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Pyramid Power for your Loveable Loo  RSS feed

 
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Since making our decision to move off-grid, I started researching all the myriad alternatives to flush toilets, and eventually settled on Joseph Jenkins’ Humanure system. This seemed the most relevant to us as our impoverished soil could be enriched with the composted humanure. My partner Linda was in charge of making the loveable loo, and stuck pretty much to the Jenkins plans. I was I charge of making the hacienda, and also stuck very close to the plans, as shown:
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My Humanure Hacienda
 
Jason Silberschneider
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As I take great pride in considering myself an extremely lazy person, I started to think about the total investment of energy into maintaining the Humanure Hacienda. Once this one was full, I would then need to make a second bin to take over while the first bin sat for the obligatory 2 years, which, of course, also entailed making a third bin.
THEN I had the physical task of shovelling out the first bin and carting the compost to wherever it was needed on the orchard, in order to begin using the first bin again. Thankfully it was before I started building the 2nd bin that I had my epiphany.
Instead of building the hacienda out of wood, I would build it out of hay bales, which would decompose along with the humanure! A square base, each side 3 bales in length, would be filled with humanure as normal until the square was filled. Another row of bales would then be placed on top, but half a bale towards the centre in the shape of a pyramid. This would create stability, as well as allow the pyramid to break down in the shape of a raised garden mound.
This is my first pyramid, which took the majority of the hacienda’s contents:
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Initial Pyramid showing angle of walls
 
Jason Silberschneider
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It turns out that each row has 2 bales fewer than the row below it. For example, a 3-bale-length square will have 10 bales at the base, then 8 bales on the next row, then 6 after that, then 4, then finally 2 to “cap” the pyramid. A total of 30 bales to make a shoulder-height raised garden mound.
My second pyramid was a little larger at 3½ bales, needing 12 bales for the base. This will make a slightly larger pyramid, and 6 bales high instead of 5, totalling 42 bales.
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Start of the newer, larger Pyramid
 
Jason Silberschneider
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The biggest surprise came when I steeled myself for the potentially horrifying task of shovelling the less-than-a-year-old contents of the first hacienda bin into the new pyramid. A warm November day in Australia, with the usual millions of flies waiting for me to break open that bin. To my (and the flies’) astonishment, there was absolutely no odour aside from a damp straw smell, and nothing in the pile that remotely resembled that-which-it-once-was. Not even toilet paper. The experience was no different to shovelling out a horse stable.
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Humanure after less than a year
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Close up of that-which-once-was
 
Jason Silberschneider
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I’ll post a picture of the new 42-bale pyramid when it finally fills up, as well as the first 30 bale pyramid when I disassemble the hacienda next to it.
 
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Straw bale bins certainly are suitable for some situations but I wonder if yours is one of them. Consider, every year you have to handle 30 + bales of straw in addition to what you would handle with a wooden structure. If your climate was cold or if you have a great use for semi rotted straw, because the wall straw will not be very rotted after a year, I think it would be a good choice. If you really want to save time and effort why not wire three pallets vertically, drive 2 to 4 stakes to keep them from spreading and have drop in boards at the front. Easy, cheap, the lazy mans dream bin.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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My property is almost flat, with just a slight incline in a pole-wise direction (not ideal, but you take what you can get sometimes), and consists almost entirely of gravel rather than soil. So I need texture and soil as a priority. Rather than build a hacienda AND a hugleculture for texture, I decided to kill 2 birds with the 1 stone and make the temporary hacienda into an eventual raised garden bed. And any excuse to add organic matter to the orchard is a good thing.

I would be lugging 30+ bales around anyway to mulch all the trees until their leaves can begin building soil. Also, I only look for semi-rotted bales to buy as they are cheaper and already beginning to decompose. A fresh, sturdy bale of hay could sit on my gravel for decades without breaking down, but the semi-rotted ones already have a fungal presence in them, which they will also introduce to the gravel.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Sounds like a good choice for you then.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Here are the pictures of the final, capped "size 10" pooramid (as inventor, I've decided that sizes are based on the number of bales in the bottom layer. Also that they are now officially called "pooramids"!) and the just-completed 4th layer of the size 12 pooramid.

It would appear that a Jenkins-style hacienda holds quite a bit more humanure than a Silberschneider-style pooramid due to the steep inwards slope, so therefore one full hacienda plus 2 subsequent loads of 6 buckets has almost finished off the second pooramid. I'm now deciding whether to do another size 12 for the third one, or experiment with the possibility of a size 14 mega-pooramid!

