Posts Tagged Composting

How To Prepare Soil For Vegetable Gardens

How To Prepare Soil For Vegetable Gardens

soil prep for gardening

Having taught people to garden for years, many people want to know how to prepare their soil so they can start a vegetable garden.  If you talk to people who have been growing for years, you’ll notice they spend a lot of time building the soil in their garden beds.

For first time gardeners I always recommend to start small and because each patch of dirt is different, I recommend starting with a raised beds, which is nothing more than building a bed of soil on top of the ground instead of in it.  You can add sides made out of wood, edging or other materials as a side wall, but it isn’t required, mounded dirt works just as well if you’re on a budget.

Building A Raised Bed Frame

For most people they want to have the tidy look of a wooden frame and it can be done quickly for little money.  Start with three 2×6’s and cut one of them in half.  This will form the four sides of the bed and create a bed that is 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.

raised bed garden

This is an ideal size because it minimizes the number of cuts (pro tip: big box stores will cut it for free for you) and at four feet, you can reach to the middle from either side without having to stretch too much.  A few screws will make a solid frame for you to fill in the dirt with.

Turn The Soil Below

turn soil with pitchforkEven though we are going to build a bed above the ground, we want to break up the soil below it so that our plant’s roots have an easier time of penetrating the ground as they grow.  Ideally you would shovel off the top layer if it is grass, but I’ve done it both ways.  Removing the grass below will help reduce weeds coming up later, so it’s often worth the effort.

If the soil is pretty bare, what I’ll do is rake the top then go buy a gallon jug of white vinegar to douse the little bits of weeds or grass with the vinegar to kill a few days before I build my bed.  White vinegar will work well to kill the weeds in spot treatments, but if you have more than 10% coverage, I’d just scrape the top off completely.

The last part is take a “digging fork” and just break up the top few inches of soil, it can be pretty chunky because we’re going to cover it all with our soil bed mix soon anyway.  Don’t get too tied up in making it perfect, this is a really a rough pass that we do quickly and move on.

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Mixing The Perfect Soil To Grow In

First off, there are many different options here and if you ask 100 people you’ll get 101 recommendations.  So understand that if someone uses something different, that’s fine.  For most people just starting out I try to make it really simple and we can get into more of the nuances later.  So use this mix to start and in a few years, start to try different things.  We want to get you to gardening as quickly as we can and if you get caught up in what mix is the best, you’ll never actually start gardening.

raised bed soil mixture for good growing a garden

So I use a mix of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. Typically I buy for a single 4 foot by 8 foot bed that’s around 6 inches deep the following:

  • 10 bags of compost (one cubic foot size bags)
  • 1 bale of compressed peat moss (three cubic feet size)
  • 1 bag of vermiculite (2 cubic foot sized bags).
  • 1 small bag of Bone Meal
  • 1 small bag of Blood Meal

If you don’t know what these are, just print this post off and bring it with you to any big box store, they’ll know exactly what you need from this list.  If the employee doesn’t know these items, it’s best to find someone else because these are gardening 101 supplies.

Compost

mushroom compsting mixFor compost you’ll find a lot of different options, my favorite is “mushroom compost” which you can find bags at any big box hardware store.  A close second is “Black Kow” compost.  I’ll often grab a few of each to make up my 10 bags for my bed.

If you can’t find these specific ones, it really isn’t a big deal, use whatever compost you can find at your local store or garden center.  Compost provides a lot of nutrients to your plants and serves as the base for seeds to root into.

Vermiculite

bag of vermiculiteVermiculite is essentially rock dust crushed up, it provides a lot of minerals for your plants, but it’s main function is to act like a sponge for water.  Be sure not to get confused with perlite, it’s not the same.  This one might take some calling around to find, if there is a local gardening group they might have some good leads.

I will also add a note here that if you start searching around about vermiculite, you’ll inevitably run into an old timer that will make the point about asbestos in vermiculite.  This is something that we had to worry about 40 years ago, but today there is no source allowed in the USA or Canada that doesn’t carefully screen and test for this.  The myth still persists today, but you should have zero concerns because the industry has long made changes to prevent this.

Often garden centers or seed/farm supply places carry it.  I’ve even seen it in small bags at your big box hardware stores.  If you can’t find it consider purchasing a few bags off of Amazon, while it’s a bit more expensive locally, you can buy a few of these bags of vermiculite and be good for a 4×8 bed.

