The forest floor is essentially one huge sophisticated compost pit. There lies the perfect combination of organic matter – food stuff, animal stuff, plant stuff, water, air and most importantly carbon. This recipe leads to rich, humus filled soil that provides energy for the resident trees, plants, fungal network plus all their friends.
Notice that when you walk through the forest you don’t smell anything funky. No rot, no stink – yet decomposing matter is all under your feet. That’s because, as usual nature’s natural design has the recipe on point.
That’s essentially what we’re trying to emulate when we as gardeners try to make compost out of our waste – its just getting the recipe right.
Now there are others who have decided to introduce another ingredient into the mix: their poop.
Humanure, the practice of incorporating human waste into your compost is growing, not only in rural areas with the use of composting toilets but can be integrated into life within the suburbs as we see is the case with my friend, healer and fellow permaculturalist, Alfonso Ferraro.
Alfonso first personally encountered the benefits of humanure and composting toilets at Earthship Academy in New Mexico back in 2016. Grossed out because the on-site toilets were out of order and stinky, Alfonso and his roomie decided to take matters into their own hands by getting a composting toilet going. It was pretty simple: bucket, toilet seat (fancy) and some wood shavings. But the improvement was almost instantaneous. No smell, no water wasted, no plumbing issues.
Looking around in the desert Alfonso noticed that all the properties in the area that had green space had one thing in common: composting toilets and therefore humanure.
With the appropriate treatment humanure allowed for an oasis in the desert.
On return to his home in southern Ontario, Alfonso promptly picked up the Humanure Handbook and began scheming how to integrate this practice into his lifestyle in the suburbs of Toronto.
His set up is simple, he’s converted a shed/garage into his drop off point, has a custom made wooden throne which sits overtop a simple bucket which he transfers into a well managed compost pile in his backyard. He even has a space heater and squatty stool to help along the process.
Yes the transferring process of the waste material to the compost pile can be gross, but Alfonso discovered that mixing coffee grounds (abundant at his workplace),’ with his wood shavings that he places in the bucket after each deposit mask the smell and even provide a bit of aromatherapy.
Alfonso’s compost pile is on a 2 year plan. As he’s in Canada, a country that has ground-freeze for more than a quarter of the year, the rate of decomposition is slower than warmer areas (for example in Haiti, the same compost would be ready in half the time). But he’s willing to wait.
Instead of chickens, Alfonso has a couple of rabbits he keeps that take care his food scraps, and he uses their waste to enrich another composting pile he has going. The compost he’s been able to use from that pile has been amazingly effective – his summer tomatoes are the proof. His unsuspecting neighbours scratch their heads trying to figure our Alfonso’s secret when they compare their ‘miracle grown’ veggies to Alfonso’s organic variety. It’s just a matter of time before the humanure pile will be ready to use. I’ll definitely do a little check in with Alfonso then to see how it’s all going.
If you are curious about humanure, the composting process or want to learn more of anything mentioned in this article, Alfonso is very happy to speak with you. Reach him at: Nu_Wave_Farms@hotmail.com. Also pick up the Humanure Handbook by Joseph C. Jenkins – there’s also a free downloadable copy online.
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