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tree bog vs. dry outhouse  RSS feed

 
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So I think that's what we've sorta talked about.  The "tree bog" is a bunch of willows with an outhouse like thing.  The willows eat the poop.  And then you can use the willows for other stuff too.

 
paul wheaton
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Science!

I found this web page that has some info on how to test this stuff - a way to really compare!

http://www.oasisdesign.net/water/quality/coliform.htm

 
paul wheaton
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Doing your own water quality testing! http://www.oasisdesign.net/water/quality/testing.htm
 
paul wheaton
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Another idea ...

Poop gives off methane, right?

Methane rises, right? 

I read that there exists methane digesters such that a typical home can have 75% of the energy needs met from the methane that that house generates.  This included heat for lots of things and electricity. 

So then I thought that maybe a poor man's technique could be something like in the drawing I mad (below). 

So - kinda like what is suggested in the humanure book, but the idea is that it is dry and there is lots of sawdust and the bins might be really big, and it would go for a year of aging before getting used. 

But here are some important differences. 

The yellow-ish area is supposed to be methane that has risen and has been trapped. 

The pipe is kept warm, so air is always rising in it.  That keeps the air pressure in the methane/barrel area slightly lower than in the bathroom.  Thus making this bathroom SUPERIOR to ANY flush toilet by the convenience and comfort factor:  there is far less smell! 

Moving along .... the idea is that this system would

1) provide all of the hot water a household would need.

2) Be more eco friendly, and be less hassle than the humanure system.

3) Smell better than a flush system.

4) provide compost

What do you think?


methane_digester.gif
[Thumbnail for methane_digester.gif]
 
                                      
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Hi all! I'm new to the forum and I've enjoyed reading this thread.  For some of you this conversation has been going on for years, but it's all new to me so bear with me.

I appreciate the discussion and agree that all the approaches have value.  To me the most important thing is that we each need to literally and figuratively deal with our own sh**.  It's worrisome how many people use the toilet like a magic portal that takes away refuse, leaving them with nothing more challenging than putting down the lid.  Whatever your method it's gotta be better than mixing it with "cleaning" chemicals and dumping it in the rivers and oceans, leaving the planet to sort it all out.

In support of outhouses I think of writer Mary Jane Butters.  She has a farm in Idaho (their winters have got to be brutal!) and she uses an outhouse.  When her children were at home, they also used the outhouse.  According to her, it doesn't have to be a scary, unpleasant place if you keep it clean and decorate it like you would an indoor toilet.

Also I read a brief memoir in Mother Earth news about a woman who grew up in an "outhouse family".  Their outhouse was connected to the house via an elevated, covered walkway.  The woman recalls noticing how beautiful the night sky was as she made her way to the outhouse some winter evenings.

I'm in the process of building a small cottage and I'm going with a dry, indoor toilet.  It's a hard enough sell getting the family to embrace the dry toilet idea, so the outhouse is a bigger leap than I'm willing to take.  I have a plan (yet to be tested) to separate the urine into an outdoor collector.  Then it can be composted or diluted with water and poured around wherever plants need a nitrogen boost.  My main reason for separating the "liquids" is because I hear that urine is the "stinky" factor in a dry toilet and there are no real ways to keep the smell neutral if you have urine in the bucket.

Finally, it seems like the pathogen problem with bogs could be helped with mushrooms.  Paul Stamets's work indicates that shrooms are master remediators but I don't know how you might incorporate them into a bog situation.
 
paul wheaton
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It does seem that this is something that can be worked out to be just as convenient and far cheaper and far better for the environment than what is currently the standard.

As for Mary Jane Butters:  does she have something online or would it be only in her magazine?

 
                                      
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MJ Butters doesn't have much of an online presence beyond selling her goods.  I got the info about her outhouse from her book, MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook - For the Farmgirl in All of Us.  It was quite a beautiful book, by the by, filled with gorgeous pictures and stories about farm life plus her advice on handling farm life.  If you're looking for inspiration about farm life and enjoy beautifully photographed books, definitely buy this book.  On the other hand, if you're looking for good homesteading/farming advice, I'd say check this one out from the library before you commit to a purchase.
 
paul wheaton
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I've read several issues of her mag.  It seems that she is mostly a great photographer.  I have a lot of family in that area and they seem less than impressed, but I am still curious.  I would be tempted to get a tour of her place or to pop over and learn more, but so much of what she writes appears to be so pro-woman that I kinda get this feeling that a guy would not be nearly as welcome. 