Peat Moss

package of peat moss or spagnum mossThe last part of the soil mix.  This fluffs up the soil, allows for good oxygen infiltration and also acts like a sponge to hold in moisture until plants need it.  This can be found anywhere and they type or brand doesn’t matter.  The only thing I’ll suggest is make sure you get it from the soils section where you’d find your bags of compost or near the bags of mulch section.  Sometimes they sell small bags that are meant for growing orchids, these are often expensive, but the ones in the bagged compost section is usually sold “compressed” for very cheap ($10-$20 for 3 cubic feet compressed).

A common question that comes up around peat moss are concerns about if peat moss is sustainable.  It is true that 10 years ago peat moss was harvested from natural wet lands, but today it is done in a manner that is regenerative.  If you are still concerned, consider sourcing coconut coir which is a material similar to peat moss but made from the waste product of coconut husks.  In the end, I suggest you don’t get too caught up in your first year or so, just get your first year under your belt and then work on improving in later years.

Bone And Blood Meal

I prefer to use bone meal and blood meal, but there are many options.  Obviously from their names, they are a animal sourced product.  Those wanting a non-animal source can try seaweed meal or fertilize, you can buy seaweed fertilizer here.  Bone and blood meal are organic sources of the major nutrient (NPK: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium).

bone meal and blood meal in bags

Since we are starting out with such good ingredients, we don’t need much of these.  If we were starting with the soil in ground, there may be need for more as directed from a soil test, but since we are building our own soil we don’t need a soil test for our first year or two.  I start out with one large handful of each, mixed evenly across the whole 4×8 raised bed.

Mixing It All Together

Some people will use a tarp to mix the soil together, I just skip that and dump everything in a pile in the framed bed, then mix with my hands or a shovel.  If you choose compost that is moist, but not sopping wet it will mix easier.  Sometimes this means pulling off the top few bags at the garden supply place so you get to a lower layer of bags that haven’t soaked up any recent rain.

Here is my basic approach:

  • Take your peat moss bale and place it in the bed
  • With a shovel stab the plastic in a line to break open the bale
  • Turn it over to dump the peat on the ground and remove the plastic
  • Shake out half your vermiculite on top of the peat moss, set the rest aside
  • Grab one large handful each of bone meal and blood meal, sprinkle across the bed
  • Place a bag of compost in the bed, stab with shovel to dump on the pile
  • Repeat with compost about half your bags
  • Using the shovel and hands, mix it all up until it’s well mixed
  • Add remaining materials and mix it all up
  • smooth out the top and give the soil a brief water

How To Water Your Garden

You want to water it a few days before you plant if you can, this will let all the water to absorb into the peat moss and vermiculite.  Water for a count of five and then stop.  Again, counting to five, if the water fully absorbs into the soil so there is no sheen on the dirt from the water, water again for a count of five. repeat counting to five until the water doesn’t absorb all the way in five seconds.  This is a good indicator that the soil is nicely saturated with moisture, but not soaking.

how to water your garden and vegitables

In the end building your soil will set you up for success for years to come.  Following this formula and starting small, you will have a better drastically easier time because we’re not trying to fix our existing soil or battle weeds.  Start with one 4×8 bed, then next year go a little bigger.  The number one thing I see is new gardeners burning out their first year because they took on too big of a garden.

Your Turn!

  • What are your garden plans this year?
  • What tips have you learned?

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

The zero waste lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but everyone in the world benefits when we create less trash and cut back on waste. Not only does our trash take up room in our homes, but there are plenty of concerns about the environment as well.

how to start zero waste lIfestyle

Cutting back on trash is also important if you don’t get regular pick up of trash or recycling. Save yourself the time and energy of hauling garbage to the dump when you could simply make a few adjustments.

In my own life, I’m not yet 100% zero trash, but I’ve cut back significantly in the last few years. This what I’ve learned and how I’ve made a zero waste lifestyle (or close to zero waste) work for me.

Getting Started with the Zero Waste Lifestyle

getting started with a zero waste lifestyle

If you’re ready to get started with a zero waste lifestyle, there are a few steps to mentally and physically set yourself up for success. There are many zero waste products out there to help with waste free living. Items like bags, bottles, and food containers can be reused over and over. Storage containers can even be created from items you already own.

Here are my tips on how to go zero waste easily.