Going into the southern winter, I'm also going to cover completed pooramids with a light layer of dirt (gravel) taken from a pond/depression that I'll dig nearby, and broadcast massive amounts of legumes onto them to give some solid cover crop as the winter rains hopefully begin to turn the hay into humus.
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Final, capped size 10 pooramid
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Almost completed size 12 pooramid
 
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Please do updates as you have something. We also don't have "dirt" on our land so anything we can add will be good!
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Don't worry about that, updates will definitely be forthcoming as they occur. At the moment, we're going through the middle of southern summer, so most outdoor activities have been curtailed aside from emptying buckets into the pooramid.

The next step will be after the Equinox when I cover the pooramids with earth and every legume seed I can order from the hardware store. And, of course, photos will be uploaded.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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With the second pooramid capped off and a new pooramid staked out, I've decided to take things to the next level by placing logs in the base, inoculating it with shiitake mushroom spores, and creating a kind of unholy pooramid-hugelculture hybrid, the poogelmid!
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First we add our layer of scrap paper and cardboard
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Then we add some jarrah scraps for the mushroom substrate
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Some nice shiitake inoculant from the hardware store
 
Jason Silberschneider
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A close up of the mushroom spores on the jarrah logs. Hopefully this "quick and dirty" method will work almost as well as the laborious method of drilling, inserting, and plugging that they want you to use.
poogelmid_innoculant_close_view.JPG
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Closeup of the shiitake spores on the jarrah logs
poogelmid_humanure_layer_with_straw.JPG
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Finally the humanure itself, with a layer of straw on top
 
Jason Silberschneider
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The first completed pooramid has now been covered with a light layer of earth, and liberal amounts of lupin seeds have been broadcast on top to take advantage of some early rains from a failed cyclone. These have already begun to sprout, and will hopefully begin the process of breaking down the hay into humus over the winter.

Once the lupins gain some size and mass, I'll begin inter-planting various herbs and vegetables.
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Here is the completed pooramid with a covering of earth and lupin seeds
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A closeup of the lupin seeds on one of the pooramid steps
 
Jason Silberschneider
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We're almost at the end of the Antipodean autumn (fall), and about to enter winter in a few weeks. The rains have grudgingly donated a few drops to my projects. Here are 2 photos of the lupin progress, as well as some berries that I've planted into the side to take advantage of the goodness inside.
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Lupins slowly developing despite the lack of rains
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Boysenberry looking very pleased with its new home
 
Jason Silberschneider
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One year-ish update - mistakes were made knowledge was gained

So the pyramid shape of the poogelmid meant that I was standing on each previous hay bale in order to pour the buckets into the next layer. Suffice to say that damp, already decomposing haybales were not going to take that sort of treatment and began getting squashed flat. This has necessitated the "poogelbridge" in figure 1. The bridge is placed across the middle of the poogelmid, and buckets are poured to the sides. 1 load in each corner of the haybales, making 4 loads per layer, at 3 weeks per load = 12 weeks of use from the bridge before it has to be moved. The height of the bridge means that only 1 layer can be done, which brings me to the second mistake learning point:

As the poogelmid narrowed towards the top, the ratio of dry hay to moist goodness increased exponentially. As a result, the haybales at the top had nothing to break them down. Since then, I've covered the top bales with dirt dug around the base of the poogelmid where I have been planting vegetables in mushroom compost. My solution to the haybale problem is to only go as high as 2 layers with the bales. From there the poogelmid simply becomes a compost pile for me to throw branches, dead vegetation, surplus dirt etc on top

This is shown in figure 2 where you can clearly see the 2 base layers of bales, then branches, dirt and detritus on top. Also visible are the fruit tree seedlings (pistachio and almond, with an already established acacia between them) and vegetable seeds beginning to sprout at the base of the poogelmid.

Now for some good news! Figure 3 shows the extent to which my giant size 12 poogelmid has broken down over the course of a year. The top photo was only 2/3 completed, and went quite a bit higher in the end. Now it is just a small mound on the ground, covered in legumes and other plants from my seedmix which I would idly toss on the poogelmid. Completely around the base I have dug out a trench for mushroom compost and vegetables, the dirt also being thrown on the poogelmid. All around the base with the vegetables are albizia support trees as well as almonds, apples, and avocados. These should hopefully not need any watering over summer as they drink from the poogelmid.

