Moldering

Mon, 08/13/2012 - 13:15 — Compost Stu

The Kookaburras are laughing, I watch from my perch as they chase about and get all strumpety at a crow that’s munching on my mandarins. The crow sees them coming and avoids the strife by high tailing it over to a big gum nearby. Whoever said nature was peaceful had to be in the tundra. It’s a war zone out there. I’ve been up on the Gold Coast recently, getting a reality check. I think we should all take the time to go and visit Babylon once in a while, just to make sure it’s still as glitzy?, trashy? (is there an adjective that sums up all the worst traits of humanity?) as we remembered. I used to go into McDonalds once every four years or so to find out if anything had changed…..gave up on that one a while ago though.. The cultural dichotomy between the Nth Coast and the GC never fails to throw me into a spin, I get all cynical….I feel like hosing off all the spray tan and makeup with a water cannon just to get a glimpse of something real (which would possibly result in something scarier!!).
The pile of compost below me is real, and not scary (though some may disagree). It took two years from the time I began using this loo to the first harvest of compost. Two years of moldering decay to produce a friable, odourless material that did not resemble human faeces in any way at all. The process of transformation is an interesting one, because it does not usually involve a typical “hot compost” approach to killing pathogens. Composting loo’s should really be called “moldering loos” because mold is a large part of what is happening down there. Finished compost is full of fungal spores and hyphae, indicating a healthy process of lignin (woody stuff) breakdown via the fungal pathway. The hungry fungi also prey on micro-organisms, as do invertebrates like bush roaches, mites, worms and many other exoskeletal critters creating a clean safe compost that can be used in your garden.
Faster composting processes produce more heat initially, killing off organisms quickly then leaving the moldering process to finish the job. This rarely happens in a loo, as the material is added slowly and breaks down as its added, meaning the pile inside never really reaches the critical mass required for a “hot” compost. The Australian standard for compost loos recommends about 50 days at 24 degrees Celsius, so to be safe, double the time period to account for cold days / nights and leave it for at least 100 days. To provide consistency in temperature, thermal mass is required. Heavy materials like concrete or brick are far better for composting toilets than plastic, as they retain the heat of the day and release it at night, keeping ambient temperatures higher on average. If you have a plastic bin loo, lug it out into the sun and spray it black (don’t spill it!!) and leave it for at least a year, as the lack of thermal mass will mean that spores / bacteria die off during colder weather.
My heavy concrete Thunderloos have excellent thermal properties for composting and volume to hold at least two years worth of humanure, a great formula for excellent compost.


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