Recently Nick gave a talk at TEDx Canberra. He talked about stewarding nutrients, how we can solve the problem of peak phosphorous, 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. 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, that 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.
So why are we still stuck in a 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 is 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.
Humanure and Compost Toilet resources:
- The Humanure Handbook – by Joseph Jenkins
- 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!)
Possibly related posts at Milkwood.net:
I’ve just finished reading ‘Farmers of Forty Centuries’, again, and FH King quotes figures of 6,000 lbs of Compost, and 4,000 lbs of ‘Nightsoil’ returned per acre of crop, with entrepeneurs paying for the privelige of collecting it from cities, to sell to farmers.
When the ‘sh** hits the fan, we will all become producers as well as consumers.
Joyce from Allsun was relating a story from when she was in a part of china where the deal was that if you did a poo at someone else’s farm, they owed you a poo at your place, to keep folks from guarding their own nutrients too jealously…
Living is suburbia and without some costly house modifications how would one go about this?
Good question. We know of quite a few folks who have developed DIY versions of this sort of thing: http://humanurehandbook.com/store/Loveable-Loo/ – very compact, could go in the laundry…
Here are a couple of links about building your own loo
A you tube show on a couple that built a compost toilet at home
A company that sells just the lids of compost toilets (Inc urine divertors) for around $125 U.S for D.I.Y builds.
cheers for the links!
Great talk, just great. Just getting more than a minority of people to accept recycling their urine is a huge undertaking, and against every theme of our modern society. People would rather starve than compost their waste, and one day soon they might get that chance.
Thanks shanegenziuk – you know tho, I think plenty of folks would be into good humanure compost regimes if they were encouraged to do so… all comes back again to our dis-connect from nature and food, and our often held assumptions that we’re separate from natural systems and that if something comes in a bag from a company, it must be better than devising a DIY systems to do the same thing (ie fertilizer)… we’ll get there! (i hope)… Maybe it will become a future norm in recycling – just something that you do as part of your weekly routine,… Read more »
We love our composting toilet, and will never go back to the flushing type again. I guess eventually everyone will have to use a composting toilet, as we will need the nutrients and wont be able to run the sewage treatment systems, so people will have to accept it one way or another! It amazes me how afraid some people are of poo, I once overheard a conversation in a shop, and a young lady with her new born baby was saying that she accidently came home from the hospital with the cloth nappy that the hospital provided, and she… Read more »
Great presentation Nick I am curious about the ‘quality’ of the product from the bins? I know you were ready crack one open last time we spoke?
Earlier this year I completed my second PDC with Milkwood on the strength that Nick would be a teacher… I learned many things and one of my habits now is to collect my urine during the day and empty it into my garden each morning. It’s great for my plants and I can see by the colour of my urine if I’ve drunk enough water! Yes, urine is sterile, 95% water, and contains nutrients and minerals our body doesn’t need but our plants love.
PS I’m back on line at home… found I was missing the permie community etc.
how can i give credit to use the human waste cycle (broken and intact) illustration? who owns the rights?
It’s from the Humanure Handbook so I assume Joe Jenkins owns the rights? Get in touch and ask them…