But!  Back on topic!  I wonder if her place has zero septic system. 

 
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I think the reason to use young trees is that they grow faster.

The Wikipedia article advocates coppicing (or pollarding) every year, presumably so that they never grow up, metabolically speaking.

Tree of Heaven must be a heavy feeder, with how quickly it grows.  It also has a bizarrely wide tolerance for climate, pH, drainage, etc.  Wikipedia says it can grow in soil as acidic as tomato juice, or in solid concrete.  Do keep it under control if you introduce it somewhere, though.   

I'm not sure asparagus should be ruled out.  There are non-edible (at least non-palatable) varieties that produce loads of mulch: you see them in flower arrangements, for example.  They're also very salt-tolerant, which could be important long-term...the average American consumes 3.5 g of salt per day, and unless you believe in biological transmutation, all that Na will end up somewhere.
 
paul wheaton
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I wanna draw attention to my weird pic again. 

The idea is to have a small amount of methane collected to warm a pipe which will move air out of the bathroom. 

Will it work?

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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My intuition is that gas diffusion is too quick.

Think how long it takes for a smell to travel through a room full of still air.  Molecules we can smell tend to be more massive and/or stickier than CH4, which means they move more slowly.

My professional life revolves around the solid state much, much more often than liquid or gas, but I think the system you've drawn would exhaust gasses that very strongly resemble the gasses at the top of the wavy sand-colored region.
 
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Exhausting excess gasses is cool.  Exhausting air from the bathroom is cool.

Would there be enough gas accumulating to the left to maintain a flame?  Would flammable gas accumulate to the left if there was no flame?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I really don't know.

My guess is that the methane from a reasonable number of people's waste would only add up to a few cubic feet per day, and a worthwhile exhaust system would move several cubic feet per minute, which would be way too lean to maintain a flame.

The system in the Permaculture Designer's Manual is a lot of investment in equipment and effort, but is known to work.  I think maintaining an enclosed system, as in a floating dome digester, is the most practical way to harvest methane.  It also has the benefit of not storing fuel mixed with oxygen.
 
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So .... based on what you are saying, it sounds as if my biogas collector will collect some biogas, but in the presence of oxygen, biogas sort of .... decomposes ..... 

I wonder if I added a physical barrier about half an inch above the tube with an eighth of an inch hole.  Then maybe some of the biogas would go up through the hole.  And there would be a layer of biogas decomposing, becoming heavier and going up through the exhaust.  But a thin layer would be at the barier and that would seep into the little hole.  Maybe there could be a series of these baffles.  If there were biogas on one side and air on the other, decomposition could be thwarted.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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The other classic problem of storing fuel mixed with oxygen is that it could potentially explode.   

A wire mesh at each baffle will tremendously reduce the risk of fire/explosion (cf. acetylene mining lamps).  If you do devise a baffle system that works, please consider adding such a feature.

Since we've been discussing this for a while, I finally went to the trouble of looking up the rate of diffusion of methane into air.  For reasonable T and P, it is of the close order of 3 x 10^3 meters squared per second [Matsunaga, N., Hori, M., Nagashima, A.: High Temperatures-High Pressures 30 (1998) 77–83].  Diffusion distance (distance an average particle travels)  is calculated by multiplying this number by time, and taking the square root.  So if you had a 25-story building, with an elevator shaft sealed off and the top half full of methane, then instantly removed the barrier from the 14th story, while maintaining the air perfectly still (by, say, having first filled it with goose down, which is so coarse as to provide little barrier to diffusion), after 33 seconds the distance squared would be 10^4 meters, i.e. the diffusion distance would be 100 meters.  In rough terms, this means that the gas mix would be 75/25 about 50 meters from where the barrier had been.  In an hour, the diffusion distance would be on the order of 400 meters, so the gas mix should be fairly uniform throughout the entire shaft.
 
paul wheaton
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So - with still air, the air and the biogas will mix pretty rapidly.  Correct?  The biogas will not naturally separate itself from the rest of the gasses in air due to being lighter.  Correct?

