A Modern Homesteader

Humanure Composting (Potty talk, inside…fair warning)

Mom & I went out to the property on Thursday and spent the weekend. We had a long list of things to get done and some of it got done, some of it didn’t. One of the biggest chores that we needed to complete while we were out there, since the snow was gone was to build a composting bin for our humanure potty material. Storing buckets on the porch for longer than necessary, just didn’t seem like a good plan.

What is Humanure? And why do you have it?

Since, not everyone may be familiar with the term humanure, it is probably wise to define it. Humanure is human manure. Yep, it is exactly what you are thinking. Sorry about that.

Since the property has a fairly low flowing well, 0.33 gpm according to the flow test we had performed, we do not have fresh water to waste. A low flow toilet still uses between one and two gallons of water per flush and necessitates the installation of a septic system. A septic system costs in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $10,000 for the size of system we need, plus design and permitting fees. Since our county allows composting toilets, it didn’t make sense to spend that kind of money, waste that amount of water when we could do a very simple system and get started for under $30.

Yea, I said $30. That’s a cost saving of almost $5,000… pretty awesome right?

What does your composting toilet look like? How does it work?

Luggable LooWe have decided to do a version of the Loveable Loo which you can read more about in Joe Jenkins book “Humanure”. Essentially, it is a bucket in a box, with a toilet lid on it. You use sawdust in the bucket to cover your deposits and periodically, place the contents of the bucket into a compost pile. Jenkins book explains in detail why this works, but suffice it to say our bodily wastes with a bit of sawdust are pretty much the perfect balance for a hot compost pile, which will kill most nasties that make it through your digestive tract and time will take care of the rest.  If we had someone in the family with a contagious, chronic disease we might have gone a different route. However, since we have healthy people with no chronic illnesses this method works for us.

Loveable LooRight now, we have a Luggable Loo (see right) seat attached to various buckets (we like Home Depot buckets and free pickle buckets…) and white pine shavings (like you use for pet bedding and such). Eventually, we will build a Loveable Loo enclosure (or two!) and then store the Luggable seat for need of an extra potty.

The system is dead simple and since we started using in December at the property, we’ve had zero odor issues. This is pretty darn important in a 200 square foot cabin…and believe me… we’d notice if it smelled. Mom & I both are pretty accustomed to flush toilets but this was incredibly easy to adjust to. The biggest issue with the Luggable set-up is the bucket is not as steady a seat as the box would be and the seat isn’t as comfortable either.


Building the Compost Bin

Humanure Compost BinAfter, several visits out we had a few filled buckets and needed to get a bin set up. We were fortunate enough to be able to locate some free pallets to use to build the first bin. Eventually, there will be multiple bins, since a filled bin should sit for a while to complete its composting cycle. With pallets to use to build the bin, the whole process was dead simple. We picked up some tying wire and laid out the pallets. Stood the pallets up, and using the wire tied and twisted them together to form a square, with a bottom open to the earth.

Filling the Bin

We layered some straw/dried grass that Mom raked up from the field near the bin at the bottom to help absorb any wayward liquids that might have been in the buckets and then I poured the buckets in. One was a bit frozen, so I had to bang it on the side of the bin to loosen it up. We’re happy to report there was zero noticeable odor in the dumping of the bins. If there was a smell, it was of wet sawdust. Seriously, this was not a gross process at all. We then rinsed the buckets and poured the water into the bin. To finish it, we layered another thick layer of straw on top of the waste material. On several threads, email boards and such I’ve seen people ask what the material deposited looks like. We didn’t think it looked at all like its original nature. If you’re curious, you can see the humanure deposit here. We dumped the most recent bucket last, the older buckets didn’t even have that much distinction. And no smell!

Benefits of Using a Composting Toilet System

For us, there are numerous benefits of using the composting toilet system we’ve selected. There are commercial options that don’t require dumping buckets or ever handling the material. Those systems are expensive.

  1. Water saving – We don’t use fresh, clean drinking water to whisk our waste away to treatment plants.
  2. Cost saving – Our biggest expense for this system once the enclosures are built will be sawdust/wood chips… if we can’t generate them on site. Oh, and plastic buckets if we have to buy them.
  3. Nutrient cycling – One of the biggest lacks in our current agricultural system is the exportation of nutrients from the farm…nutrients that are never returned. This system lets us keep the nutrients and fertility on site. The finished compost can be used on fruit trees, in the wood lot, etc. Jenkins uses the compost on his veggie garden but we’re going to hold off on that a bit.
  4. Responsibility – Human beings generate quite a bit of waste and this lets us take full responsibility for some of what we generate.

Eventually, we will add additional bins next to the first bin to hold aging material. We’ll also be taking over some nearly finished compost to add to the pile to make sure all the awesome decomposing bacteria are present in the pile.

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