Sunday, December 30, 2007

Our Humanure Setup

Paul requested a write-up of our experience doing the humanure thing, so here I write! We've been shitting in buckets for two and a half years now, except for the 6 months we lived at the Portland Permaculture Institute. We're following the system laid out in The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, which covers pretty much everything you need to know about the topic. Basically, we poop in a bucket, cover our business with sawdust, and when the bucket fills up we dump the bucket in the compost pile and cover the new addition well. We mostly pee in a second bucket and spread that through the yard.

I don't have the skills to build a nifty throne for our shit bucket, and my one attempt at adapting a wooden regular toilet seat lid to a bucket promptly resulted in the lid falling off and breaking (luckily with no messier damage than that). So we still use a plastic toilet seat contraption designed for camping which snaps onto the top of a 5 gallon bucket. (We bought two back in 2005 from the local survivalist shop for $10 each, give or take.)

We used one bucket for poop and pee for a while, but eventually decided to add a bucket just for pee. This allows us to return nutrients to our garden more quickly, reduces the frequency with which I have to dump the poop bucket into the compost pile, and reduces the amount of sawdust we need to use. Enough moisture seems to make it into the compost pile between what urine does go in and the water from cleaning out the poop bucket when I dump it, that the compost pile still seems to get plenty hot and doesn't require extra water in the summer. I empty the pee bucket every 2-3 days (generally when it start to smell, which besides the obvious cue of unpleasantness also tells us we're losing nitrogen to the air). I empty the poop bucket maybe every three weeks or so.

So our bathroom currently has a poop bucket, a sawdust bucket (center), and a pee bucket (left). The standard ceramic toilet makes a fine stand for toilet paper, phone book pages for those who don't want to wipe their ass with trees killed just for that purpose, and candles and incense because Theressa likes that sort of stuff.

Way back when we tore out the driveway in a big work party, I wrote up instructions for how to use our bathroom, just in case it confused anyone. Occasionally when we have normal core folks over we clear the normal toilet off so they can easily choose their preference, but I think only about three people have used the ceramic toilet in the last year.

I haven't measured the temperature of the compost pile. When I shovel out a little hole in the center of the compost pile for the new additions, I put my hand over the divot and always feel some heat, which satisfies me that things are working. We plan to follow the schedule of one year to actively build the pile, then start a second pile and build that for a year while the first pile sits. So everything in each pile will sit for at least one year, and up to as long as two years, which should adequately kill off any potential pathogens.

I don't know what else to say, so I'll leave it at that unless I get any questions!


Bpaul said...

I'm devising ways to sell this to my household. It makes tons of sense, and once I read the book I thought why the hell not?

My first step is creating a very good composting situation, meaning permanent sides, and a permanent hinged lid so I can control how much rain it gets. The rain all winter leaches nutrients out of the pile and cools it, which isn't good for a humanure system (or a normal one for that matter).

Very cool to see that someone is using this system in the city, that just rocks.

Thanks for the post.

Bpaul said...

Question: You control the amount of rain that gets to the pile in any way? Tarping or a roof or anything?

FarmerScrub said...

Hey Paul,

Good question. I don't currently block out the rain as well as I'd like; I have about half the pile covered by an overhang from the old wood pile shanty-structure thing. I should cover the entire pile now that the rain pours down, though...I'll probably just throw a sheet of plywood over the whole thing to shed the water.


Bpaul said...

That's the perfect low-tech answer actually LOL why hadn't I thought of that.

Perfect, thanks!

A. said...

Hi there! I'm doing the humanure compost system here in Vancouver! It's been going about four months now, and working well. Our pile is hot in the centre even though it's winter, is odorless and hasn't attracted any animals.

The compost pile is in plain sight of our conservative neighbors, but because it would never occur to them what we're doing, they just think it's a regular ol yardwaste pile. We are using expresso coffee grounds (they're a little drier than drip coffee) right now as we haven't found a source of sawdust in the city. Where do you get yours?

I have also been considering separating some of our pee, as the bins get very liquidy and fill up fast, as you said.

Anyways, it's great to hear about other humaure systems in the city! Thanks for your post. I may make a blog one day about our pile, and if so I'll link to it here. Cheers!


Norris said...

Hello A,

We have a neighbor a few doors down who does woodworking as his profession. He saves clean sawdust (from non laminated or otherwise chemicalized wood) for us. Very convenient for us, and he's happy to have the sawdust going to a useful cause!

Thanks for your comment,