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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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On the way home from Buena Vista, 11-month old Malcolm dropped a big one. Good boy Malky!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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