 
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Yes, correct.

And turbulence, flow, thermal gradients etc. would all make for even more-rapid mixing.

It's very much like salty and fresh water.  Buoyancy moves them relative to one another until they mix, but diffusion and flow eventually blend them, and buoyancy isn't nearly strong enough to pull them apart.

It would be kinda nice if you could just let the salt settle out, and skim the fresh water off like cream.  But unlike oil and water, salt and water are soluble...as are methane and air.
 
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Which is why all known techniques to remove methane are anaerobic.

Well, that answers that ...

I'm glad I learned this before trying to build something!
 
                              
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Susan Monroe wrote:
And WHY is urine and poop together more toxic than they are separately?  Is that her opinion or fact?



No, urine and poop mixed together are no more toxic than either one is on it's own.  They are not really all that toxic at all.
The comment that the two together makes them toxic I think is really from the Liquidgold book.  If you go mixing poop with the pee, the pee then is loaded with all the pathogens the poop had and can no longer be treated as relatively sterile and used directly as fertilizer.

So if you wish to use urine as fertilizer, then keep it separate from the poop!

Mixing poop and pee in a bucket is not going to cause some scary toxic reaction.  All that mixing poop and pee together does is increase the yuck factor if you don't cover it well enough with sawdust in the sawdust bucket toilet.

But this thread is about dry outhouses and tree bogs.  I'm not sure what research or methods of research might be used to test how well a tree bog keeps waste out of the ground water system.  I'm not really interested in a "dry outhouse" as I don't think it's really possible in my location.  If I dig a hole in the ground, ground water will intrude at some point in time.  So I'm gonna stick with the humanure composting and bucket toilets.  I can manage a humanure compost pile on my site and being a woman, the bucket toilet is far easier than trying to separate urine or deal with particular times of the month.  As to emptying buckets, it doesn't seem to be such a terrible thing to me.  Dealing with ones own (and family) waste and turning it into something of value is humbling and uplifting at the same time.  I guess to each ones own.
 
                              
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I met a family that has an incredibly pretty outhouse
with two holes.
One is kept covered for two years then the covers are switched so you use the other for two years.
Underneath are two drums.
Empty the idle one after two years.
He says it is suitable for spreading on your food garden after the two year idle time.
 
                                  
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Lots of fig trees around the outhouses in these parts.
 
                    
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The tree bog thing sounds interesting, though I'd be surprised if a group of trees could actually digest all the poop thrown at it fast enough to not fill up the hole over a period of time.  I was under the impression that it was microbial action, and not really actually tree action, that digested poop.  Then again maybe the tree roots stimulate microbial action with their root exudates?  Maybe a hole and tree group per person?  People make a lot of poop.  Every day!

We're using straw bale dry outhouses til we construct something more permanent.  It's decidedly not high-tech, but I was told it's safe (?!) thank you for the info about how to test for water quality.  I am concerned about contamination, but I feel like concentrating poop into any sort of subteranian hole is probably most likely to pose that risk.  The bales are stacked double high on dirt with a hole in the middle, the hole serving as the poop chamber.  We built a wooden frame with a roof that can be moved from stack to stack so that the thing is protected from water while it's being filled.  The old piles are (supposed to be - we're doing it tomorrow) tarped during the wet season to prevent leaching.  You add sawdust (and we add ashes sometimes too) as you go, just like any other composting toilet.  We aren't super tyranical about keeping pee out of it.  I mean, yeah, it happens.  We don't pee on purpose in there though.  I doubt a little bit of urine is going to make the whole bag terribly more toxic than it already might be.  I use watered down urine for the garden and especially for the house herbs on the windowsill.  I have a basil and a marjoram sticking it out through 8 hours of daylight right now with that treatment (they probably enjoy a bit of blood once a month too.) 

We're working on filling our third house, and actually opened one of them up earlier today, it had sat for about 8 months.  We used it as the center of a compost pile we constructed for making hot water.  I left the bales that were on the ground layer alone, though I tried to pull out as many strings as I could manage.  When I forked around in the 'honey pot' portion of the pile there was nothing that resembled a poo to be seen.  I was surprised, that seems like a short period of time to have no recognizable parts, but everything smelled nice and looked very crublely saw dusty.  I'll let you know how the hot water thing works out....photos are already uploaded on my flickr site which is listed on my profile.  Photos of the above mentioned outhouse are there as well. 

