Category: Compost

DIY compost toilet – urine diversion using watering can as separator

This is an upgrade of our compost toilet:

 

A nice big urine catchment area, and the usual size bucket for the humanure:

 

I cut a watering can to serve as the urine diversion part of the system:

 

The shortened spout of the watering can rests just within a funnel, which is connected to pipe exiting the toilet box:

 

A close up of the first attempt at the funnel; note that the tape lost its stickyness after several very hot days, and thereafter I wired the funnel to the pipe connections:

Humanure how-to: helpful links

Long version:
Short version:
From the handbook:
humanure handbook girdlok

Herald snake happy in the compost…

herald snake

This Herald snake was found asleep under a tarp covering the freshest of the compost piles. We have happily let it do it’s thing there 😉 The compost pile covers are always lifted with a sense of curiosity: mmm, what could be under there?? Usually a fog or toad or two, but this is the first snake, which I’ve hoped for for a while.

Early spring garden pictures… and a few comments, of course!

This is a brief visual update on what’s happening with parts of the garden, with the main focus being vegetables (versus, for example, the orchard). Followed by, of course, my 2 cents’ worth 😉

First, a reminder of what this area looked like two years ago:

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And the adjacent area one year ago:

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Then after a bit of this ‘n that:

Plot June 2013 002

And quite a few more steps later you get this:

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To some it may seem a bit of a mess, but everything has its place within the greater totality of things  (a totality we try to observe and align ourselves to). For example, the wood piles may not tick boxes for those with orthodox aesthetic views, but the piles are great for wildlife and serve several other purposes – walls and windbreaks, growing area for plants, long-term fertility as the carbon decomposes under the manure that has been thrown on top; etc. And in less than 18 months, the woodpiles have gradually been covered by pioneers – mainly nasturtium in the pictures, but a different creeper also does fantastically on them, and this all makes them more appealing to the orthodox eye. In 2 more years, the woodpiles will be large but smooth mounds of compost hidden by all sorts of plants and vegetables, providing nooks and crannies for wildlife, storing energy by way of nutrients and moisture. No doubt by 5 years the piles will be earth mounds out of which trees and bushes grow, under which vegetables self-seed.

Note the wide variety of plants and vegetables working together as companions. No chemicals have been used (as a rule) nor needed to be used because pests are mainly manageable – they tend to be focused on one or two plants that are usually last season’s annuals and should have been pulled but but were given mercy in a moment of unjustified optimism: annuals should be pulled when they are done fruiting. But once pulled, they go into the compost and re-enter the fertility cycle from whence they came: compost to compost; earth to earth; life to life.

Okay, yes, there have been times when aphids did cause Emma to lose her usual outdoor optimism – she is after all the main gardener – but again these spread because of last season’s anachronistic annuals (as explained above). The past 3 months have been aphid-free; the only pest issue has been, well, whatever has accessed the sweet potatoes from underground, presumably moles. I am sure that this too will be a problem for which we eventually have time to find a solution.

Notably, Damian is having a fruit-fly issue this week: they are hatching in his baby marrows (courgettes). However, the cause seems to me to be the tonne (literally) of fresh horse-manure and wood-chip mix that has been spread throughout his orchard and growing area. Expect pest issues when using fresh organic matter. But as time passes, as the organic matter becomes compost, the pests are no longer attracted to the area. We are seeing this more and more to be the case, which is not to say that we will not add some aged manure in various places shortly before topping with compost; as the garden becomes more of an entity constituted by various cooperating parts working synergistically, fewer will be the ‘pest’ problems, and where there are bugs eating things, it will be an appropriate part of the functioning of the overall natural system. Already, this is how I feel about our past ‘pest’ issues: not a problem! Sure, I say this from the perspective of one who has spent more time making the garden beds and then disappearing into miscellaneous building projects and chores etc. etc., while Emma is the one who has spent more time and energy facilitating the existence of the occasional vegetable that is taken out by ‘pests’. But I knew it intuitively when it occurred more frequently last year – ‘early days; not a problem; part of the process; give it time’. Oh, and let me add: those baby-marrows with a few fruit flies hatching from them – well, the baby flies emerge from one minuscule area that can be cut away, leaving 90% of the marrow completely fine for consumption.

