Decomposing Humanure in the Ground

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: Humanure Composting Around the World: Decomposing Humanure in the Ground
Author: Md_heath (Md_heath)
Sunday, September 19, 2010 - 8:15 am
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I am composting night soil (humanure) in chad, africa. we use both the bucket toilets for families and we use a "community" pit latrine. the bucket toilets allow families to have a clean, safe toilet inside their bedroom and the pit latrines allow the buckets to be emptied by the families into the pits and allow for 'public' use of the pit latrines. we have 2 pit latrines. they are 1.2 m deep so there is little risk of soil collapse. we line the sides with 'gapped' brick so that they can be used for years. the idea is to have them spaced out through the community such that one fills in a year and then composts while the next is being filled. then the compost is removed at the end of the year (just before planting time) and the cycle repeats. i have an extensive paper on the matter that I would be happy to email to interested parties. we use this mix of methods to meet the economic reality that a plastic bucket and simple 4-legged stand costs about the value of 10 days wages for a villager. we also needed to face the cultural issue of public vs private toilet facilities. although we are using a pit, it is open air, and heavily filled with organic matter. there are no flies, no odors, and the system is readily accepted by the users. chadian composting pit latrine for night soil

Author: Ohiogoatgirl (Ohiogoatgirl)
Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - 12:35 pm
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i have been doing something similair. mine is just a small hole becuase i dont know how much we are producing yet. the hole (which is sorta what its been named) is in the woods and is about 2 ft deep, 2 ft long, and about 6 inches wide. using the squat method and some toilet paper still. everytime someone goes they cover there business with leaves (using a stick). it isnt full yet. but that is b/c i'm pretty much the only one who uses it b/c mom says its an animals toilet and my sisters just say its gross. last time my sister had to use it she peed on her foot. it was hilarious! i told her she needs to learn to aim. :-) very interesting!!!

Author: Newb1 (Newb1)
Saturday, December 26, 2009 - 3:30 am
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I believe above-ground composting should work fine. Pretty much all animal manure (including dog poop) which stays above ground quickly gets dried up and gets decomposed. For thousands of years, Indians have collected dried cow dung that was above ground and used it for all kinds of natural applications.
There is no clear reason why human manure should be different from horse, dog or cow manure in danger. Above ground manure would quickly dry up, have fast aerobic decomposition. Without water, it is hard for it to rot and smell bad.

Author: Alan J Marshall (Ecointerest)
Sunday, June 29, 2008 - 3:33 am
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Mike, maybe I am preaching to the converted here, but reading your post I wonder how you will react to viewing Joe's video clips. They are so self-explanatory, and the process so straight forward, that I would be surprised if you gave your "above-ground heap" another thought. Anything for an easy life!
Best wishes.

Author: mike (Frost)
Sunday, June 29, 2008 - 2:34 am
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About a year and a half ago I built a "shed over hole" type of compost toilet on our organic farm/training centre (in IRELAND), for visitors and volunteers who camp here. The toilet is used mainly May-Sept, when we could have 5 people camping for weeks at a time.

The hole was originally very deep (8 feet+ I think, though I pushed some dirt back into it) and I lined it with at least 4 feet of loose straw before we started. It extends past the end of the shed so part of the hole is exposed to air, but also to rain and runoff from the shed roof.

We use sawdust and straw as cover material. This has worked ok for the past year, meaning that it rarely smelled, but I never went down into the hole to check it. Recently it has started to smell, and I went down to find the pile was wet and quite full. I spread it out somewhat, added lots of shredded newspaper, and put cover over the exposed area to discourage the rain getting in. That was a few weeks ago and smell has improved only slightly.

My working theory here is that, as Joseph has posted here, it's not aerobic due it being underground and being wet. I'm thinking of starting a new above-ground one - ie steps into a little shed above an above-ground heap, so I'm open to suggestions as to what to do with the one I have. Once we stop using it, how can I get it to compost properly? My fallback is to pull all the material out and put it on the new above-ground heap, but it's a lot of work so if there are other suggestions I'd be very interested!