We prefer a colder earlier morning crapping experience to cleaning out a crappy bucket every week or so, but I guess that's personal preference.  But we're the first to admit we're not actually hippies, so, take that for what you will. 

And like someone said....Unless a #2 wakes you up at 3:30....just pee in the bucket in the house.  Easy to dump the next morning, not as icky as poo.   

But, with all this talk about gasses, I think I might leave my bucket on the porch from now on....
 
paul wheaton
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Suppose for a moment that there is a row of 20 willow trees.  And then you set up a tree-bog-style-outhouse-thingy in the middle.  If you look at the row of trees a year later and the trees in the middle are far, far taller, then the willows would have taken up at least some of the poop, right? 

So this experiment has not been done (that I know of), but I can certainly imagine it being so.

Then the next thing to consider is:  how much does the willow take up?  I think you are correct that microbials do their share.  And the willow does some too.

Can you post some pics of your dry outhouses?

I'm pretty sure that the ash adds no value.  If adding ash adds value, I would really like to know what that is.

I doubt a little bit of urine is going to make the whole bag terribly more toxic than it already might be.



Well ... technically, "toxic" isn't the right word.  And a little bit can be okay.  But the mix is stinkier and then it is possible to carry your NPK and pathogens into the ground water.  If 90% of the pee is kept out of the system (usually by pee-only activity happening elsewhere), that's good. 

 
                                  
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Paul it's the lye in the ash. That helps brake up the waste.
 
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Whitlock wrote:
Paul it's the lye in the ash. That helps brake up the waste.



Wacky!  This is the first I've heard of this.  Please tell me more. 

So you start with poop.  What do you have after you add lye?

 
                                  
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paul wheaton wrote:
Wacky!  This is the first I've heard of this.  Please tell me more. 

So you start with poop.  What do you have after you add lye?




After you add the ash (lye) you will end up with nothing over time.
The oldtimers didn't use the waste for compost like some do now they just wanted to get rid of the waste so they didn't have to dig another hole.
 
                    
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I'm pretty sure flickr doesn't like external links.  And I'm kind of too lazy to get another host for pictures.  So here's a link to photos of our outhouse.  The wooden frame has been a really good thing, we just use the bales on top for the base of the next one.  We stacked the bales differently this time and ended up with a much much larger poop chamber.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fishermansdaughter/2950300592/in/set-72157605315077337/
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Not entirely on topic, but imgur.com is a good image host.
 
paul wheaton
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Joel,

I'm surprised you didn't run a bunch of numbers to show how poop + lye = nothing.

 
paul wheaton
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marinajade,

How tiny is that outhouse on the inside?

 
                                  
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paul wheaton wrote:
Joel,

I'm surprised you didn't run a bunch of numbers to show how poop + lye = nothing.




Your a funny guy Paul
I'm sure there is something left but after our out house set for 8 months there wasn't enough in it to mention.
 
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Joel does this "geek out" thing where he says shows the molecules combining and releasing gasses.  So it isn't as if there really isn't nothing - it's converted to a gas.  But I'm curious what the lye interacts with and what gasses are released. 

 
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paul wheaton wrote:
Joel,

I'm surprised you didn't run a bunch of numbers to show how poop + lye = nothing.



Ah...don't mind if I do!

Lye turns organic acids into sodium salts, even if they had been part of larger molecules before hand. It is a rare sort of organic waste that isn't (at least partly) held together by an organic acid of some sort.

In the case of soap-making, lye breaks a triglyceride up, replacing glycerine to form three sodium salts of fatty acids. All of the products dissolve in water, and the latter are good at helping un-reacted grease to disperse in water.

In the case of drain cleaner, the above happens in grease clogs, but also proteins like hair become sodium salts of amino acids. (There's also a subtler action, disrupting the bonding between individual protein chains, that works faster and goes most of the way toward un-clogging drains; this is closely related to how a stylist "perms" hair...)

Hair and skin resist this fairly well, but a microbe's membrane would just dissolve. (Cell membranes are moslty made of phospholipids, which are halfway to becoming soap already.)