Another big change I've serendipitously had to make is with my humanure sawdust. My sawdust supplier started to become very erratic in supplies on hand, and also began raising the price of a bag of sawdust. To the extent that the sawdust was now comparable in price to a load of mushroom compost! Well, it didn't take much for me to work out that if sawdust was the same price as mushroom compost, I'd much rather use the mushroom compost thank you very much. Plus I was beginning to see hints of blue in the sawdust, which is the unmistakable colour of termite-treated wood. So that was it. I now use mushroom compost in my humanure. It also gives a lovely "foresty" smell to the bathroom.

I know what some might be thinking: The main reason you went from the humanure hacienda to the poogelmid was to avoid the manual effort of moving the decomposed humanure. Now you're building a massive wooden bridge across your poogelmid!!! To which I respond: "Good point".

My knowledge of permaculture and soil life has increased in leaps and bounds in the short time I've been exposed to permaculture. My understanding is that from the very start of my putting humanure in the poogelmid, soil microbes and fungus are beginning to colonise and build wonderful cities in the poogelmid. By the time it is complete, an amazing abundance of soil life is at play there. To then break it all up and shovel it into a wheelbarrow and cart it to all ends of the garden would destroy all those interconnected systems. So I believe that the effort of building a huge wooden bridge across the poogelmid is more than justified by the benefits I'll gain from leaving that microbial metropolis in one place. Especially when I then bring the trees and vegetables to the pile, and plant them around it.

Time - and another yearly update - will tell if I'm on the right track.
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Figure 1 - Poogelbridge
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Figure 2 - Two bales high, then a compost pile
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Poogelmid breakdown comparison
 
pollinator
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Oh, definitely on the right track, Jason. Your adventure is delightfully told (a book in your future?). Awaiting further developments, and your priceless attitude ;) And who'd have thought that I also (up in the rainy, chilly PNW of the US) have an albizia .. if we're both talking about the same tree of heaven :)
 
Jason Silberschneider
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You most likely have this one, albizia julibrissin

which is found fairly worldwide, whereas I have Paraserianthes lophantha

which is native to my region. The two are very much identical, with mine having green flowers rather than the usual pink. I guess we call it albizia out of laziness because they look so similar. Paraserianthes just doesn't roll off the tongue as well...
 
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Well Jason not many people could look out and say "I shat that"...wicked.LOL

 
nancy sutton
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Your absolutely right about the albizias.... but I'll never look at mine again without thinking about it's doppelganger in Australia ;)
 
Glenn Darman
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Hope ya didn't take offence with what I said above I really am a lovable character and just couldn't stop the comical side.

I know some wont plant veggies in humanure but I've also seen articles that state after awhile it's alright.What's the general consensus ? it looks great to me and even if I'd have to let this break down before I plant veggie's in it then it wouldn't be a problem.All I could think of from seeing those pictures was WOW.I do realize it's for the fruit trees but there are edible greens in there as well so was just curious.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Hi Glenn.

I have pumpkins growing over and in the poogelmids. I also have vegie gardens around the base of the poogelmids providing food for us as well as biomass for fruit trees as this area slowly successes into food forest.

From all I know about biology, I simply cannot imagine how a "poo" molecule can be taken up through a capsicum's roots, through its stem, and into the fruit, and still be a "poo" molecule. Nature just doesn't work like that.

Also, I have a bit of problem with the concept that one - and only one - species on the planet seems to have poo that is considered toxic, while the rest seem to be perfectly acceptable as "manure" for gardens. Granted, a drug-addict who has hepatitis A thru Z and eats big macs all day might be somebody whose poo I would avoid going anywhere near. But my spouse and I live very healthy. Mainly vegetable-based diet, with a sensible mix of meats and occasional glucose-rich treats.

Finally, there is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. And I won't either. Suffice to say, there exists a great deal of "video evidence" in the world, mainly from Germany and Japan, that proves in my mind that prolonged and intimate contact with human faeces has no harmful effects. And we'll leave it at that...
 
pollinator
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That's one big pile of...shiitakes.
 
pollinator
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I love it. I hope things are going well for you, Jason.

My first thought when you mentioned the structural issues was perhaps reinforcement of the bottom layer with pallets wired together, or maybe a double-thickness of bottom layers, where the straw/poo ratio is lower. I think it conceivable that you could also insert a structure of sorts made of a pile of rotted wood, like a hugelbeet.

