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How To Set Up A Dog Poo Worm Farm

When my greyhound Hans moved into the house (in July 2016), it was important to me that I didn’t suddenly start using heaps of plastic, or begin sending stuff to landfill. There’s bedding, toys and food to consider – and also what to do with dog poo.

If a dog goes to the toilet twice a day, that’s potentially two plastic bags going to landfill every day also – not to mention the contents.

One of the first things I did was set up a dog poo worm farm. I’ve mentioned it before, but it is something that I get asked about often, so I wanted to take some time to explain the specifics.

I promise you, it isn’t hard. There’s actually very little to it!

Dog Poo Worm Farm Basics

Dog poo doesn’t go into the regular worm farm; it needs to go in a separate one. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One, if worms have the choice between dog poo and banana peels and avocado, they are not going to be choosing eating dog poo.

Two, whereas regular worm farm castings (the nutrient-rich compost left by the worms once they process the food) can be used to grow seedlings and added to the veggie patch, worm farm castings stay in the ground.

This is because faeces may contain parasites and bad bacteria, so spreading it over the lettuce seedlings isn’t a good idea from a health perspective.

Of course, it’s possible to position a dog poo worm farm underneath a fruit tree so that the tree gets the benefits of all the nutrients.

I like the dog poo worm farm set-up (as opposed to digging holes in the ground every time there is something to dispose of) because there is one spot where everything goes. It’s contained and easy to manage.

As someone with a small yard, it is the perfect solution for me.

Setting Up A Dog Poo Worm Farm

I’m a fan of the repurposed materials-and-no-cost approach. I’ve used a 20 litre plastic bucket that was donated to me by the bulk food store once the contents had been sold. It has a lid, which is very important.

I cut the bottom out of the bucket, and dug a hole in the garden big enough to bury the bucket so just an inch was exposed above the ground (enough to ensure the lid is secured).

I don’t bury the handle as it might be useful if I need to move the bin later.

Next, the worm farm needs a big old handful of composting worms. (These are different to earthworms in that composting worms are surface feeders.) The main types are Eisenia fetida, Eisenia Andrei and Lumbricus rubellus but what is actually available depends on where you live.

I just grabbed a handful from my regular worm farm. If you don’t have any to start with, check out community gardens, Buy Nothing groups, Gumtree or good garden centres.

The worms aren’t trapped in the worm farm as the bottom is cut out, so they are free to come and go, as are any other critters looking for some lunch.

The other thing that worm farms need is carbon. I add this by picking up dog poo using old toilet paper wrappers (conveniently ready-cut the the exact size I need) or newspaper. If you use some kind of scoop to pick up, just throwing in a few handfuls of leaves, or some paper or cardboard would be fine.

This bucket holds 20 litres, so eventually fills up. I’ve also seen these worm farms made with old flip-lid wheelie bins which are much larger (often it is possible to purchase broken or damaged ones – contact your local council to find out if they offer this service.)

When the bin reaches capacity, cover the top with soil, then pull out the bucket and replace elsewhere.

As the freshest and least composted poo will be at the top, consider setting up a second whilst leaving the first to continue decomposing. It will make for a more pleasant experience when removing and replacing the bucket.

Dog Poo Worm Farm – Do’s and Don’ts

Something really important to remember is that a worm farm contains worms, and worming tablets kill worms. If your dog has taken worming tablets, do not put dog poo in the worm farm for a couple of weeks.

I don’t regularly give my dog worming tablets (on the advice of my vet), and he gets a yearly heartworm injection (rather than tablets) which lasts for 12 months.

Personally, I’d avoid putting dog poo in the worm farm in compostable plastic bags. Even the ones that are certified home compostable take 6 months to compost, and that is in a regular compost bin, not a worm farm.

If you’d still like to give it a try, I’d suggest ripping the bags open before adding them to the worm farm, and be prepared to leave it “brewing” for several months once it is full.

Something else to bear in mind: composting worms will die in freezing temperatures (they are surface dwellers, unlike their cousins the earthworms, who will burrow for warmth). The eggs should survive. If you live in a country where it freezes in winter, bear in mind that your worm farm might need to be seasonal.

Thoughts About Cat Poo Worm Farms

I don’t have a cat, but I have several friends that do, and whom compost their cat litter. The main thing to be aware of is that cat poo commonly carries a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which cause toxoplasmosis in humans.

This means cat faeces needs to be handled even more carefully than dog poo.

Cat litter can be found made of newspaper pellets, wood shavings, which would both work great in a worm farm.

The volumes will be bigger so a 20 litre bucket might fill up fairly fast.

Can I Flush Dog and Cat Poo Down the Loo?

From what I’ve read the consensus seems to be that it is okay to flush dog poo down the toilet, but not cat poo (because of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite). However, the best thing would be to phone your local water treatment facility and ask them whether they are happy for you to do so, or not.

That way, you’ll know for sure – and if not, they should be able to tell you why not.

Whilst I know that dog poo worm farms might not be for everyone, they have been a great success for me. The smell is minimal (as opposed to the bins at dog parks, which reek), I have it placed in a convenient spot, and it is no extra hassle at all – except, perhaps, when it needs moving.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a pet – and what do you do with their waste? Have you set up a pet poo worm farm, are you game to try – or is it definitely a no-go for you?! What have your experiences been? Are there any other ways you try to reduce their waste footprint? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Reducing Food Waste with Worm Farms: Trialing the Hungry Bin

Zero waste is all about circular living. It’s often talked about in terms of the circular economy (which is the ideal and the one we want to work towards) as opposed to the linear economy (which is the one we have now).

