How to make a minpin poop compost bin: an illustrated guide

I am great with dogs. I have two minpins at home, Ruby and Malcolm. They're both well-fed and happy, and they each poop twice a day. On the other hand, I am terrible with plants. Most don't live more than a few weeks under my care, even though I water them and feed them and love them just as I do the dogs. So when we decided to have a gardening theme day @ BBG, I figured this was as good a chance as ever to have my dogs help me become better with plants. My minpins are 8lbs each and their poop is maybe the size of your pinkie, but the USDA estimates that an average dog poops 274 lbs of poop a year--I figured I should do my part in reducing that number, even if it's just by a millifraction. I decided to make my very own customized minpin poop compost bin. Read on for a step-by-step guide on how I did it, and pictures of dogs pooping:
This is Ruby's butt, a great source for fresh, fertile minpin poop. She eats pretty healthy food--broccoli, carrots, lean ground turkey, some California Naturals kibble, so I'm assuming her poop's made up of a lot of the same stuff too.
My friend Christian, who famously composts his own (bigger) dogs' poop, clued me into the importance of red wiggler worms, so I decided to go to nearby Buena Vista Park to dig for some. People use them to compost human waste, too. If you're not into digging for worms, hardware stores sell things like septic starter or commercial fertilizer that can also do the trick. I am so glad I was not born a red wiggler worm.
Some poop compost trivia for first timers: * Dog poop can't be used to grow vegetables. Really. It's not good for you. * It has, however, been proven to make shoddy soil healthier. * It also reduces your carbon footprint by reducing the amount of poop that has to be carried out with the garbage. * You might be saving a garbage man's dignity. "Often, poop explodes in the bins and garbage men are covered in crap," Michael Levenston, who runs a Vancouver-based compost hotline via his non-profit, City Farmer, tells me.
Ruby dug for worms for about a half hour but we didn't find any. Just this little guy, which we ended up returning to the soil. We went home slightly dejected, but hopeful that our composter will work regardless of this slight setback.
On the way home from Buena Vista, 11-month old Malcolm dropped a big one. Good boy Malky!
I stopped at the hardware store to get some tools, a bin, and gloves. I drilled holes in the bottom of the bin for aeration, and drew a picture of Ruby on the bin's lid with a Sharpie and wrote Poo over and over so nobody could mistakenly open it thinking it was a tub of chocolate ice cream.
One thing you always have to keep in mind when composting is the carbon-nitrogen ratio. Here are some common carbon-rich materials you can use: * sawdust * shredded newspaper * fallen leaves * straw or hay And the nitrogens: * poop * grass * veggies * flowers Malcolm helped me chew up some dried daffodils that I bought at Trader Joe's last week. Good boy Malky!
I took the shit outside and mixed and mashed it. The ratio of nitrogens-to-carbons should be approximately 2:1. Smaller materials compost faster because that induces heat and heat is what encourages microorganisms to start turning the poop into humus, or mature soil. I knew I should have chopped those daffodil stems, but it was too late because they're smeared with poop. Mmmm. Smells awesome.
I closed the lid and placed my minpin poop compost bin next to the palm tree in the backyard. Basically, any safely isolated, moderately sunny corner in the yard wills suffice. If you have good subsoil, you can actually bury the bin in a hole as City Farmer suggests. Microbial activity is measured by temperature, so if you want to be super precise about it, you can stick a thermometer in it and make sure the mixture temperature rises to about 160 degrees farenheit and then gradually drops (see USDA info sheet for more details). I think it's going to take roughly a month to see results, but I am adding poop to the bin every day and praying to the plant gods for this to be my first successful gardening experience. If you have tips, leave them in the comments--and like my doggies, I will soak up any positive reinforcement you toss my way.

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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35 Responses to How to make a minpin poop compost bin: an illustrated guide

  1. Garth says:

    @anonymous4, Poop in a landfill isn’t the problem, its transporting the poop there. 274lb per year per dog is a lot of poop being ferried around by trucks and a lot of energy used.

  2. Anonymous says:

    When I grew tired of all the dog shit on my front lawn, I tried an old trick I heard of a few years ago. It seems to have worked.

    Save all the bacon grease from breakfast in an old tin can. Do this with any old meat grease you encounter in your cooking.

    First thing in the morning on the next day, warm the grease so it’s liquid, then go outside and pour a little of the grease on each dog turd you encounter.

    It seems to make the turd irresistibly delicious to the next dog that comes along, and you don’t have to scoop anything up ever again. I’ve been doing it for a week now, and my lawn is clean once more.

    Environmentally friendly and it promotes recycling too.

    Sammy Bruno

  3. mdh says:

    Cat poop has a lot more fat in it than dog poop.

    This is why dogs eat it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This post needs a link to The Humanure Handbook. It is all about composting your own poop. It is very thorough, and a pretty good read for anyone interested in making use of poop. Someday I will poop in a bucket.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Incidentally, from a former country girl, if you are anywhere near a non-urban area you can buy red worms at any bait and tackle shop.

