Composting Human Waste: A Personal Experience

A Canadian homesteader composts human waste to fertilize an orchard. This method, while creative, is not highly recommended.


| January/February 1979



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This unhappy gopher just had an introduction to the process of composting human waste.


ILLUSTRATION: JACK VAUGHAN

Composting Human Waste Becomes One Family's Alternative to Frostbitten Bums  . . .

My wife has a sensitive bottom. The mere mention of an outdoor privy for our new Canadian homestead set off a case of the quakin' shivers that lasted a week.

When the old girl's attack subsided a bit, I tried to reason with her. Seat warmers, insulation, portable heaters, even the beautiful view ... I invoked them all (with appropriate flourishes) in a vain attempt to persuade my partner that a frosty privy can be survived.

Still patient, I discussed (and dismissed) all of our alternatives. Septic tanks were wasteful and difficult to install in the thin soil that covers – here and there – our bedrock farm. Chemical toilets were difficult to empty without poisoning the ground. An indoor composting toilet was just fine (and would likely be a part of our long-range plans), but we needed something for the first few "dig in" winters. We needed, I argued with some eloquence, a privy.

My wife is not easily daunted, however. She countered that [a] it would be difficult to toilet-train the children in winter . . . that, in fact, she would revert to diapers rather than sit outside when it's 30 below, and [b] the porcupine found lurking under the seat of the property's original outhouse made the thought of even warm-weather visits a prickly proposition, and finally, [c] she would gladly agree to reconsider privies if I would compromise by homesteading in, say, Fiji. That was that.

And so the summer went by. In the absence of a mutually satisfactory solution we obtained an overgrown chamber pot. It was toilet-sized and made of plastic . . . with a tight lid, a seat, and a handle. Since the thing was designed to use heavy doses of chemicals that neither of us wanted to employ, it stank. I mean STANK! In self-defense we got into the habit of emptying the contents every day. This lessened the odor problem somewhat and did make the chemicals unnecessary . . . but dumpin' the contraption was a wearisome chore.

Not that the thing was very difficult to carry . . . the problem was finding a place to unload it. Time after time I trudged out with spade and potty to locate enough soil for a decent burial of the vile sludge. Since I had to use a spot devoid of roots and rocks (which was also well away from our water supply and gardens), the choices were limited. The damp masses of luxuriant growth that resulted became denser and denser.
One day – in a fit of pique at one of our vegie-robbin' groundhogs — I dumped the load down his hole. Eureka! Ready-made disposal pits. And the groundhogs, who had smugly resisted shotguns, floods, and curses, moved out in disgust and dug new holes for me.





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