I have to use plastic bags for pet waste.
Ever heard yourself saying this to excuse yourself from using reusable bags at the supermarket? I have. And it didn’t feel good, but what other choice did I have? My cat, Cavendish is not smart enough to figure out that the vacuum cleaner is not going to eat him, let alone be street smart enough to be let outside to poop. So he does his little business in a traditional litter tray in the bathroom. I have never once begrudged him of this right. Since we placed the litter tray next to our own toilet, I feel like there is a certain amount of purpose to that area of the house. However, since the possible presence of toxoplasmosis in his deposits means that it is not environmentally friendly to flush it down the loo, I had thought that bagging it up and sending it off to landfill was our only option.
That is until I had a brainwave. Worms eat organic matter and manure. Why wouldn’t they break down cat manure?! I was so excited. A feeling not shared by my partner in life and love. He was somewhat bemused and possibly worried about my mental state. He gave me a look that read “alright dear, but when was the last time you saw a psychiatrist?”. I didn’t need mental help, I needed Bunnings!
Although I hate that the worm bins are made of plastic, they are made of recycled plastic and what’s the point of recycling if we don’t use the recycled products, right? So I brought home my worm farm, my one thousand new pets and some coconut fibre bedding for them to make their home. After a small amount of set up, I left them to get settled in and did some research into how to get my little guys to become feline effluent digesters.
I have had my worms for a few weeks now and they are going well but it hasn’t been without some learning opportunities. Each day, I use an old ice-cream container to empty the soiled litter into the top tray of the outdoor bin. I have discovered that compost worms do not like acidic conditions. As a meat eater, Cavendish’s waste is quite acidic and the natural rice hull litter I have been using is also acidic as it breaks down. This means that not only have my little guys had to get used to food they don’t prefer, I had also been giving them an entree of acid. This recipe resulted in an infiltration of white worm (little wriggly creatures that thrive in such conditions) and a healthy smattering of vinegar flies. I also may have underestimated the number of worms I would initially need for The Cats rate of supply. Despite these teething issues, there doesn’t seem to be any nasty odours coming from my bin and my worms continue to produce nutritious worm juice that I can dilute and spread over my ornamental gardens.
To amend the less than ideal living conditions for my worms and be rid of my unwelcome squatters, I sprinkle over a layer of compost conditioner. I have heard that ash from a fire will also do the trick but I live in sunny Queensland where an operational fireplace is hardly, if ever used. This seems to be all they need to get their job done. They sit in a sheltered and shady location at the side of the house and apart from having to double their numbers by purchasing another box of worms, I can just let them get down to the business.
Over time, I will change over to a litter made from recycled paper (cheap and readily available at my local supermarket) in order to reduce the acidity in the bin, but wasting what I have is no longer in my nature.
Some quick tips for getting some pet-poo-munchers:
- Do your research. There are so many resources out there for starting a worm farm. Its not a complicated process but does need to be done right in order for it to be productive.
- Making your own worm farm is cost effective and uses up resources that would otherwise end up in landfill, such as old styrofoam boxes. A store bought worm farm made from recycled products is a good alternative.
- In warm climates, place your worm farm in a shaded position, away from the midday to afternoon sun.
- Leave your worms to settle in for a few days before feeding them. They will spend 2-3 days munching down any coconut fibres or old newspaper you will have added for bedding.
- Don’t feed your worms more than they can handle. This will lead to waste rotting on top of the bin which attracts flies and gives off a bad smell. If you find this happening, either stop feeding them until all the current waste has been broken down or increase the number of worms.
- The resulting compost and worm juice from a farm used for pet waste must only be used far away from gardens intended for edible plants. The term “don’t poop where you eat” has just been given a whole new meaning.
So no longer am I required to occasionally come home with my shopping in plastic bags for the sole purpose of sending a toxic bag of poop off to landfill. I am sure my garbage collectors also appreciate it and my garden is thriving with the application of bio-nutritious worm castings. Just one more way that “waste” is actually not waste at all but a misused and misunderstood resource.