Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pouring The Concrete Bond Beam

A few days ago was the day and man am I tired!  After months of waiting through winter, we picked yesterday to pour the concrete bond beam on top of the back wall.  We have been preparing for this pour since we started work on the house again in February; screening gravel and sand, building the bond beam form and hauling in the portland cement we needed for the job.

It was an ugly morning.  Rain the night before with heavy winds, and neither the rain nor the wind had completely died down.  We started setting up not really convinced that we would actually start pouring concrete.  Nobody wanted to be the one to cancel the pour, and after a couple of rounds back and forth discussing options the decision was left to me.  Not one to be hasty I deliberated and we got started right away ... Fortunately the rain cleared up and we had sunshine with really heavy winds for most of the day.

We decided to mix our own concrete for this job rather than have it delivered from a plant in Kamloops.  I estimated that the pour would require at most 4 cubic yards of concrete and the minimum delivery is approximately 5 yards (concrete is now sold by the cubic metre which is slightly larger than a cubic yard).  So, if we had ordered concrete I would have had to have planned ahead by having additional forms ready for concrete.  Also, due to delivery charges (we are about an hour away from the closest concrete plant), the delivered concrete is that much more expensive if you order a small volume.  Given our desire to save money and our limited ability to plan ahead it seemed a no-brainer to mix our own concrete.

We have mixed lots of concrete on this project and in the past, but never this much at one time.  Our little cement mixer can mix two cubic feet of concrete.  Given that there are 27 cubic feet in a yard, we would need to mix about 60 batches of concrete for this job.  Assuming we could mix a load every ten minutes we would be looking at about ten hours of non-stop work just mixing the concrete, not to mention pouring it onto the forms and leveling.  We quickly decided we needed more manpower on this job ...

 The first workers we lined up for the job were John (aka John Deere) and  Bob.  Bob actually insists on going by BobCat ... I find this really '70's, but he packed all of the concrete from the mixer to the forms so whatever name he wants to be called is fine by me!  The cement mixer on the back of the green John Deere tractor is driven by the PTO (power take off) of the tractor, and it can handle about a sixth of a yard per batch.  So, we only had to to do about 20 batches of concrete.  The tractor was parked by the sand/gravel pile all day, and the mixer ran for most of the day spinning the mixer.  When a batch of concrete was ready it was dumped into the bucket of the bobcat and taken to the building site.  Thank you Tom, Stephanie, Robin, Jody, Mike and Linda for the loan of all of this equipment!

The bobcat is small and mobile enough that it could be taken inside the building walls.  The operator then lifted the bucket to the height of the forms and dumped the concrete out.  Unfortunately, the bobcat had just enough lift to get the bucket over the edge of the form and the bucket could not be tipped far enough so that the concrete would simply slide out.  We had to shovel the concrete from the bucket into the forms.  Still, this was much easier than building scaffolding and carting the concrete around in wheelbarrows!

After the concrete was dumped in the forms it needed to be shoveled (or vibrated) so that it flowed everywhere and eliminated any air pockets.  Finally, the concrete was leveled and smoothed so that it was consistent throughout the entire form.  We were not very concerned about smoothness as this concrete will not be exposed when the building is finished.

The last step was to insert the anchor bolts.  These bolts are spaced 4' apart and will be used to attach a wooden sill to the top of the concrete bond beam.  The rafters of the roof will ultimately be attached to this sill plate.  You want to get the bolts in fairly soon after the concrete is poured and leveled, as otherwise it becomes unworkable.  We simply put the bolts in after we finished leveling another 10' or so of the concrete in the form.

We started this job at around 9:30 in the morning and finished right around 5:00 in the evening with about a half hour for lunch.  We worked all day and our neighbors, Robin and Jody (thanks guys!), were there for about half of the day.  It was hard work but all of the equipment made the day go that much easier and painlessly (We still hurt at the end of the day!).

Some notes about the concrete ...

The concrete for our beam is specified as 3000 PSI (pounds per square inch) with reinforcement.

The reinforcement consists of two horizontal runs of 10 mm rebar with vertical rebar every other tire driven into the top three tires and extending to within the top two inches of the form.  We also used engineering fibres in our concrete mix.

Our formula for the concrete was 1 part portland cement, 2 parts sand and 3 parts gravel.  The dry ingredients were added to the mixer with sufficient water to hydrate the mixed materials (you do not want to add too much water as this will weaken the concrete).  We then added engineering fibres and allowed the batch of concrete to mix for another couple of minutes.

