heating up.
Turn weekly once pile reaches 130-170°F to maintain temps.
Turn occasionally during curing phase until compost is finished.
Turning not only airs the compost, it also mixes in new materials as needed. I’ll use a pitchfork or compost tumbler to turn piles.
Monitoring Internal Temperatures
The internal temperature of the compost pile provides key insights:
130-170°F – Pathogens destroyed. Organics breaking down efficiently.
Under 130°F – May need more nitrogen, turning, or insulation.
Over 170°F – Needs more aeration to cool it down.
I’ll monitor temps by inserting a compost thermometer into the center of the pile in several spots. Tracking temperatures lets me adjust factors like moisture, aeration, and nitrogen levels to maintain optimal conditions.
Insulating the Pile
Insulation helps compost retain heat in colder months. I may utilize:
Tarps – Cover loosely to trap rising heat yet allow airflow.
Straw bales – Stack around perimeter to insulate and retain heat.
Landscaping fabric – Wrap pile to provide protection from the elements.
Wood chips/sawdust – Blanket pile with 4-6 inch cover layer for insulation.
With proper insulation, I can continue hot composting even when temperatures drop near freezing. Monitoring internal temps will let me know if additional insulation is needed.
Determining Compost Readiness
Finished compost containing dog waste should complete a long, hot process before use. Signs my compost is ready:
Original materials not recognizable
Dark, crumbly, earthy texture achieved
Sweet, woodsy smell instead of ammonia
Internal temp matches ambient air temp
No residues or odors of dog waste
End product is 75-90% smaller than starting mass
The composting process takes 2-6 months depending on climate. I won’t use the compost until it is fully broken down and shows no further sign of dog waste.
Using Mature Dog Waste Compost
Compost containing dog feces should only be used in specific ways once finished:
Apply under non-edible ornamental plants. Excellent fertilizer for flowers, trees, shrubs.
Use for lawn topdressing to provide nutrients for grass.
Mix into potting soil for outdoor planters only, not indoor use.
Spread around the base of trees and shrubs as mulch.
Dog waste compost should never be used on vegetable gardens or added to edible soil mixes. While safe if properly composted, I prefer to err on the side of caution.
With the right bin setup, carbon materials, and management practices, I can successfully compost dog poop at home while eliminating potential health hazards. Paying close attention to temperatures, moisture, and curing time is key to safe, effective composting.