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[GreenYes] Re: NPR Story on Proposed Boston 'indoor' Composting Facility

Hello again, Nancy Poh:

I'm glad you're thinking of starting in on nutrient recycling by aerobic composting.  

I've been running a salvage yard with a large outdoor component in a major urban area for twenty six years, in that time growing it from $150,000 per year gross income to $2.3 million.  We've gone from three or four to 38 employees; our annual payroll is about $1.4 million counting benefits and employment taxes.  We finance everything entirely from disposal service income and product sales.  Our cost to government is zero; in fact they make a profit on us.

There's a lot of habitat around places like ours, so keeping rodents and other unwanted critters under control is truly essential.  I have found that cats are by far the best control agent for small-sized varmints.  Now I will grant you that with cats come cat feces, so will tell you quite frankly that I've had lots of experience with their disposal.  Both at home and at work, we compost cat feces.  We think composting onsite is much better than sending them to landfill, and we've never seen ill effects from living in such close proximity to them.  I've grown food crops in the homemade compost for years.  We're nowhere near self-reliant, but I really like the taste of our home-grown tomatoes and berries, and I like the work of gardening a lot.  We usually produce a surplus, which we share with others.  This year I've got brussell's sprouts growing.  No health problems that I know of.

Right now I live with two cats at home and fourteen at work.  The fourteen are all feral, which explains why Urban Ore still has so many left when three or four would be enough.  All the nonferal ones we've had, maybe another fifteen, have found owners happy to adopt them.  But people don't really seem to understand or appreciate the feral ones.

I really enjoy feral cats.  A cat herd of fourteen becomes pretty stable, so they kind of keep other cats away.  Besides, they're all neutered, so they are of little interest to the strays that are sexually active.  They're safer than homeified cats because they don't want to rub up against you or cause you to trip and fall while carrying something heavy.  They're healthy, athletic, and beautiful.  They don't mind if you're on your feet a lot and never sit down to make a lap for their nap.  But our gang of fourteen (11 female) has done a great job of ridding the known world of rodents on our 3 acres.  Zero rodents in eight years , so far as I can tell, except for a few mice in three offices that are off-limits to cats because they're too full of people with no way for the cats to get out.  Few raccoons either, although Berkeley has thousands that travel around in the storm sewers.  The cat herd finds pigeons a bit challenging because the pigeon roosts have to be accessible by, what else?, a catwalk, and some are not.  But if there is a catwalk like a building truss, even if it's thirty feet up, they will go there.  They're funny, they're great climbers and chasers, they rarely fight, and when it is feeding time they follow me around like puppies when they think I'm finally ready to quit working and go home.  But never touch; just look at you until you look at them, at which point they run away.  So I like ferals, and all of ours have been trapped and neutered, thank God.

Yard cats get old, and our house is their old folk's home.  Several have died here, often after a year or more of dependency on an in-house litterbox.  I always use finished and screened compost for litter boxes.  We do the same at Urban Ore.  There is almost no smell from the litter boxes, and the cats seem to prefer the loose dirt to the asphalt floor of our warehouse or the tile floor of the kitchen.  If if the screened compost is slightly moist it absorbs lots of liquid, and it kills odors very effectively.  "Flushing" a litter box consists of dumping a half inch to inch of finished compost on top of the poops or wet spots and presto!  odor control is accomplished, for the room at least.  I keep a bucket with a lid so I can have a couple of week's compost on hand just to make everything more efficient.  Dumping the litter boxes can be smelly, and I always rinse the box well before relining it with compost.  The cat feces and finished compost get dumped into into center of the the compost pile along with all the other "do not compost" stuff I mentioned in my last email.  I've found that cat feces on top of food compost is a powerful deterrent to varmints, too.

So there's my personal experience with cats, and cat feces.  I spent some time as a kid working on farms with big animals, and became used to being around manure.

May you have good times with your composting.  I hope you find it as enjoyable and deeply satisfying as I have.

Dan Knapp
On Mar 30, 2008, at 7:34 PM, Nancy Poh wrote:

Thanks for sharing this, Dan.  I live in a terrace house.  I am thinking of encouraging neighbours along my row to make use of our common backdoor corridor to start a compost pile.  Cats would be handy to have around if we want to compost stuff from our kitchen that would attract rodents.  But then we will be facing problems with cats' feces.  The cats are very good at hiding them.


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