Category Archives: idiosyncrasies

Watershed Management Group brings composting toilets to Tucson!

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a composting toilet pilot project by Watershed Management Group (WMG).  This pilot project, Soil Stewards, began this summer by inviting some 25-30 homes, test sites, and organizational partners (such as the Community Food Bank) to construct and host a composting toilet system on their property.  The purpose of this pilot project was to test out two different types of home composting toilets, with the goal of lowering the cost of materials as well as simplifying the process for installation and permitting.  It is a two year project, in which we use, maintain, and monitor the composting systems in an effort to demonstrate the ease and accessibility of composting human waste in a safe and affordable way.

Below is a slideshow of the process of construction and installation for my composting system.  You will notice that I went perhaps a little overboard in building the privacy structure to house my outdoor, composting toilet.  You might also notice that it’s downright awesome.  It, along with the other numerous backyard features that focus on sustainability, will be part of WMG’s Second Annual Home-Scape Tour.

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So you’re probably asking, how does all this all work?  Does it smell?  Or simply, are you serious?!?  So first of all let me say that David Omick (who designed the barrel system that I am using and is working with WMG), and Watershed Management Group probably explain things endlessly better than me.  David’s open-sourced details on the barrel composting system is here, and WMG’s Soil Stewards page has tons of information including this video.

But down to the nitty gritty details.  Because I know you have questions.  The process goes like this: you do your business, you use a squirt bottle of some sort to wet the toilet paper as it lies to aid with decomposition, and you cover everything with a layer of dry material such as wood shavings, mesquite duff (leaves), or even shredded paper.  The point is that the next person who uses it won’t see anything but dry cover material at the bottom of the barrel, as well as provide the necessary carbon to offset the nitrogen that is in human waste.  There are three barrels because once one is filled, it needs to sit and actually compost (or finish composting) without the addition of new material.  You need at least 4-6 months for this process to fully become useable compost and have killed any dangerous bacteria and other vectors (this has been tested and is indeed extremely safe).  So having three allows a continuous rotation that is both safe and requires minimal user contact with feces.  Smell?  I can honestly say that the only time there is any disagreeable smell is when I use the compost hand crank to turn the compost every couple times per week.  That process lasts about one minute (seriously), and even that is more ammonia-y than anything you might be imagining.  Bugs?  Well the design is a completely sealed one, minimizing any bugs that are able to make it in, but there is a very simple fly trap (the upsidedown mason jar you see in the pictures) where flies head towards the light and can’t use their bug brains to figure out how to get out.  Flies have been a non-issue for me the entire time.  In terms of using the finished compost, well I haven’t gotten that far.  People who have used this system for years, have it down well enough to know that they are safe to use it even on their vegetable gardens.  However it is recommended that one start with compost application on trees, shrubs, and other non-food items around the yard.

Now I get that at first glance this may sound like someone who is over the top with sustainability ideas and therefore making it sound much better and easier than the reality is.  I can tell you, I am not.  And that is the entire point of this pilot project – to find a system that is both affordable and easy to use for the average home-owner.  Which is why part of the project is a regular monitoring component that allows WMG to more effectively work with the ADEQ to move forward on making these systems available to anyone who is interested in them.


1 bike + 2 chickens = waffles (and so much more)

Why exactly did I start a blog about chickens?!? (updated)

So a friend of mine is writing an article about chickens and asked me why I started a blog about chickens and if she could quote me.  I happily obliged and rattled off some ridiculous rambling treatise attempting to answer her question.  I haven’t read it again since I sent it to her.  But since this a blog, and blogs are inherently about oversharing, I figured there is no reason my dear readers can’t hear what I shared with her and will potentially (though unlikely??) be published material and therefore be more credible(?).  So here you are.  My reasons for starting this blog, as I so wrote in a facebook email to a friend, today.  They may or may not be true…

