5 Dec 2010

Waste Management

by Lou Altamura

It's freezing outside today and very windy. There's not much worth doing to the gardens at this point, so my time is free to pursue odd jobs and long delayed projects. Over the past week or so, I've been working on digging a "septic tank" to handle waste from our dog, Copper. Currently, I am just launching dog poop over the fence and into the brush beyond our yard. Although this can be quite entertaining, it's probably not the most hygienic solution to the problem. There are lots of commercially available dog waste composters available online, and also quite a few DIY designs as well. As such, I don't take any credit for this idea, but here's how I made mine out of a plastic trash can:

Step 1: Dig a hole.

This was much easier said than done. The soil in my area is a lovely combination of broken glass, limestone, and tree roots. (In a previous era, I think my property was the local dumping ground.) Basically, you need a pick axe any time you try to dig a hole deeper than six inches. After a few days and several aspirin, I managed to finish this measly 2-3 foot hole. In the process, I had to remove what was easily a 100 pound boulder. Yay. I decided to locate the composter pretty far from the house, and outside the fence line. I don't expect that it will smell much, but I didn't want to risk it.


the pit of despair

Step 2: Prepare the trash can.

I bought the cheapest can and lid that I could find. You can obviously use a bigger or smaller can, depending on how many or how big your dogs are. I think this one was 20 gal.


"How is this more exciting than playing fetch?"


Next, I cut off the bottom of the can, so that liquid waste can leach into the ground. I'm sure that bottom will get used somewhere else in the yard, just not sure how yet.


"Wow. You made a hole. You must be so proud of yourself."

Step 3: Put the can in the hole.

I sunk the trash can to with a few inches of the lip, basically up to the handles.



Next, I added some stones for drainage.



Step 4: Decorate the lid.

I was feeling artsy fartsy, so I made a stencil out of an old box of soda cans. Then I spray painted some paws on the lid. Note the sweet drop shadows I used here by staggering two coats of paint.


I didn't expect this shade to look so radioactive.


Step 5: Use and enjoy!

Now that Copper's outhouse was all ready, I collected a bucket of his unmentionables and dumped them into the composter. I also added a little septic tank starter to provide some bacteria to break it all down.



As I collect more waste, I'll just continue to dump it into the composter and add water occasionally to keep the bacteria happy. I'll probably pepper in some more septic tank starter once a month as well. I'm not sure yet how quickly the process with happen, especially with winter approaching. If I mix in some organic matter, I could probably get some useable compost for flower beds as well. However, I'm not sure that my gardening operation will ever be that hardcore organic.



About the author:

Lou Altamura is a dirtologist in western Maryland, where he grows fruits and vegetables for his family, friends, and most of all ... for fun! He is the author of the blog "dirtology: a journal of a man and his dirt."