Some General Startup Questions

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Some General Startup Questions
Author: Test2 (Test2)
Friday, September 17, 2010 - 4:28 pm
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Watch out for apparently "paper coffee filters". Some company(s) got the stuptid notion to line them with plastic. I called one company and they tell me theirs is "food grade plastic" but will not biodegrade.

Well now I have a bunch of plastic in my compost pile that I have to sort thru and remove.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Friday, April 04, 2008 - 7:44 pm
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Regarding coffee filters, when my wife bought a coffee maker a few years ago, I immediately went online and located a brass screen filter, which we have used ever since. It works great and there is nothing to throw away.

Author: Ricke Weinkauf (Ricke)
Thursday, April 03, 2008 - 7:31 am
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I just joined the group. My husband and I have rural property in Texas and discovered the Humanure book while researching earth friendly utilities. The hard part is getting friends and relatives to visit (smile) but we are slowly winning them over. We bought an old school building and had it moved on. Before the building we had a bucket with a seat next to a tree providing a good collection of buckets before the compost was built, and great material for jokes about "our sh--". There has never been a problem with smell - we have horses and use hay for coverage. We also have a neighbor with a restuarant who has lots of 5 gal. pickle buckets (usually w/lids). We are probably fortunate in that Texas stays warm and having plenty of space (no worries of leaching)- although I have found that even with lots of cover, occasionaly some animal will dig in the pile. I try to dump the kitchen bucket with the toilet buckets on top. All I can say is THANK YOU Joseph Jenkins.
Ricke Weinkauf
Navasota, TX

Author: Will DeVoursney (Will_d)
Wednesday, April 02, 2008 - 3:59 pm
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Hey,Thanks for the good info on the dioxin. Now anyone; I have been into public health and organic gardening for 30 years and I would never compost human manure without some kind of screen barrier. I have almost always seen cool spots around the edges of compost piles and human feces carries e-coli. Yet I did not come accross fly control yet in the text. Am I just missing it? thank you, Will D

Author: Demeter (Demeter)
Wednesday, April 02, 2008 - 12:04 am
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There are plenty of bacteria and fungi, especially in a compost pile, that can break down dioxin and related compounds. Read about it here:

http://dioxin2004.abstract-management.de/pdf/p664.pdf

It looks like the Actinomycetes are the winners, and when the compost smells earthy, that's when the Actinomycetes are doing their work.

Meanwhile, use unbleached coffee filters or a French press.

Author: Will DeVoursney (Will_d)
Tuesday, April 01, 2008 - 6:30 pm
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Another question. Even our lax and lame EPA has serious concerns about Dioxin. They say that in parts per billion it is carcinogenic. So much that in serious discussions about the safety of coffee drinking some conclude that the biggest danger is in the bleached paper coffee filters. So what about the toilet paper; is it bleached? Wouldn't this build up in soil? Thanks.

Author: Will DeVoursney (Will_d)
Tuesday, April 01, 2008 - 6:24 pm
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Hi, I am kind of dumbfounded that I see no mention of screening material,as in window screen. I have never seen a compost pile that did not have cool spots on the edges. This always leads to fly larvae. I think that this might be dangerous in some cases as we know that they are the main disease vector. What do you think?

Author: rinchen (Rila)
Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 3:52 pm
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also thinking of building a little gravel trench around the perimeter in case there is any excess run off (for example: if the neighboring farmer gets his irrigation pipe lines to close and soaks our side of the fence ,,,) I am trying to get the placement of the bins just right because I'll have to defend this endeavor to lots of people i considered pretty "green" yet who are reluctant to see the benefits of composting the "brown"...

Author: rinchen (Rila)
Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 3:45 pm
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A couple of feet, maybe 4...

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Saturday, March 22, 2008 - 9:06 pm
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How far from the garden? Inches or feet? Leachate is not a problem for me, but I have seen people running a garden hose into their humanure compost while cleaning receptacles (for example), adding too much water and allowing leachate to run out of the bottom. So the answer depends...

