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Composting toilet for subrural mini-homestead in coastal NC...vermicompost or Bokashi?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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I'm on the SE coast of NC in what I call "sub-rural" area on a small homestead (meaning there is no "back 40" to take humanure too for a year or two before spreading on the gardens). It's just my elderly mother and I and she has (surprise surprise) agreed to a composting toilet to replace our failing septic system. Odor is the biggest issue because she is very sensitive to smells. My concern is the best (and hopefully easiest) way to process the humanure before adding to the gardens.

So, which would be better (and perhaps better for the gardens as well?) : vermicomposting or Bokashi or thermophilic?

And, advise on how to set up a system in either method.
 
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Hi Tina, not sure you have posted enough info to get a response. Do you hope to use a flush toilet with a new outdoor system or are you looking to eliminate the flush and use a pail or bin indoor collection mode? You have gardens, are you interested in urine diversion to cut down on volume and do you have a source of cover material for systems that need them? Do you have a basement that could hold a barrel under a collection toilet? Lots of ways to do this but some idea of your situation and preferences for the physical aspect of the system would help narrow it down. Is budget a large consideration or is this more of a spiritual life choice thing.
 
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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It can be done urban.

Big thing to think about is persistent medications, if not taking them now chances are you or your mom will be prescribed them at some point if you are on grid with your medical. I think mushroom remediation will break down any hydrocarbons and store any heavy metals (so know if they are a problem before you eat the shrooms).

BUT, before you completely ditch the septic--is weak or failing? Would a gray water system for the shower and washer take enough load off the septic that it keep working? If that is true, I would do the gray water system ASAP. You will need it anyway.
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:Hi Tina, not sure you have posted enough info to get a response. Do you hope to use a flush toilet with a new outdoor system or are you looking to eliminate the flush and use a pail or bin indoor collection mode? You have gardens, are you interested in urine diversion to cut down on volume and do you have a source of cover material for systems that need them? Do you have a basement that could hold a barrel under a collection toilet? Lots of ways to do this but some idea of your situation and preferences for the physical aspect of the system would help narrow it down. Is budget a large consideration or is this more of a spiritual life choice thing.



Thanks for the questions to help me think through my plans and provide more info so ya'll can help me think this through. Answers:

I am looking to replace the flush toilet with a "loveable loo" type compost toilet.
I am interested in diverting at least some of the urine to use as a nitrogen source in the gardens.
Cover material: Seasonally, I have lots of leaf litter. I also have access to lots of shredded paper from work (does that work well for this purpose??) and I figure I can source sawdust from Home Depot or Lowes.
No, we don't have a basement. I'm figuring collecting in 5 gallon buckets and emptying those into a compost pile (if I go with thermophilic process), or a worm bin...or perhaps first the thermophilic and finished in a worm bin I raise rabbits and am considering processing their poop (or some of it) in a worm bin so perhaps both manures can go in the same worm bin? I'm not freaked out by handling pails of poop. I just need to be sure there is no odor and that I process correctly so that it is usable in the garden.

Edited to add: Oh, missed one -- money is an issue. We have a failing septic system along with a list of other repairs that MUST be done to keep our home liveable. So, we are looking for affordable ways to deal with reality. I'm surprised mother is open to a compost toilet but am thankful...and I know I have one shot at making this work or I lose her not only for this but for other alternative building options for our other repair needs.
 
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Tina Paxton wrote:
Cover material: Seasonally, I have lots of leaf litter. I also have access to lots of shredded paper from work (does that work well for this purpose??) and I figure I can source sawdust from Home Depot or Lowes.



This is raising a red flag for me already... in my experience shop bought sawdust (the kind used for animal bedding is shavings rather than dust) is not very absorbent. When we have been forced to use it we have used far more volume and it has taken longer to rot down then when we used proper fresh sawdust from a local sawmill. The sawmill give away cubic meter bags, one of which lasts us at least 6 months. Using hot composting (Humanure Handbook Style) everything is broken down to dark brown odorless humus in just a few weeks - far faster than the vegetable scraps and other things that end up on our compost. I have at various times processed 20 buckets at once following large camping events (50 people for a week) and never had smell issues other than while actually in the process of transferring from bucket to compost. 2 ft from the heap you can't smell any different than a normal heap.
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Michael Cox wrote:

Tina Paxton wrote:
Cover material: Seasonally, I have lots of leaf litter. I also have access to lots of shredded paper from work (does that work well for this purpose??) and I figure I can source sawdust from Home Depot or Lowes.



This is raising a red flag for me already... in my experience shop bought sawdust (the kind used for animal bedding is shavings rather than dust) is not very absorbent. When we have been forced to use it we have used far more volume and it has taken longer to rot down then when we used proper fresh sawdust from a local sawmill. The sawmill give away cubic meter bags, one of which lasts us at least 6 months. Using hot composting (Humanure Handbook Style) everything is broken down to dark brown odorless humus in just a few weeks - far faster than the vegetable scraps and other things that end up on our compost. I have at various times processed 20 buckets at once following large camping events (50 people for a week) and never had smell issues other than while actually in the process of transferring from bucket to compost. 2 ft from the heap you can't smell any different than a normal heap.



So, reading this and the Humanure Handbook, I'm understanding that the pressure treated wood--dust--from the big box is a) too dry and b) likely toxic. How about the shredded paper? also not good?

How about wood chips/mulch from the electric company tree trimming crew? I got two big loads and hopefully can get more as needed. Also, I have folks who give me their pine needles and I have woods behind the house (not my land) that I can get pine needles from. There are no local sawmills.