The idea is that materials and resources should cycle, being reused or repurposed or reshaped again and again.

Circular living supports local solutions, which means less packaging, distribution costs and transport emissions; and more connection and resilience within our local communities.

Anything we can do at home, or within our street, or within our suburb, the better.

With this in mind, let’s talk about food waste.

In Australia almost 40% of everything we throw in our landfill bins in food waste. Even more scary, I think, is that 25% of what the average household throws away is food that could have been eaten.

Even if we are super diligent, there’s always going to be food waste that can’t be eaten. Onion peels, lemon skins, cores, seeds, pips, stalks, outer leaves, and general bad bits.

If we want to reduce our environmental impact, processing our food scraps at home is a great solution.

I love it when a problem has multiple solutions, and food waste is exactly that. There’s so many ways we can deal with food scraps at home. No “one size fits all solution” – different methods that work for different locations, spaces and households.

There’s composting (yes, regardless whether or not you have space for your own compost bin), there’s bokashi, and there’s worm farms.

Worm farms were the first thing I tried when I went zero waste, and over the years I’ve successfully used a number of different worm farms: from polystyrene box worm farms that you can DIY yourself, and degassed fridge worm farms (which work like polystyrene box worm farms, but on a bigger scale) to the black plastic worm cafes that can be purchased from hardware stores (or even better, found on the verge).

Over the last three months I’ve been trialing a new design of worm farm: the Hungry Bin, and it’s my favourite so far.

I came across the Hungry Bin worm farm because of my friend Josie (who came across them first). She was so impressed with it as a way to effectively process food scraps for her family of five, that she decided to distribute the Hungry Bins here in Western Australia. She set up her business Pearthworms selling the worms farms last year (in 2017).

Pearthworms were kind enough to loan me a Hungry Bin worm farm to test drive. I’m always keen to learn more about ways for households to reduce their own waste, and love innovative products that make it easier. Wins all round!

Here’s the lowdown.

The Hungry Bin Worm Farm: Composting Food Scraps at Home

At first glance the Hungry Bin might look like a regular flip-top waste bin, but there’s actually a fair bit of thought and engineering that’s gone into the design. It is designed and made in New Zealand.

Firstly, it actually packs down pretty small. The bin is actually made of two parts that lock together, and one fits inside the other, making it a fairly small package. The bin itself is made from UV resistant plastic with recycled content, and is expected to last for 25 years. The packaging is minimal, with a cardboard outer, and none of the parts come packaged in additional plastic.

Once clipped together, the bin is filled with bedding, then food scraps and worms are added to the top. Worms remain near the top, gobbling up the food scraps and creating worm castings, a nutrient-rich medium. More food waste gets added on top, the worms move up to find them, and the castings naturally accumulate underneath.

The tapered design enhances the efficiency of the system. Composting worms are surface feeders, and food scraps are added at the top, so keeping the worms near the surface increases the efficiency. The top is the widest point of the whole bin, and the bin can hold 16,000 worms and process 2kg of food scraps per day.

Because the bin tapers, the worm castings naturally compress at the bottom. This encourages the worms to move to the surface and also ensures that when the bottom is removed, the entire contents don’t fall out.

The reason you’d want to remove the bottom is to get your hands on the worm castings. They can be used to grow seedlings, added to pots or to existing plants or dug into the garden. You simply unclip the tray, scoop out the worm castings and reattach.

The bin has a tray that sits underneath, that collects the worm juice. This can be used like a fertiliser.

I trialled mine indoors, but they are intended as much for outdoor use.

Pearthworms and the Hungry Bin

As I mentioned before, I’m a fan of local solutions. Pearthworms is a local, Perth-based business, and they intend to stay that way. They only supply Hungry Bins to people in Perth and Western Australia. With 1.3 million people living in Perth, and probably that same number of cafes and takeaway food outlets (okay, I’m kidding, but there’s a lot), there’s huge potential to make a massive difference without needing to look further afield.

Pearthworms are keen to focus not just on individual households, but also commercial venues: restaurants, cafes (the picture above is Josie with the two bins she has installed at Stackwood Cafe in Fremantle), businesses, community gardens – anywhere that is creating food waste.

Pearthworms also supply happy, healthy worms with the Hungry Bin (Eisenia fetida worms, and 2000 of them, to be exact). It’s easy to imagine these worms would just come in a plastic bag, but no – they come in a natural hessian pouch sewn from an old coffee sack.

Even better, once the worms are added to the Hungry Bin, the sack can be cut in half along the seam to make a cover that perfectly fits the inside of the Hungry Bin. (The cover is important as worms don’t like light.)

My experience with the Hungry Bin in the three months that I’ve had it has been great. It’s dealt with far more food scraps than my other worm farms can manage; it doesn’t smell; it’s so easy to use; it’s much less sensitive to extremes of temperature than other commercial worm farms; and once I get my first tray of castings, my garden is going to love me.

(Plus, this worm farm is going to churn out worm castings for 25 years. That’s an epic deal in the long run, if you think about how many trips to and from the hardware store that would be saving, buying plastic bags of seed raising mix and compost.)

It is a more expensive option (especially when compared to the DIY polystyrene box worm farm approach) but then again, DIY isn’t everyone’s thing. Different systems suit different households, different lifestyles, and different budgets.

The important thing is that we stop sending our food scraps to landfill. How we do it doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of solutions, we just need to find the one that works for us.

If you’d like to chat to Josie in person to find out more or see a Hungry Bin worm farm in action, Pearthworms currently have a stall every Saturday morning at the Subiaco Farmers Markets. Alternatively, their website is pearthworms.com.au.