Tap o' Noth Farm

Meet your Farmers

First generation farmers James and Rosa call Tap o’ Noth Farm their home and are the people who grow your veg (they don’t? Maybe you would like them to?). 

Both have a huge passion for simple, honest real food (growing and the eating) and work day in and day out to provide the local area with fresh, seasonal and naturally grown vegetables.

James Reid

James began his journey towards employment as a market gardener after completing a Permaculture Design Course in 2003.  Over the past fifteen years he has grown food everywhere from pots on windowsills and back gardens to allotments and smallholdings before acquiring Tap o’ Noth Farm in 2012 and building the market garden in 2015.

James loves his job and the challenges that come with growing food, not only for himself and his family but also his for his local community.

 

Rosa Bevan

Rosa came to market gardening three years ago after working within the environmental conservation sector as a zoologist. She worked on a number of different urban farms across London as well as running a growing space for residents on a housing estate; BETRA Market Garden.

Since moving to Tap O’ Noth Farm she hopes to further explore the potential for seasonal, local food to feed and empower a community.

 

 

 

 

 

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Permaculture?

In May 2015 Stuart Anderson completed his Permaculture Design Course with us here at Tap o’ Noth. Read his account of the PDC experience.

sustainableglasgow

The following is a blog by our contributor Stuart Anderson all about his experience with permaculture and how it has affected him and what it actually is. This will be a continued blog with it being part one of many…

Permaculture? Nope. No idea.

Six months ago that would have been it.  And yet here I am with a Permaculture Design Certificate in hand, a steadily expanding library, and an allotment covered with two tons of woodchip…. mulch to the dismay and bewilderment of my new neighbours. They seem to think I’m crazy. I’m still wary of this person in the mirror who likes to spread woodchip over lawns.

Permaculture?

“… originally ‘Permanent Agriculture’ … often viewed as a set of gardening techniques, but it has in fact developed into a whole design philosophy, and for some people a philosophy for life. Its central theme is the creation of human…

View original post 1,537 more words

EVENT: Formidable Vegetable Sound System to play at the Tap

Tap o’ Noth are really excited to host a special musical evening of permaculture ecological electroswing ukulele sounds from Formidable Vegetable Sound System.

This farmhouse gig is a rare chance to catch Charlie Mgee of FVSS performing a small and intimate set while on tour in Scotland.

“Formidable Vegetable Sound System are spearheading a new and exciting form of musical activism and becoming one of the most important voices in a global cultural movement “- Harry Angus, The Cat Empire

“So infectious that the most ardent climate sceptic would have trouble staying still” – Sydney Morning Herald

Date:

Sunday the 13th of September

Location:

Tap o’ Noth Permaculture | Scurdargue Cottage | Rhynie | Aberdeenshire |AB544HH | 01464 861196

Door admission is by donation but spaces are limited so please use the booking form to RSVP.

Camping is available for an overnight stay at £8 per pitch, please make your request to camp known when filling in the contact form.

Parking is available at the Tap o’ Noth footpath car park.

PRI Accredited PDC – Booking now open

Our first Permaculture Design Course (PDC) will take place from the 19th – 31st of May 2015 and will be certified by the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.

The full 72 hour internationally recognised PDC will be held on site at the UK’s first Permaculture Research Institute, Tap o’ Noth Permaculture, in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

The course will be led by experienced UK based Permaculture educator Angus Soutar with support from Tap o’ Noth’s own James Reid. The course curriculum is based on Permaculture founder Bill Mollison’s work ‘Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual’ and upon completion of the course you will receive an official PDC certificate issued from the Permaculture Research Institute.

This 12 day intensive course is open to all levels of knowledge and is your gateway into an understanding of ecological design principles and techniques, providing a starting block for a career as a permaculture designer, consultant, educator or aid worker. The course is also suitable for those who are interested in starting their own garden, allotment, smallholding/homestead, community project or farm and who have an interest in such topics as:

  • Eco-friendly house placement and design
  • Pattern understanding
  • Agroecology
  • Recycling and waste management
  • Farming
  • Appropriate technology
  • Working with trees and forests
  • Organic food production
  • Health and nutrition
  • Water harvesting and management
  • Earthworks
  • Ecological pest control
  • Market gardening
  • Drought-proofing and flood protection
  • Soil rehabilitation and erosion control
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Livestock
  • Aquaculture
  • Catastrophe preparedness and prevention
  • Windbreaks and fire control
  • Alternative economic structures
  • The initiation and development of community projects
  • Running and financing small enterprises

The PDC also complements careers in ecology, landscape design, farming, horticulture, architecture, town planning and economics etc.

