Biological Cleaning, Compost, Rehabilitation, Society, Soil Conservation, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Waste Systems & Recycling, Water Contaminaton & Loss — by Milkwood Permaculture February 29, 2012
Recently Nick gave a talk at TEDx Canberra. He talked about stewarding nutrients, how we can solve the problem of peak phosphorous (See ‘Phosphorous Matters’ Parts I & II here and here), and about how to grow the best cumquats ever.
Yes, Nick was talking about why taking responsibility for our poo and our wee — our most basic waste streams — is so crucial to our future. For a long time, a mark of superiority in some cultures has been how far you can get your shit away from you. But now, we need it back.
Originally, Nick wanted to do this talk on straight-up permaculture. But then he started thinking — what is the most pertinent metaphor for permaculture, the most glaring example of the problem being the solution? And he just couldn’t go past our most basic nutrient cycle.
When we first moved to Milkwood, we had to quickly make a choice of how to deal with our shit. We’d just read The Humanure Handbook, so the choice was pretty easy — to create a simple DIY composting toilet system.
As things progressed here, we realized just how nutrient-deficient our soils were, and how much potential arrived (literally) within every person that came to Milkwood, and which could help us restore healthy soils on this farm.
And we’ve been collecting it ever since — the poo in our super duper wheelie bin compost toilet system, and the urine in our converted water tank urinal. The urine drains to a big drum, which then gets diluted and sprayed on our fields as a natural fertilizer, full of nitrogen and phosphorous.
The poo goes into a 9-month maturation process (i.e. it sits in the wheelie bin with lots of carbon and compost worms) after which point it gets used in our tree planting projects. It’s the most amazing, nutrient rich, safe compost you could dream of.
The humanure composting toilets at Milkwood Farm
Once they’re full, each bin of poo and carbon (usually woodchip) gets
rolled out and sits for 9 months. At the end of this process,
you have a large bin of kick-ass compost.
Inside one of our compost toilet cubicles
So why are we still stuck in an archaic view that these nutrients cannot be the best thing ever for our trees, for our garden, when managed properly? Why do we persist with the idea that if it’s shit, then it will forever stink? Functional natural systems just don’t work like that.
Like anything, compost toilet systems can be done very well, and they can also be done extremely badly. Knowledge is the main barrier here. But guess what? We have the knowledge! It’s there! It’s been done! We’ve been making great compost with manure of many types for as long as we’ve been farming!
It seems entirely nutty to me that we as a society would choose to pump all this nutrient out to sea instead, where it does nobody any good, and many people and other organisms quite a bit of harm.
And then we instead manufacture, at great expense and with massive carbon emissions, our fertilizer, before trucking it all over the country and sending farmers broke with input costs while depleting our soils. When the best darn stuff is right here. Like right here.
Anyway. Nick said it better than I can. But I do ask you to consider, if it is within your power (and believe me, it is), how you can step up and steward those nutrients of yours.
Because some important answers to our future food security, especially on a domestic and local scale, are within you.
- The Humanure Handbook – by Joseph Jenkins
- The Howard-Higgins EcoSan and Waste Management System
- Life at Zaytuna: Closing the Loop
- Humanure forums
- Holy Shit – Managing Manure to Save Mankind – by Gene Logsdon
- www.cloacina.org – source of the excellent diagrams above (you can buy them as posters!)