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Designing our humanure composting system

Reusing wood

What do you do when your husband is off the farm and you have an extremely handy helper at your beck and call?  Ask him to build you a composting toilet, of course.

Compostint toilet baseThe first decision was location.  We've shifted our outhouse around the yard several times since we moved here, so we know which areas are good, bad, and terrible for humanure.  In case you're curious, terrible is the forest garden where the groundwater is so high your feces float right back out of the hole during heavy rains....

The best location is perhaps two hundred feet from the trailer, just behind the worm bins.  Our original outhouse hole went there, and it never caused any problems at all.  Drainage was great, the distance was far enough from our core area that we didn't notice smells, and the view was top notch.  Mark and I decided to repeat that location when the time came to build our composting toilet. 

(See, now you can tell I was using a bit of poetic license when I made it sound like I snuck the composting toilet in while Mark was away.  I traded Mark an as-yet-undecided later project/favor for allowing me to barrel ahead with my humanure project, so we're on the same page.  But isn't it more fun to pretend I'm naughty?)

Building humanure hacienda

Since the flood waters had only come down to knee height, Bradley had to work with what we had on hand.  Luckily, there were lots of heavy oak boards leftover from the greenhouse tables, and I figured they'd stand up to rot pretty well.  We also had some treated four by fours, which I let Bradley use once he explained that he could plan it so that they wouldn't be touching my future compost at all.

Bradley and I teamed up to design the new structure, the base of which is similar to Jenkins' Humanure Hacienda.  The compartments in our composting toilet are only three feet by three feet instead of four feet by four feet since that's how long my boards were, but we're a family of two instead of a family of four, so the smaller size should be about right.  The other main change we made was to have all three of the open sides facing downhill, since that side will be much easier to access with the golf cart or wheelbarrow when hauling in sawdust and hauling out compost.

Composting toilet

This is the nearly completed lower story.  We'll use the bathroom over one side for a year, then switch to using the opposite side while the first round mellows.  The central compartment will be a storage spot for sawdust (which we think we've found a source for), and will also soak up any effluent trying to move between the two composting bins.  Liquids that want to seep out the back will get soaked up by a stack of strawbales, which will be used as a wall to enclose the downhill side of the compost bin currently in use.

Outhouse hole

The next step will be adding an outhouse on top, since we don't want to carry poop around in five gallon buckets (and since we really enjoy the view from an outhouse).  I had one piece of scrap plywood, and Bradley framed it up for the floor on the first bin, but we'll have to find some more materials before we do the rest.  And there's a roof yet to come today.  Stay tuned!

Our chicken waterer keeps chicken manure out of their drinking water.  Just like building a humanure composting system, right?


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my first thought: make the cover removable and switch it between bays.
Comment by kevin Thu Sep 20 12:31:52 2012
Kevin --- I considered something like that, but we get so much rain that I think it's a good idea to keep the whole structure dry so the sawdust doesn't wash away and the contents of the unused bin don't turn liquid and start to seep out. Jenkins mentions in the Humanure Handbook that your precipitation levels will determine whether it's best to leave the compost open to the rain or to roof it in, and I think we're on the wet side of that divide.
Comment by anna Thu Sep 20 15:04:46 2012

You could mount a toilet seat over the hole in the plywood plate. If you don't mind dangling your legs over the side, you could keep the height of the outhouse down.

Id you'd make the outhouse from a light wooden frame covered with waxed canvas, it would keep the wind out, and it would be light enough to move easily once you have to switch to the other container.

Comment by Roland_Smith Thu Sep 20 15:11:52 2012
Roland --- Stay tuned for tomorrow morning's post. We built part of the enclosure already!
Comment by anna Thu Sep 20 18:42:58 2012