At this point, you’ve probably seen my two videos on using dog food as fertilizer.
I sent the first of the two videos to my newsletter subscribers on Friday, and multiple people didn’t like the idea and shared their reasons:
“Only if it is certified non gmo,otherwise you are going to be putting that poison back into the food YOU consume.”
“FYI, kibble dog food may be up to 50% sugar and its probably GMO.”
“The only problem with doing that is that most of the dog food is causing cancer in the dogs that eat it. In the pet cancer summits they are saying 1 out of 2 dogs gets cancer, and one out of 3 cats get it. And the main problem is the commercial cheap food they are being fed (and sometimes the expensive food too), as well as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides they pick up from walking in yards. Also, almost all the pet food is made from GMO corn and soy, and complete with our favorite friend, ROUND UP!”
“I will join others in saying that cheapo dog food is full of dangerous synthetic chemicals that would never be found in nature. Will those chemicals be taken up into the food? I don’t know, but how can they possibly be good for soil biodiversity? If you knew what is allowed in dog food in the US (let alone what they allow in Central America), you would be shocked.”
All good points. Just because I’m trying something doesn’t mean I’m recommending it. I experiment constantly and I share what I’m doing as I go.
GMOS and Other Horrors
I am not concerned about GMOs in dog food. I’m not eating it, and I don’t have a dog. If I did, though I’m sure he’d be fine with it.
No, not really. If I had a dog, I would feed him nothing but fresh cream and organic strawberries with roast chicken on Sundays.
Genetically modifying plants such as soy and corn isn’t something magical. It just means genes have been spliced in or edited so certain traits are produced in the plant. You might take a gene for disease resistance from one plant and insert it into another. When the plant dies and is turned into compost, all this is gone. If you crossed a jellyfish and a potato, then the monstrosity died, it would compost. Dust to dust. I don’t see how any of those edited genes would somehow end up in my food. Steve Solomon discusses this reality in his book The Intelligent Gardener when he recommends cottonseed meal as an organic fertilizer. Yes, it’s GMO, but no, it’s almost certainly not going to harm you. The soil life will break it down and the plants will eat it.
Pesticides and Chemicals
Now these are more concerning.
I looked up the composition of dog food and it’s horrifying.
Lots of artificial stuff in there.
Actually, it’s probably not much more than most of the food we eat.
Do you buy produce? Flour? Rice? Ketchup? There are traces of all kinds of things in there. If you buy mulch from the city, it will have pesticides in it. Wild-caught salmon? There are chemicals in there as well.
It’s a great, big chemical-laced world. If you lay down cardboard in your garden, it almost certainly has something bad in it. If you compost cucumber peelings, ditto. There’s no way around it, so I have given up being concerned on the little things. I won’t add more chemicals if I can help it, but almost everything has some.
I made the chart above myself. It’s a joke. But what I did find in my research is that dog food is mostly made from animal byproducts, grains, bone meal, meats and fats, grains and soy and some vitamins. Maybe some dye, too.
To me that looks like a decent source of nitrogen and other minerals. Though not perfect, it is cheap and common. I’m interested in seeing how it works out.
I got the original idea from John Starnes, who was featured in an article on making a rich garden bed with little work. It reads in part:
“While every organic gardener has his or her own tricks (usually involving truckloads of mulch complemented with horse or chicken manure), Starnes recommends using materials that are fast, easy and accessible even for urban gardeners.
First, find a sunny plot, checking to make sure that it will stay sunny year-round even as the sun moves north and south. For each 10-by-10-foot area, purchase one 50-pound bag of cheap dry food dog nuggets, five 20-pound bags of unscented clay cat litter, a 50-pound bag of alfalfa pellets and two bales of coastal hay.
“You can pick up cheap dog food and kitty litter at the grocery store and the alfalfa and hay at a local feed store,” Starnes said. “Most people are surprised at how many feed stores are located in urban areas – just Google ‘feed store’ and your zip code or check the yellow pages to find one near you.”
Spread the first three ingredients evenly over the plot, turn the soil, water deeply, then cover the area with a single continuous layer of flattened cardboard boxes overlapped six inches at the edges, then cover that with the hay, and water again. Let this “ripen” for 2-3 weeks.
As it breaks down, the dog food slowly releases the nutrients and minerals plants need to thrive. Proteins and carbohydrates provide food for earthworms and beneficial bacteria that eventually transform even Florida sand into fruitful soil. The cat litter decomposes into potassium-rich clay that holds water and encourages lush growth. Alfalfa pellets break down into nitrogen and trace minerals, and organic matter that encourages beneficial bacteria. Covering that layer with overlapped cardboard boxes and then the hay chokes out weeds.
“Make sure it’s coastal hay, which is seed-free Bermudagrass and not something that is full of seeds like wheat straw.” he notes. If it’s available, free mulch from a tree-trimming service or a heavy layer of oak leaves can be used instead of the hay, but avoid the use of cypress mulch.
“They’re cutting down trees and destroying wetlands to get cypress mulch,” he said.
If you’ve had a garden before in the spot you’re working on now, or you’re planting over flower beds, water well every week for two to four weeks, then use your hands to pull the hay back, as if you were parting hair, to expose ten 4-inch-wide bands of the damp soft cardboard. Cut ten slits in it to plant seeds or seedlings in the now-rich soil below. This allows for ten rows of veggies.
If you’re planting over lawn or weedy areas, however, you’ll need to wait a minimum of three months for the lawn and weeds to fully die back. “But even if you’re starting from scratch, you can have one very bountiful winter garden planted before it gets hot again.””
I might try the complete method once I open up some more space in our garden lot.
I may be evil for using dog food as fertilizer, but I’ll have to ask my yams. Feel free to agree or disagree – I’m always learning as I go along.