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Fresh humanure in hugelbed? Bad idea?

 
Lukas Eriksson
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Location: South West Sweden
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I´m making a hugelbed at my parents summer house and they have an outdoor toilet which is now full of poop. So I thought is it possible to put the fresh humanure in the bottom of the hugelbed so it can decompose there or will it be problems with pathogens and stuff like that? Cause I thought it would warm up the bed earlier in the season and also give nitrogen for the decomposing wood, but it might be a bad idea so I would like to hear your thoughts.
 
Adam Klaus
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Yes it is a bad idea. FRESH POOP IS A BAD IDEA. yes. bad. idea.
 
Eric Thompson
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Agree that it's a bad idea.

Alternative: If the toilet is checmical free, consider composting it off away from the foodstuffs. Check the humanure book to make sure you're on track..
 
Tristan Vitali
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The problem here is the "fresh" part.

If you're **NOT** planting annuals into the hugel this year, or at least no annuals you plan to consume, I don't see anything wrong with fresh humanure down in the bottom of it. I know that in my case I plan to put in multiple hugles solely for perennial berry production, blackberries and blueberries mostly as I need to get them up out of the muck, and will likely be growing a lot of green manure crops in the hugles as the berries get established - something like that would probably be fine since everything should be composted well by the time berry production is up.

Just don't go planting ANYTHING meant for the table year 1, and maybe not even in year 2 if there's a lot of it.

Remember, too, that you don't want to contaminate the ground water if there's a well anywhere in the area (use good judgement but a good rule of thumb would be 200-300ft, more if on a slope). And it might be smart to make sure there's no one downwind .....

Are you familiar with black soldier flies? A two step composting using them followed with red worms might be a better option
 
Alder Burns
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Humanure is a potent and potentially dangerous substance. It needs to be handled with respect and knowledge, but that doesn't mean we need to be afraid of it. Gasoline is a pretty dangerous substance too, yet most of us use it all the time and we know how to handle it with due respect. Most of us live in fecophobic cultures.
I use humanure both fresh and composted around quite a few kinds of food plants judiciously. The main thing to remember is that pathogens, worms, etc, do not enter or move through the vascular system of a plant. That is, if a plant's roots are in humanure (or any other manure for that matter), they won't "suck up" germs, worm eggs, etc. and move them into your tomatoes! (This is NOT true of many chemical contaminants, which can and do readily move in just this way!). Using humanure on food crops can contaminate them in a couple of ways....soil and splash of rain from soil directly onto low growing plants, and onto root crops. So the burial of such manure deep in the soil is one of the safest ways to use it provided the area isn't used to grow root crops for raw consumption and that the area isn't going to be tilled or turned back up toward the surface for at least a couple of years. I use humanure when I plant new trees and other permanent plants frequently. I have used it in planting holes under upright vegetables, provided it's kept six inches deep or so and I'm not eating those vegetables raw, nor the ones to be planted there next year. I've placed it directly under a raised bed growing white potatoes.....this would seem to contradict my own guideline about root crops, but I'm not eating the potatoes raw.
Cooking the product gives a final measure of safety, and is one reason why "salads" as we know them are uncommon in the Third World.
Speaking of the Third World brings up another point....even in those areas where humanure is not handled through modern sewage systems or deep pit latrines, it's use on food crops in whatever way is in fact an uncommon means of disease transmission. The big three modes of such transmission are 1. contaminated water 2. contaminated hands and feet and 3. houseflies, which land and feed on fresh manures and then come and do the same directly on your food. These are the things to really beware of, and they apply to animal manures nearly as much as to humanure.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Lukas Eriksson wrote: they have an outdoor toilet which is now full of poop. So I thought is it possible to put the fresh humanure


Lukas, So is this an outhouse you are talking about?
How long has it been in use?
Is the poop really "fresh"or is just the top foot or so "fresh" ?

I am asking because it may be that the stuff that is six feet down may be composted already?

So for those who have already answered ...If it is old poop is it OK to use?

By the way welcome to permies!!
 
Adam Klaus
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Miles Flansburg wrote:[
So for those who have already answered ...If it is old poop is it OK to use?