I figured out that one 40kg bag of dry portland cement has a volume of about 28.6 litres.  We dumped one bag of cement (very heavy!) into the mixer for each batch of concrete.  This in turn meant that we needed 143 litres of aggregate (2 parts sand; 3 parts gravel) for each batch.  We filled 7 twenty litre pails and added their contents to the mix.  Generally, I slightly under filled the aggregate buckets to ensure that I was getting a slightly higher proportion of cement in each batch.  I did this to make slightly stronger concrete.

We ended up using 22-40 kg bags of portland cement which works out to slightly less than 4 cubic yards of concrete.  So, my initial estimate was pretty close!  I am glad that day is over.

We have already started prepping the roof beams, but I suspect we will start work on the front wall first.  The front wall is required to finish the roof, and I am not keen to have the roof beams installed and weathering in the sun while we work on the front wall.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Got a solar appliance working!

We got our first solar appliance working this morning!

We managed to get this thing working last summer when we had lots of sun, but winter weather was pretty hard on it.

It was a family effort; Helen found and fastened clips, Stephen and I tensioned wire ...

Despite how busy it looks the cat did absolutely nothing (except try and climb on top of me).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Too many seedlings!

It has officially been spring for a couple of days, but around here it has not felt like winter for weeks. It is warm, mostly sunny, and weeds are starting to appear in the garden beds.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to start some seedlings.  I had been meaning to get started for a couple of weeks but dragged my feet. Then somebody mentioned they already had seedlings in their greenhouse and that was enough to light a fire ...

That night I separated some worm compost and started a tray of 36 seedlings (12 peppers and 24 tomatoes) using exactly 32 seeds (yes, I was counting).  I placed one seed in the middle of each of the 36 seedling starter pots.  This sounds pretty anal but last year I did much the same thing, only I planted a few seeds in each tray in case some seeds did not germinate.  I figured I'd just trim back the plants I did not want and life would be good.

Unfortunately, I discovered that worms do NOT kill all of the seeds in the finished compost.  I had volunteer plants starting like crazy (much like this year) and consequently did not have a clue what was what in my seedling trays.  I ended up guessing which plants were the ones I had intended for the garden and culled the rest.  Last year I culled all of my pepper seedlings and wound up with tomato plants instead.  I am not sure why but the vast majority (possibly all?) of the seeds left in my worm compost are tomato seeds.  We do eat a lot of tomatoes, but I have seen other seeded vegetables appear on our chopping blocks occasionally.  Fortunately, I got tomatoes off of all of the tomato plants in my garden, but I wanted some peppers too!

This year will be different.  Yesterday I culled the volunteers from my first seedling tray.  I still made some guesses but in most cases it was pretty obvious (from their relative positions in the pot) which was a plant I had intentionally started, and which was a volunteer.  Again this year, the vast majority of the volunteers appear to be tomato plants.  I also think I have figured out how to distinguish pepper and tomato seedlings.  The pepper seedlings take longer to germinate and they develop a little knob below their first leaves where the tomato seedlings remain smooth.  Progress I guess!

I just started a tray of onion seedlings (last year I waited too long and our onions were uniformly small).  This time I bought sterilized compost from the store to start the seeds.  I am curious to see if it is indeed 'volunteer' seed free, and if my life will be easier.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Diving back into the discussion...

I’ve had an incredible number of responses to my initial educational foray into dumpster diving! There have been a number of comments on this blog (thank you!) and a phenomenal number of responses on my Face Book page.

Interestingly, although perhaps coincidental, I seemed to have lost a Face Book friend about the same time as I posted about dumpster diving. (Oops!) I have just enough friends on Face Book that it is too difficult to figure out who dropped off!

I’ve tried not to wade in on the comments too much because I’ve been trying to figure out how people define this activity.

For what I thought would be viewed as an “unacceptable” activity, there certainly are a lot of people who have dumpster dived themselves, or know somebody who has. While there are some people whose initial reaction is immediately negative, it is often qualified with “acceptable” forms of diving.
Acceptability seems to be defined by what is in the receptacles, with either an outright aversion to diving for food, or at least a heavy resistance to recovering food. What I term as the “ick” factor seems to kick in here.

Acceptable diving also seems to be dependant on what people consider “dumpsters” and this ranges from the garbage can on your curb, the black garbage bag you personally deposit at your local dump, or the traditional “dumpster” we see behind retail stores in towns and cities.