Course Information

Date: 19 -31 May 2015 with arrivals on the 18th of May and departures on the 1st of June.

Venue: The course is fully residential and held on the UK’s first Accredited Permaculture Research Institute and ScotLAND Centre, Tap o’ Noth Permaculture. The smallholding is located 38 miles from Aberdeen City in a beautiful rural setting steeped in agricultural traditions and ancient history. Being a fledgling site offers the chance for you to contribute and learn about the development of a permaculture project, gaining first hand experience of what is involved in setting up and establishing an ecologically designed venture.

Lead Tutor: 

Angus Soutar

Angus has been teaching Permaculture Design for over twenty years and, as well as being an accredited teacher through the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, he also holds the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design which he was awarded in 1997. Principal and founder of The Northern School of Permaculture, Angus also has over fifteen years experience in developing and running Permaculture Design Diploma programmes, supporting several apprentices who are working towards their Diplomas.

Accommodation:

  • Mixed dormitory with en suite (limited to 6 places on a first come first served basis)
  • Camping with shower and compost toilet facilities
  • For those wishing alternative lodgings there is a choice of hotels and bed and breakfasts in the local area at your own cost.

Course Fees:

Course fee includes PRI accredited tuition, 14 nights accommodation and full vegetarian board of locally sourced and organic produce. For those who live locally or those wishing to use alternative lodgings there is a reduced price available. There is a choice of hotels and bed and breakfasts in the local area to be sourced and booked at your own cost.

  • Early bird price £680 (before midnight on the 31st of December 2014).
  • Early bird price minus accommodation £610
  • Full price £800 (from the 1st of January 2015)
  • Full price minus accommodation £730

Booking

With limited spaces available booking is essential. Please secure your place by clicking on the link below.

Book

Shiitake mushroom production at home

Learning how to turn wood into delicious edible mushrooms.

In autumn 2013 we began our first foray into the world of homegrown gourmet mushroom production. We had been felling a lot of trees on the Tap o’ Noth Permaculture site to reduce some of the shade around our vegetable gardens and to provide fuel to keep our home warm in winter. And while we were processing the timber into firewood we thought we would keep some logs aside to use them as a substrate to grow edible mushrooms, in this case Shiitake. We chose Shiitake for their reputed health giving benefits, their flavour and, from what we have read, it is one of the easier mushroom varieties to try cultivating. We found the process of inoculation to be relatively simple and we have outlined the way we prepared our logs below.

To date (Dec 2014) our logs have not yet begun fruiting but we will be sure to post an update when this happens.

Step 1 – Sourcing the logs

Shiitake is best grown on hardwood logs, oak or beech being the prefered substrate. We chose a mix of beech and cherry as that is what we had onsite and available to us. It’s important to only use healthy wood, cutting the selected logs no more than six weeks before inoculation. This reduces the possibility of ‘rogue’ fungi  inoculating the logs before you introduce the Shiitake spawn. With this in mind, using logs that have been on the forest floor is not advisable so always cut fresh branches/logs. Straight logs anywhere between 50 cm – 1 meter in length and 10-15 cm in diameter are best, any bigger and they can be rather difficult to maneuver.

Step 2 – Sourcing the mycelium

We have bought our Shiitake mycelium from Mushroom Box and  Anne Millers Speciality Mushrooms  in the form of wooden dowels already inoculated with the Shiitake mycelium. On websites like these you can also buy all the equipment you’ll need like wax, drill bits etc. Quite often you can purchase a starter pack containing everything you need to inoculate your logs which is a convenient option. For larger production projects it can be more economical to buy sawdust already colonised with spawn which can then be used to inoculate logs using a special inoculation tool rather than dowels. In this instance we used dowels.