Author: Herb Stamser (Herb)
Sunday, May 18, 2008 - 12:58 pm
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OP

I began using Joe's humanure compost method to AVOID digging holes to bury the stuff! I had been doing that for years and found digging around roots and other obstructions and always looking for new place a burden. The compost method is so easy that it's amazing! With the small amount of humanure mentioned in the OP it will take years to make a compost pile of any size, maybe never. I'm still filling my first bin and it's got to be going on 3-4 years! If you cover it with leaves, sawdust, etc. it will not smell bad or look suspicious. Again, I used the digging-a-hole method for years and the Humanure Handbook came like a Revelation!

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Thursday, May 01, 2008 - 2:26 pm
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Kelsey - you can still situate your toilet over your compost pile. You will need to have steps up into the toilet. Easier to build steps than to dig a hole.

Author: Kelsey Laurence (Rungirl2005)
Thursday, May 01, 2008 - 12:27 am
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Thanks John. My logic regarding the "below ground" compost pile was to:
1 - Limit the above-ground bulk. The property is not huge, so a large pile sitting for a year while another large pile builds up seems cumbersome.
2 - Have the "second bathroom" (outhouse - appropriately designed, of course) atop the active compost pile, limiting the bucket work.
I'd hate to have the compost cause a problem, but would like to find a way to do this. If there are any suggestions to make this work, please let me know.

Author: John Smith (John)
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - 8:20 am
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Kelsey writes:
"Wondering if an in-ground compost bin provided with vent-pipes for aeration is practical for humanure."

Practical? Not really, considering that above ground composting works so well. Is there a special circumstance that prevents you from composting traditionally?

I'm sure you could make it work, though it may likely require forced aeration.

"This will be in a warm climate (Mexico) with sandy soil. I was planning on lining the bottom 18" of the "pit" with hay/straw, as well as 12" thickness around the edges."

Would it be a open earth pit or would it be an underground bin that is watertight?

"Should I be concerned about leaching?"

Yes.

"How far downslope from my well is a reasonable distance?"

That all depends on very specific conditions and can't really be answered without detailed soil/hydrologic information.

I personally wouldn't take the chance of contaminating my water supply with this experiment unless the underground compost took place in a secure and watertight vault.

John

Author: Kelsey Laurence (Rungirl2005)
Tuesday, April 29, 2008 - 10:52 pm
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Wondering if an in-ground compost bin provided with vent-pipes for aeration is practical for humanure. This will be in a warm climate (Mexico) with sandy soil. I was planning on lining the bottom 18" of the "pit" with hay/straw, as well as 12" thickness around the edges. Should I be concerned about leaching? How far downslope from my well is a reasonable distance?

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Monday, July 23, 2007 - 12:40 pm
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In Mongolia, I saw a stack of tires about 4' high that had been filled over time with compostable materials. Over time and the addition of more materials, the contents broke down and shrank, were added to again and again, until finally the tire bin seemed to reach its capacity. This may have taken years, I don't know. In any case, once full, they waited for the next growing season, then planted tomatoes on top of the tire container and they were growing like crazy.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Monday, July 23, 2007 - 12:36 pm
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A small bin can be made from stacked tires, a 55-gallon drum punched full of holes, some wire fencing rolled into a tube, etc., etc.

Author: TCLynx (Tclynx)
Wednesday, July 18, 2007 - 10:30 pm
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You dont even need to build a bin. Make a heap in that corner you were plannin to make your holes. You can add to it for years before it will be much of a pile.