1. Be Realistic

be realistic when starting with the zero waste movement

Get yourself in the right mindset to before you even start exploring how to go zero waste. Focus on how you will make a zero waste lifestyle work and how you will deal with any anticipated roadblocks.

Most importantly, stay realistic. Don’t expect yourself to go completely zero waste overnight. We all see people in the news and on YouTube who commit to going zero waste 100% right away. While this works for a few people, most of us need to simply take steps over time to cut back on trash and waste. We’ve been living with our wasteful habits our entire so it will take some time to reverse that.

2. Do an Anthropological Study on Your Trash

study your trash to see what you throw away

If you’re ready to start, my first recommendation will sound a bit odd, but stick with me here. Go through your trash! Take your most recent bag of garbage and go through the items in the bag piece by piece. Approach it like an anthropologist—what will you learn from your garbage?

Your garbage will probably tell you a lot about what you eat. Many people find the majority of their trash comes from the kitchen. Food containers, drink containers, straws, bottles, bags…all these items add up quickly. As you separate out your trash, look at the items to recycle (typically, recycling isn’t counted as “waste”). Sometimes cutting back on your trash means recommitting to recycling as well.

Keep an eye out for items you could have repurposed. This isn’t to say you should hoard empty containers and jars to the extreme. A cupboard full of repurposed containers still takes up space in your home. Simply see what is recyclable and how you could minimize your current trash footprint.

Understanding what you actually throw out will let you guard against those things in your zero waste future.

3. Focus on Small, Meaningful Changes

focus on small changes to acheive the zero waste life

Once you’re ready to start the transition to a zero waste lifestyle, check out zero waste resources. Read zero waste blogs and books about the zero trash lifestyle. Find small waste reducing adjustments to implement without changing your routine too much.

Something as simple as carrying your own water bottle or reusable coffee mug makes a big difference without much effort. When you went through your garbage, did you notice many of the same items, like Styrofoam coffee cups or takeout containers? That indicates a good place to start.

Would your favorite takeout place let you bring your own container for food? Could you carry your coffee mug with you each morning?

Beyond your convenience food purchases, look at your shopping habits. Is your grocery store zero waste friendly? Some stores allow you to bring your own bags or jars, offering ways to minimize your food containers (more on creating a zero waste kitchen below).

4. Purchase Zero Waste Products to Set Yourself Up for Success

purchase zero waste products: water bottles, resuable bags, reuseable straws etc

There are many products available to help those who want to live a zero waste lifestyle. Metal and silicone straws are a great example of now-common zero waste products. Bags and food containers are also widely available.

You may also want to look at products with minimal or recyclable packaging. Some health and beauty companies sell products like “bar shampoo” without a bottle. For example, the company Lush promotes that 35% of their products are sold “naked” without package. Look for minimal waste or recyclable options for items like toothbrushes, deodorant, and more.

If you buy items like candles, look for ways to reuse the jars. If you read magazines, exchange or recycle them, use them for crafts, or donate them to a local school or library when you’re done reading them (better yet, switch to an e-reader). Whenever you make a purchase, ask yourself if there’s a less-wasteful alternative.

5. Find Simple Swaps

find simple zero waste swaps, there are lots of products to reduce trash

There are many simple swaps to help set you up for success with your zero waste lifestyle. On the blog The Greener Girl, she outlines many easy zero waste swaps. Straws and bags are two of the easiest switches.

Other items to swap for zero waste (aka reusable) items include fountain pens, razors, feminine products, and laundry soap. Change your kitchen sponge for a microfiber towel. Rather than using napkins and tissues, switch to washable handkerchiefs and cloth napkins. Once you explore the zero waste swaps out there, you may be surprised at all the areas where you can implement a simple change. In the long run going, zero trash will save you money.

How to Create a Zero Waste Kitchen

create a zero waste kitchen

Hands down, the biggest area of waste is usually the kitchen. When I studied my trash, almost everything I was throwing out on a regular basis had to do with food. Many convenience food products come in plastic bags, bottles, boxes, and containers. What we’re saving in convenience, we’re making up for in garbage.

If you’re wondering how to create a zero waste kitchen, there are a few easy areas of focus to start to cut back on waste.

1. Bulk Buying

bulk buying to reduce trash from food waste

Many stores offer the option of bulk buying, especially natural groceries and health food stores. People might feel a little intimidated at first but buying items in bulk is simple. Best of all, bulk buying creates zero trash.