When you receive your dowels it is best to keep them refrigerated until use. Best thing is to have the logs ready and get to work as soon as the dowels arrive.

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Follow the suppliers guidelines for storage

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3 – Preparing the logs

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A stable work surface makes the job easier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We found it helpful to place the chosen log on a sawhorse, allowing for good stability while you clean and prepare it for drilling. It’s important to clean off any soil, lichen or loose bark before you start drilling holes for the dowels. A wire brush is a good tool for this job. Make sure there are no large areas of damaged bark or signs of insect infestation.

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A stiff brush helps remove any debris from the surface of the log.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4 – Drilling holes

Once the log is clean of debris it is time to drill some holes to accept the wooden dowels. We drilled the holes roughly 15 cm apart down the length of the log starting 10 cm from the end of the log. The log can then be rolled slightly and the next line of holes can be drilled, staggering to allow more space for the mushrooms to fruit. For a log of 1 meter aim to use around 20 dowels.

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Drill your holes 15 cm apart down the length of the log.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 5 – Securing the dowels

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Wooden dowel full of mycelium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using a mallet or hammer, the wooden dowels are tapped into the holes, leaving them flush with the surface of the log.

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Gently tap the dowels into the pre-drilled holes.

 

 

 

 

 

Step 6 – wax

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Once the dowels are all in place the next step is to cover the dowel and any scars on the wood with melted wax. You want the wax to be really hot, effectively sterilizing the area and sealing in the dowel. This prevents any other fungi from entering the drill holes and contaminating the log. We melted the wax in a tin can on top of the stove and used a paintbrush to apply the wax.

Seal all the dowels in place.

Seal all the dowels with very hot melted wax.

 

 

 

 

 

Step 7 – Wait

Once the whole log has been drilled, dowels fitted and waxed, it’s time to find a the right place to leave your logs and wait for them to fruit. You want to imitate forest conditions, looking for somewhere with dappled shade where the logs will not dry out.

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Inoculated logs left in a shady corner of the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

Fruiting time will depend on your choice of timber – the harder the wood the longer it will take the mycelium to colonize the log and fruit, though mushrooms grown on hardwood will produce for a longer time period than a on softer species of wood.

Our mushroom logs are sitting in a shady area of our forest garden and we are waiting patiently for the first signs of fruiting to occur. We will be sure to update you as soon as the first Shiitake mushrooms appear.

 

PDC 19 – 31 May 2015

Our first Permaculture Design Course (PDC) will take place from the 19th – 31st of May 2015 and will be certified by the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.

The full 72 hour internationally recognised PDC will be held on site at the UK’s first Permaculture Research Institute, PRI Tap o’ Noth in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire. The course will be led by visiting teacher Angus Soutar, co-taught by PRI Tap o’ Noth’s James Reid and will also include international guest speakers.

Angus has been teaching Permaculture Design for over twenty years and, as well as being an accredited teacher through the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, he is Principal and founder of The Northern School of Permaculture and holds a Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, awarded in 1997. An engaging and highly experienced Permaculture teacher and somebody we are delighted to have on our team, Angus will be leading our PDC bringing with it his wealth of knowledge in ecological design, sustainable land use and enterprise.

The short film clip below gives an introduction to Angus’s work.

More information on course content, costs, booking and accommodation will be available soon. Please keep an eye on this website for updates.

Ducks in a Permaculture system

You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency” – Bill Mollison

It was reading the above quote that made us want to acquire some ducks here at PRI Tap o’ Noth. The idea of using the natural foraging instinct of the duck to rid our Kitchen Garden of slugs and snails, by encouraging them to browse through our garden systems, was very appealing.

The ducks enjoying a flooded swale

The ducks enjoying a flooded swale.

It is a real delight to see our group of ducks foraging through the gardens together, waddling along a swale ditch or pathway and dabbling their bills into the thickly mulched vegetable beds in search of food. Just allowing the ducks to do what they do is simple yet effective, using a biological approach to solve a problem.