Author: Rich (Richard_w)
Monday, July 16, 2007 - 9:01 pm
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Why is 2 or 3 pails to small to compost? When the pile gets big enough it will heat up. I think 15 gallons of humanure in a bin with plenty of your leaf mold would be heating by the time you leave for the year. The next year simply add to the pile. Even if it doesn't heat really well it will probably shrink every year which means you can keep adding to it for some time. Earthworms will get into it on the bottom after a few years and shrink it even further. When it gets full build a new bin, fill it over the course of several years, and by then what's left in the first bin should be usable compost (which the trees will love if you don't have any other use for it.) Then start the whole thing over in the first bin while the second one ages. I think the end product will be much better than what you would get by burying it.
Plus you would have a place for other compostable items should you find you have any while at the property. Also, adding cover to a bin has got to be easier than digging holes and chopping roots. Sure, it's work to build the bins, but you only do that once.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Friday, July 13, 2007 - 9:14 pm
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The difference between composting and decomposing is that composting involves microorganisms that are both aerobic and thermophilic (i.e. produce heat), while underground decomposition is not likely to be aerobic or involve thermophilic microorganisms. Thermophiles are widely documented to destroy human pathogens such as intestinal parasites that normally require a portion of their life cycle in the ground. Burying humanure will not readily destroy these pathogens if they are present, and may even encourage them. However, given enough years in the ground, the parasites will eventually die off. In a thermophilic compost pile for example, roundwork eggs can be killed in a matter of hours. In the ground, they can live up to 7 years or more, according to some sources. This is why we do not encourage the burying of human excrement, which essentially is what an outhouse or pit latrine does. This information is all spelled out in the Humanure Handbook.

Author: Tassiejohn (Tassiejohn)
Friday, July 13, 2007 - 6:19 pm
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I would agree that the only difference between composting and decomposing is probably the length of time. I'm guessing, but I'd bet money that when you re-dig the hole in 2 years you won't find anything but humus, fine roots and maybe some remnant particles of sawdust if they're from a timber that's rot resistant.

I'd be interested to hear how it goes, pity we have to wait 2 years to find out!

Author: George Fredrick Robinson (Selin)
Friday, July 13, 2007 - 4:08 pm
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I have a question on composting verses decomposing. What's the difference between humanure that is composted above-ground and humanure left to decompose underground. I thought the only difference was that the underground process took longer due to having less oxygen but the end result was the same - humus.

Author: George Fredrick Robinson (Selin)
Friday, July 13, 2007 - 11:35 am
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Thanks for your suggestion. I'll try the shallow hole approach. Our woodlot is only a couple acres but there are no wells or surface water on or near our property and our neighbours are not close. I will not be adding food scraps so critter digging should not happen. I would like to maintain my three hole concept by re-digging previous holes every three years. This will mean a smaller area is needed for disposal and decomposition thus keeping my wife happy! Also digging holes in root infected woodlands is a lot of work so being able to re-dig a hole would be easier. Do you think two years would be suffice to fully decompose?

Author: Tassiejohn (Tassiejohn)
Friday, July 13, 2007 - 8:20 am
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I haven't used this process, but for such small volumes I would think it would work fine and everything would decompose quite quickly, though it's not going to compost like a proper compost heap.

The holes should probably be well away from any water (creek / pond / dam) and, though it might seem counter intuitive, it could work well having the hole fairly wide and shallow (say 6"-8" deep) as this top layer of the soil will have the greatest aeration and natural microbial activity. Probably means your hole will be a mound when you leave. An issue with a shallow hole is you might get it dug up by critters if you put food scraps in it.

Probably no need to re-dig any of the holes, just find a new patch each time :-)

What do others out there think?

Author: George Fredrick Robinson (Selin)
Thursday, July 12, 2007 - 4:57 pm
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I am setting up a sawdust toilet, on a woodlot acreage. We only occasionally visit the acreage so we will only generate two or three pails of humanure per season. This volume is too small to effectivelly compost in an above-ground bin. My plan is to each spring dig a hole in the ground large enough to hold one season's deposits (approx three pails). I would add a layer of leaf mold to the bottom of the hole. Then as we dump the pails, cover each deposit with a layer of leaf mold and a little soil. At the end of the season (fall) I would completely cover the hole with a thick layer of soil and leave it to decompose. The following spring I would dig a new hole to hold the summers deposits and so on. My deposite site would be at a remote location on the woodlot and would never need more than three holes. After the humanure sits covered with soil and undistrubued for two full years it should be completely decomposed and I would be able to re-dig up that first hole and start all over. Has anyone else used this or a similar process to manage small volumes? I would appreciate your comments. Would two years underground be sufficient time for complete decomposition or would it be wise to wait three years?

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