Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why My Dalek Won’t Go With the Flow

Each and every day “Her Outdoors” exercises masterful patience with those aspects of our lives which marry the muck of an allotment to the domestic indoors of a tight quartered semi. She has kept schtum about the pest ridden onions on the kitchen table, the rows of mould filled glasses for sloughing tomato seeds on the window sill, the free range slug and earwig passengers we intercept on the cream living room carpet.
But now and then she puts her clog down.
The idea I’d been turning in my head was the ultimate in recycling, borne out of my frustration with the Dalek – what we call our pepper pot shaped garden composting bin.
The Dalek gets fed at least once a week with our food waste, old newspapers, tea bags, peelings, gone off guck, our eggshells and whatnots which all go into a large caddy in the kitchen – a big two foot high picnic icebox job with a sealing handle. Along with this, the Dalek eats the year’s grass cuttings, the weeds, the prunings from the annual garden clean up, the exhausted soil from all the patio containers and at this time, the bags of leaves I collect on our estate. All in all, it works out at about the equivalent of twenty large wheelie bin loads per year.
Despite this, the damned Dalek refuses to fill up. Last week, just before I tipped in the usual caddy of guck, I noted that the proceeds of the previous week’s loads were nowhere to be seen. At all. The Dalek and its resident heebie jeebies had exterminated the lot into a fine dark frithy tith in seven days. Is this possible?

Our "dalek" - exterminating kitchen waste yesterday

Now while this all might seem like good news to you lot, I for one want some compost back in exchange for our guck. But no matter how much I pile in there, I only ever get half a Dalek of compost at year’s end. More tardis than Dalek if you ask me and certainly not enough production to stave off paying retail barn prices for organic compost which is now pound for pound more expensive than a sack of potatoes at Lidl.

Our kitchen guck caddy - the dalek eats two of these a week

I figured that if I couldn’t make more compost, I could perhaps find ways to make it richer and thus, go further. In this regard, I kept returning to something I’d read online a few years ago.
A search on “compost making” had taken me to Julian Cope’s web site of all places. Among the worshipful gushes of aging Teardroppers, an eco warrior chappie named Merrick, who also happens to be one of JT’s good buddies (Temple has mentioned him several times in interviews), offered some good composting advice. Somewhere he adds: “feel free to have a wazz in the heap (compost) if your neighbours aren’t looking.” He notes that human urine is a rich source of nitrogen and an “essential for kick starting compost.”
First, there are dangers associated with “wazzing” in our Dalek – you’d have to climb onto it first and its lid sits about chest height. Second, the neighbours would definitely see you because any viable Dalek wazzer would have to be stood higher than the shed roofs along our garden fence line. However, collecting said “wazz” in a vessel for later transfer sounded like a possibility.

Kevin,  our intrepid gnome demonstating the hazards of "wazzing" in a dalek

I decided to research further because after all, life on earth is based on eating and excreting - a relay exchange of the very same minerals and nutrients from one life form to another and back again. Animals feed plants, plants feed animals.
 "Liquid Gold" by Carol Steinfeld highlights the wonders of human pee for plants not least the high nitrogen and phosphorous levels – two chemicals which are the staples of shop bought and oil based fertiliser. Anna Eday, author of the book "Solviva," claims to have grown 200 onions on a single square yard of ground using only her own pee as fertiliser. Using this and other methods, Eday claims to have grown US$500,000 of food from a single acre.
Now take it to the second stage – to number two if you like.  "Humanure" is a best selling book by Joe Jenkins which has gone through two editions and seven different prints since first published in 1995. It’s success has haunted Jenkins who, despite penning many works on myriad subjects, has since become a stalwart of every “and finally..” tv news segment slot that exists in the USA and one more for the BBC.

Joe Jenkin's book the "Humanure Handbook" also available free to download on his website otherwise known as "Humanure Headquarters" -
Jenkins highlights our acceptance of cattle and chicken manure as fertiliser when these contain so much more dangerous pathogens than human waste. And he puts his money where his mouth is – he’s fed his crops on his own family’s waste for more than 20 years without mishap.
Jenkins says the flush toilet, one of the perceived hallmarks of a civilised society, does nothing but transport a valuable food growing resource to the one place on where it can do the most possible harm - into the salt and fresh water eco systems.
Jenkins’ system is a mobile home type “dry” toilet which comes accompanied by a sack of earth, sawdust or (poetically) shredded junkmail. Then the results go into the centre of a great big compost heap with household and other waste on the outside. He points out that the heat generated in a typical compost heap (71 degrees centigrade) is more than enough to kill any pathogens and turn human waste into prime grade manure.
Those who have tried his methods enthuse online that his system is clean and odourless. Mails to his website include one from a relief worker based in a third world country, who, in the absence of a “proper” sewerage systems, has not only managed to prevent disease by halting the use of rivers or latrines (the contents of which inevitably find their way into rivers anyway), but claims to have helped increase local food production considerably in an area where locals can’t afford fertilisers and where animals don’t provide enough.
It’s not a new idea either. The late writer and environmentalist, John Seymour, the grandfather of modern self sufficiency and who inspired the tv series “The Good Life,” always maintained a “thunder box” at his smallholding farm in Wexford where he turned decades of human waste into quality fertiliser. Indeed some of the fertiliser you buy at the garden centre may already have been produced this way, Ringsend in Dublin is among those municipal sewerage plants which already turns human solids into commercial fertiliser.

John Seymour - the grandaddy of the modern self sufficiency movement
But while a “thunder box” is probably more suited to those with a few acres under them, the reuse of wazz in our own semi detached homestead was certainly something which could be considered as an idea to turbo charge our compost. Perhaps a lidded tub placed to one side in the downstairs loo – it could accompany the caddy to the Dalek each week?
So I’d even gotten as far as relating to “Her Outdoors” the idea of hanging up a sign in there, like one of those jokey “if you tinkle when you sprinkle” things but instead asking our guests to “tinkle for our vegetables.”
She, hitherto sitting in incredulous silence, suddenly  shot her arm out, flat hand forward, in the universal sign of “Halt Right There Mister!
And years of carpet running slugs, thiosulphinating onions and crowded kitchen windowsills all spilled out at once. It started with: “We are ABSOLUTELY NOT etc etc etc and did not end for a long, long time.”
It does make absolutely perfect environmental sense in every way. Just not in our household.
And it was at least worth the look on her face  ; )

something like this....

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