Over the years we have kept three different breeds of duck, Indian Runner, Khaki Campbell and Cherry Valley. All three breeds are hardy, cold tolerant birds (important to our site conditions here in Scotland) and are prolific egg layers, producing beautiful large fresh eggs.

Foragers

Patrolling the garden

In the garden ducks will not only search for slugs and snails but also have a nibble on young vegetables and, while not as destructive as foraging chickens, can also damage young plants by trampling them with their large webbed feet. It’s for these reasons that we don’t free range our ducks, instead deciding to keep them in a large, deep littered yard where we bring their forage to them on a regular basis and give them direct access into the garden only when we are there working (which is most days). This way we can keep an eye on their movements and discourage them from eating anything other than slugs by quickly herding them away from the crops.

Of course there are many other reasons why we feel the inclusion of waterfowl in a Permaculture system is important and beneficial, there being several other key functions and yields from a duck system other than slug control. And over the years we have come to realise that one of the most valued resources the ducks provide is fertility, produced in the duck yard.

The many functions of the duck yard.

The many functions of the duck yard.

The Duck Yard

Ducks produce a large amount of manure and, being high in Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, is very beneficial for growing healthy plants and vegetables. The principle of Relative Location and technique of Zone Planning came into play when we positioned our duck yard and, to take advantage of one systems output becoming anothers input,  the duck yard and house are located at the top of the Kitchen Garden a short distance from our house.

The duck yard has close proximity to the veg garden.

The duck yard has close proximity to the veg garden.

The Kitchen Garden is situated on a gentle south facing slope and the duck yard is placed above, it’s fence line just on the edge of a small swale and the first vegetable bed in the garden. Placing a fertility system (the ducks and their copious manure) above a food growing system utilizes that amazing invisible work horse, gravity. We are not only using gravity to ‘pull’ down all the manure nutrients, made available when we have rain (through leaching) into the kitchen garden below, but we can manoeuvre wheelbarrow loads of duck manure and bedding into the garden with relative ease due to only having to push the often heavy load of manure downhill.

At this point it is either added straight to the vegetable beds right where we need it or left in a pile to be composted down for later application.

We also plant nutrient hungry plants along the fence line where they make use of the abundant fertility and, with species such as blackberry, they can also use the fencing as a support to grow on. A strip of comfrey is also grown along the fence line which we often cut and throw into the duck pen, providing the ducks with nutrient dense fodder.

Foraging comfrey on the Yard fence line.

We regularly cover the duck yard floor in a deep litter of straw, wood chip,  leaves and any other organic material that we generate on the smallholding. This soon becomes mixed with the duck manure and mud (produced from the ducks foraging technique), turning into a rough compost in situ, allowing us to harvest the material and use it on our vegetable beds as mulch without much human energy being used.

Mix of high Nitrogen duck manure and carbonous materials such as straw and wood chip makes excellent compost.

Mix of high Nitrogen duck manure and carbonous materials such as straw and wood chip makes excellent compost.

We are experimenting with growing a source of duck house bedding material directly within the duck yard itself where it can be cut and applied straight into the duck house as bedding or on the yard floor as deep litter. Water loving and biomass heavy species such as the common rush or reedmace can be used and at the same time provide a habitat for the ducks to take shade or evade predators. Tree crops that provide suitable duck forage can be grown inside the yard or on the fence line, allowing the ducks to feed on the fallen fruit and making use of an area to provide more than just duck associated yields.

The Duck Bath

The bath is filled with gravity fed water from our pond

Another way we make use of and turn the ducks manure into fertiliser is with water. Inspired by the duck jacuzzi at Geoff Lawton’s PRI Zaytuna Farm we set up a similar system to his, albeit a little simpler in design.

Ducks love water and, while they do need constant access to fresh water to drink and to clean out their nostrils, they don’t require a large ‘duck pond’ and are quite happy to paddle or swim in a large container or childrens paddling pool. We found ourselves an old plastic bath to use in the duck yard (gravity fed with water piped from our pond at the top of the property) which the ducks love, regularly using to swim and clean themselves. Ducks often manure while in the water and soon we end up with a large bath full of what we call ‘duck water’ – liquid duck manure – and at this stage we can then fertigate (irrigate with fertiliser) the surrounding food systems.