When people plan to buy bulk, often they bring containers with them to the store. Purchase simple mesh bags made to hold all sorts of items like rice, nuts, oats, and coffee beans. Bring a paper bag with you for items like flour. Jars are typically used for deli meats, cheese, and other items requiring a sealable container.

Get your containers weighed at the service counter before you start shopping. The grocery clerk will give you a printout or write down the weight of each container so it’s deducted from the purchase weight at checkout. Then all you need to do is fill up your containers. Shopping this way doesn’t take much extra time and you often save money because bulk buys are typically cheaper.

2. Store Items in Jars

store items in jars to reduce on trash

Rather than storing items in plastic containers, use glass or metal jars to hold the ingredients in your kitchen. If you live in a tiny house, this tip is useful anyway—often glass or metal containers take up less space than commercial packaging. Uniform containers help you maximize your storage space and look great too on open shelves.

If you cook meals ahead to freeze, use glass container to store your food. Leave extra room in the top of each container because food expands when frozen. Store your leftovers in glass jars and reuse them over and over—you can even heat mason jars and eat out of them. This makes food storage simple and there are no worries about chemical compounds in the plastic leaching into your food.

Even microbreweries get in on the trend of reusable containers. You can purchase a “growler” from many breweries and get your beer refilled over and over. This is a fun way to eliminate the need to recycle beer bottles or aluminum cans.

3. Compost

compost bin to handle kitchen waste

Composting is part of a zero waste lifestyle, and for good reason: so many of us throw out food we could instead compost. Gardeners know compost creates a rich, nutrient-dense soil for plants to thrive in. Even if you aren’t a huge vegetable gardener, compost is a welcome addition to any flower bed.

Now, all organic matter can be composted—including human waste. If you’re interested in setting up a composting toilet, it isn’t hard (but of course it isn’t for everyone).

Food composting on the other hand is SO simple, everyone can do it. There are great containers with charcoal filters to eliminate any smell. These bins are stored right on your countertop. Add food scraps, vegetables, coffee grounds, and even paper products to your compost. Most people prefer to avoid adding meat and dairy waste to their compost as it takes longer to breakdown and attracts pests.

When you’ve filled up your compost container, you move it outdoors to a larger composter, where it is mixed with grass, leaves and other organic waste. Vermicomposting uses worms (typically red wiggler worms) to break down the decomposing matter and turn it into harmless vermicast. This rich compost is excellent for gardens. Vermicomposting is an easy composting method for anyone and my personal favorite composting method.

4. Cut Out Bags

cut out bags by using reusable shopping bags

Plastic shopping bags are one area where nearly everyone can cut back on waste. Whether you make your own (make a no sew shopping bag from an old tee shirt) or purchase ready-made bags, fabric trumps plastic every time.

If you buy fresh produce at the store, did you know you don’t need to put it in the bags they provide? Add loose fruits and veggies to your cart and checkout without using plastic. The mesh bags used for bulk buying are also used to store fruits and vegetables, or you could use a paper sack if you prefer. No matter your choice, it’s easy to BYOB (bring your own bag).

5. Plant a Garden

plant a garden to grow your own food which means less trash from food packaging

One of the best ways to cut back on food waste is to grow your own food as much as possible. Now, gardening and homestead farming aren’t for everyone, but even planting a few herbs and salad greens will cut back on containers and waste. Put your new compost to good use by planting easy vegetables like squash in recycled containers.

If you’re ready to take farming further, chickens are often a great place to start. Not only will you get eggs aplenty, but chickens minimize bugs and even help you till the soil in your garden. As you start to grow your own food supply, you’ll see a huge reduction in the amount of waste your produce. Gardening and homestead farming are a great step toward the zero waste lifestyle.

6.Buy Local

buy local food

Another important tip for minimizing your kitchen waste is to buy local whenever possible. Farmers markets and fruit stands naturally produce less waste. Food doesn’t need transportation—there’s minimal packaging and you often pick up right at the farm. Check into your local CSA or farm-share program as well. You could get a bushel container of packaging-free organic vegetables every week!

Buying local also extends to meat, dairy, and baked goods as well. A loaf of bread at the bakery will need less packaging (and require less wasted energy to create and transport) than a commercial bakery. When you purchase from local purveyors, you build relationships and connections with your community. Choose your prime cuts, waste less, and request minimal packaging. Many commercial grocery stores won’t let you bring in your own containers for meat and deli products, but smaller natural food stores often will accommodate a zero waste lifestyle.

