Straw bale on the BBC

It’s always good to see any news on straw bale building, but it’s normally resigned to the likes of Grand Designs or YouTube channels, so when I first heard the report on Radio 4 and then read further on the BBC website about a couple of straw bale houses going up for sale in Bristol (UK) I just had to read more and spread the news. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31156579

Now I know that there are a lot of enthusiasts and traditionalists out there that may ridicule the construction methods and declare that this isn’t really a straw bale house, but I would argue that this is indeed the future f straw bale.

If straw bale is ever going to become mainstream then it has to adopt to modern techniques and technology, rather than trying to adapt old methods to meet todays exacting standards.

Of course I would never even consider building a house based on this new modular and factory fabricated methodology, but then I’m an enthusiast not a builder and I like curvy walls 🙂 I like the aesthetics and the fact that our timber frame and infill method was very accessible for someone with no building experience to tackle. For the brave you could even try the Nebraska load bearing method, but for us the additional skills, uncertainty  and possible problems with planning were things that we decided to avoid.

The point is that the new technique still ticks most of the boxes that people who decide on straw bale say they ticked when asked why they decided on this method of build. It’s environmentally friendly in the materials it uses in comparison to the other modern building systems. The high insulation properties mean that the running costs leave a small carbon foot print over a long period of time and it creates a healthy living environment free of harmful toxins that may otherwise exist in synthetic buildings.

It’s just not curvy!

It may not be as accessible to people who want to self build on a budget, stick to the niche books and websites like this, but it is most definitely the future of straw bale and for that I’m happy to shout about it.

All that remains to be done is to invent a usable composting toilet system that people are happy to use 🙂

Eight buckets!

No Gold rings, partridges or turtle doves, and whilst the maids a milking may have brought them I was only left with the eight buckets, that’s what my true love got me for Christmas! With a capacity of 20 Litres, standing 33 cm tall and 33cm in diameter, not to mention the snap close, air tight lids and sturdy carrying handles. What more could I possibly want?

The white plastic looks almost food grade and it is polished to a high sheen which is soft and smooth to the touch, it wasn’t long before I had put the first one into service, confidant that it will serve it’s purpose well and will be in service for many years to come.

Having multiple buckets brings many advantages, but most of all I’m looking forward to the balance they provide, although it’s only my theory that two buckets are easier to carry than one? It’s also true to say that I will be able to set my own schedule, no longer a slave to a single buckets capacity, with the added luxury of multiple buckets (with lids) I may be able to wait out even the most inclement weather for the right moment to venture out.

I can’t speak for each individual bucket, but I am confidant that collectively they would save our family over £1500 over ten years in water charges, if we were connected to the mains. And that figure is assuming no increase in the price of water, which is very unlikely, not bad for a £20 investment.

I suppose the only downside to the gift is the work ahead to fulfil the promise that I made once I had the buckets in my possession, but I’m secretly looking forward to the challenge, even if some of my design ideas never passed Gosias scrutiny and exacting standards.

So what are the buckets for?

The composting toilets of course!

Although I don’t like to bore people with humanure facts, I’d like to share the startling calcualation that it takes between 1,000 and 2,000 tonnes of water to deal with 1 tonne of crap in it’s various stages before its released back into the wild. Just because you forget about it after you flush it down the loo doesn’t mean it’s journey devouring resources has finished. So consider this, with a population of only 6 billion there isn’t enough fresh water in the world for everyone to have a flushing toilet, never mind the 8-10 billion we are heading towards by 2050.

Anyhow, must go, nature calls. Smile Happy New Year!!

P.S. I noticed that someone viewed an old post regarding the frequency of emptying the toilet, information that is considerably out of date now. So for the record and to provide some clarity, a family of three (yes Malina is contributing) I am changing the bucket every four or five days. With the added buckets I expect to empty two buckets every week or so and I’m less likely to have to stand up to have a shit!

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A brief update in words and pictures; no sound!

Time is certainly flying by at the moment, I can’t believe it’s so long since I posted last and as ever I feel that I need to provide an update, for myself and anyone else who happens to be reading.

Malina is growing fast and I have to say I’m happy that all her clothes have either come from friends or relatives, as hand-me-downs and gifts, not forgetting to mention the hand crocheted hats and toys that Gosia has crafted. I doubt that my Yorkshire blood would have coped with the expense of buying new for such a short period of use. I’m also happy to report that the reusable nappies that we purchased, all twenty-four of them, are working out very well and the washing machine is only put to the test every second day. It’s good to know that we are not adding to the smell of burning nappies in the air as you walk past some houses in the village nor adding to a future landfill problem. Even the washing liquid is environmentally friendly!

Michalina toys
Look Gosia crocheted a baby!

The pups are also making good progress and we have started the weaning process. Unfortunately nature has left us with only four pups from the original seven, but the ones that remain are fighting fit and willing to take on anything that moves; chickens, cats, bicycles! Timmy, the smallest of the pack, even made a bid for freedom last night and was only found after a two man search with torches at 11 O’clock!

Escape artist Timmy
Escape artist Timmy
Please Zara, can we have some more?
Please Zara, can we have some more?

Indoor sowing of plants continues with tomatoes, peppers, some more chilli’s, celeriac, masses of basil and a whole host of salad greens. Outside sets of onions, spring onion seeds, radish and some broad beans have made there way into the raised beds. We even had the top field spread with some of natures finest bovine NPK mix, all we have to do now is decide on our final planting for the summer. The rye that we sowed in the autumn has done well so far so we are likely to grow the crop on rather than turn it over as a green manure.