besides being your average internet narcissist and over inflated ego monger, i originally started my chicken blog, Chicken Diction, for distinctly subversive reasons.  while i was immediately enamored with my (at the time) six hens, i really wanted to use the frequently perceived oddity of backyard chickens to subtly point to ways of sustainability and creative alternatives to the way people generally imagine the world around them.  seriously.  the more i thought about the role chickens play in our society and culture, the more i realized i had stumbled upon the perfect way to poke fun at culture, and show off a little bit of home grown resistance to corporate-big-box-pre-packaged-life.  in some ways i feel like that overstates the simplicity of any hope i had for the blog, because while i wanted to do all of that, i also knew that the only good blog was a self-deprecating one, which meant avoiding a preacher-like persona, even as i was pointing out things that really mattered to me, like water-harvesting, local food, good (also local) beer, and community activities.  of course, at times Chicken Diction simply functions as a photo album i don’t actually have to sit down and go through with my family who is far away.  it is also a bit of mental diarrhea for those random moments at work when i really want to (over)share something with people.  i really can spend hours just watching my chickens.  i will talk with them and make fun of them, sometimes threaten them with soup recipes or a bbq if they aren’t laying eggs.  some of them let me pet them, while others run at the first sight of me for no reason other than their hard-wired dna from centuries roaming the jungles before they were domesticated.  if someone were to watch me, spending all that time watching and talking to my chickens they would probably have me certified, or if i actually had time to put all my ideas that occur to me on my blog, then i think my friends and family would start to wonder if there really was a screw loose.  hopefully i will be posting some video of chickens in the near future.  we’ll see is my random moments and uploading time will coincide anytime soon.  but actually, if i was really self-critical of this blog (why stop now?), i would call it some lame attempt to be clever by filling in the void of having no children to blog about, therefore i blog about chickens and even though i publicly believe that to make me a better, more creative, and less obnoxious of a person, i am no different than all of my relatives who do exactly that, only about their actual family.  me, all i have are chickens, and their endless compost.

The following are very pertinent follow-up questions to my previous ramblings.  Remember, you heard it first here folks!!!

Why do you spend so much time watching your chickens?

i think it is a combination of strange, voyeuristic amusement, and that i am free to think of other things and ideas that i only ever think about like when i am in the shower or on long road trips. and there is a certain element of anticipation, in waiting for the day’s harvest of eggs. sometimes i find myself trying to will another egg laid. but it’s like the worst version of watching water boil or toast pop up – i have only ever seen one egg actually laid, and that was by accident.

And how many chickens do you actually have?

started w/ 6. one died quickly of unknown reasons. had five for nearly two years then my neighbors decided it would be fun to have baby chickens but didn’t have a plan for what to do when they started jumping/flying over the fence and eating my vegetables. so when confronted with the simple request that they do something to stop that, they gave me three more. they currently lay very small, but not quail-size-small eggs. all told, eight very content hens, albeit frequently loud and grumpy for no good reason.

Be very afraid of chickens!! (I mean, really?)

Here is the latest update on your bird-flu panic news story. Never miss a chance to be afraid of something:

Bird flu remains a threat to humans, U.N. says

Tim Johnson | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: February 18, 2009 04:06:33 PM

BEIJING — A handful of new human fatalities from bird flu underscore that the H5N1 virus has become entrenched in some countries, such as China, and that it still could mutate and flare into a global pandemic, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

China has reported five deaths from eight cases of bird flu so far this year.

U.N. advisers said that the victims had come into contact with infected poultry in scattered areas of China, and that the virus still wasn’t contagious among humans. They cautioned against dismissing the H5N1 virus as a threat to humanity, however.

“We really shouldn’t be complacent,” said Vincent Martin, a senior technical adviser on avian influenza…(continue reading) [McClatchy].

The State – of my new favorite blog…

Every once in a while I find it as my duty to share with all of you my new favorite blog.  This time around it is “The State”.  The bloggers over at The State offer a beautiful mix of art, music critique, localness, and quirky thoughts that make them my friends.  Plus they live in the town of Harrisonburg, VA where I went to university with them.  They also occaisionally write about the really important things like chickens and sustainability as well as what they taste like Peruvian style.  All very good things.


Eggs. Huevos. Whatever. We’ve got ’em!

I am happy to report – FINALLY – that we have a return to near normalcy in the chicken palace that inspires Chicken Diction.  That’s right, we are now getting between 3 and 4 eggs per day, with even better days on the horizon as the days grow longer and now that the three weeks that we lovingly call “winter” have passed leaving only warmth to look forward to…Here we come, baked goods, omelettes, hard-boiled, over-easy – any way we like it, anytime we please.


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