Thursday, September 17, 2015

Time...How She Flies!

"Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use."

- Earl Nightingale -

It has been entirely too long since I've posted anything. Seven months??? I thought for SURE I posted back in April. Well, as my grandmother would say, it's 30 lashes with a wet noodle, huh?

Raise your hand if your grandma is sassy too.
I've been soooo busy and thought I really had no updates to share but as I sit here gathering my thoughts, so much is coming to mind. I can scarcely type fast enough to get it all out.

I guess I'll start where most people are most curious: my tiny house timeline. I am hoping to break "ground" (saying "break trailer" sounds wrong and slightly foreboding) in February or March 2016 depending on Texas weather.

Now the second thing people always want an update on: my compost toilet. 

This is by FAR the thing that I have become known by. I even have a coworker that has lovingly bestowed upon me the title of "He Who Poops in His Room" (which has caused some crazy looks in the break room). 

I am sad to report that I ran into a small snag and had to put my little toilet on time out. I've been successfully using my compost toilet since December of 2014 but, as I mentioned in a previous post, I'm not crazy about using peat moss in it. It does the job of suppressing odors fantastically but I don't really like the earthy, soil smell that it gives off. I have been considering switching to cedar saw dust for some time. A friend of mine works for a lumber store and, after assuring me they use untreated lumber, he began bringing me saw dust and another experiment began. 

Everything started off well but about a week or two into the switch, I began to notice little flying bugs around my room. I didn't really think much of it since this is east Texas and it was the beginning of summer. Bugs are definitely more active at that time of year and every now and then, they are able to sneak indoors. In reality, I can't blame them. It's 100 degrees out there and the humidity is off the charts! 

Now, there is an unwritten code that I honor with all of God's creations. As long as you stay outside, we're cool. I don't go around stomping on ant hills or knocking down bee hives or terrorizing spiders on their webs or anything. But the MINUTE you come into my house, you gotta die.

You see what I did there?
So, reluctantly and sparingly, I used bug spray around my room. I continued to use my toilet as normal and I continued to see these little gnats. I began to notice they were actually in the toilet and so I sprayed in there too. I was a little concerned about the chemicals ending up in my compost but my research tells me that the minimum of a year that my compost will "cook" should be fine to neutralize just about anything dangerous. And when in doubt, just leave it longer. 

Let me take a moment to refresh your memory on what my system looks like. I keep 2 five gallon buckets in my room for my toilet. It takes me about a week to fill up one (don't judge me). Then I put a lid on it and switch it out. Once both are full, I take them out and dump them on the compost heap. So by the time I dump the contents of the toilet, the first bucket, has been sitting covered for 1-1 1/2 weeks. 

When the time arrived to empty the toilet, I removed the lid from the first bucket and the inside of the lid and the inner wall of the bucket was COVERED with these little oval shaped white eggs! It was super gross. 

Once my skin stopped crawling, I dumped the buckets, scraped out all the eggs and sanitized the buckets. Thinking that would solve my problem, I resumed using my toilet and, almost immediately, I started noticing the gnats again. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out where the little things were hiding! In the end, I gave up the search and figured, if they didn't have food, they can't survive. I put airtight seals on both of my buckets and went back to using our conventional toilet for a while. I haven't seen any flying insects in my room since then. My best guess is that the saw dust had those eggs in it. Suddenly, that earthy smell from the peat moss isn't so objectionable to me. After all, I'm pretty sure that peat moss is heat treated to kill any weed seeds and as a byproduct, that would kill any insect eggs.

I had another idea, though, and wanted some feed back from y'all. I used to work for Starbucks (who HASN'T worked for Starbucks?) and I know that they run a program where they donate their used coffee grounds to anyone who comes in and asks for it. People add it to their soil and a lot of plants like it. What if I used that instead of the peat moss or in addition to it. I could let the grounds sit out to dry it out and then use it in my toilet. It should replace that earthy smell with a more pleasant coffee smell don't you think? And it's free! Thoughts?

Throw back to my days as an Assistant Manager in Redondo Beach, CA and the interesting people that I got to hang out with.
Well, that's all for now. I'm hoping to restart my compost toilet project, sans insects, soon. Thanks for stoppin by!