Overwhelmingly people seem to be very uncomfortable with the notion of opening somebody’s black garbage bag at curbside or at the dump, and rummaging in it.

There is something intensely personal about what we deposit in our garbage bags and the sense of invasion of that privacy is paramount when we imagine somebody opening it.

Once, when I was at the McLure transfer station I noticed two young men breaking open garbage bags to look for pop and beer cans, I actually approached them to tell them that OUR bags did not contain any. After that, I even considered writing across my bags, in big black letters (my bags being white at the time) NO RETURNABLES IN THIS BAG!

I discovered that while almost everybody shies away from the idea of breaking open a curbside garbage bag, a good number of people are o.k. with picking up furniture and other assorted items left curbside. Those who profess they would never pick up garbage in this manner, seem to be more comfortable with the idea of a “sharing shed” or a “free store” where people deposit their unwanted items and take advantage of the unwanted items left by others. This confirms what I’ve known for a very long time; the power of words is mighty indeed.

There also seems to be a real difference in our view of diving in personal waste and in industrial (commercial) waste.

Industrial waste seems to be a topic unexplored by the general population and one that really accounts for the majority of the world’s waste. By this I mean the waste generated by stores and manufacturers of all kinds.

We have some friends we found in our alternative building adventures, who are ardent industrial waste divers, collecting wood, brackets, screws and the like for their own projects.

Chris and I had a bit of an education in this last year. In our search for cardboard, we cased out the back of many, many big box stores. The magnitude of waste is stunning.

What do stores throw away when they sell to us?: One-use wood pallets, cardboard, old shelving, broken products ranging from planting pots and gardening tools, broken pieces of rigid insulation, unsold and chipped bathtubs, bent pieces of PVC and scads of lumber either used in shipping, or that were obviously deemed unsaleable after being picked through. We saw pallets of building materials that had been tossed carelessly into piles with nothing seemingly wrong with any of it. And this is just what I can remember.

No discussion of dumpster diving can be complete without including industrial waste, from hardware stores, manufacturing facilities and food stores.

Surprisingly, nobody has suggested that dumpster diving may be an economic necessity for some. In a conversation with a friend whose daughter dives, he pointed out that our view of dumpster diving is often those of TV shows; the drunk rummaging around for food. When you think about it, usually the drug dependants are after money, not food. And, our social net is set up to give money (or food directly) to people in need.

My friend’s daughter says she and her boyfriend, like others who dive for items and food, are students and otherwise normal looking people of all ages who simply see the economic and environmental benefit to themselves and others.

She says she rarely sees people diving because of economic necessity. Baldly stated, her father asserts that people on welfare don’t dumpster dive because they don’t have to. (That’s a generalization on his part and not meant to fan heated discussions about the plight of the disadvantaged.)

We hear of people in tough times going to food banks and receiving financial assistance through government programs who would never consider dumpster diving, despite the fact that our social safety net doesn’t seem to be enough to meet their needs. This leads me to conclude that dumpster diving’s taboo reaches even to the desperate.

Chris and I have talked a lot about dumpster diving in the last few days. It became clear to me that dumpster diving represents the starting point for many discussions. For us, the environmental issue is huge.

Our economic system makes it more cost-effective for stores to simply throw things away than to realize their potential for sale or re-use.

Food waste is probably Chris’ biggest beef (no pun intended!) To put resources into growing a tomato in California (having potentially shipped oil from Canada to fuel the tractor), then to ship it on a one-time use pallet to Canada using more oil potentially from Canada, then to unpack it and put it on a shelf only to bundle it back up in a box, set it in a dumpster to be hauled by truck to a landfill without even the benefit of composting. The waste boggles the mind.

A discussion of dumpster diving leads to some interesting social questions, like liability, especially as it relates to food safety, but also the risk to a store of having strangers on its property unsupervised, sifting through a bin. Chris and I discussed this, but a number of others I’ve been talking to raised this issue as well.

We are a society besieged by rules, and subsequently by insurance. Rules are implemented to protect the lowest common denominator among us. If a person entered a store’s property without their permission (even if permission was tacit because the diving was not discouraged) and fell over and broke their arm, who is liable? Or ate discarded produce and became ill? Common sense tells us to take responsibility for our own actions. But modern day regulations tell us we have to protect others from their own actions, and ourselves from those actions.

In some cases liability concerns have curtailed dumpster diving with some stores keeping their bins under lock and key. This, so far, is probably the exception, not the rule, in my limited personal reconnaissance.

