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Composting to the Ultimate

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We composte EVERYTHING! (Yes, even THAT stuff!)
Here's how we do it:
We save all of our organic stuff (banana peels, coffee grounds, yucky lettuce that was forgotten in the back of the veggie drawer, you know, "organic" stuff - anything the dogs and cats don't take care of), and put it in a triple bin a little way away from the house. Topped with straw, grass clippings, garden weedings, etc., it will break down into useable fertilizer in pretty quick order. (Occasionally, I get a wild hair and add some brand or the other of compost starter to enhance the biological process, but this is really not necessary.) This stuff is great used in the garden as either a worked in supplement to the soil or as a mulch or side dressing for the plants or fruit trees. (you will likely still have some volunteer tomato plants, but everything besides the tomato seeds breaks down very well, and we have found the freebies to be pretty darned good eatin')

Since we are out in the boonies and have no piped in water to waste, we also use composting toilets. I highly recommend getting a grip on "the Humanure Handbook" and studying up before you tackle this - There are sites on the net, too, and you will find a sampling of them linked below.

We use the sawdust bucket method. (The $1200.00 electrically enhanced commercial model proved more difficult to keep going, smellier, and much less adequate to the task) We have two very inexpensive "Sawdust Toilets", each consisting of a 5 gallon bucket set in a wooden cabinet (as outlined in "the Humnaure Handbook") for the downstairs bathroom. (With a family of five, the "two holer" is a real blessing.) We prime them each with a 1 inch layer of sawdust, then the user covers (thoroughly) whatever they deposit with a layer of sawdust (to discourage odor and flies...it really does work, too). We keep the sawdust for covering in a flip-top can between the two, with a handled scoop for dispensing. We also use one bedside commode in the upstairs bedroom,(If you choose to use a med-supply type commode in the bathroom, I strongly suggest you find aluminum framed ones that will not rust easily)...it has a roughly 2.5 gallon bucket that is a great help when I'm "in a hurry" in the middle of the night...LOL! The adults take turns ferrying these out to the trio of compost bins as needed.

The main points in composting humanure are to C*O*V*E*R!!! and keep the dogs out! Nature has this marvelous talent for taking care of the rest.

Be sure to place your bins near enough to your garden to make distribution of the "black gold" practical, and close enough to the house to make the trek carrying the full buckets a survivable chore too. Don't worry about people freaking out about them. They will not stink. You also need to be sure that there is ample free air movement on a fairly level spot with no steep runoff. They should not be adjacent to an area that drains into anyone's water supply, although if you do the process correctly (see that "Humanure Handbook" again!) you will not have a problem. We line the active bin with straw - about 10-12 inches in the bottom and then up the sides as far as it will sit. We keep a large supply of sawdust and straw at the bin site for covering the deposits. Grass clippings and garden weedings are good cover too. I am amazed at how little odor there is when we maintain the ritual properly...not difficult at all. We leave a full bin to compost for two full years...(easy to remember, and gives it enough time to fully cook). I just write the date on the bin with a permanent marker when we have one filled to capacity. Of course, it is pretty easy to tell which one of the three is 'old', 'new', or 'in process'. NOTE: If you follow the guidelines in the book (have I mentioned "the Humanure Handbook"?), you are quite safe to use the finished compost for your vegetable garden, but it is also a great boon to your flowers, foliage plants and lawn.

This is not a "new" idea, of course. I offer the following excerpt from my Dear Aunt Peg's account of the family history: She says, "My mother's mother, my grandmother (Stella Fuller Thompson) who was also a very small, very determined woman, told me a few things about her in-laws, the Thompsons. One thing she could never forget was their large vegetable garden. All the table scraps not eaten by the dog were regularly buried in the soil being prepared for the next season's planting. The asparagus bed was fertilized daily by the contents of the chamber pots. There was no inside plumbing, and every bedroom had a chamber pot so that only for the most serious business would one have to go downstairs and across the backyard to the privy by lantern light."

For cleaning the buckets, a hot soap and water bath is all that's necessary. It is important to keep a couple of spare buckets so that one can be sitting waiting to replace a full one for the never-ending round of depositors. The bucket washing, of course, should be done by the adults, and you need to be careful about where you dump it. We do a thorough rinse of the buckets first, dumping the rinse water into the compost, and then do the wash/soak. Since we try to use earth friendly soaps, I pour the washwater onto whatever bushes need the water most.

We go ahead and put the paper, wipes, toilet paper roll tubes and tissues in the toilets too. As long as plastics don't end up in the bathroom trash (pad wrappers, toothpaste tubes, etc), you can empty it into the compost bins as well... Even the infrequent paper towels.

