Category Archives: local

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.

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Daily Star showcases Tucson Coop Tour and my chickens!

In anticipation of the upcoming and sure to be fabulous Tucson City Chicken Coop Tour, the Arizona Daily Star produced a two-minute video on my chickens with an interview from your’s truly…here’s the link to the video and if you haven’t already gone and purchased your $5 tickets at the Food Conspiracy Co-op on 4th Avenue be sure to do so!

Backyard chickens across the country unite!!

Seriously, my chicken lovin’ friends, the backyard chicken revolution has begun.  So before it nose dives into some irrelevant so-last-year-fad, let us celebrate and truly revel in the fact that people everywhere are getting turned on to the idea of keeping hens in their very own backyards for the joys of wonderfully local, fresh eggs, and even more wonderfully local, fresh chicken shit enriched compost.  It’s true.  Chickens are so hot right now.  Here’s the proof:

As you probably already know, Tucson will be hosting it’s very own chicken coop tour on May 23.  But as much as I would like to say that Tucson is on the cutting edge of backyard chicken solidarity, cities and communities all across the country have been organizing to educate people about the benefits of backyard chickens, as is evidenced by this very helpful post on Urban Chickens.

philadelphians-for-eggsIn many places, it isn’t even legal to keep chickens in one’s backyard (shock!).  Philadelphians have created this very fancy and uber cool poster to champion their cause of keeping chickens.

In my old collegiate stomping grounds of Harrisonburg, VA friends of mine have been cited for code violations after keeping a handful of egg laying wonders, thus resulting in the organization of the Harrisonburg Backyard Chicken Project.

Fortunately, there are wonderful places like Austin,  where they recently celebrated everything fowlish by their very own citywide tour of backyard chicken coops, and you can find out all about it and get excited all over again on their Funky Chicken Coop Tour blog.

Tucson is no stranger to the rights of backyard chicken owners.  Which is why I am so very excited about the upcoming tour of the various chicken coops that the Old Pueblo has to offer.  I will keep you all posted as more details emerge.  In the meantime, backyard chickens and their owners everywhere keep keeping on!

Tucson Backyard Chicken Coop Tour Announced!

The Food Conspiracy Co-op has announced a citywide Chicken Coop Tour of various local backyard chicken coops for Saturday, May 23, from 9am-1pm.  Tickets will cost $5 per person and all proceeds will go to the Community Food Bank’s Community Foods Consignment Program.  So mark your calendars for this up-close and personal look into the many different ways that Tucsonites keep backyard chickens, and start dreaming about how you too can have your very own backyard fresh eggs and chicken compost.  For more information or answers to your questions, follow this link. (If you’re not in Tucson, check out Urban Chickens for a list of other city chicken coop tours.)  Hope to see you all there!!!

spring-09-0081

Go buy plants.

Looking for desert veggies that will do well here in the crazy oppressive wonderful heat of Tucson?  This Saturday, April 11, Native Seeds will be hosting a plant sale at their farm in Patagonia, AZ.  So hop in your car with some friends, fill your billfold with a few bucks, and make the beautiful drive down to Native Seed’s 60 acre farm where all the seed saving magic happens and where my brother works.  Here is how he describes the plant sale:

Haven’t planted your garden yet but want to?  Want plants that can actually stand the heat?  Want an excuse to get out of town and visit the Native Seeds/SEARCH Farm in Patagonia?  Want to spend some time talking with an extremely knowledgeable farmer, who can answer any and all of your growing questions and also happens to be a really nice guy?  (well the last part of that sentence is true anyway – I hope).  Then you should come buy plants at the plant sale!  There will be six different types of chiles, 5 types of tomatoes, two kinds of basil, and Epazote.  All native/acclimatized to the region and all looking to find a home in your garden.

When: Saturday April 11th
10am-12pm members only
12pm-2pm open to everyone

Where:  Native Seeds/SEARCH Conservation farm
42 San Antonio Rd, Patagonia, AZ

Directions:
Take I-10 East to Highway 83 (Exit 281 towards Sonoita/Patagonia)
Stay on 83 to Sonoita
At stop sign in Sonoita (the only one) take right on Hwy. 82 towards Patagonia
Travel ~ 11 miles until you are almost to Patagonia
After speed limit drops to 40mph, take your first left onto San Antonio Rd., which is directly across the street from the Welcome to Patagonia sign. (there will be a sign at the turn, and further signs directing you to parking)

Well there you have it.  Plants are going to be about $2 each and all proceeds go directly to Native Seeds.

Stay tuned…

Rumor has it that there will be a Tucson city chicken coop tour featuring different styles of hen housing options throughout Tucson.  Should be in May sometime, and this chicken wrangler hopes to be apart of it.  Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted as there are more details and locations.

Hopefully this will be a really wonderful fundraiser and a great way to show people how easy it is to keep and raise their own chickens.  Fortunately we live in a city where the limit of hens per household within the city limits is 24 as long as they are 50 feet from the nearest residence (or you have chicken friendly neighbors).  There are plenty of other places around the country where this is not a possibility and residents have to fight for their right to party chicken wrangle in their own backyards.  Thumbs up Tucson!

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