Gardeners know that waste can often be very useful in the garden. In this article Carly Tinker extols the benefits of used pet litter from rabbits and guinea pigs.
Back at the beginning of December last year, I put an article up about using woodchips in the garden. In the article I mentioned using the using woodchips as a mulch and in the base of our poultry run to absorb the droppings and utilise the nitrogen to help rot down the woodchips.
This prompted newsletter subscriber Carly Tinker CMLI FRSA to contact me. Carly is an established and experienced Environmental, Landscape and Colour Consultant as well as the author of a novel, Black Dog. Carly uses wood-shavings based pet litter to good effect in her garden. She explained how in the piece below and sent the accompanying photos of her plot.
Used Pet Litter Wood Shavings Benefits
First of all, I must emphasise that this only applies to vegetarian pets! Usually, rabbits and guinea pigs. That means it’s safe to use on veg beds, and it’s not at all unpleasant to handle.
Whilst I would be happy to use rabbit and guinea pig manures or any herbivore manure for that matter, as a precautionary measure I’d recommend wearing gloves when handling. Avoid contact with your eyes, nose and mouth. Wash your hands when finished. I’d also avoid using manure that has not been composted around leafy salad crops.
How I started using pet litter
It’s a bit of a long story, but once I realised its potential, I began trying to spread the word far and wide.
A few years ago, my neighbour’s children started keeping rabbits, and asked if they could put the used litter, which comprised thin, curled shavings of wood, on my compost. I said yes without thinking, then wondered if it was really OK.
The first things I discovered were that:
a) the animals’ poo is the equivalent of slow-release fertiliser pellets, and
b) their urine contains nutrients including carbon, phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen.
Then, as more litter came my way, it occurred to me that the shavings would make a good mulch. My expectations were exceeded. It works best when placed a few centimetres thick on damp soil, with a quick sprinkling of water on top. Surprisingly, it doesn’t blow away.
Pest control benefits of mulching with pet litter
The first good thing I found is that when it dries out, it goes crispy. Lightbulb moment! Slugs, snails and cats hate travelling across it. Major result.
Other benefits of mulching with pet litter
Secondly, worms love it. So long as the interface between soil and wood shavings is moist, they take it deep down surprisingly fast and it breaks down easily, making the soil both more friable and water-retentive. I need to top up every 2 months or so, at least. Much, much better than leaving soil bare.
Thirdly, you can use it on a large scale, or as a spot-treatment eg to protect vulnerable seedlings, or on top of pots, just to keep the soil in good condition (make sure the pot soil has worms in though).
Fourthly, it looks nice and tidy!
Growing Potatoes Under Pet Litter Mulch
Last year, I tried growing potatoes above ground. I cleared a patch of weedy, depleted, dry clay soil in a neglected corner of the garden, spread a thin layer of fresh compost, placed potatoes on top, piled on wood shavings, watered the piles in well, and promptly forgot about them.
Several weeks later, to my delight, I found not only gorgeous potatoes, but also several centimetres of fine soil full of enormous worms.
And it’s free!
The best thing is, it’s free, if you can get hold of it. I ask around, and now have regular deliveries of large bagsful, which I swap for surplus green leaves including ‘weeds’ eg dandelion. Everyone is happy, including the pets!
NB before I built up a local supply, I went to the local pet shop to see if I could have some of theirs. They just gawped and said no. When I asked what happened to it, they said it went to landfill. I said, that’s such a waste – what if local allotment-holders came to take it away instead? No, they said, that simply couldn’t be arranged.
That got me thinking: supposing allotment-holders got together and lobbied the large chains – on the basis that it would not just be sustainable, but good PR?
It’s possible the store was worried about breaching waste handling regulations. Waste has to be transported by licensed operatives. Possibly a way around this would be for them to sell you the bags of pet litter waste for a nominal amount, making it a product rather than a waste material.
Both Carly and myself would love to hear your thoughts – comment below.