Reflections on the Humanure Bin

July first was harvest time here, and I am not referring to vegetables, but to the loamy product of the humanure bin.  The following information may be helpful if you have contemplated the idea of directing your waste towards a much more sustainable use—that is, towards feeding yourself. Or as Dr. Bob calls it, “completing the nutrient circle”.

When we first began discussing the notion of collecting our feces in a bucket, three objections sprang to mind–handling it, smelling it, and disease.  Since we had considerable practice with the first through the use of cloth diapers on our two kids, it was not difficult to dispel that objection.  We learned to minimize the associated odors, as you will read below.  The disease issue took some convincing, mostly through the contents of “The Humanure Handbook”, but reinforced by checking the temperature of our heap on June 25, 2011, 8:00 AM:

Ambient (outside) temp = 22 degrees Celsius (72F); one foot into humanure pile = 50 degrees Celsius (122F).

From JC Jenkins/Humanure Handbook:  “The heat produced by thermophilic bacteria kills the pathogenic microorganisms, viruses, bacteria, protozoa, worms and eggs that may inhabit humanure.  A temperature of 122 degrees F, if maintained for twenty-four hours, is sufficient to kill all of the pathogens”.

We have been collecting and composting for about 9 years, and have learned the following:

  • The compost pile, if layered correctly with green and brown, has no odor!
  • The collection bucket, if layered with sawdust and not urinated in, has little to no odor.
  • It takes some practice to urinate in a separate (pee) bucket before depositing in the poop bucket, an essential skill if you are concerned about odor (not an issue in the winter months).
  • Toilet paper as well as the associated cardboard tubes go right into the poop bucket.
  • We use a 4-gallon bucket obtained from a bakery—lid fits tightly & removes easily.
  • Bucket size determines the seat arrangement, but finding one with a proper lid is essential (not the drywall/pickle bucket type with multiple “snaps”— they are not easy to open/close).
  • The emptying process takes around fifteen minutes—filling it takes about a week (2 users).
  • A layer of dead leaves or straw on the bottom of empty bucket facilitates emptying.
  • Our four-compartment compost rotation system yields a couple of bushel-baskets of prime dirt every 6 months.
  • Our setup includes an outhouse with a comfy seat & wooden chair located over the bucket.
  • We now recognize that this system could work fine inside a home in most any residential setting, although it may be prudent to practice “stealth composting” strategies to avoid a visit from the health department.
  • We have an indoor “commode” with a 5-gallon bucket to collect urine as an overnight convenience.
  • The contents of the pee bucket are added to additional compost piles where it helps to break down the weeds, sawdust, leaves, and grass clippings therein. We believe it also serves as a deer deterrent.

Please feel free to contact us for more information, or to come on over and sniff around, if you have an interest in doing so.

This bin arrangement includes 4 compartments–at 6 month intervals, all ingredients have a minimum of 1.5 years of composting prior to removal and use in the garden and orchard.

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