The same goes for joining a local co-op. Often, co-ops specialize in bulk foods and minimally packaged items. If your city or town has a co-op, consider becoming an owner. For a small fee, you’ll get access to a wide variety of foods and products, usually locally produced and minimally packaged.

7. Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

pack a zero waste lunchbox

Brown-bagging your lunch with zero waste is simple! There are so many products out there to help you pack a lunch and transport your food, it’s almost a no-brainer. I use a stainless steel box by a company called LunchBots. These containers are beautiful, simple, and so easy to transport. Your lunch is laid out in small compartments and it’s really appetizing.

bento box by lunchbots - a stainless steel lunch containerBento-style lunches have become very popular and for good reason. Not only are they a zero waste lunch option, but they’re aesthetically pleasing as well. In fact, a simple search on Pinterest will yield tons of ideas for making appetizing bento lunches your entire family will love to eat.

Plastic bags and utensils are really easy to cut out of your lifestyle because there are so many alternatives. Get rid of plastic wrap too. With beeswax wraps, you cover food airtight, wash the wrap, and reuse it over and over.

If all else fails, take a cue from your local deli and wrap your lunch in recyclable butcher paper. It keeps food covered and will help you maintain your zero waste lifestyle when you eat on the go.

8. Learn to Creatively Repurpose

creatively repurpose items that would otherwise go in the trash

Embracing a zero waste lifestyle means learning to creatively repurpose items whenever possible. Nowhere is this truer than in the kitchen. So many packages can be reused again and again. Spaghetti sauce jars are used as storage containers. Cans are reused to organize or as pots for plants.

A simple cutting tool will turn plastic bottles into strong rope to use in many different applications. You can recycle many plastic items into craft projects and gifts too. A simple search for repurposed or recycled crafts will yield hundreds of ideas.

Use your old toothbrushes as cleaning brushes. Reuse clothing as cleaning rags. The idea behind a zero waste lifestyle is to use up items as completely as possible. When you think an item has completed its purpose, ask yourself how to reuse it in another way.

FAQs About Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste faqs

When considering the zero waste lifestyle, people often have a lot of questions. Like living the tiny life, there are no set rules you need to follow. The main idea behind zero waste is to find what works for you and do your best. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to a zero waste lifestyle, but really, it’s pretty simple.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about zero waste.

Where should I start?

Start by going through your trash to see your biggest area of waste. Then set small goals to help you tackle each area. If you see a lot of kitchen waste, for example, focus your zero waste efforts there. If you seem to throw out a lot of toiletries and beauty products, then that may be a good area to focus on.

simple clothing to wearYou may want to focus on a zero waste wardrobe as well. Having a capsule or minimalist wardrobe is a great start. Pare down to the necessities and simplify. As you clean out and get rid of items, find ways to recycle, donate, or reuse them whenever possible.
For most people, a zero waste lifestyle begins in the kitchen. Tackle that area and chances are you’ll take a huge step toward become completely zero waste.

Is it hard to do?

It depends on the situation. It requires effort, yes, but if you already recycle and minimize your purchases, then zero waste is the next step. If you plant a garden and grow your own food, then you may find it even easier to transition to a zero waste lifestyle.

My biggest piece of advice is to take it slow. Move in small steps. Tackle one area of your life at a time, like implementing a zero waste kitchen first. Then move to the next area. Like all lifestyle changes, baby steps make it much easier.

Does it cost money?

It seems counter intuitive to spend money on more “stuff” to embrace a zero waste lifestyle, doesn’t it? I recommend using what you already own as much as possible. That said, there are items in the zero waste products section below to help you on your journey.

A one-time purchase like a reusable straw will cut out many future purchases down the road. Buying beeswax wraps or mesh bags might mean making an investment up front, but it’s a trade off when you never need to buy plastic wrap or Ziploc baggies again.

Does it mean giving up “normal life”?

People may raise an eyebrow at any type of lifestyle change. When I moved into my tiny house, people asked me if living in a tiny house meant giving up a normal life. When I’ve advocated for homesteading or minimalism, people ask if it means giving up their normal routine.

Anytime you change, it will mean giving up the conveniences and norms you’re used to. That said, there are zero waste options for almost any product you can think of. You don’t necessarily need to go without something, you just need to adjust your approach.