  6. Blaine says:

    Carrots, broccoli and lean turkey aren’t healthy.

    I mean, are they also happy?

    They may be healthful… y’know, for the dogs to eat, but the food products are dead. Which isn’t in a state of good health.

    Sorry… it’s so rare I actually get to sound intelligent that I couldn’t pass it up.


  7. Blaine says:

    Actually on second thought, maybe it’s a good use of ‘healthy’. So tricky…

  8. dainel says:

    I agree with #10 Genevieve. The tin is too small. The thing is, if you had a big compost heap, one or two dogs are not going to generate enough material. There are a few solutions to this. Each with it’s own problems.

    You could have a community heap. Collect from your neighbours’ dogs. The problem here is you’re going to get a new nickname, “the dog poop guy”.

    Another solution is to collect poop from the other living things in your house, especially the humans. However, given current toilet construction, collection may be a bit difficult.

  9. Canary Girl says:

    I totally misread the title of this post on the main BoingBoing site, and was rather confused as to why anyone would want to make a dogshit computer…

  10. nanuq says:

    “why anyone would want to make a dogshit computer…”

    It could be done. Making an abacus with dried dog turds as beads would be an interesting challenge for someone (just not me).

  11. Ledge says:

    Reason number 842 why I couldn’t live in the city. My 2 dogs go out on the lawn and drop a deuce. The ratio of lawn to fecal size, combined with the canine desire to lay cable along the perimeter of the property leads to very few child/dogshit interactions. If I had to transport crap all over the place, I probably wouldn’t be a dog owner.

  12. SKR says:

    Ewww what are you feeding …. oh wait thats a leash. 8)

  13. Takuan says:

    definitely a little dog project. Also, carnivore/omnivore poop isn’t as simple as say horse or cow dung to break down. I’d wonder about the persistence of some parasites too. Remember: no cat poop around pregnant women!

  14. SleighBoy says:

    Last I heard Daffodils and their Lilly relatives were poisonous to dogs.

  15. Takuan says:

    what ARE people feeding their dogs? I use BARF.

  16. w000t says:

    This won’t help your plants much, but is another good, easy option for dealing with poop disposal. Retail versions of the same concept are widely available. The only downside is that some soils with too much clay just won’t work with a septic digester.

    A (hopefully obvious) composting safety disclaimer: Animal waste compost is good for ornamentals, but should not be used in edible gardens. E. coli isn’t killed by composting. The same is true of some other pathogens commonly present in animal waste.

  17. cha0tic says:

    I’ve heard that peeing on any type of compost heap is a good move. You’re adding Nitrogen and water at the same time.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Good grief, don’t we have a neighbor we could be helping, a house to clean or something. I’ve never seen such a fuss over POOP!!

  19. drtwist says:

    Blaine #12:

    what are you talking about?

  20. dragonfrog says:

    Cha0tic – not only are you adding water and nitrogen to the compost, you’re marking the edge of your territory, so the neighbours know not to mess with you.

  21. flytch says:

    urine and composting do not mix well… you can get your compost TOO HOT meaning that it has too much nitrogen in it and it kills the anaerobic bacteria… this is why some compost piles stink and others smell sweet and fresh… if your compost smells bad it is a dead pile and needs to be aerated or rescued with pine wood chips and/or peat moss…

    on a good note… urine can be used directly on plants without any treatment at all… urine is the most sterile fluid from the body… you can actually drink it (sic) without ill effect… it’s like drinking sea water and it will dehydrate you faster then not drinking anything at all… but it will not have no other effects…

    but be careful not to concentrate urine too much… because it becomes like salt on the roads… a little and the weeds love it… too much and you end up with bare dirt along the roadways… this is called “burned”…

    poop is not sterile… in fact it is somewhere between 60% and 90% bacteria by weight… it’s really nasty stuff and should be handled minimally… until the bacteria burns itself out and dies off… then it is 100% safe to handle… but this takes time… one to two years… but three to four just to be safe…

    compost piles… nother subject but I’ll like to comment on them here since most people seem to be interested in this as well… the best way to have a compost pile is to use three “bins” method… you fill the first one as you get stuff to fill it with… grass clipiings… small branches… chipped up trimings… kitchen waste etc… then after a year you flip that first pile over into your second bin… after you have flipped the second bin into the third and the third into the garden…
    this gives the pile a minumum of two years to cook with the bottom stuff going closer to three years..
    this flip takes place every spring just when your tilling your garden for planting…
    yes it takes a long time to establish… but rich soil takes years to build… and trust me, it’s worth it :)

    as for your poop ben… it’s going to stink a bit… just because your only putting poop into it… if you added all your grass clippings as well it would smell sweeter… but since this topic was only about composting poop… I’d just hold my breath for the 30 seconds your going to have the lid off and ignore the smell… the plastic lid should keep it at bay when not open…

  22. strider_mt2k says:

    Cute pooches!
    Please keep us updated on your progress?

  23. w000t says:

    Whoops. I just noticed Lisa’s warning about animal compost on vegetables that I’d missed on the first scan. I didn’t intend to be redundant, but I think it bears repeating.

