The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Humanure experiment

Biochar humanure

Last week, I started dipping into another source of garden fertility --- humanure. During our first application, we applied waste that had been composting for eight months, and I felt it could have been a bit more decomposed. So this time around, we waited a full fifteen months and the humanure was rich and beautiful. In fact, if I hadn't known where it started, I would have been tempted to plunge my fingers into the compost and smell it like any other rich earth.

The other change was that I tossed the year's biochar down the hole last fall too. The idea there is to more perfectly recreate terra preta, which merged human waste, charcoal, and other types of debris. It's hard to tell which part of the terra-preta process produces the near-magical results, but it certainly can't hurt to inoculate my biochar with humanure.

Humanure experiment

This year, I also decided to run a side-by-side experiment to see how the humanure compares to chicken-manure bedding from the broiler coop. To that end, I laid down newspaper and cardboard as a kill layer around three rows of front berries, then sprinkled half of each row with humanure and half with chicken manure. I'll be curious to see which berries taste sweeter come June.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I know that humanure, euphemistically called "night soil" in other countries, especially China, is frequently used in places like China and Japan, but I'm wondering about the pathogens that are in it. Is there any way for you to test the soil to see if all the pathogens have been destroyed? Would you have to send it out to a separate lab for testing?

Also, are you planning on using this on crops that you eat or just on crops that the animals have access to?

As an aside: if you haven't seen The Martian, get the book. Mark Watney raised potatoes in his poop, only his was dessicated. I'm wondering what type of effect dessication has on any pathogens.

Comment by NaYan Thu Nov 12 09:48:04 2015

Two questions: 1) What do you compost your humanure with? 2) Re using newspaper for kill mulch, etc.--don't you worry about what's in the ink? Do you use only black & white pages? Do you know which of our local papers use only soy-based ink, and if it's color, isn't it toxic anyway? I've used it myself, but always wondered about this. Same goes for carboard, though if you place it with the plain side down I guess maybe it doesn't leach through.

Comment by Jennifer Quinn Thu Nov 12 14:42:02 2015

Nayan --- Here are a couple of posts about the safety of humanure use. First, cool composting (worst case scenario.) Then hot composting (best case scenario.) Since we're only using our own fecal matter and know we don't have any of the really ornery diseases, I feel quite safe using our humanure at the base of woody edibles in which the eventual fruit will never touch the ground.

Also, we really enjoyed The Martian. :-)

Jennifer --- We compost our humanure with sawdust. Here's my take on mulching with paper.

Comment by anna Thu Nov 12 16:32:07 2015

Anna- your take on exposing yourself to "your own" pathogens is quite right. But doesn't adding biochar to the mix alkalinize the chemistry and kill bacteria- both good and bad?

re: chemicals in our food production--I no longer argue that they don't cause problems, but that the amount of problem they cause is too small to measure. You're more likely to die in a car accident than from chemical- induced disease.

Comment by doc Sat Nov 14 07:32:06 2015

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