Lye also disrupts bonding among plant fibers: kraft paper (for grocery bags, moving boxes, etc.) starts by digesting wood chips into a pulp, using lye.

I think the "nothing" in this case is a sterile (and not too very toxic) mix of liquids, rather than a mix of gasses. If it's held by something porous, most of it just drains away.
 
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So - if the mission is to have a poop beast eat the poop, then wood ash might not be a good idea - because the poop might get to be too salty for the poop beast?

 
                                  
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Does the ash make-Saltpeter???(potassium nitrate)
 
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Started a biogas-methane thread in alt energy with a description of a system I enjoyed in Costa Rica. -PRC
 
                    
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How tiny is that outhouse on the inside?



big enough for one person to be inside with the door shut....tape says it's 3' 10'' deep, and 2' 3'' wide. 

Ours is bare bones - just a hole with a platform to stand on, but we're talking about creating a fold down seat.  I prefer to squat but it's been hurting the other black gold contributor's knee in the morning cold...
 
                                      
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Here's a datum to consider.

I have a microscope and know how to use it.  I also have a sawdust toilet in which I void both liquid and solid waste.  I cover the result in sawdust and dump the bucket in my compost system when it is about half full.  The process is cleaner than any flush toilet I have ever used, because the bucket is washed each time it is dumped.

Here's my point.  I took my microscope and a sample of my sawdust compost at eighteen months and looked for all the toxic stuff that all the experts told me ought to be there, especially and specifically for the coli-forms and salmonella.  Guess what.  After eighteen months there wasn't any more than the amount normally found in soil. 

I then tested soil around and downslope from an outhouse and found significant quantities of the bad guys.  I found coliform bacteria on the leaves of the grass.  I found it all over the outhouse structure.  Ickiness?  You got it. 

Now, as an added piece of info, it is entirely unrealistic to expect that a dry only outhouse can be practicable.  If you work really hard at separating functions, you may be successful.  You will, at some point in the future, be calling on me, or somebody like me, to help you overcome the results to your natural, physical hardwiring of such contrary behavior.  The functions of the bowel and the urinary tract are made to work together, and for good reason.  There is a reason that the valve mechanisms, that cause the evacuation to take place at all, are share by both systems. 

For the sake of convenience, man and his culture has retreated from the environment in which he lives.  That applies to both the external and internal environment.

 
                              
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We've been using sawdust for 20 years or so...used to use lime, because that was 'what was done'.  The sawdust sweetens the mix, adds material to be worked by bacteria...and leaves no smell.  We have a 5 tier system for our compost and add the sawdust to the first pile, which gets turned into the second and so on over time.

I saw a documentary on peasant living in China years and years and years ago...wish I could find it.  Simple two room hut...one side housed the family, the other side a couple of pigs.  The pig excrement was shoveled into a corner along with the pigs' bedding material...above the pile created was a large funnel which took the methane and shipped it along simple tubing to the area beneath their wok for cooking...no pressure system or storage that they showed.

Anyone ever see this?


 
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Location: California
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Hello, I'm new here,

I found the site while searching for information about outhouses and alternative means for disposing of blackwater.

Its a very interesting site and interesting thread.  I have always been a fan of being green, even when it wasn't cool (1980).  I was recycling when most people could care less.

Anyway, I'm trying something.  I'm living rural in a small park model mobile home now and have no well or septic.  I have an outhouse.  The trailer has a full typical bathroom. 
I was fine with using the outhouse, or a outhouse.  Then I got to thinking.  What is the difference between using an outhouse and using a standard 1.4 gpf toilet the pipe of which drains into a small hole in the ground.  The drainage pipes are separated with the gray water and the toilet pipes apart.  The gray water is being surface drained. 
So I took a manual post hole digger and dug a hole about 2' deep (8" around) and stuck the hose from the toilet in there.

The toilet gets used about once a day.  It took about 3 weeks for the first hole to fill what I considered full and I dug another 18" away and capped the old one. 

Can this work?  Should I be concerned about nutrient leakage or something?
I'm amazed.  There is NO smell.  Its cool.  And using gray water to flush it is very efficient.

One has the convenience of a standard bathroom (with no mosquito bites) and 'natural' disposal.
 
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