  24. flytch says:

    not good…
    here is the way to do it…

    cut your bucket in half… discard the bottom half and dig a whole equal to the diameter of the bucket and deep enough to hold a years worth of poop…
    sit the top of the bucket over the whole so your whole now has a nice lid… fill it with the dog poop… and don’t be afraid to add all your kitchen scraps.. food scraps… etc…

    once a week or so soak the whole thing down with water!!! adding water is very important.. you don’t want it over flowing but you can’t get it too wet!!!

    when the whole is filled to 3 inches from the top.. reattach the bail of the bucket and pull it up and out of the ground…
    dig a nice new hole right next to your last (maybe 6 inches over or so) and put your half a bucket in the new compost hole…
    cover the poop with 3-6 inches of dirt from your new hole… put the grass plug back on top… and your done with the
    hard work for awhile… best to size the whole so you only have to do this about once a year!! but if it’s only half full at the end of the year go ahead and dig a new one… best to do this work when the soil is easiest to dig and the weather is pleasant… so once a year works best…

    the old filled hole… after a year or so you can dig up the old spot and you’ll only find dirt… rich dirt to be sure but it’s just dirt…

    this is what we did with outhouses for centuries… just a hole in the ground and a bit of time… and it’s dirt… it’s that simple…
    the old outhouse only moved a few feet from year to year… and often it was back in the same spot 4 years latter…

    use the “extra dirt” (from each new hole) to build up your flower garden or for potting soil mix etc…

  25. Onecos says:

    I have two rottweilers and they make big poops. I pick up the poop twice a week Tuesday and Friday. The trash is picked up Wednesday and Saturday. My mother owns 12 chinese crested dogs and has some sort of dog septic system. Too bad composted poop can’t be used on fruits and veggies. I think my pineapples and papayas need a little boost.

  26. Lisa Katayama says:

    @#1: Definitely. I’ll let you know how this shit goes.

  27. Genevieve says:

    I like the septic systems a lot better. Years of seeing these kinds of doggie-poop “solutions” in action have made me think that very few work as advertised.

    Sticking poop in a tiny bucket with other compostables just doesn’t seem all that efficient to me. How is that going to get hot enough to really compost with so little stuff in there? What happens when the Daffs don’t compost but the poop turns to an even worse mess. You going to string poopy dead daffodils along your topsoil? Ick.

    The septic systems actually work, but they aren’t odorless as advertised. They stink about 5-8′ away.

  28. Tiki Wahine says:

    I did what #7 linked to, only I cut the bottom out of the garbage can. Works like a charm! You buy little Bio-Clean Septic packets for use every week or month or so, and keep it topped up with water as much as possible in the dry weather. We used ours for about 5 years(until our dog passed away – she was 95lbs).

    We used a small bucket to collect the poops, then dumped them into the septic composter. I would not recommend using your regular garden composter for dog poop. We did that for a few years but it doesn’t break down very well unless you are frequently turning it. Plus there’s the veggie issue.

  29. Tony Moore says:

    thank Xenu i live in the country. my dogs poop mostly around the edges of the yard and once a week i take a shovel out and sling any mid-yard landmines out past the fence. The elements usually get to work on it pretty quickly. a couple days of hard sun and they’re dried out, and a good rain dissolves ‘em. If i still lived in an urban area where a lot of others had dogs as well, though, i’d be all about some sort of composting/septic system.


  30. Tensegrity says:

    Will this work with cat poop?

    I’ve read that cat poop is relatively more germ-ridden and nasty than dog poop, but I’d still like to avoid putting it in the landfill.

    We use the “natural” litter so that part at least would probably degrade/compost just fine.

  31. Anonymous says:

    You had me at “I took the shit outside and mixed and mashed it”.

  32. David Carroll says:

    This video clip is not on topic, but it IS about dogs and poop, and IMHO quite funny. Bif Naked tells her “Best Story Ever” about her two dogs, a trip to the vet and some poop Anastasia her Bison encountered along the way.

    P.S. I just love the lid for your minpin poop compost bin Lisa. Great post.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Geez, people afraid to put dog poop in the landfill? or in the dirt?

    Dirt IS poop! Its tree Poop and animal Poop and grass Poop.

    Some people even sell poop that you can put on your dirt to make it fertile dirt.

  34. Squeal says:

    Arrrgh, I had a similar system ready to roll for my little mutt’s poop, but my housemate nixed it (it’s his house and garden after all). Now I just fling the little lincoln logs into his ill-maintained flower beds and corners of the rock garden and let it decompose au naturel on the surface.

    But I’d rather be composting.

  35. Blaine says:


    Healthy and healthful have two different meanings. You or I are healthy. We are in good health. A salad, is not healthy. It is dead, sliced up and in the early stages of decomposition.

    That said it the salad is healthful to us.

    A healthy diet, is a proper use of the word. Your diet is in good condition. A healthy meal implies the meal is living well.

    And I had a kidney stone attack yesterday so my percocette makes me confuddled.

    But that’s the point.

    Thanks for asking.

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