We do this in two ways:

  1. The most direct, yet most simple method, is filling watering cans from the duck bath and watering the crops with the nutrient rich duck water. When the bath is almost empty the thick sludge ( a mix of manure and soil) can be scooped out and mixed into a watering can or applied directly around hungry crops with great results in growth.
  2. By attaching a pipe to the outflow plumbing of the bath we can pull the plug, flooding a swale at the top of the garden with the duck water where, due to the design of the swale, the fertile water slowly percolates back into the garden landscape.
Nutrient rich liquid fertiliser.

Nutrient rich liquid fertiliser.

In the spring and summer we rely on this source of water based fertiliser, regularly watering the vegetables in our garden before topping up the baths water supply and in a few days time repeating the process.

 

 

Conclusion 

Great garden companions.

By simply providing for the ducks needs (water, food, shelter) and allowing the ducks to fulfil their innate qualities we benefit hugely from not only having  a very happy bunch of working ducks that give us a high quality source of fertiliser, helping us grow healthy and abundant food for our family, but also beautifully fresh duck eggs, entertaining and endearing garden companions and of course an obliging team of first class slug hunters .

 

 

Elderflower Cordial Recipe

It’s July (2014) here at Tap o’ Noth Permaculture and the Elderflowers are just starting to lose their petals and reveal the young green berries that we will pick in autumn when dark and ripe. It’s been a great elderflower season this summer with the large creamy white blooms peeking out from here and there in the hedgerows. We have taken full advantage of the fragrant blossoms by picking as many as we can and making them into various tasty products. One thing we love to make that really captures the taste of summer is elderflower cordial.

This is a really simple recipe to make and is far better in taste than anything shop bought. Be warned though, make as much as you can because once bottled it won’t last long due to its amazing taste, especially when drank after a hot afternoons work in the garden.

Elderflower cordial recipe

Ingredients:

  • 50 elderflowers
  • 6-8 lemons
  • 2 oranges
  • 3 litres of water
  • 2 kg of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of citric acid (optional)

Equipment:

  • Large bowl
  • jelly bag/tea towel/old pillow case
  • large pan
  • bottles
  • cooks thermometer (optional)
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Reach the highest blooms with the aid of a walking stick or long handled rake.

Method

Pick your elderflowers on a sunny, dry day when the blooms are open and full. Hanging a bag from your wrist is an easy way to collect the flowers as it still allows you to use both hands to pull down branches and pick the flowers from the stems. Sometimes it’s handy to take a walking stick with a hooked handle or a long rake to help reach and pull down those lovely big blooms at the top.

Try to use the flowers straight away, though they will last a couple of days if placed in a cool environment. Look for insects and remove. Place your elderflowers along with the finely grated rind of the lemons and oranges in a large bowl. Bring the 3 litres of water to the boil and pour over the flowers and rind, cover with a cloth and leave overnight or for ten hours or so.

Elderflowers and grated lemon rind.

Once the flowers have sat in the water long enough put them into a jelly bag (or an old pillowcase) and hang it up somewhere to drip into a pan. Once the bag stops dripping (I can’t resist giving it a squeeze to get all the flavoursome water out) put the pan and it’s contents on some heat and add the sugar, juice of the lemons and oranges and the citric acid and stir well until all the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a simmer, cooking for a couple of minutes.

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Use a funnel to pour the hot cordial into the bottles.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into your bottles (make sure they are clean and sterile by washing the bottles and placing them in an oven at 130 degrees C for 20 minutes) and close the lids. We use swing top bottles but you can use screw caps or jars.

Once the bottles have cooled, label and store in the fridge or a cold larder. Some reports say to drink within a month but I have found that this cordial keeps for a while, especially when using citric acid or pasteurising (see below for more on that).

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Store in a cool place or in the fridge.

Now, mix with water, drink and enjoy the taste of summer in a bottle!

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Storage

If you want to preserve that taste of summer for longer than a few months there are two methods – freezing or pasteurising.

