Monday, June 1, 2009

The Garden/Guinea Pig Connection...

A number of weeks ago my wife and I caved to the whims of our seven year old daughter who wanted a pet of her own. She had her heart set on a hamster that could run in an exercise ball around the house and live in a cage in her own room. We were vaguely familiar with what to expect from a hamster. It would be a mean little ba$tard with a pension for eating it's own body parts. Uh, not in my house. I don't know if they really eat themselves but, I wasn't interested in risking it either. The night terrors that would be sure to follow such a self destructive act would disrupt our peaceful suburban existence and thus, I put my foot down. No Hamsters!

Guinea Pigs on the other hand seemed pretty easy going. We decided to look into it. As it turns out, when we went to investigate, the pet store was actually adopting out two paired males from a home that couldn't take care of them. They came complete with a basic home made cage and a couple of assorted Guinea Pig necessities. We pulled them from their cage to "get to know them" and I saw that they have four toes on their front feet and three on their back feet. Cool! I HAD to have them. It's oddities like that excite me and I was smitten. It didn't hurt that my wife and three children thought they were adorable. So, we brought home Bugsy and Lightning, our newest additions to the family.

We try to lead a relatively sustainable lifestyle and have made a lot of adjustments in how we do things to help facilitate that choice. We daily look for areas where we can improve and, as such, wanted to raise our new pets in similar fashion. Of course that includes recycled paper bedding (litter) that's available for only a small difference in price over other options. The bedding comes from rejected paper pulp that is not fit for consumer use so it's a great way to get use (and revenue for the paper companies) from a waste material that would otherwise go into landfills. 

As it turns out, our little rodent friends spoil a fairly large amount of it. We clean the cage daily, removing their poo, hay and alfalfa scraps and the wet spots (they tend to pee in only two spots in their cage, a good sign that they may be trainable) and collect approximately one full coffee can full of litter when we do. While I tend to the cage, the beasts get to spend some time in their own dedicated play pen that we can setup in our kitchen. There, they get to spread out a little, fend off the kids with chirps and squeals, antagonize the cat and, most importantly, get their daily dose of fresh veggies. Since the garden is coming in nicely (words and pics to come), we are able to feed them fresh stuff straight from our little plot and they love it. Spinach is a big hit. Carrots go over well. Strawberries are a nice surprise since they require a lot of vitamin C. Most of all, though, they are ape crazy about cilantro and parsley. They like the greens the way our girls like bubbles and that's saying a lot.

The cool part of our new rodent invested lifestyle, the part that ties it all together, though, is composting. We spent the time to build a second, Guinea Pig centric composting rig. Open air, made with hardware cloth, placed directly on fresh dirt that allows Earth's wonderful little buggers to do their magic. It's two feet deep, three feet wide and three feet tall. You see, both their waste and the litter they live on is compostable. It's perfect. I tend to want for more carbon (brownie) types of materials for my primary composting bin and the litter is a great additive. Not to mention, I have a bunch of it now. Mixed with their dinner leftovers, dirt starter, coffee grounds, etc. the litter based compost promises to be an excellent addition to our composting plan. I intend to run it as a slower process than our "barrel" style composter located in the garden and I look forward to adding a great mix of nutrients and soil conditioners back into the garden in the fall that's fed the varmints all summer long. 

It's nice piece of serendipity right here in our home and we feel really good about it...

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