Author: rinchen lhamo (Rila)
Friday, March 21, 2008 - 5:06 pm
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A question regarding how close the humanure bins should be/could be located to the garden... So, i'd like to just retro fit the existing compost bin for humanure collection. the existing bin is located slightly uphill from the garden space ... does anyone foresee leachate or anything else being a problem even if the earthen bottoms of the bins are concave (at about 2.5 ft deep)? Or should i try to locate the bins farther off from where we grow?

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Thursday, August 16, 2007 - 2:49 pm
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Can you make the bottom of the bins flat and dish them out like a bowl? That would solve the problem.

Author: John Arthur Adams (Johnboy)
Monday, August 13, 2007 - 8:13 pm
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G'day to all from Oz
I'm about to construct my composting bins. My house is situated on the side of a small mountain and I want to construct my bins not too far from the house. This means that the bins will be on the slope as well. My question relates to the issue of heavy rainfall and the subsequent runoff. I was thinking about digging a horseshoe shaped trench around the bins on the down slope side and filling it with gravel to collect runoff. Any input from experienced composters would be appreciated. Thanks John

Author: TCLynx (Tclynx)
Wednesday, November 01, 2006 - 8:46 pm
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In some larger comercial compoting operations they pump the lechate back over the compost. I don't know if you would want to deal with that option since it probably requires regular cleaning and maintinance of the pump system.

Another option might be to mechanically airate the bottom of the pile with an air pump. I've heard of someone doing such with a smaller bin system but there was never an update about how it did over the longer term.

There is likely to be some leakage in any case. The concrete is going to take on a smell no matter what you do so you are going to have to keep a good layer of cover over the bottom of even the empty chamber. I think your best bet might be to look into tank airation pumps and see if you can get a solar pannel that will run one. Then even if there is a build up of liquid in the bottom, it will be airated as well as helping airate the pile.

Good luck

Author: Giles Walker (Giles)
Thursday, October 12, 2006 - 12:32 pm
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Hi there, I currently use a bucket system but Iīve just built a twin chamber compost toilet with outhouse above. Each chamber is built from concrete blocks and has a concrete floor.
I aim to give it a false floor for air circulation. My main concern is that I will have a liquid build up at the bottom of the chamber that may fill the ventilation space and eventually seep out. Any ideas how I can prevent this? I donīt want to seperate urine. Thanks.

Author: TCLynx (Tclynx)
Thursday, August 24, 2006 - 9:44 pm
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I do have some experience of composting in smaller containers (50 gallon drum size with holes.) It is tricky to get enough cover material in the bottom and around the sides. Problem being that the bin tends to fill up very quickly and it can be difficult to add wet/smelly contents into the bin without some of it getting too close to the sides.

When wet smelly things drip down the sides it can be difficult to fix the situation. I have done it by tipping my bin away from the side that got contaminated and stuffing more cover down that side. I also found that I needed to put cover material under my bins but my bins are on concrete. If something smelly does leak out I can scoop up the soiled cover material that is on the concrete around and under my bin and place it in the bin.

One other thing I found which may be just personal taste but, hay did not work well as cover material for my situation. (perhaps the smell of hay congers too many other negative smells in my mind and after the first poorly dumped bucket problems, well...)Leaves seem to work much better for covering smells and absorbing liquid.

Another issue with smaller plastic composting bins, the amount of moisture can be difficult to control. Too much liquid can cause some leak and smell problems. Too little moisture and you don't get enough composting.

Good luck

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Friday, July 14, 2006 - 12:54 pm
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If you can smell it from 30 feet away, the neighbors are probably not liking it either. I have no experience with using a plastic compost device, so I really don't know what to tell you. Try adding more clean cover material until you get the odor to stop.

Author: catbox
Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 5:20 pm
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thanks for answering,
I was adding the used litter twice a week, a bucket full each time. I have added hay around the edges of the litter, so the Earth Machine has an 18-inch layer of hay on the bottom, and a 4-inch layer of hay on the inside, sides and top, surrounding the contents. The Earth Machine is now half full.