Where does dumpster diving fit into our economic system? No where as far as I’ve been able to see. It’s certainly taboo enough that rummaging through others’ trash for economic survival is discouraged by our western society, on both economic and social levels. Yet, we can all recall discussions by our grandparents of the lengths they went to, to support and feed families during the Depression.

Chris points out that recovering food that is unwanted has long been entrenched in the history of European farming. In some countries (even in modern times), it is acceptable, encouraged and legal to glean leftover produce at the end of harvest times straight from farmers’ fields.

Would viewing dumpster diving as modern day gleaning help make it acceptable?

In fact, how we view dumpster diving (or resource recovery, as I am now starting to think of it) is the key to how comfortable we are with the whole idea, whether we dive or not.

Perception it seems is everything.

Chris and I discovered that perception plays a big role in how we think about it. We entered this discussion knowing and embracing the notion of re-using others’ so-called waste. Our earthship home gave us the banner under which we trumpet our advocacy of re-use.

But what if we had never decided to build the earthship? What if we decided that to live simply we needed to be more resourceful and mindful of our waste and that dumpster diving was a way to do this?

Can we overcome the social expectations of our solid middle class upbringing? Our fathers are both professional engineers and all of our siblings are post secondary educated. We had monetarily successful careers in Toronto and San Francisco. We ran a highly successful business for a decade. We could afford new things and we would never have thought of buying used, let alone become industrious to get things for free. Dumpster dive? Not on your life!

And now that our perceptions of our consumer waste stream have changed? We truly do see much of the waste around us as useful, re-useable and beneficial.

I am excited about being a part of reducing waste and always look forward to ways to reduce waste and limit my impact on the earth.

But I still feel the weight of socially acceptable behaviour. How, for example, would I feel standing behind The Home Depot in Kamloops, at closing time, trying to figure out what would be useful for me? If there were others there, would I look them in the eye? Would I be afraid of seeing people I knew and being embarrassed for me and them? Would I say something to justify what I was doing? Would my environmental beliefs be enough to overcome any residual…shame?

Or what if I take up my friend’s daughter’s offer to dumpster dive with her and her boyfriend…for food? Could I do it? I’ve already sampled some delicious salsa she made from produce handed to her from the back door of a food store and only felt a twinge of apprehension about not knowing what I was eating. Why can’t I trust her as much as I trust the nameless people who grow, package and sell me food at the grocery store?

Could I stand behind a retail building and wait for the store’s waste for the day? Could I pick up a box of produce from a bin and clean off perhaps a little bit of dust and preserve or freeze it? Would I actually eat it if I preserved it? At what point would food in a bin become “ick” for me?

How is dumpster diving different from freecycle, which I enthuse about endlessly, having received free composters, fabric, canning jars and craft supplies? Or perusing the free ads on craigslist or kijiji? I’ve sometimes taken up a person’s ad on kijiji to pick plums from their tree because otherwise they would be too ripe to be any good. In what way is this different from accepting a box of almost too-ripe food from a store?

How would our friends view us? Chris and I are head coaches of our cross country ski club and we each volunteer in school and 4-H activities. Dumpster diving is the kind of activity and topic that can cause eyes to avert and can literally change how people perceive us. Would judgments be made about us that would alter our relationships for good?

What about our families? Most of our two families have been witnessing what must seem like a wacky, zigzaggy path along a very strange road and have become used to us challenging some common beliefs and traditions. But what about those who haven’t? Do I care what they think?

Our kids? They’ve been listening to the chatter and a few days ago Katie asked me outright if I was going to dumpster dive. I felt very uncomfortable admitting to her that I was considering it…in fact, that I had made up my mind to try it and write about it.

Considering that I was trained as a journalist, that I’m writing about dumpster diving, partially as an educational tool for others, and that I’m always telling the kids to keep their minds open…my reaction to her question was very telling about how far I’ve yet to travel.

So, resource recovery aka dumpster diving. I still see lots of that strange road stretching out ahead of me. If you still want to come along, buckle up and keep checking back here!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

From Curtain to Ballgown

Hi, I’m Chris & Sandra’s friend Jan in Toronto. I’m not nearly as “green” as Chris & Sandra, but I did recently undertake an unusual recycling project – turning an old curtain into a ballgown – and Sandra has asked me to ‘guest blog’ about it.