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Natures finest
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Two sections of the field with fresh muck. The green band in the middle of the field is last autumns planting of rye.

 

The house is getting more and more attention as the weather improves and I have managed to fill in some of the deeper depressions in the earth rendered walls, ready for the first of the lime coats, although it’s quite possible I’ll do a bit more work on some of the window surround first. I also took the opportunity to relocate some of the sockets I had randomly placed in the walls, deciding that they should all sit at a standard height. The concrete work in the basment that I had decided on was put on hold as I discovered that I can have a premix delivered on the back of a truck, two cubic meters at a time once we are in April, which should save me a lot of work mixing by hand. The cost difference is negligible and it should be a manageable load for one person to lay before it sets.

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Lots of lumps and bumps to even out.
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Open plan living now that the temporary bathroom wall has come down.

And finally, I have spent a good few evenings now building my new website. It’s not ready yet and on reflection I think it is likely to become an extension of the blog rather than a replacement, so I’m afraid you long suffering readers will have to suffer some more. If you have a minute please visit www.winkos.co.uk and if you have another minute tell me what you think of the format so far; any feedback will be appreciated.

Now back to it, the baby needs walking, the puppies nappies need changing and I have to plaster the dogs!

Going thermophilic

I have started two drafts to try and break the lull in my posting, one is an attempt to provide a round up of events over the last month or so, the second is a brief account of our wedding weekend; but as I reread them I just can’t seem to find the words to finish them, thinking that the subjects within could either do with there own post or indeed need to be posted at all.

Thankfully, having read and commented on a few blogs as I try and catch up, the solution has been provided by Pete of Beetley; I should be catching up with my composting toilet diary, the poor neglected subject that is so close to my heart!

As the proud owner of no less than three composting toilets, yes that’s right, three; I have a certain duty to perform on a regular basis, details of which I have posted on several previous occasions. This weekly event has remained much the same despite the increase in receptacles, I just happen to be emptying more buckets as we have guests and volunteers; that is until the wedding!

Seventy odd guests and only one toilet in action at the time, you may imagine that things got messy and people were off put by the whole idea; but with a last minute printed banner announcing the wooded area to be the G E N T S (thank you Dorrota) a ready supply of saw dust, a upgraded 40 litre container, anti bacterial hand gel and a bunch of flowers in a vase; well I don’t think anybody noticed the rudimentary facilities. Of course as the master of more than one ceremony that day the duty of emptying was most definitely mine, but I was pleasantly surprised that I only had to carry out the procedure three times’; a simple affair with the aid of the mini tractor and with the queue burgeoning to no more than four people whilst they waited for me to refresh the outhouse, I was able to keep all the wee in one place . And for those of you who may think the tractor was a bit over the top, believe me 40 litres of wee logged sawdust is heavy!

So what has any of this got to do with going thermophilic? In fact what is thermophilic? Thermophilic is the stage that a humanure pile or indeed a compost pile goes through as it’s temperature rises above 44°C (111 °F in old money) The microorganisms get very active and can raise the temperature as high as 70°C (158 °F), although such high temperatures happen very rarely according to the Humanure Handbook. This is when the pile kills off all the nasty things that may linger in the pile from your pile, although if you are a relatively healthy person it probably has less things to kill. The higher the temperature the quicker it kills pathogenic microorganisms, viruses and bacteria. Some sources say that 30 minutes at temperatures between 55 and 60°C will kill anything bad within the hour.

So when I discovered, with my newly acquired soil thermometer, that my compost had reached a temperature of 57°C following the addition of a wedding parties converted alcohol and soft drinks, not to mention the food scraps and other so called waste products; I knew at long last that I had gone thermophilic 🙂 Of course I may well have reached this stage many times before, but not having a handy thermometer to hand I never knew; even if I was aware of the steam rising as I pulled back the cover material and watched the heat rise as I made the latest deposit.

As you can imagine all this extra material to hand filled the pile pretty quickly and I closed off my trusty heap for the winter, hastily building another one closer to the house and the newly constructed outside toilet; I also refit the smaller capacity bucket again, getting the tractor out to empty the toilet is a little dramatic 🙂

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An old photo, this pile is now full to the brim and closed off with straw bales at the front; left to cool and mature for a year before adding to the soil to grow…well who knows, I’ll let you know next year.

Completing the cycle

Yes it’s that time again, time to add to the heated heap of nutritious goodness that is our humanure pile. Truth be told this is a late entry as the deed was done on Wednesday the 1st of May after our daily schedule was completed, but as you may have noticed my posts are centred around the weekend at the moment when we allow ourselves time to relax on Saturday night and Sunday back in Rzemien.

But a diary date is a diary date and I will endeavor to keep my promise to myself to keep a composting toilet diary, especially as we are now using the first of the compost for planting. Left to mature for 18 months we have around three wheel barrows full of sweet smelling, light and crumbly humanure; sorry to any of you fecophobics out there, but this really is top class compost and to try and prove the point further I hope to run an experiment with a batch of tomatoes plants when they are ready to go out; a control group planted up normally and a second batch with humanure incorporated in the soil; so watch this space 🙂

Would you use humanure if it was available to you? And for those of you who do, do you use it on food crops or just flowers and trees?

Humanure
High quailty organic nutriants: Humanure