Should I make the side and top hay thicker?
Is this smell normal? I can smell it strongly 30 feet away...getting worried that I'll bother my neighbors.

When you wrote "so nothing leaks out of the bin", did that include smells?

How long before it shrinks down or looks different? I have stopped adding to it....should I start up again? thank you

Author: catbox
Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 4:53 pm
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I started trying to compost my soiled recycled-newspaper kitty litter two weeks ago. I am using a black plastic Earth Machine composter. I havn't used a thermometer yet, there is a large snake living in the shed where I put the thermometer and I am leery of digging around in the shed.

I used dried grass clippings from my neighbor's yard to cover the layers of kitty litter. There is an 18 inch layer of hay in the bottom of the composter, and I used a little more hay to top it off. Also used hay to fill in around the sides of the pile of used litter as it got higher.

It didn't get hot and I got impatient, so I added one bucket of HM, also a watered-down cup of yogurt and some safflower oil. Now there are waves of heat rolling off of it which is great, but, it smells awful. Also a bunch of tiny flies which don't bother me, I've just never seen them here before. I can't identify the smell. Does not smell like toilet contents, more like my boyfriend's horrible old tennis shoes. Maybe with a nasty rotted grass clippings odor mixed in....like very stale water.

I have not touched it for a week to see if there would be any change. No change. Still looks like it did when I put it in the composter. No melting down of volume. Can anyone give me advice on what is happening....why the bad smell? I have tried taking the lid off, or leaving the lid on, but it doesn't seem to make any difference.

I wasn't sure if the used litter would be damp enough, so I did wet it down with greywater. The hay is sprouting just a little, I don't know if that indicates anything. thank you

Author: Joe
Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 10:13 am
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Catbox,

You must use your courser cover materials, such as hay, straw,or weeds, to create a lining as you add toilet material so nothing leaks out of the bin.

Author: Anonymous
Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 1:51 am
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If I make a compost bin out of pallets do i need to line it?

Author: catbox
Friday, June 30, 2006 - 6:35 pm
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I read the amazing book in March. Okay, I've got my black plastic Earth Machine composter set up.

I put a piece of hardware cloth under it in hopes of detering rats.

It does seem a little small, but only the cat and I will use it.

Right now I am just putting my catbox contents in the bin to see if it will get hot, or shrink down, without me giving any thought to cat manure/recycled newspaper cat litter ratios. I put an 18 inch layer of hay on the bottom. I poured the water I used to wash the catbox over the litter, and covered the litter with dry grass clippings. It smells like hay. We'll see what happens next.

Thank you Mr. Jenkins and everybody else who answered my questions. Very, very helpful and informative to a newby.

Author: Paul Cooley
Monday, November 07, 2005 - 6:26 pm
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Hello Everyone,

We just started using our sawdust toilet and are very happy with it. The smell is certainly better than we had in trying to save water by not flushing #1. I had a few general questions:

1) With the proper amount of straw and other compostable materials, is it possible to overwater your compost? I regularly dump my dishpan on the compost to put the organic material from the washwater there. We live in the Southwest, so everything is usually very dry, but when I'm conscientiously reusing our dish water, the compost stays pretty soggy. Is there a way to monitor the proper amount of moisture?

2) My compost pile is contained within a frame of old pallets. It's closer to three by three than five by five. Is the smaller size of the pile a detriment to the thermophilic process?

3) Our city's recycling program does not recycle things like cereal and macaroni and cheese boxes. Are the inks on those boxes bad for the compost pile, and do such boxes compost down?

I've posted a writeup about the sawdust toilet on my blog, http://carfreefamily.blogspot.com. I'm not trying to blow my own horn on the message board, but I had a couple of commentors who had questions that a comment from a more experienced humanure practitioner may be able to answer.

Thanks,

Paul

Author: Paul Cooley
Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 10:22 am
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Oh, I had one more question. Our soil is a little alkaline, so I don't want to spread our wood ashes directly on the garden. Would putting them in the compost help moderate the alkalinity of my wood ashes? If you need your soil to be a little more acidic, what's the best way of disposing of your wood ashes? Right now I just dump them in the trash because I'm not sure what else to do.