About 10 years ago, while I was browsing in a local antique shop, a flash of turquoise (my favourite colour) caught my eye. It was an old brocade curtain. I bought it, intending to remake it into café curtains for my home office. I think I paid about $20 for it. I put it in the closet and never actually got around to making the new curtains.

But recently, I’ve started sewing again. One of my hobbies is English Country Dancing – the type of dancing you see in Jane Austen movies – and in the past few months I’ve made a couple of Regency-style gowns for fancy dress balls. I started with a “practice” gown in a Liberty print cotton, to learn the pattern and get the sizing and fitting right (since I hadn’t sewn anything from a pattern since grade 8 Home Ec.). Then I made a midnight blue taffeta version, from a remnant I bought at half price, which I wore to a ball in February.
Having thoroughly learned how this pattern works by sewing it twice, I thought I might as well continue to get my money’s worth out of it by re-using it to make more gowns in other materials. (After all, there are five Regency balls scheduled this year alone in Toronto, so I’ll have plenty of opportunity to wear the dresses.) And then I remembered that old curtain in the bottom of the closet – that turquoise & gold brocade would make a great ballgown!

The curtain had heavy pleats and interfacing along the top of it, so my first task was to rip out all the original sewing. I quickly realized that the curtain had been homemade, and as I undid the stitches, I wondered about the person who had initially sewn the curtain and what s/he would have thought of my intention to turn it into a dress.

After ripping out the stitches, I wound up with two panels, each just over 2 metres long and 43” wide. I zig-zagged the raw edges, threw the material in the washing machine, then hung it up to dry over the banister on my staircase. When it was dry, I ironed the material, pressing a central fold into both panels while examining the fabric closely for wear. One panel had a significant patch of sun-fading, so I laid out my pattern pieces carefully to avoid that area.

The brocade was too heavy and limp to make a nice puffed sleeve, so I decided to look for some crisp, sheer material for the sleeves. A trip down Queen Street West netted me the additional fabric and notions that I needed for the project. I was thrilled to find the lining material in a bargain basement for $1 a yard. I only needed a yard, but there were just 2 yards left on the roll, so I took the whole thing. For the sleeves, I found an organza that matched the colour of the brocade extremely well. This was also a bargain at $4 per metre. (I've since seen it elsewhere for $12/m). The gold braid was $1.50/m and the gold buttons were $1.50 for a card of 6. Including thread, I estimate the entire gown cost me about $35. As I recently heard a frugalista say about an evening gown she bought at a garage sale, “I paid more for my bra than the gown!”

Oh, and I think this would be the appropriate time to claim some “green” brownie points by pointing out that I did not use a car to collect my raw materials. (In fact, I don’t drive at all.) I did all my shopping on foot and by subway.

I was a bit nervous about the organza, since I’d never actually worked with a sheer material before. But, the sleeves turned out fine on the first try. And they look a bit like fairy wings!

But since the sleeves are sheer, that meant I needed to bind the raw edges so they wouldn’t show. That’s where the extra yard of lining fabric from the bargain basement came in handy – I cut it into strips to create homemade bias tape, which I used both to bind the sleeve seams and to finish the raw edges of the skirt seams.

I hand-stitched the gold braid trim to the neckline, sleeve bands, and waistband. That took FOREVER! I did the sleeve trim while watching the Oscars. I started at the beginning of the red-carpet previews and I had only just finished at midnight when Tom Hanks announced The Hurt Locker as Best Picture.

In the end, I wound up with a ballgown that I’d be happy to wear to the Oscars (if I ever get the chance to go). After all, when asked by the press on the red carpet, “Who made your dress?”, it would be great fun to be able to answer, “I made it myself – out of an old curtain!”

My next recycling project? Well, I found this length of lace that the previous owner of our house left behind and probably intended to make into a curtain. And hey – I think there’s enough to make another Regency gown out of it!

And if anyone’s interested in trying this particular pattern, it can be orderd on-line from Sense & Sensibility Patterns, for $15.95 US, plus shipping.

Cheers, Jan

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dumpster Diving...the last frontier of frugality? Invisible eco-warriors? Low class scavengers?

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as I explore this controversial topic. What's your first reaction?  Who exactly can you find diving in dumpsters?  What's o.k. and what's not?  Are there limits on acceptable finds? Is food o.k. to dive for? Who does the system benefit? What kind of economic supply system feeds dumpster diving?  Think environmentally, financially, socially and emotionally.  Keep an open mind!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Photo gallery of a cob home being built

Check out Gord and Ann Baird's Flickr slide show of the building of their cob home near Victoria, B.C. I was going to reference one of their insightful and thoughtful posts, but got sucked into the photos! Beautiful!

