Goodness gracious a LOT has been happening here at the farm. Its hard to know where to begin updating you all. Life has become so full, it feels like every moment of every day there is something fun to do… And always more jobs and projects waiting for your attention. Patience is really important because you simply can’t make it all happen at once. Things really happen organically, in some kind of flow that you can’t control and have to simply surrender to… You can have all the grand ideas in the world, but things happen in their own time.
For example, since we moved here in late November, we have been super keen to set up a series of composting bays in order to deal with our personal waste, including our humanure (wee and poo), weeds and kitchen scraps. Well, it is almost the end of March, and only yesterday did we find the time and resources to go and buy all the necessary gear to start our project. We are hoping to finally get to construct the compost system next weekend. But we shall see if that happens!
If you have only just joined us, or haven’t been following our story closely, here’s a little background. Basically, we are hoping to live as sustainably as possible, and for us that means several things: reducing our consumption; putting our ‘waste’ back into the food cycle by returning food and manure to the soils safely; supporting bio-diversity and living in harmony with the natural landscape around us; growing food organically and maintaining the health of the soil that we use to produce food. We could add more…but you get the idea! Putting these values into practice is the challenging part, and we are learning as we go and trying to take as many positive steps for the planet as we can.
Perhaps the most challenging part of this puzzle so far has been the question of how to deal with our own poo. When we arrived, we had the option to use the bathroom facilities at the main house, including running hot shower and flush toilet. However, we had just finished reading a brilliant book by Joseph Jenkins, called the Humanure Handbook (this link will take you to an e-copy of the book). In this book, he talks about how unnatural, yet socially acceptable it has become to flush huge volumes of human pee and poo into the environment using our clean drinking water (not to mention other chemical nasties and pollutants), basically creating ‘waste’ which then needs to be managed. Jenkins says that this process interrupts the natural food cycle, where animals eat, then wee and poo right back into the soil. The micro-organisms in the soil then break down manure from all the creatures and create healthy soil. And this allows for new plant life to grow, in order to feed the animals… And round and round this cycle goes.
By interrupting this natural cycle humans have created what we all call ‘waste products‘. Jenkins says, they are only waste products because of the way we deal with them, and if we dealt with them properly there would be no waste, and the whole environment would receive an incredible input of organic compost. We haven’t got his book in front of us, so unfortunately we can’t impress you with the figures he cites, but get a hold of his book and have a read yourself. Check out this very cool diagram of the Human Nutrient Cycle as explained by Joseph:
Anyway, before we arrived we decided we were committed to being sustainable with our poo’s and wee’s and made the first steps towards establishing a responsible way of dealing with our daily dump (following carefully the instruction of Mr Jenkins)! This involved buying a bunch of 20 litre plastic buckets from the hardware store. We also had to buy an outdoor en-suite shelter from a camping store (or if you have the time and resources you can build your own from sustainable materials as we hope to do one day). And finally, we designed and had made for us a toilet base, like the Loveable Loo that Jenkins uses in his book.
For our first homemade loo we actually used a Director’s chair and removed the seat so we could hold ourselves above the bucket and do our business. We briefly upgraded to a commode which sat over the bucket and was far more comfortable a throne, and then finally our timber loo was finished, which you can see below here:
Our new loo was made using a timber toilet seat, purchased by us from the hardware store, and plywood joined together to make a box that is open at the bottom and can fit a toilet seat up top. The box has to be the same height as your 20 litre bucket, so that the bucket sits snuggly beneath the lid. We painted our plywood box with a marine grade timber sealant that was eco-friendly, as we wanted to protect the box from the elements since it lives outside. If your loo was inside a house, you wouldn’t even need to bother with this step (although it does make it easy to clean).
Our current toilet you can see in the photo above. The bucket is almost full, and after we use it we add a couple of scoops of sawdust from the bucket on the right. This keeps away flies and prevent odours. When the bucket is full, you can either add it straight to your compost pile (important to read Jenkins’ handbook before beginning this at home), or you can pop a lid on the bucket for safe storage (where it will break down slowly over about 12 months, or you can add it to a compost heap at a later date, as we are doing).
The composting process, when done correctly, heats the manure to high temperatures, effectively killing any nasties that might be living in there. The micro-organisms completely break down the poop into something that is really productive, user-friendly and good for the planet!
Since we haven’t had time to build our compost storage system yet, we have been storing our buckets outside our loo, in a shady spot, ready to use when the time comes. For the first few weeks we worried that the lids might EXPLODE right off and there would be shit everywhere, literally! Thankfully this never happened. The buckets seem to happily contain the humanure.
The compost heap we are planning will be placed in the cleared section, visible in the photo below, so it’s just a short walk from our toilet area. The lovely Rod has helped us clear this area using the tractor. Basically it’s all ready to go – and the plan is to make a start on it through the week. In addition to our compost bays, we will be constructing some simple timber steps to make it easier to walk up to the compost facility. We don’t want to trip when we are carrying a bucket full of manure!
Since we arrived, we have gone through about 20 buckets, that’s approximately 1-2 per week. We had hoped to get our compost facility built a lot sooner, and save on buying more plastic buckets. But the excess number of buckets will not be a waste, because the farm will be able to use them when we develop a bathroom area for WWOOFer’s, volunteers and visitors. If you have your compost bays ready to go, then you could get by with around 1-3 buckets for your family: one bucket that is in use; one bucket in reserve and one bucket for sawdust. Sawdust in only $4-5 for a large bag and that would get us through about 3-4 buckets easily, so its cost effective.
When people from the city come to visit we tell them that if they want to stay they will have to pee and poo in a bucket and shower from a bucket – but not the same one! This tends to crack people up and hopefully relaxes them around the whole idea.
There are probably still people reading this and cringing a little internally. Poo has become such a dirty word for our society. And yet it is one of our most useful by-products. All we can say is, even for us there was a small internal leap to start pooping into a bucket and covering it with sawdust, and it will be another little inner leap once we begin to add the humanure to our compost and process it completely. But now when we think about pooping into our drinking water (which is getting increasingly scarce in this country), that seems like such a strange thing to do. Isn’t it amazing how what we get used to seems natural, and what we are unfamiliar with seems totally unnatural – even when it’s all the wrong way around. Waste not, want not!
Having used the system for several months now, we can assure you that it does not produce terrible odours, thousands of flies, and is very comfortable to use. You could easily have this system inside a home to replace your current flush system. If you are interested in exploring this for yourself, you must read Jenkins’ book first. He covers all the ins and outs and shows you how to make a safe and effective system, which can help you return a large amount of good quality compost to your soils and keep your drinking water clean for drinking!!
We hope that in the next week or two we will be able to show you how we have constructed our compost bays and fill you in on the beginning of our humanure composting system. We will be using a simple and cheap system involving some second hand corrugated iron, star pickets and hay bales. We are really excited about the potential of this process. It’s simple, cheap in comparison (composting toilets can cost thousands to install), energy efficient (the compost heap does all the hard work) and doesn’t further pollute our environment.
Hope you all have a great week,
Michelle, Rachel & Harry
P.S. If you have a humanure composting story please share it with us!