Freezing: Pour the cordial (when cold) into plastic bottles, we use milk bottles, leaving an inch or so gap at the top to allow for expansion and stick in the freezer – easy.

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Use a cooks thermometer to check the temperature of the cordial.

Pasteurising: To home pasteurise take as big a pot as you can find and line it with a tea towel/cloth and place the bottles to be pasteurised in the pan on top of the tea towel. Fill with cold water as high up the outside of the bottles as possible. Keep the bottle lids/caps open. Start heating up the bottles on your stove and insert a cooks probe thermometer into one of the bottles. You want to measure the temperature in the bottles not the surrounding water. Once the temperature in the bottles has reached 75 degrees C turn off the heat and carefully remove the VERY hot bottles, secure the caps and allow to cool. Done.

Building a basic compost toilet

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 Is it too early in the life of this blog to talk about human excrement?

Nah.

Humanure, which one is it – embarrassing waste product or invaluable, free fertiliser? Heh, what do you reckon?!

The human body has within its waste products (faeces and urine) pretty much all the suitable nutrients needed to help grow the food we need to keep ourselves healthy and well fed. Everyday we produce this free fertiliser and flush it down the toilet when it could be being collected, managed correctly and transformed into truly amazing compost. Right now most of us live within a broken loop consisting of:

  chemical fertilisers – grow food – eat – discard – pollute

when, with the aid of systems such as composting toilets, we could be in a closed loop of:

humanure compost – grow food – eat- excrete – compost (and round and round it goes).

I could talk more of the amazing facts and benefits of humanure but I’ll save that for another time and instead go into detail of what composting toilet system we currently use here for our volunteers that visit the site.

Late last summer I decided to register Tap o’ Noth Permaculture as a WWOOF host site as I realised just how many extra hands were needed to get this place up and running. Knowing that I was going to have volunteers visiting throughout the year I thought that it was time to spruce up the static caravan that I inherited with the property and get it ready for eager WWOOFers to call home for their time here. That meant improvements to kitchen, sleeping and living spaces and also the toilet. There was a horrible old chemical toilet on board which is not the sort of thing that is wanted around here so, with great glee, the first reason and opportunity to build a compost toilet arose!

Over the years I’ve had many an idea and plan of what type of compost loo construction I would like to build – wheelie bin toilets, tree bog etc, etc – but for the caravan it was decided that a simple yet effective (and quick with the first WWOOFer arriving soon) toilet design was needed. I got myself a copy of the classic ‘Humanure Handbook’ by Joseph Jenkins which became my bed time reading for the next few days and, once I realised that I had most of the construction parts needed around me, I set about building the Jenkins style bucket system toilet. This is a simple design which uses a 5 gallon plastic bucket housed in a wooded box to collect the ‘waste’ (resource). It is treated in the same way as other compost loo designs in that, once you have been to the toilet, a scoop of saw dust or other suitable material is dropped on top of your deposit. Once the bucket is full (which of course all depends on how many users there are) it is removed from the wooden box and taken to a specially designated humanure compost bin (more on that below) where it is emptied, the bucket contents covered and the bucket washed out, cleaned and returned to the box.

So, following the helpful design found in the Humanure Handbook, I began the job of making the wooden box which houses the collection bucket and of course the toilet seat. Luckily I had all the timber needed just lying around the farm and quickly measured, cut and screwed the box together. A hinged lid was then made and fitted to the box with a circular hole for the bucket to fit through. For the bucket I decided to sacrifice one of my fermenting buckets as it was the right size and good and sturdy (also has measurements on the side which, who knows, may come in handy?!). Then any normal toilet seat can be attached to the box and – tadah! – a ready and waiting compost toilet.

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box made and hole being cut

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Hole cut and bucket ready

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Toilet seat attached and ready to use

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The finished toilet in place in the van

The Humanure Hacienda or, in our case, The Humanure Hovel

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The humanure compost area (cover material bay on the right, in- use compost bay on the left)

 Right. So your bucket is full of humanure and there is a WWOOFer jumping from foot to foot outside the toilet door desperate to get in. Time to empty…….The Bucket.

