Pets in a Permaculture System

by Verity Evans

Pets bring joy to our lives. Giving us love and keeping us company as well as providing security. 

They can also drive people with gardens crazy!

Depending on the pet, they can dig holes, run through veg beds and poop everywhere. Here are my tips on including pets in your permaculture design so that they don’t drive you nuts.

This bed used to run along the edge of the terrace. Jac likes to lay here as he can see everyone passing along the river bed. We decided it wasn’t worth the effort of replanting constantly, so we divided the bed and gave him the space. He is happy. We are happy. Winning.

Work with them. 

If your dog has a favourite place to hang out, give it to them. Don’t try and plant a vegetable or a flower bed where they like to lay. You’ll just get annoyed with them when they flatten your plants for the tenth time (believe me, I’ve been there!)

If you’re really short on space, place plant pots in their hang out space. They will soon find somewhere else to go. 

Freshly dug earth is just too much of a magnet for this guy. We have to keep him out using home-made barriers. He could easily break through here if he wanted to, but instead chooses to look super sad and stare at the baby fruit bushes.

Make barriers for veg beds.

Dogs keep digging up your vegetable beds? Make a barrier. 

We use bamboo or fruit tree prunings to make mini fences around plants we want to protect. 

The dogs could easily break through them if they wanted to, but generally choose to respect the fence and will always choose the easiest route around the garden (which doesn’t usually involve smashing through fences).

These bamboo canes are more of a visual than physical barrier. Bryn is a complete monkey and could easily squeeze through (he loves nothing more than sitting on baby plants) however he will choose to respect the barrier more often than not.
Our cat loves bare earth. She also loves to lay in pots. I have a whole other trough filled with red veined sorrel that we eat. This stuff is purely cat bedding.

Plant more than you need.

Accept that you will lose a few plants to dogs and cats. 

When I sow seeds, I keep this in mind and I sow and pot on more than I think I need. 

When I plant out, I plant more than I need in the ground and thin them out either by hand at a later date or the dogs and cat will thin them out for me. Again, its about working with them and not against them. 

We always grow sacrificial plants. It’s worth just accommodating the pets and growing more than you need from the beginning instead of becoming frustrated with them. 

If you end up with too many plants (not the worst thing in the world right?!) you can give them away or swap with friends and neighbours or use them to cover bare earth in another part of the garden where you don’t want the cat scratching to use the toilet. 

Our cat toilet. She chooses to go here. We scoop out the poop regularly otherwise she will choose somewhere else to go.

While we are on the topic of cat toilets…..

Cats like a fine tilth of sandy loose earth to poop in. Give it to them. Make an area in the garden where you want the cat to toilet and create the perfect conditions. They will find it and they will use it. 

Build it and they will come.

We have a humanure compost system for our own waste. The dog and cat poop also goes in.

It is worth noting that pet poop should only be composted into a humanure system or hot compost (where the temperature rises above 60 degrees and kills any pathogens in the waste). 

Our humanure system. The bay on the left is the current bay that’s in use. This is where the animal waste along with our waste goes. The bay on the right has been capped off with hay and will be left for at least a year before we open it again to spread onto our fruit trees.

If you don’t have a hot compost or humanure system but you do have a standard garden compost and would like to compost the pet waste, you will need a separate bucket just for this. Make it nitrogen and carbon rich; adding lots of grass clippings, and weeds as well as vegetable kitchen waste and even sawdust and cardboard. You won’t want to use this compost on veg beds but it will be fine to use after a year or so on ornamental plants and fruit trees. 

Deterring neighbourhood cats from your garden.

Having dogs is enough to deter neighbours cats, as well as having a scrappy wild puss roaming about the place. But if you don’t have your own pets and have a problem with cats coming into your garden there are a few things that can be done. 

Spreading ground pepper or chilli powder around where you do not want them to go. Cats really do not like it. 

Make them a bare loose earth toilet (like in the pic above) and they will choose to go there instead. 

Placing lollipop sticks vertically in the bare earth means they can’t park their feline bottoms to poop. You will see on some websites the use of plastic forks placed upright in the beds. I would not encourage the use of plastic (especially single-use) in the garden but the theory is the same.

Our dogs are given olive oil with their food. It results in a super healthy coat. 

Consider natural alternatives to worming your pets. 

If you want to keep your garden organic and wildlife friendly then it is worth noting than the chemicals in worming tablets are passed through the animals and deposited onto the earth when they poop. Populations of scarab beetles have been massively reduced by these chemicals. It is worth considering natural alternatives. We do not worm our dogs. We have never had any trouble with worms in our dogs. We give our dogs dry food topped with plenty of olive oil, tumeric, pumpkin seeds and carrots. So far, so good. We have practiced this for over seven years and have had no trouble with worms.

Wash fruit, vegetables and salad leaves thoroughly.

If you have animals in your permaculture system then it is always wise to carefully wash your produce before consuming. The same goes for maintaining good hand hygiene. 

As careful as you are controlling pets in the garden, there will always be a rogue poop or some plants that have been peed on so its always best to give things a thorough wash.

Pets can certainly be incorporated successfully into a permaculture system.

They are well worth the effort. Follow these tips and make a few tweaks here and there. It is well worth the love you get in return. 

I mean, look at this face…..

For more from me go to Verity Evans on Medium, or head over to Insta @burnlemons.

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