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

Using humanure in the garden

Mulching high density apples

"Guess what this is?" I said to Mark yesterday morning as he walked past.  My voice was full of the excitement of finding a new source of organic matter to mulch with, so he hit the nail on the head with his first try.  "Humanure," my long-suffering husband answered, a distinct lack of enthusiasm coloring his voice.

Cleaning out the composting toilet

We closed off the first bin of our composting toilet last November, and I wrote that I planned to wait a year...or maybe two...before breaking into the stash.  However, my standards always start slipping when I clean out the deep bedding in the chicken coops and still need more high-carbon materials to mulch the perennials.  I figured, as long as no chunks of poo were visible in last year's humanure bin, I could use it beneath plants that wouldn't be producing until this time next year.  Really, that gives the material almost 24 months between excretion and eating, right?

Mulching with humanure

HumanureWhen I opened up the composting toilet bin, I was surprised to see that the contents really just looked like slightly aged sawdust.  There were some chunks of toilet paper around the edges, where the contents were too dry for decomposition, but all other signs of human waste were gone.  I set aside most of the residual toilet paper as we went along and used the four wheelbarrows of organic matter that remained beneath our high-density apples, our hardy kiwis, and our black raspberries.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that despite a lack of odor in the composted humanure, it slightly grossed me out, especially early in my cleanout efforts.  As with slaughtering chickens, I immediately went and took a shower after finishing the cleanout, even though the biologist in me knows that nine-month-old humanure is probably less likely to make me sick than relatively fresh chicken manure and horse manure are.  I handle the latter with barely a sniff, but I definitely still have a hint of the fecophobia that made Mark lack his usual enthusiasm about my crazy experiments.

Berry patch

Mental issues aside, Mark and I have some thoughts for improving our composting-toilet before changing back over to the now-emptied bin this fall, but I'm pretty happy with version 1.0 as-is.  Human "waste" has become an asset to the farm rather than a hindrance --- just what I was looking for!

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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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You might consider sticking a thermometer into the hart of the bin when you've closed it.

Monitoring the temperature difference from the ambient temperature might allow you to check both whether it heats up enough to kill the pathogens and when the biological activity drops to background levels.

After the latter it should be fine to use, I'd say.

Comment by Roland_Smith Fri Jul 25 14:02:08 2014
Our local wastewater treatment plant recommends using humanure only on plants which are not eaten raw. The likelihood of foodborne illness is reduced then.
Comment by Rita Marsh Fri Jul 25 17:32:45 2014
Welcome to the inner circle of humanure composting!
Comment by Eric in Japan Fri Jul 25 19:58:11 2014
I guess you could say you are putting your money... I mean humanure where your mouth is with this new step! :)
Comment by Eric in Japan Fri Jul 25 20:00:10 2014
As long as your manure source is only you, you don't really have to worry about the food: any "germs" were your own in the first place. Others eating that food are potentially at risk if you two were carrying pathogens.
Comment by doc Sat Jul 26 18:56:25 2014
To those who have commented about pathogens on the food: These are fruit trees. The bugs aren't going to climb the trees. They aren't going to be sucked up by the roots. They aren't even there after being composted for that long. It's best to wash fruit, esp. if it falls on the ground, but this is going to protect you from pathogens from possibly recently deposited animal fecal matter more than the humanure that was used under the trees. Even if the feces wasn't from you and your family exclusively the risk here is more in any handling of the fecal matter before it's fully composted, which should of course be avoided. The "bucket method" is really where contact with pathogens is a higher risk factor and higher still if people from outside the family are making deposits, but it is still manageable. Go ahead, eat the fruit raw. It'll taste great since taste arises from fertility. Let's learn to be less squeamish.
Comment by Chrys Ostrander Sat Jul 26 23:12:02 2014

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