- Big Jerm

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Malcolm Forbes had the right idea...

"I made my money the old-fashioned way. I was very nice to a wealthy relative right before he died.
- Michael Forbes

I know, I know. I've been MIA here for a minute. I've received several emails recently asking for updates. People at work are calling me out on it too. While its great to know that people are interested and ACTUALLY reading my writing, I'm laggin it and I know it. 

So, here's the deal...saving is tough. I've got a plan in place but it's slow going. I searched all around my family for a wealthy relative to pull a Michael Forbes but, alas, everyone else is broke too! 

Here's where I'm looking for your help (no, I'm not asking for donations! paypal account is open and easily accessible). As I mentioned earlier, I plan to purchase my trailer from Tumbleweed because they deliver it already built to the specifications needed. If I buy it elsewhere there will be additional welding or modifications required. I have no welding experience. Also the frame for the sub-floor will already be included with a Tumbleweed trailer. Both of these factors will save me time and energy as well as peace of mind knowing the foundation of my tiny house will be sound. However, this first expense is considerable. I'm looking at over $6,000 including delivery. Incidentally, I looked at driving to Colorado to pick up the trailer instead of paying the $1,300 for delivery but gas + hotel + time = no saving. If I were to do that, it would by solely for the purpose of a quick road trip with my buddies. That's it. 

One of my friends suggested buying a trailer locally and just finding a welder to make the modifications., I have no experience with welding or working with metal at all. When it comes to things outside my area of expertise, I typically am okay with paying a little extra to have a professional make sure it's done right. Especially when it comes to what will be the foundation for my house. Tumbleweed will make sure the trailer is sound as a trailer AND that it meets the standards for my house. That being said, I'm also not above widening my own area of expertise if it is worth my time to do so. What are your thoughts on this? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Please share with me any experience you have. By the way, that same friend who suggested using a local welder later admitted to only rushing me so that I can hurry up and help him build his tiny house! Can't blame him though. :) 

Other than that, the compost toilet experiment continues successfully. I am still using it as my only toilet receptacle. I have since emptied it 4 times with number 5 coming up soon. It's not bad at all. I went ahead and built a fully enclosed frame to house my compost heap out of 2x4s and chicken wire and it's working well so far. It's dimensions are 4x3x3. 

Compost pile frame plans
Ready to get to work

Finished product
Each time I add material to the pile, I dig down into the middle and then cover the addition with straw. The last time I dug down into it, steam and heat came bellowing out! I was excited (probably a bit too excited). That means the anaerobic process is working! I was surprised that it was already starting to give off an earthy smell too. I was expecting more of a toilet smell when I opened the pile up. 

In addition to the contents of my toilet, I also add table scraps and any chicken related items as well. The last time I processed a batch of birds, I tossed all the entrails and feathers in there and experienced no issues odor wise as long as I covered everything well with straw. 

However, the other day when I went out I did notice an unpleasant odor and a problem with flies (which makes me glad that I decided to place the pile all the way in the back of my property away from the houses). Both of those things, though, I credit to the recent addition of Cotton Ball, my Cornish Cross hen that was pardoned from the dinner table last year and recently keeled over. I don't think I covered her up good enough. I also feel like I need to reread the Humanure Handbook to see what it says about the presence of maggots in a pile. It seems like they would be a natural part of the decomposition process and of course where you have maggots, you WILL have flies but I'll have to look into it again. 

One thing I am thinking about switching up is the use of peat moss. While it does a good job of masking the smell of the contents of my compost toilet in my bedroom, it has its own smell that I'm not crazy about. Everyone says it smells fine, but I'm the one who has to live with it and I don't like it. So, I was able to find a sawmill that is near by and as it turns out, they will allow me to come down and collect as much saw dust as I need. As long as it's not from chemically treated wood, saw dust is a perfectly acceptable element to use in the toilet and can be composted just fine. I'm also hoping it will have a more pleasant aroma. I haven't found the time to make the trip down just yet but I'm hoping to test that out soon.   

And there you have it. That's all for now. Please feel free to comment. Thanks for stoppin' by!

-Big Jerm