Category: Water

‘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.

Ye old coil trick (solar water heating phase 1)

An old trick used by homesteaders since piping was available. We managed to get 200 meters of piping into this set-up. It comes straight from the water mains at the moment; there’s no cold water inlet yet; it get’s very hot in direct sunlight – too hot to shower – so we use it before or after the heat of the day.

It’s by no means a perfect system, but rather a small start. A gravity water system is planned so we can get off the mains, and from the proposed elevated tank there will run 2 water feeds – one through the coil, the other straight to the shower head, so we can adjust temp.

A rocket stove backup will also be connected to the system so that when it’s too cloudy for the piping to heat up we can burn some off-cut wood to do the job.

Finally, the water in the coil does lose heat pretty quickly, so a future move will be to insulate it: a wooden frame on the perimeter of the coil, plastic underneath and perspex (or something similar) to seal it all in.

Bettie’s veggie patch

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Bettie is the brave soul who took us on for our first proper paid job, which was to start her veggie patch for her using permaculture methods as far as possible. We went for the client interview at the end of November, and got to work a few days into December.

Trees were trimmed, and the patch was cleared of rocks and accumulated waste material. We brought in a bakkie-load of manure, mixed it in to the original soil, and covered that with a nice layer of good compost. Some shade-cloth was put up on one side of the patch in order to minimise the wind that blows up from the valley behind the house.

A watering dripper-system was rigged up (the biggest cost), though it must be said here that the rate at which the 5000 litre water-tank empties, rendering the watering system obsolete, makes one wonder if the expense of the pump is justified. If it rained consistently, providing a frequently full tank, then the answer would be yes. But with SA’s dry climate, reliance on mains is inevitable, as has been the case in Bettie’s garden. If one were in the UK, however…

A variety of veggies are planted in the garden and all seem to be doing very well. I wondered if the garden would get enough light, considering that it is in between fairly high walls, but this has not been a problem. Wind was also a concern, but it too has not been a problem. The only real issue so far encountered has been furry white aphids, which are being dealt with by… you guessed it, picking them one at a time, squishing them, and wiping the leaves of the plants clean with water.

The first few pictures were taken in the first week of our work there – around about 6 December. The final 2 pictures were taken on January 22nd. This should provide some indication of how quickly things grow here at the height of the summer season.

A note on deviation from permaculture methods: it is preferable not to dig wherever and whenever possible. Ideally, one would simply add layers of organic material and compost to the ground and plant in that, thereby not disturbing the organisms in the original layer of soil. However, sometimes this is not possible if one wants a job done fairly quickly. In situations other than this one, we have gone with both methods – digging and no digging – and we have had good success with both methods. This is not to endorse digging, but rather to remind us that it has its place.

Besides, when we went for the ‘client interview’, the patch had already been dug and tilled, so we didn’t have much of a choice. Had it not been dug up, we would probably have layered cardboard over the ground in the desired shape of the beds, put aged-manure on top of the cardboard, and added a layer of good organic compost.

However, it seems that the area designated for the garden patch had scattered ‘debris’ from previous use for a vegetable patch; the presence of rocks and some litter would probably have forced a thorough digging-over anyway.

Seeing the results, one has to wonder just how much it matters – i.e. to dig or not to dig. By adding the layer of manure, and then the layer of compost, one gradually adds much more fertility to the soil over time than one takes away by digging. If one avoids digging, however, the micro-organisms present in the soil give plants an immediate advantage; these micro-organisms are damaged when the soil is dug up. So ideally, don’t dig; just add. Dig when necessary, but realise that the soil will initially be depleted of micro-organisms, which will return over time.

Finally, what is definitely missing from the final two pictures is a layer of mulch to seal in the moisture, preventing drying out from the direct sunlight. That’s the next step!

It’s been a while since the previous post, so here’s a ‘picture diary’ of the development of things during the last 3 and a half months up to the last time pictures were taken! Hopefully there will be opportunities to go into detail on the individual things shown in the pics – raised beds, chicken coop and run, cabin-building, potato tyres, water catchment, etc. – but for now, enjoy the pics 🙂Image

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No through road… anymore!

No through road... anymore!

The road to Lake Farm, down the road, well after the previous period of rain.

Trenches help!

Trenches help!

This trench diverts water away from the main living areas of the plot… somewhat! The plan is to eventually dig underground tanks to store some of this precious resource, because when it gets dry here it really gets dry; a year or so ago this part of South Africa was in drought (while now we are close to the wettest spell on record! Talk about extremes).

Wetlands – really wet wetlands!

Wetlands - really wet wetlands!

An idea of the ground we’re working and living on just after a downpour

A wet start…

Post by david.

We planned to hit the ground running last week but arrived to relentless rain – check out this youtube video that someone made of the flooding in Port Elizabeth (Kragga Kamma Road is the road that gets one to the land we’re on):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1spyh7QE2Y&feature=g-logo-xit

Luckily we have have people kindly providing accommodation, without which we would have been in a bit of a pickle.

An up side to the crazy rains (last year this time this part of the country was in serious drought) is that we have collected many large stumps that municipal teams cut from fallen trees on the road out of the city that leads to the land we’re on.  These should come in handy for something…