Also, do I need to have two piles so I can make one, let it set while building the next one and then spread the contents of the first? Can I make the "piles" in large trash cans? I'd thought about using strawbales around the pile but wondered if I should have two smaller "can piles" rather than one larger pile...
 
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Location: Southeastern Connecticut, USA
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Hello Tina, My property is a 1/4 acre and I compost in a 6 x 6 foot pile. I build them out of 1/4" hardware mesh. (because of skunks, raccoons, voles, etc I use the wire fencing underneath and on top also. They don't seem attracted by the humanure - but food brings them in)

For outside cover i use leaf, grass clippings, and a few bales of straw. I also soak household paper towels and white paper mail in a 5 gal bucket (unshredded - I'm lazy). For aesthetics I always cover the paper with straw or leaves.

For inside bucket cover I have been using peat moss. Haven't been able to source good sawdust yet. Also I screened last years compost after a 6 month wait and am using that now.

I wouldn't use the plastic barrels or separate the urine. The compost breaks down best in contact with the soil (using a biofilter for absorbtion). There is a lot of info on Joe Jenkins humanure forums and good videos too.
 
R Scott
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Yes, you need at least two piles. So the one can sit and age/mellow untouched. You may need a third if you fill the second before you are ready to empty the first.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Carpenter sawdust, except pressure treated is ok, chainsaw sawdust is ok, chips are too coarse unless you want to screen out the fines to use. Sawdust from a cabinet shop or carpenter might be a bit dry but you can leave them outside uncovered and they will pick up moisture. I am presently using waste from a planer moulding shop and I am pleasantly surprised that it is fine enough to use. I would not divert the urine and if your mother is an iffy convert I would try to get a few different potential cover materials on hand to give you a backup in case one isn't working as well as you hoped. There should be no odour, other than the normal "in use" odour to the system inside or out. As Joe says, if there is any odour you haven't covered enough, or with the right material. Try to get pails that are all the same height but if you build to the tallest pail you can slip pieces of plywood under the shorter to make them work. Start reading about other peoples compost bins since there are lots of varieties that work better for different situations and personalities. There are also more elaborate loo's and cover material bins that make the system more palatable to people who don't like the " home made " look.
 
Tina Paxton
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That is a good idea to have different cover materials to use so I can try different one's to determine the best choice. Mom wants me to paint our "loo" with something artsy/pretty. Anything to make her happy.

Okay, so at least 2 piles. Check.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Room for two piles, separated by a few feet at least to avoid contaminating the old with the new. Make the compost as small a cross section as you want but for two people I would try a 3 ft X 3 ft square to start. Plan on it getting to 3 to 4 feet height by the end of a year of additions. This size is easy to start with and there are no consequences to being wrong. If it fills up before the year is done make the next one large enough to accommodate your usage based on your experience. The only reason I am suggesting a pile large enough to accommodate a years worth of material is that it needs to mature for approximately one year after its last addition. If you wanted access to new compost twice a year, 6 months apart, you should stop the first pile after 6 months and all subsequent piles at 6 month intervals but at the most you will need to have room for 3 piles instead of 2. You can read about all sorts of problems and issues at the humanure forum. Go to http://humanurehandbook.com/ for info about Joe's book and there is a link to the International compost sanitation forum message board in the links. There are also plans for the lovable loo there, I would suggest that you splurge and make the sides almost touch the floor for a better look for your mother. Also make sure you look at the pictures sent in of peoples loos. Some of them are exquisite.
 
Tina Paxton
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Good info! The original location I had picked out for the pile won’t accommodate two piles but I have figured out another location that will—with space between—so that is even better. Thanks for the link to the humanure forum, I will definitely check that out. I look forward to seeing some really pretty Loveable Loos to show Mother…the prettier the better!  (I must be adopted or something…I’m so utilitarian about stuff and she is so about the aesthetics…hehehehe. That is her rule for everything I do on this property—it HAS to look PRETTY.)
 
Tina Paxton
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R Scott wrote:

It can be done urban.

Big thing to think about is persistent medications, if not taking them now chances are you or your mom will be prescribed them at some point if you are on grid with your medical. I think mushroom remediation will break down any hydrocarbons and store any heavy metals (so know if they are a problem before you eat the shrooms).

BUT, before you completely ditch the septic--is weak or failing? Would a gray water system for the shower and washer take enough load off the septic that it keep working? If that is true, I would do the gray water system ASAP. You will need it anyway.



I've read that medications are largely broken down in the compost process. I am also about to begin inoculation of wood chips with King scropharia mushrooms partly for soil remediation around the animal areas so remediation of humanure can be done as well. Mother was on a LOT of meds but it was recently discovered she was being over medicated (surprise surprise) and she is down to just a few. I am only on one for hypothyroidism. It is a consideration for everyone who takes Rx for sure.

It is failing--not at crisis stage but there isn't much time to play around. It is a very old hand made system and we are very near the end of it's usefulness. Kitchen and laundry water are already going into a graywater system. Redirecting the shower and bathroom sink will be a bit more complicated but I'm working on figuring that out as well.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1960
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Tina - composting using the Humanure Handbook system is very low investment in terms of kit and time. If you don't like it you ditch it in favour of something else. If you do like it you can upgrade your equipment to a more conventional appearance if you choose.

We use it at my in laws house for when they have an influx of guests - they have one conventional loo and a cesspit that fills up quickly.
 
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