Author: Wayne
Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - 5:02 pm
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I'm a newbie, Paul, but for what it's worth,here is a picture of my bin:

http://www.thefourprecepts.com/waynesworld/mmisc-pic/Compost_2.jpg

The section on the right is the active one. I have sawdust stored in the center and mulched leaves and grass-clippings on the left.

My pile seems to be heating very nicely, but I don't mess with it between major deposits--about twice per month, so far. At those times, I put about 10 gallons of humanure, 5 or 10 gallons of foodwaste, and 5 gallons of wash water (from washing the buckets).

The humanure is mine, alone. The food waste comes from my folks, next door. Since there seems to be several of you, 3 x 3 is probably going to be kind of small to be adding much extra stuff too.

All the best,

Wayne Ferguson
http://www.TheFourPrecepts.com/waynesworld/humanure.html

Author: admin
Friday, November 11, 2005 - 11:39 pm
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There are aditional photos here: http://jenkinspublishing.com/process.html

Joe

Author: Anonymous
Saturday, March 25, 2006 - 7:45 pm
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hi, thankyou for the great book. I am involved in neighborhood emergency prepardness and I am going to try to get my neighbors interested in trying the sawdust toilet, at least during an emergency when the water is off. I have read the posts and the book, but I am confused about some things. For instance, what is the difference between hay and straw? Is one better than the other for covering the outside pile?

All the sawdust I can find for sale here is redwood and I don't think that would decompose. There is a cabinet shop that will give me their sawdust for free. Which is better, cabinet shop sawdust, or cabinet shop very fine powdery dust from sanding?

I can get all the coffee grounds I want from a local coffee shop. Could I use coffee grounds as a cover material for the outside pile?

Must the compost pile be 5 by 5? How long would it take a single person with very little kitchen scraps to build a pile that would get hot? Is there something else I could add to the humanure besides kitchen scraps to make it heat up better?

I can get a black plastic compost bin called the Earth Machine free from our garbage service. It is not 5 by 5. Would it be okay to try to build a hot pile inside it? This would hide it from the neighbors, and help keep rats out.

thank you anyone who wants to talk to me, and thank you Mr. Jenkins for this awesome book, and for letting me share it with my neighbors. I am staying anonymous for fear of county authorities.

Author: Joe Jenkins
Saturday, March 25, 2006 - 10:05 pm
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Hay is the full field grass used to feed animals such as cows. It often contains clover, timothy, etc. Straw is what's left after grain is harvested (such as wheat, oats or rye). It doesn't have a feed value and is typically used for animal bedding. They both make compost, although hay probably has more nutrients, but straw is not used for feed so it seems more appropriate for making compost, especially if it's soiled with animal manure (but even if it isn't).

You will have to experiment with the sawdust(s) and the coffee grounds, including a mix.

You can make a compost bin from pallets, which is smaller than 5x5. It takes 2-6 weeks usually for a new pile to start heating up. This is a rough estimate.

Any green material helps a compost pile, such as grass, leaves, weeds, etc.

The black plastic compost bin *might* work. If you experiment with it, let us know how it works.

Author: James
Sunday, March 26, 2006 - 9:28 am
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I have two of those black plastic compost bins. I used them successfully as compost bins for 2 years. When I began humanure composting, though, they proved too small, so I use them for holding bins for leaves, weeds, and other cover materials.

Author: Stephen
Sunday, March 26, 2006 - 6:10 pm
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Redwood will rot if in the right condition.I would blend the grounds with the sawdust.

Author: TCLynx
Monday, March 27, 2006 - 7:20 pm
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As I've seen Joe say alot, if it is freely available, try it and see how well it works. The black plastic bins may be a bit small but if they are free, it might be worth starting with them at least to prove it works.

Please do some reading through the forum because there are some words of caution about advertising that you humanure.