If it was me, I would want my humanure to be thoroughly composted aerobically. Age is not important to me, aerobic decomposition is. I would be concerned, from seeing raw manures buried deeply, that the manure would not have an opportunity to undergo aerobic decomposition, and would go anaerobic underground. I think this is not biologically healthy. Just my 2cents.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Thanks Adam, as always I look forward to hearing from you..makes sense to me.
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Fecophobia... brilliant. Humans are ideological extremists. It seems to me that we have a hard time accepting anything as a good idea unless we deliberately go insanely overboard on it. Is it because, perhaps, that a segment of the population is incapable or unwilling to engage their minds to understand inherent dangers and simply ban things and activities? It seems to me that the dumping of "sewage," rainwater, and anything, including the salt that most temperate climes use here in the West for traction in the winter into our fresh water and then out to the ocean, causing untold environmental damage, is an example of such simplistic, lazy reasoning.

Miles has summed up the real concerns from a traditional standpoint, and I agree with him. Insofar as chemical contamination is concerned, the residues of medications and such, I would actually be more concerned with urine than feces.

The best idea I have come up with in terms of keeping food healthy and still using human fertilizer, but in the safest way possible, is to grow non-edibles in it. Not just ornamentals (in a system where every plant has multiple functions, I find this term a non sequitur), but sheltercrops and windbreaks, firewood, timber, and fibre crops for clothing and paper.

Originally, I advocated periodic incineration of fecal matter. This might still be the best solution in some situations, where it is critical to neutralise pathogens before any further use, as well as chemicals. I would design an outhouse with removeable fecal catchment in the form of a fireproof barrel. They would be prepped with large chips, up to fist-sized chunks, of wood, covering the bottom, probably a layer of leaves or paper to catch physical contributions, and longer pieces standing upright against the sides to line them. Full barrels would be switched out for emptied ones, and the full ones would be loaded into a purpose-built biochar retort.

Testing would be required to find out how hot a retort would have to get to break down chemical contaminants, but I am positive this would kill every pathogen, and eventually do the trick for the chemicals too. The resultant biochar would be a great addition damn near anywhere, as, if I understand the theory, the tiny vacancies left by the incinerated pathogens, as well as those left by chemical molecules, would act as a filter to trap those specific sized and shaped pathogens and particles. Again, more testing is needed to determine how true and how effective this filtration might be, but it might be that by using humanure biochar at the bottom of a hugelbeet, it might be possible to use fecal charcoal to sequester from the groundwater contamination from untreated, or less aggressively treated, fecal matter.

So pathogens, either way, would be no particular issue, and if used to grow fuel crops, would eventually be incinerated anyways.

-CK
 
Adam Klaus
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Joseph Jenkins' Humanure Handbook still gets the gold medal for safe and holistic management of humanure, IMHO.
I aerobically composed humanure with sawdust for years with excellent results, following his recommendations.

Chris Kott wrote:
Originally, I advocated periodic incineration of fecal matter....
-CK


Seems like this would require quite a lot of heat, given the moisture in feces. How would you derive the huge number of BTUs for the Poo-B-Q?

 
Chris Kott
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Yes it would, especially if it is the only reason for the fire.

There are a number of things that could be done to prepare the barrels for incineration. The layering and use of large wood chunks would provide an aerobic environment and lots of carbon. If the barrels can be ventilated through the outhouse stack, not only are you eliminating stink, the excreta will dry out.

Also, you could use recycled or repurposed materials (an old window and casement, some black - painted metal tube, pipes, or drilled - out aluminum cans joined end-to-end, and ventilation tubing) to make a solar air heater, capable of heating an insulated outhouse and turning the barrel into either a bioreactor or a poop dessicator, depending on moisture levels.

So to give this idea context, it occurred to me while reading up on biochar, its production and uses, when I first became aware of the issue of residual chemical contamination of human fecal matter due to medication and such. I was considering dewatered sewage in urban situations, and in a temperate one, where temperatures can drop below -20 C, and with wind chill regularly below -30 C.

Scaling this down to the homestead level is possible, I think, but would definitely require an efficient burn, like a rocket stove, and at least one secondary stage use of the heat.

As with most of permaculture, not all tools are suited for all uses or situations. The incinerator is a good one, I think, wherever you have a primary activity that generates most or all of the required heat. My sister - in - law is a glass artist, so if, for example, I was to design a permaculture artists' retreat with a glass studio, including furnace (which melts glass at 2100 C, so plenty hot enough), I think that an incinerator would be a great example of function - stacking.

Feel free to swap blacksmiths' forge or maybe a central cogeneration plant (probably thermal, burning wood or pelletized biomass to make steam for heating and power generation for a community or farm) for the glass works. Or maybe you are located somewhere that geothermal heat or natural gas are directly available.