The other thing you could do, structurally, to contain the bottom is something like a tudor fence, or a brush fence. The first is essentially pounding poles into the ground, and then weaving green saplings between them, alternately. The second is pounding paired poles in rows forming a perimeter, and then filling the space between the poles with a brush pile. I like the first, personally, but both could be used to define the space better.

I love the addition of mushroom spore. Did you get any fruiting bodies?

I was also wondering if there was any attempt to bring in worms or black soldier fly larvae to assist in the breakdown of the poo. You could try a BSFL pooglemid for chickens. I bet they'd run circles around it trying to find all the larvae. You'd have to do a double-deep layer of bales for every layer.

I think that the mandatory two-year wait period doesn't take into account how much faster poo will break down in living soil. I also think that it might be safer to intentionally cycle the humanure through as many species in succession as possible.

For example, the BSFLs eat some parts of your poo, crawl out of the pile and are eaten by chickens, who provide you with eggs and a pot of soup when they go.

Red worms succeed the BSFLs eventually, and break what is left down to humus and worm castings, but also, in their travels out of the pile, take those nutrients elsewhere, and the hyphae in the soil will also transport nutrients and minerals to where they're needed within their network.

In each of these cases, at least two species have processed the nutrients before they become food for people again. Contamination with unprocessed amendment, I think, is a much greater risk as a vector for disease than vague ideas about pathogens being able to piggyback on nutrients throughout the digestive cycles of multiple species.

For that reason, though, I wouldn't grow root vegetables for human consumption in a pooglemid, nor would I really want to disrupt the surface structure much. I like your idea of growing squash over them, as they are heavy feeders, and can provide food for animals and people alike.

As to the supreme toxicity of human poo, I think the scat of the domestic cat is far worse, as with most carnivores. We recently chose a Flemish Giant rabbit as a pet instead because the poo is garden-friendly.

Looking forward to the next update. Good luck!

-CK
 
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I'm wondering if it might be possible to enhance your lazyness and eliminate the hacienda and the process of transferring the night soil to the pooramids?

Instead, just start out by just building the first layer of the pooramid filling it directly.  When that get's full add the second layer and so forth, then just let the whole thing sit 3 years or so composting.  Granted the process would go faster if the pile was rotated and aerated, but if your not in any hurry, just let it takes it's time.
 
Chris Kott
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Like a pooramid with a hole and a toilet seat on top? That's hilarious!

So when two stacked bale layers are full, you build out the back of the pooramid, add a layer of bales, and put the seat on top of the slightly higher throne. And so on, and so forth.

-CK
 
Peter VanDerWal
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Chris Kott wrote:Like a pooramid with a hole and a toilet seat on top? That's hilarious!

So when two stacked bale layers are full, you build out the back of the pooramid, add a layer of bales, and put the seat on top of the slightly higher throne. And so on, and so forth.

-CK



I agree that is a funny image. 

However, as I understand it, the toilet seat normal sits on top of the 'loveable loo', the contents of which are then periodically transferred by bucket to the 'hacienda' where they mellow out for a while.
 
Chris Kott
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Oh. I guess I misunderstood what you meant by eliminating the hacienda and the night soil transfer process. That's what my mind made of it.

And it's poetry, of sorts. A step pyramid to a golden throne.

I think I love the larger general idea of using bales of hay as a structure for temporary structures of this specific nature. I would, for instance, build a straw bale raised outhouse in a depression in the land, a wet spot where willow would grow easily, and I would grow my permanent willow structure around the temporary but perennially useful straw bale by staking 6 foot lengths of willow to half their length, or three, if that's all I can get, to stake the bales in place, and they'd likely sprout from there.

I would love to see recent pics from Jason's projects.

-CK
 
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Following!

What a neat way to do this!  I have been looking to expand upon my humanure skills, and this thread has some great ideas.

You sir, are truly an af-feces-cianado of poo.

Thanks for your service to humanity.

Happy trails,

Keith
 
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It bottles the mind that this thread began years ago, with so few responses.

Jason, you are THE MAN. Perfection or not, this is a juicy quest. I also follow Jenkins as a Fecal Father Figure, the guys knows his shi(r)t!

Youve set my mind ablaze with ideas.... currently using the pallet structure. It works just fine, but as you say.... takes time and effort. If something takes time and effort, Id like 'shi(r)t-eating' to be off the list.

Now, mounting a toilet seat onto a bridge above a poogelmid.... The only way to make that more glorious would be with a golden toilet seat.

Note: Poogelmidden?
 
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