For example, while I don’t know much about cosmetics, I’ve been told there are beauty companies who allow you to bring your own containers and fill up your own products. There are also minimal packaging beauty products to fit with a zero waste lifestyle.

For clothing, you will find almost any item of clothing you need at a second-hand store. Check Craigslist, Freecycle, and other exchange networks. Borrow what you need and find creative ways to reuse and repurpose items to keep them out of the landfill.

What if I mess up?

Again, like living the tiny life, there are no hard and fast rules you need to follow if you want to live the zero waste lifestyle. There are people who minimize their waste to a mason jar while there are others who simply try their best to cut back on garbage. Join online forums to get ideas and support about living zero waste.

Just keep in mind, no one is perfect. Sometimes there are items that wear out or need replacement (for example, I had to buy a bathmat even though I was attempting a no spend challenge). If a zero waste lifestyle is right for you, do your best. Even making an effort toward reducing your waste is a step in the right direction.

Resources & Zero Waste Products to Help You Start a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste resources - websites, articles, posts, and videos

There are many zero waste blogs and ideas out there for living a zero waste lifestyle. Check out Pinterest and Google for resources to help you navigate. There are also many social media groups for zero waste.

A few popular zero waste blogs are:

Trash is for Tossers
Going Zero Waste
Zero Waste Home
Litterless

The items I’ve found really helpful for a zero waste lifestyle are:

LunchBots Bento Containers
Klean Kanteen Mugs and Water Bottles
CamelBak Water Bottles
Epica Countertop Compost Bin
Flip & Tumble Bags
Flip & Tumble Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
ECOSIP Reusable Straws
Glass Food Containers
Handkerchiefs
Microfiber Towels
Safety Razor
Biodegradable Toothbrushes
Bee’s Wrap Food Wrap
Wool Dryer Balls
Bar Shampoo

There are a plethora of reusable and zero waste products out there. Research and purchase items as you go along to help you embrace the zero waste lifestyle. It’s a great challenge to take on and really makes you think about what you’re buying (and the container it comes in). While we aren’t all ready to go completely zero waste, we can all take steps toward minimizing our waste and cutting back on trash.

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

When I was growing up I could never imagine that I’d be sitting here writing an in depth review on a toilet, but here we are!  This is a review of my experience with a 5 gallon bucket composting toilet with the Luggable Loo toilet seat.

luggable loo review

I want to qualify this review before we get started.  I’m a very particular person, my house is kept very clean and tidy, I have germaphobe tendencies and I work in a white collar work environment where good hygiene is a must.  I say this only to give people an understanding of where I’m coming from because when I was reading reviews I couldn’t find others with similar lifestyles or standards.  When I first started, I was concerned how making the shift to living tiny might impact my corporate job at the time.

Where To Buy The Luggable Loo

You can find the seat in a few different places in the stores, Walmart, Dicks, and REI all carry them from time to time.  The problem is that it’s pretty hit or miss, they don’t carry many of them on the shelves.  So going online is the best option and I’ve found also happens to be the best price.

Shopping List To Use The Loo

Using A Luggable Loo For My Tiny House

With that out of the way, when I first sat down to plan my tiny house a flush toilet was a very important thing for me to have.  I was dead set on having a traditional toilet.  Then the real world happened.  The city I live in prohibits septic systems unless you have an extenuating circumstance (read: it ain’t happening).  For me to get a sewer line ran to my tiny house, permits, connection fees and labor it was close to $50,000!  I was shocked.

So I started looking into options: Nature’s Head, Envirolet Systems, Sun-Mar, Incinolet and many others.  The one thing that stood out to me is that they were all big, complicated and expensive.  I hadn’t made a decision because whenever I’d talk to friends who actually used them in real life, they all weren’t super happy with them and many didn’t like it.

While I was trying to decide what I was going to do, I had to move into my tiny house and just needed something.  So I swung by my local big box and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket ($5) and a Luggable Loo ($13) and some hamster pine wood chips ($3.50) and a roll of 13 gallon trash bags ($4).  A Complete kit for $25.50, much cheaper than a $600 composting toilet or $50k for a sewer line.