CLUCK, CLUCK...Backyard chickens in the city!

Our family has long (well for the last few years) been advocates of farm raised chickens.  The health benefits of free range eggs and chickens are matched only by the satisfaction of knowing you've contributed to feeding yourself.

I'm delighted to say that backyard chickens are legal in....Vancouver!  I see this morning that Calgary is trying to jump on wagon.  Check out this CBC story, and if you are an urban dweller currently raising chickens (or want to), please share with us!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Humanure: An Exercise in Fecal Phobia or...Shit Happens

So why is it that we can see other animals' fecal matter as a useful and desireable product (for goodness' sake, some of us even pay $6.99 for somebody to put it in a plastic bag, plaster graphics on it-MooPoo of all things!) but the thought of packaging up our own waste and putting it to good use, turns on the "gross" factor?
Conditioning is what's done it and it's mostly societal.

A sustainable house ideally should support itself. This means the traditional flushing toilets presents some problems, primarily that our shit has to go SOMEWHERE. The first solution to this in an earthship design was a blackwater wetland and this system is still being used successfully with Earthship construction. Essentially it's a catchment area that dealt with all of the nasty stuff in a way that was kind to the environment and did not require invasive septic systems that needed to be pumped occassionally, necessitating further transport of our...crap.

Then came the popular view of composting toilets, which are now used in many many federal parks in the US. We've all heard of composting toilets...visions of chunky toilets with a large tray underneath and a little fan come to mind. And earthship builders started to install these systems...

We had originally planned to use composting toilets. It did kind of irk us, though, that our toilets had to be hooked up to the septic system with an overflow pipe. I had to think this one through for a minute and figure out who the building authority (and by extension our national building code) really thought they were protecting...Would anyone, I thought, be stupid enough to use a composting toilet to the point where it would overflow?  I mean, really, it's not like a person wouldn't have ample warning that it needed to be emptied!!!!

Regardless, this is just another of the weird rules in a world where common sense is a scarce commodity. And it's a weird world where we try to fit the natural order of things in a sustainable house into the constraints of an unsustainable building environment...I am constantly amazed, but as Dumbledore said to Harry, "We must not sink beneath our anguish, but soldier on!" Or something like that; I'm too lazy to look it up.

But I digress. Again.

So last summer the Canadian Family Robinson pulled in our yard with their 5th wheel. They had been giving themselves and their four children an amazing perspective on the world by travelling around North America for the better part of a year. If our friends and family think we are adventurous in our sustainable endeavors, Curt and Kim have embraced it without reservation. While Chris and I take time to really pick apart our decisions, Curt and Kim just seem to know when something is right.

They had retrofitted their 5th wheel with solar panels and a composting toilet...but not any kind of composting toilet; a humanure system. In a nutshell: a comfy toilet seat and lid on a wooden bench (closed in, of course) and a high tech waste receptacle below (5 gallon pail). Next to the toilet in a quite lovely wooden box, was a pile of fragrant pine shavings and a scoop. When I heard this (I never actually got a look at it last summer, but describe it here from our last visit with them), I must confess the "ick" factor kicked in when I was told how it all worked...

But I learned more. Monica and Nikki sent me some info on the Humanure Handbook (which you can read online for free here.) I used Robinson's humanure toilet when we visited them on their land near Duncan in November-they are still living in the 5th wheel while they are in the process of building a cob house. Later that same trip, we visited Ann and Gord Baird's cob home near Victoria and they have TWO of them. You know what? Nothing icky about it. Really. I got over myself.

And if you see pictures of the Baird's home, you will be stunned by how beautiful this sustainable house is. And it's all the more beautiful because of how it takes care of the waste in it.

It all makes sense. When the pail is comfortably full (but not too heavy), it gets emptied on to its own compost pile which runs at a whopping 120 degrees F. This kills anything iffy in the waste and allows it all to break down into what Chris terms "black gold". Then it can be used on gardens and in other growing areas. Hey, we're animals, it only makes sense to use our waste to our advantage. And the best part is that because a bucket does not have a pipe going in or out of it, it is not considered a plumbing fixture and does NOT have to be hooked up to the septic system. Cool. This has really given Chris and I something to think about.

So that's the poop on humanure. Check out the links and tell me what YOU think!