I am sure there are situations where it would be too costly, or too involved. I would also love to see what being run through a methane digester does to both pathogens and chemical contaminants. If you could get cooking and heating (or glass furnace) fuel out of it first, and then maybe run it through black soldier fly larvae and red worms, well, I think I would only incinerate if the chemical contaminants persisted. Even so, at that point, the former feces could be used to grow fuel crops that uptake said chemicals, and provided they be burned in a RMH or equally high temperature and efficiency stove, the chemicals would be incinerated then.

So if you have no need of fire wood, no use for biochar, and no concern for persistent chemical contamination (either because contributions are source - controlled and nobody's on any medication, or because it is not seen as a concern), this might not fit as a solution.

-CK
 
Margie Nieuwkerk
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I remembered reading an article several years ago, about someone who'd met a guy from Asia, where they burned the animal manure and THEN spread the ashes on the crop fields for fertilizer. They used the manure as fuel. So the USA guy took his horse manure and dried it, burned it in winter to keep his workshop warm, (it worked good and didn't smell bad at all) and then he did an experiment on several similar sized plots to see how this method of fertilizer compared, and the results were really really good. I'm figuring this could also be used on the hugel beds?

I just did a search and found the article, it is useful and entertaining. I am also wondering if this could be a use for our own poops. And what about dog poops? I get tons of those that I wish I could recycle!

Here is the link: http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/hooker87.html
 
Alder Burns
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The problem in my mind with these ideas involving fire or high heat is that most of the nitrogen will be lost from the manure. This fixed nitrogen is a valuable plant nutrient, in fact often the limiting nutrient in any ecosystem managed for yield. Ideally, our systems should try to capture any and all nutrients, and carbon too, and encourage them to cycle around many more times.
 
Chris Kott
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I agree, in that I would much prefer to use the nitrogen. If the concern over persistent chemicals in the feces is strong enough, though, there are many other permacultural ways to ensure nitrogen fixation. Not to mention ones that don't require top - dressing with humanure.

-CK
 
Lukas Eriksson
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Location: South West Sweden
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Lukas, So is this an outhouse you are talking about?
How long has it been in use?
Is the poop really "fresh"or is just the top foot or so "fresh" ?


Yes it is an outhouse and was quite a long time since it was last emptied, so I think it is only the top poop that is fresh. I decided to make the bed without any humanure because we are going to grow vegetables in the bed so I want to be on the safe side, but I will make small flower hugelbeds so I can use the humanure there instead.

Thanks for all the inputs! In Sweden there is hardly any good information about hugelkultur and permaculture related topics so permies is a blessing for me. When I am finished with my hugelbed I will blog about it so I can spread the knowledge about hugelkultur to my swedish gardening comrades because there is not a shortage of trees in this country to say the least especially after all the storms we have had the last years. Thanks again!
 
David Goodman
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I'd totally do it.

I do it in my yard all the time. As Alder pointed out "pathogens, worms, etc, do not enter or move through the vascular system of a plant."

My "melon pit" experiment (it's in the forums) used raw humanure (though I don't always post those kinds of details on my main site).

If you have a problem with flooding, you might reconsider. If you have friends with cholera, ditto. But otherwise, it's just not all that dangerous. I've been handling it for years without any problems. Bury it in the soil and the local microecology will happily digest it for you and dispose of the pathogens in the process.
 
Sean Abercrombie
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Check out paul stamets and the research he has done into mico-remediation, especially with oyster mushrooms and their ability to consume huge amounts of bacteria/virus. Seems like the perfect way to turn our own waste into something can sustain beneficial life.
 
Ryan Anderson
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My city offers a composted biosolid from the wastewater treatment plant for $10/yd. I'm going to be doing a 20'x20' keyhole hugel bed. Would this be something that would be good to mix in?

From the website: http://www.gillettewy.gov/index.aspx?page=162
We also reclaim the solids which are composted and sold to the public as the Class A biosolids product known as Stonepile Soil Amendments.

The Stonepile Soil Amendments are available for purchase $10 per cubic yard for Biosolids, and $15 per cubic yard for Yard Waste compost.

 
David Goodman
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@Ryan

I hate to say this but...

No! Run!!!

In theory, composting "biosolids" is a good idea... in reality, however, they're often heavily contaminated with toxins such as heavy metals. Think about how many chemicals wash into the sewer system through drains, grates, toilets, etc. Everything from birth control hormones to Clorox to industrial waste.

You'd be better off creating a humanure system since you know what's entering that nutrient loop.
 
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