The setup was simple.  Take a five gallon bucket, place a trash bag in the unit with the edges hanging over the edge, put on toilet seat (which firmly clips onto the lip of the bucket) and then toss in some wood chips.  The lid will keep the bag in place so you don’t have to worry about an edge falling in.

how to setup composting toilet

Luggable Loo Review Over 3 Years

Like I said, at the time I viewed this as a stop gap, something that I was begrudgingly going to use until I could make a decision.  Then something interesting happened… I really liked it!

I will be the first to admit that there was an initial ick factor to get over, but that goes with all composting toilets.  But after a few weeks I realized it’s seriously no big deal.  If you’ve ever had a kid and changed diapers, that’s way worse.  With this setup I pop the seat off, pull the trash bag draw strings, tie it off, and drop it in the trash bin at the street.  You only have to touch the draw strings.

Urine Diverting Composting Toilet Setup

pee diverterOne caveat that I do want to make here is that, as a male, since I keep my toilet outside, I just pee straight forward on the ground, I keep the liquids out of the bucket for the most part.  I don’t have a diverter of any kind and if a female needs to use it, I just toss in a bit more of the wood chips for a little extra absorption and not worry about it.

Keeping your solids and liquids separate is very important in terms of ease of use, but also reducing smell.

If I had a live in girlfriend I may look into more complicated setups such as this urine diverter insert, which you the only place I could find online (or anywhere really) was here on Amazon.  There are some other options where you use a funnel, but honestly I like this molded plastic insert, it’s totally worth it.

Luggable Loo Tips Learned Over Time

luggable loo tips and tricks

I’ve been using this setup now for over 3 years and that means I’ve had a lot of experience in different weather, temperatures, rain, snow, etc.  Here are some experiments and lessons learned:

Skip The Wood Chips

Since I’m a guy I don’t have much liquids coming into the mix, so I thought I’d try not using wood chips at all.  That was over a year ago and now I don’t use them at all unless I have company.  Wood chips absorb liquids – some what – (I want to do a test with peat moss) so in reality it’s only to cover up what you leave behind and keep it out of sight.  If I was using it with someone I might switch back to chips or opt for a his and her throne.

Double Doodie Bags Review: Nice, but not required

double doodie bag review

These bags are very popular with the Luggable Loo, mainly because Reliance (company that makes them) is the same maker.  In many cases they’re sold together or have a coupon, which is how I tried them out.  While the bags work really well, I found that as a guy, I just would pee separately.

 

Summer Vs. Winter

summer vs winter on a composting toilet

I like the toilet setup much better in the winter.  Since I keep my toilet outside, the weather is a factor.  With cooler weather means less bugs, which means less flies and gnats.  To mitigate the bugs in the summer I just empty it once a week and I never have to worry.

There may be a few flies inside, but I give the bucket a kick and they fly away.  If you wait a few weeks in the summer you’ll run into flies laying eggs, which leads to larvae, which are gross.  Emptying it once a week means you’ll never have that happen.  In truth you can get away with a few weeks, but why chance it.

In the winter I usually empty it once a month.  There are no bugs to speak of in the winter and the cold of Fall and Winter make everything a breeze.

The Smell

smell of composting toilet

This is a very common question and here’s the truth: there is a smell.  This is really why I started using this outside.  Now that said, there is a smell, but it’s never worse than if you just went.

I have considered adding two little fans to the cover to bring in fresh air and draw smells out.  With those fans, there never would be any smell.  For those of you who are skeptical, consider that I’m a very clean person and the smell has been so little of a concern I felt adding a simple fan wasn’t worth my time.

Keeping The Toilet Outdoors

keeping toilet outside

I don’t really know anyone else that does this, but I am a major proponent of this.  I have considered building a little enclosed area to keep it in, but living on 32 acres, I don’t really have to worry about privacy, plus the view is much better!

My recommendation would be build a little outhouse, throw a little solar panel on the top and have a tiny fan always running.  If you’re camping you can get one of these pop up toilet tents which are great.

Many people ask me about rain and snow, but honestly it has never been an issue.  Every time it has rain I just put it under a base of a tree and the leaves shelter me pretty well.  There was one time when I got very sick and needed to use the facilities very often, it also poured for several days.

I just put it on my tiny house porch and it was totally fine.  In the snow, which it doesn’t snow a lot here in NC, it wasn’t a big deal either.  Even in wind, no big deal.  I have been surprised at how little it matters when it rains, is windy or is snowing.

