Sunday, November 1 2009
Those who have been following this story know that I have almost completely avoided conventional toilets for the last three months. I have two homemade PVC urinals that I use when I'm home and indoors, though I often urinate in random shrubbery outdoors. As for the other production line, it's mostly gone into five gallon buckets that I keep down near the greenhouse. At any one time, one is available for use and the other is busy composting. As of today, I'm roughly a third of the way into producing my fourth bucket. It's been a unexpectedly-useful experiment in maintaining a relationship with something that most people gladly abandon on the doorstep of governmental sewage disposal infrastructure.
I've learned some surprising things by observing what happens to a five gallon bucket of human excrement over time. For example, no matter how little urine or rainfall is introduced into the bucket, within a couple weeks several cups of black fluid accumulates at the bottom of the bucket. Within three weeks, the surface is covered with mold and the bucket has become odorless. But if one then digs down into it, one finds pungent lower layers teeming with insect larvæ. But even at depth it no longer smells like feces; instead, the fragrance resembles rotting vegetables (particularly if the source of the material was someone on a nearly vegan diet).
One of my major concerns for the composting health of my brownhouse is that the accumulating fecal pile be subject to conditions suitable for ærobic decomposition, which is hotter, faster, and less-fragrant than the anærobic kind. To that end, I've insulated the basement and added a south-facing window to allow for passive solar heating. I've also added a robust venting stack and will be adding a supply of air drawn from the pile of rocks just west of the greenhouse. Today I focused on keeping the fecal pile dry by excluding as much urine as possible.
So this is where I go over some well-known but largely-undiscussed aspects of human bathroom anatomy. The brownhouse is designed exclusively for defecation, but the fact remains that urine is almost always produced when one is producing feces. Something about the relaxing of one set of muscles tends to relax the other. In men and others equipped with penises, the urine stream can be predicted to exit the body several inches in front of the feces, and to follow a forward-directed trajectory. The feces, on the other hand, are directed almost straight downward from not far in front of the rear center of the toilet seat. It seemed that it would be fairly simple to capture the urine from a narrow trough under the front of the toilet seat, but before I built any such devices, it seemed prudent to ask Gretchen about the various waste vectors coming from the female anatomy. She said that there is no great difference between these vectors in women, except that urine tends to "go everywhere." It seemed, then, that my urine separator would only function for the male anatomy. This seemed acceptable, since a certain amount of urine in the fecal pile would be acceptable, and, in any case, I would be the brownhouse's principle customer, and I was confident I could keep my urine out.
So yesterday I fashioned a gutter out of galvanized steel (an unrolled piece of cylindrical duct). I folded it into something of a V-cross section and crimped-over the vicious edge running about a third of the way in from the front of the toilet-seat hole. Then I glued and screwed the sheet metal to the inside of the vertical face of shitting bench so it would be there to catch anything following a forward-direct vector from the shitting hole.
As part of a series of errands that included a business meeting between Woodstock and Saugerties, today I got a bunch of 1.25 inch PVC pipe and fittings so I can build the air supply for the fecal mound. This supply will, as I said, gather air from the temperature-stabilized comfort of the rockpile west of the greenhouse and then branch out inside the mound itself, sort of like an insect respiratory system. I meant to also get the big PVC fittings necessary to build a funnel-like collector to gather urine from the urine gutter described above. But then I looked through my collection of large and small PVC fittings (the former is in a shopping cart and the other is in an authentically-stolen milk crate) and found exactly what I needed.
Tomato in the greenhouse.
A lonely banana tree in a world of grey in the greenhouse.
Plants viewed from the east.
The houses viewed from the northeast: greenhouse in the foreground, brownhouse in the mid-ground crowned by a Purple Martin house, and in the back, a McMansion.
Greenhouse from the northwest. I love how it looks from this angle, which I don't see too often in my day-to-day business.
The brownhouse, viewed from the north. It looks like a one-armed bandit, and (similarly) it wants to steal your shit.
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