But where? Well you don’t want to just put the bucket load into your regular garden/kitchen waste compost bin as humanure contains a lot more possible nasty’s than regular compost ingredients and needs to be left alone to compost down, possibly for up to two years in this climate. So a dedicated humanure heap is needed. Jenkins’ book has a design he has called ‘the Humanure Hacienda’ (again, check out the book for plans). I roughly followed these plans, building again with reused materials and came up with a rough around the edges version I call The Humanure Hovel. It’s essentially a compost bin (in my case made from wooden pallets and corrugated iron) with an attached ‘cover materials’ bay which is roofed to keep the cover material (straw, woodchips, garden waste) dry but also to collect and divert water to a water butt to then wash out the collection bucket (the wash water returned to the heap too).

The bucket load of human waste is emptied into the middle of the heap (which already has a generous layer of cover material acting as a biological filter) and then a fork of cover material is added on top of your bucket load. Just like any other compost heap your humanure heap is left alone to compost down when the bay is full to the top. Another bay can be added to the system and the process starts all over again. Fast forward a year or so and hopefully you should find that the humanure has turned into amazing rich, full of worms compost which can be added to the soil beneath food trees and shrubs but it is recommended by some that you avoid using humanure compost on vegetables.

So where are we in this process? Well, we have had a handful of volunteers using the compost toilet in the caravan since it was built late last year and so far have almost filled one bay. This has happened quite quickly and I think maybe folks have been adding a little too much cover material (both in the bucket and in the heap) in the misconception that you need a lot of material to mask any odour or hide their embarrassment! So far we’ve had no complaints from users and only a few raised eyebrows from onlookers who have not given it a go yet. Yes, it is a simple and no nonsense in your face design (it’s a bucket that you shit in and empty!) but it really makes you aware of just how much ‘waste’ (resource!!) we make and that this ‘waste’, that we usually flush down the toilet in a bucket load of drinking water and forget about (let someone else deal with), is in fact an amazing growing medium that we can use to improve and build soil.

Plans are already afoot to build another compost toilet, this time an outdoor building close to the caravan. I’m interested in the idea of a Tree Bog and hope to have one or two of these built before the year is out. For now we’ll keep the bucket system running as, with most simple designs, it works a treat and certainly makes you think about your waste (RESOURCE!!!).

For the love of soil

Let’s just pause and observe the above photograph.

Ah, a  beautiful sight. Can you smell it? Healthy, rich, living soil.

I thought I’d kick off this blog with a post about soil as when it comes down to it, building, enhancing and maintaining healthy soils is one of the main aims of my work here at Tap o’ Noth Permaculture – it’s literally the foundation of the whole project. And let’s face it, without soil we’d all be in trouble.

I have found myself in a lucky position as the condition of the soil on the farm here wasn’t in a bad state to begin with. The property had not been ‘worked’ for some time and had been left to do it’s own thing which, in this climate, is to start turning the once grazed fields back into woodland. One of the first things I observed as I walked around the site was the abundance of biomass – growth – wherever I looked. Elder trees growing strong, wild raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries spreading here and there, nettles indicating fertile land. To some this would be a nightmare with all these ‘weeds’ growing in abundance, but these wild trees and plants were indicators to me that the soil beneath my feet was alive and fertile and wanted to grow food. I could almost feel the fertility with every step, the ground soft from years of leaf litter and growth and die back of seasonal plants. Sure, there were some areas of erosion and compaction, but overall the site had heaps of promise.

Over the last 18 months I have begun setting up intensive zone 1 food gardens in areas close to the house (zone 0) which, until a team of dedicated workers (family, friends, two extremely motivated chickens and myself) set to work, was lawn and a south face sloping area of rough field. I won’t go into the design or construction of these gardens in this post but will say that, after a year of heavy sheet mulching with cardboard and generous applications of organic matter (chicken and duck manure, straw, leaves, comfrey tea etc), the soil in the vegetable beds is looking great with heaps of earthworms, organic debris and those beautiful delicate strands of white mycelium. And  if my eyes were capable of seeing micro life, I bet I could see the soil teeming with all the beneficial bacteria, protozoa and other soil food web inhabitants that help keep the soil healthy and alive.

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