Author: Anonymous
Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - 10:28 pm
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to James who posted on March 26,2006:

hi. What did you mean when you said the black plastic composter was too small to use for Humanure? Was is too small to make a hot pile? Too small to hold your household's buckets?(How many people in your houshold?) Too small to dump a bucket into without making a mess? Too small how? I am really curious about this.

Now that you use them for holding cover materials, do rats move in and make themselves at home? Or do gophers fill them up with dirt?

Has anyone used any kind of composter to Humanure in? I can't make bins out of pallets in my yard, it would be too obvious.
thank you

Author: Anonymous
Saturday, April 29, 2006 - 7:32 pm
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It can be done in a 35-55 gallon trash can turned into a compost bin, but they will fill up fast even with only one or two people.

How small is your yard? Pallets could be used for a regular compost bin so they won't necessarily be obviously for humanure or anything. However if your neighborhood is of the type not to allow a pallet compost bin in your yard, are they much more likely to allow any other type of compost bin?

With some posts and wood, a nice compost bin can be constructed but it may not be much different than one made of pallets.

Author: wayne
Monday, May 01, 2006 - 8:37 am
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Maybe build a single bin and camouflage it with lattice and flowers/vines, etc. If a small outbuilding is permitted, perhaps the bin could be built behind it... Where there's a will, there's a way! I recall reading books on poultry that told of the pains some city dwellers took to have chickens (fresh eggs!) in spite of zoning ordinances... I'd think compost would be a snap compared to a flock of laying hens! :)

Author: Anonymous
Monday, May 01, 2006 - 10:11 pm
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thank you everybody for responding to my questions re black plastic composters.

If I built a shed to hide a bin or two, would there be a problem because of air and sun being cut off from the bin? I live in coastal California, foggy mornings and sunny afternoons, and it never freezes.

In my neighborhood, those traditional three-bin set ups made of pallets become infested with rats. The only thing I can think of to keep rats out of the pile would be to build a cubical hardware cloth and 2by2s cage around all sides of the pile, with a hinged top.
Also, gophers invade anything that covers the ground that they can push loose dirt from their tunnels up into.

Author: Joe Jenkins
Monday, May 01, 2006 - 10:29 pm
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Many commercial composting operations take place indoors.

Author: Cara Lin Bridgman
Tuesday, May 02, 2006 - 12:11 pm
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My compost bins are under cover (carport-like shed) and propped up on bricks to keep them elevated above the ground. This is because when it rains, there's way too much rain and tends to wash everything out. When it's dryer, I water them once a week with 6-10 liters of grey water (laundry water, which also goes on the flower garden).

My bins are between my front door and the street (within 3 meters of the street so any and all can and do investigate). The bins are small, walled on one side with cement and the other sides with pallets (about 4 feet high by 4 feet deep and 2 feet wide), but they do heat up. No data on temperatures because no thermometer yet.

I compost my litter (paper & sawdust pellets), the cat's litter (sawdust pellets), the occasional street-dog doo if deposited on my drive, and cover with sawdust fertilized by miscellaneous rodents (donated by a nearby lab). Actual green material (plants, leaves, fruit peelings) is rare, but anything 'biological' (cloth, paper, hair, rotten wood, chicken bones) is cut up and thrown in (plus the occasional exceptionally icky plastic bag). The bins are full in 4-6 months. A finished pile cooks down to about 2/3 in about four months. Although the yard is walled and floored with cement, the compost pile gets colonized by termites, extra-large beetle larvae, earthworms, and is occasionally hit by soldier flies.

Taiwan is subtropical with two main seasons: soggy and steamy and less soggy and steamy. Our part of town is over an enormous termite colony that tends to burst out of the cement to build 'overflow housing' up walls and tree trunks. Wood, including pallets, can go pretty fast.

Author: TCLynx
Tuesday, May 02, 2006 - 6:56 pm
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To deal with the rat problem you could simply make your bins out of wire mesh, bottom sides and top. You may need some posts or something for support but then you could screen it with anything to make it look appealing.

Plan carefully before building it against a shed. I wouldn't be too worried about one side being cut off from air but you don't want to rot out the side of the shed if it is built of wood.

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