I have focused entirely too much on the ‘pest’ aspect, despite the fact that currently we have no pest issues!!! So let me conclude by saying that the proof is in the pudding: we are eating very fresh, chemical-free vegetables from the gardens daily; our health is excellent; our food bills are manageable, even for part-time employees; and the garden/plot-time is incredibly therapeutic (unless you get a bit OCD about finishing a project by a self-imposed deadline, like I do, but that’s not the case with the gardens). ALL of our organic waste goes into the compost (albeit in a very controlled and systematic manner) so the fertility process here is a loop rather than linear – with the exception of several bags of horse manure that we bring in from 1 km down the road. So all that said, let me end abruptly and go take a refreshing garden-stroll…

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In journal entry number 4 I mentioned ‘revitalising raised beds’; the pictures above show part of the process. The whole area was covered in horse manure in July last year (2013); by mid-September, after layers of aged manure, straw and compost had been added to shape individual raised beds, the first seeds and seedlings were planted in this area. After the Summer harvest the beds had dropped in height quite a lot, and the decision was made to ‘top them up’. We did this by first adding a thick layer of aged manure and then by digging up the paths straight onto the raised beds, because the paths consisted of the same manure that originally covered the whole area; the manure has turned into very healthy organic matter. The final layer is our own home-made compost, indeed a key secret ingredient. The beds get mulched immediately in order to prevent the sun from frying the microbes in the soil. The idea is to fill the paths back in with manure so that it can age; then, come Summer, we can simply dig up the manure from the paths and repeat the process.

Note in some of the pictures the water in the trenches around the beds. We dug deep in order to create these mini-moats. Now, when it rains, the water is ‘stored’ instead of running out of the garden area. This is an easy method of storing energy in the garden: the water seeps into the raised beds at a low level and moisture is maintained for far longer after rains than if the trenches were not there. The trenches can be filled with lightly-packed manure and mulched along with the bed to further maximise the amount of time the moisture will stick around.

‘Bathroom’ – shower and compost toilet

Here’s a picture of the bathroom recently added to the homestead. It is made out of pallet wood and other accumulated pieces of wood gathered in the past year and a half or so. There’s a piece of clear roofing in the mix too for light.

The compost toilet is tucked away in the back left corner; made from the sides of an old pool table. It’s a bucket system, the flush being compost. The compost flush inoculates the humanure, so that when I do empty the buckets, the good bacteria have mostly dealt with the smell. When the buckets are full, the contents get cooked in the compost hotboxes, which can be seen in (much) earlier posts.

Importantly, it’s a UD system – urine diversion. A funnel diverts urine via pipe to bottles on the outside of the structure. Pee in the bucket would cause anaerobic conditions, which is when compost toilets go horribly wrong. There’s also a funnel-urinal sticking out close the left wall for my convenience, which ladies are welcome to use too!

The old cast-iron bath on the right is the base for the shower. We got it for next to no money, and it’ll last ‘forever’. Some old plastic protects the wood from getting wet. The water for the shower is from the mains for now: I used black plastic irrigation piping and coiled it on the kitchen roof (also a different post a while ago), so that’s where the hot water has been coming from.

There is a pulley system backup for hot water. Water is warmed on the rocket stove, poured into a thermal bag connected by pipe to the black irrigation pipe mentioned above, and hoisted quite high by the pulley. This provides a nice trickle of warm water for the colder days of winter, when the coil doesn’t heat up.

Berkley Composting

Following the instructions on this website, http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/diy-instructions/hot-compost-composting-in-18-days/, a different compost technique began a few days ago…

The pallets were put together and filled with alternating layers of horse manure and dry grassy material.  The picture shows the first turn after 4 days.  That turn took about 45 minutes, so this is a very labour intensive method of composting considering that this needs to be done every 2 days for the next while.  If it works, it will be well worth it due to the minimal time frame involved…

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Hugel beds

Here’s the start of a raised bed technique called hugelkultur, which has been practiced on the farm long before our arrival due to the frequent flooding of the land and the accompanying need to elevate anything that one wishes to grow here. Logs are cut with a chainsaw and laid on top of some mulched materials (in this case port jackson tree leaves, and shredded branches) in a Mandala spiral layout. More shredded materials are then added on top of the logs, and everything is covered in a layer of topsoil. When good compost has been made, it will get added for seedlings to go into. Over time the logs will decompose, adding carbon to the nutrient mix, and other compost materials will be added as the sections of veg are harvested and the growing areas rotated. Many initial inputs are needed, but once established these beds will be the crucial, relatively low maintenance platform for many food crops.

Compost cooking itself…

Compost cooking itself...

…at more than the desired temps.

The Start of compost, the hot-box way

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