In hot, dry weather, it is a good idea to soak the compost pile to keep them wet enough to do their chemical process stuff. You'll still be saving tons of water. (You can even use water you catch in a bucket strategically placed in the tub while you take your low flow shower)

One other thing...even if you don't do humanure composting, be sure that everyone in your household, and visitors, practice excellent handwashing habits! We have a funny poem, the "CommOde" and "Detailed Operating Instructions" posted in the BR as an intro/reminder.

...And the idea spreads in pop culture...

Quote from "The Sims" plus "The Sims - Living Large Expansion Pack"

-"In-House Outhouse - Modern bathrooms are a relatively new convenience. In the ancient world and in rural farming communities, a simple hole was the practical, and in some cases, elegant solution to waste problems. In fact, with today's water shortages and emphasis on recycling, the in-house outhouse can be considered the thinking man's toilet of the future!"

Of course, the irony is that the program has them hating it, complaining, and having to empty it after each use - so much for their factual knowledge on the subject. LOL!

Grey water:

As for the grey-water, We run it directly outside, and plant wet-root tolerant foliage where the drains let out (impatiens, violets, caladium, arrowhead, hosta, mums....and assorted volunteer weeds...azealias and vinca seem to like the wet too, but not too close to the kitchen drain). In winter, it can be an annoyance, because the drains may tend to plug with ice, but surrounding the drain with straw insulates them well enough for all but the most frigid weather (electric pipe wrap tape may solve this, but a hairdryer works to unstop ours), and the cats love the straw as warm spot to huddle. The flow may present a icy patch, so it is good to be sure that the water doesn't cross a walking path.

We have a 1400 gal. water tank which we have stored above ground in a small, insulated shed on the side of the house. We still have to have water hauled in, but at about $35.00 per thousand gallons, it is still a bargain. We are considering having a well drilled. Much money, but then, that $35.00 every two weeks does add up in the long haul. I am hesitant to install a cistern because of the the roofing material...I wouldn't want to even wash in the water that comes off of it...now, if we had cedar shakes, or better yet, a slate roof, I wouldn't hesitate.

Composting Links:

The Humanure Handbook : A Guide to Composting Human Manure
by Joseph C. Jenkins - A MUST!

an odoriferous ode to our friendly commode

Featuring "The Humanure Handbook" online! YAY!!

Jenkins Publishing Message Board: Humanure Composting Around the World
Feeling Chatty? - Get in The Loop for the Scoop on Poop!

Peace and Carrots Farm's Composting Toilet

Composting Toilet World
for those who prefer to go a little higher-tech than buckets

Campus Center for Appropriate Technology
at Northern California's Humboldt State University

ClearWater total waste reclaimation system
zero discharge, closed loop system

Coblist - composting toilets

Composting and Gardening

Composting Greenhouse
with strawbale foundation

Composting Information

Municipal Solid Wastes
Internet Resources

Lycos Community Guide

Paper on Composting Human Waste

Rainwater Catchment Systems

Hot Water
Recycling agricultural wastes to produce hot water

Rot Web
Composting Information Site

Holy Manure!
Spring Journal

Steel Frame, Straw Bale and Cob Home

The Composting of Human Manure

The Sunny John Papers
the Mouldering Process

What NOT to compost

Why Should I Compost Even if I Don't Have a Garden

Building and Maintaining Worm Compost Bins
Plans for small Vermicomposting setup

The WormWoman's Web Site
from the author of "Worms Eat My Garbage."

REOTEMP Composting Instrumentation
Thermometers, moisture meters, videos, etc. for serious composters.

Recommended Reading:

The Humanure Handbook : A Guide to Composting Human Manure
by Joseph C. Jenkins *A MUST*

The Toilet Papers : Recycling Waste and Conserving Water
by Sim Van Der Ryn, Wendell Berry

How to Grow More Vegetables : Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops
by John Jeavons

Permaculture : A Designers' Manual
by Bill Mollison

Worms Eat My Garbage
by Mary Appelhof

Here are some tips on how to be a responsible user:

Cut your water consumption - install low-flow shower heads, resist the urge to water the "lawn", use low flow or, better yet, composting toilets.
Recycle everything you can - less garbage, more availability.
Cut your electrical consumption - a few degrees warmer in summer and cooler in winter goes a long way to save energy.
Compost all your organic wastes - cuts down on pollution and on your fertilizer needs.

If you have any additional information, or,
if you find errors or broken links, please let us know via e-mail.

Thank You for Visiting!

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S.A. McUmber-House - Sassafrass Grove Studio
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This page last updated 10/03/2002