In the City of Seattle, our dog population outnumbers our population of children, a testament to the fact that many of us are living with dogs and undoubtedly other pets in the city. With the changes to the Seattle Municipal Code in 2010, allowing eight chickens per 20,000 square foot lot, and with urban dwellers also keeping potbelly pigs and miniature goats, we are truly “faunatics” about our animals! Along with this love of animals we are seeing proliferate in the city, we are also seeing a meteoric rise in vegetable gardens in many back (and front) yards. Of course these are the same yards we are keeping the members of our fur and feather families in as well and this brings a whole new perspective to how we are managing our gardens. Fall is a great time to assess how we want our garden to function for the coming growing season.
When we receive calls to the Garden Hotline about where to place a plant or a veggie garden in the yard we always talk about taking time to assess your site. When you add animals to the mix, this becomes even more important since now you are juggling the needs of multiple living beings in the landscape. Having pets in the yard, be they fowl or canine, adds elements like a chicken coop and run which can create shade and takes up space. It also creates an awareness of where the dog runs through the yard. Most dogs, when allowed to roam free- range in the backyard, tread a regular path, sometimes into your lawn. Goats like to eat, well, plants! On a good day they are eating only the plants you intend them to. Chickens are notorious for scratching in the dirt to find insects; a skill you can put to good use on the mini-orchard floor or in the vacant veggie garden in between crops to rid your soil of possible plant pests. But these insectivores will also be chowing down on your tender seedlings when not contained. A little management needs to happen to keep harmony in your corner of Eden. Get to know the habits of the particular animals you live with, their species’ tendencies and their personalities. Some dogs are fence runners and perhaps that chain link fence would do best with a tough vine growing on it to hide the intruders they see on the sidewalk. Cats that are allowed outside prefer the large cat-box of your yard to the one you provide in the house for them. They particularly like soft, dry soil under the eaves of your house. Planting this area with drought tolerant, shade loving plants will reduce the area where they can leave you unpleasant surprises.
Do you garden with ducks in the yard? Did you know that ducks are great “slugivores”, eating slugs like candy as they cruise through the garden? Adding ducks and chickens to your yard will help you control those pests that are dining on your home-grown goods. They also have the added benefit of adding manure to the garden. Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen, a nutrient necessary for green growth in plants. Composting your urban livestock pet’s bedding will supply you with a ready source of nutrient for the garden. Duck manure is not as “hot” as chicken manure, a quality that refers to the chemical and physical tendency of fresh manure to burn plants. This is a good thing. There is a plethora of information on different animal manures and a “manure share” program that the King Conservation District manages which can edify you and help you procure the perfect manure for your garden beds. Connoisseurs seek out alpaca manure, or so I’ve been told. Pick up a copy of the Tilth Alliance book, “Your Farm in the City” to get more ideas and curl up in bed with your duck, goat and cat and dream a new garden.
So what about dog waste? Though we are blessed in the City of Seattle to be able to send our food waste, including meat and dairy scraps, off to Cedar Grove with our leaves and grass clippings for composting, animal manures are not allowed in the mix. If you are a livestock pet owner you can compost all of their waste. But did you know that you can also compost dog and cat waste? This composting is a process that involves using either a “digester” or a worm bin. There are electric systems you can keep in your home, good for cats and small dogs or larger digesters that are sunk into the ground and act as a mini septic system which can accommodate your Great Dane’s goods. Many people find this idea less tasteful than the idea of composting rabbit manure but the good news is that you can also continue to put it into the garbage. Only 2% of the garbage that goes to landfills is made up of pet waste. So don’t be shy! Picking up your pet waste eliminates the possibility of bacterial contamination in our local waterways.
Being a responsible pet owner also means being aware of what plants can cause problems for your pets when ingested. Learn what plants are poisonous and be aware of your pet’s habits. Better safe than sorry! For more information about pet poisoning visit http://www.petpoisonhelpline.
For more information about plant choices, plant placement and managing pet waste please contact the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 or find us online at www.gardenhotline.org. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.