Going To The Bathroom Outside Is Awesome

There is something really pleasant about taking care of business when you have a really nice view or just enjoy the peace and quite of nature.  If you’ve ever gone backpacking and use a toilet with a great view, it’s very enjoyable.

The Seat Of The Luggable Loo

luggable loo toilet seat review

I am very impressed how comfortable this seat is, for $13 it’s totally worth the money.  The lid for me broke off after about a year and I like it better because the lid kind of hugged a tad too close in the back.  The lid still works, I just set it on top and it has a pretty good fit.

The other thing I really like about the Luggable Loo is how well it snaps onto the 5 gallon bucket.  It has a very positive snap on the lip of the bucket, but still leave room for you to put a trash back and lock it in place.  It’s holding power on the bag is very important because it means the bag is kept in place and your business goes where it’s supposed to and stays here.

Worst Case Scenario

luggable loo horror story

The setup has worked really well for me, but there was one thing I’ve always dreaded: if it tipped over.  One day I came out and it was apparent that some animal had come up to it, knocked the lid off, then flipped the whole thing seat down.  This mean that the “contents” literally were on the ground.

This was very unfortunate, but I figure out that I could grab my shovel, slide it under the leave on the ground, using the leaves as a barrier layer, and in one motion, flip it right side up.  In the end not one bit fell out and I just bagged it and it was all good.

So far, knock on wood, I haven’t ever had a bag leak.  Even if I did, I keep a few extra pails on hand and a few lids.  This means if I ever have a catastrophic failure I just put a lid on the bucket and seal it all in, then toss it.  Pail and a lid are super durable and at only a few bucks, you don’t care if you have to toss one.

 

So that’s my review and experience with the Luggable Loo 5 gallon bucket composting toilet.

Your Turn!

  • What are you planning on using for your toilet?

Getting Ready For Winter On The Homestead

Getting Ready For Winter On The Homestead

It’s the start of Fall now, even though it’s still hot here in North Carolina, so it’s time to start getting ready for winter on the homestead.  Winter is a slow time for most homesteaders, with the garden being cleared out and animals taking it easy, it’s time for you to do the same!

getting ready for the winter on the homestead

I love settling in for winter, its a quiet time to spend with family, the holidays keep us busy and while there is always something to do on a farm, it’s a great time to relax and get ahead.  Here is a list of some things to make sure you get ready for the winter on the homestead.

1. Clear Out The Garden

Clearing out the garden in the fall

Get a good start on next year’s garden by clearing out everything that you don’t want.  I always pull my plants in my garden and then let the chickens loose in the fenced in area for a few weeks.  They find all the things you missed, they scratch at the soil, find weed seeds and bugs, plus fertilize as they go along.  It’s a great way to really clean up things.  Don’t forget that just because it’s cooling off, you still can garden in the fall and early winter.

2. Mulch All Your Garden Beds

mulching garden bed

After you’ve cleaned up your gardens, make sure they stay weed free! First I’ll turn my beds a little bit, then top dress the bed with compost.  From there I’ll add my mulch layer, putting it on really thick. Whatever your mulching material of choice is, get a really good layer of it on all your beds.  This will keep the weeds at bay when spring comes back, giving you time to plant without much hassle.

3. Get Your Compost Piles In Order

Clean up your compost bins

At the end of the season you have a lot of organic matter you can put onto your pile.  Get your piles built up the right way, making sure you have the proper mix of carbon and nitrogen in the pile to get things cooking.  You want to make sure your piles start off right so they can build up heat and kill unwanted critters, weed seeds, and fungus.  I’ll often add a microbial inoculate right after the heat of the pile starts to taper off to make sure we have a great microbe profile in my soils for later years.

4. Fix Irrigation And Drain Water Lines

fixing broken irrigation in the garden

Over the season things break and irrigation lines are sometimes hard to keep up with when they’re covered in a mess of plants.  I try to take this time to figure out what worked and what didn’t and make repairs for the next year.  Since water can freeze in the line I also make sure all my water lines are totally drained and then blow them out with an air compressor.  Hoses I bring inside, but since we have pretty mild I leave most of the infrastructure in place.

5. Clean Up Your Perennials

cleaning up your perennials in the garden

You most likely have some perennials in your garden, for me I always keep a basic set of herbs and blueberry bushes.  Mint is one of those things that can get out of hand, so I make sure to cut it back some.  I’ll also trim up other things that have gotten unruly.  You don’t want to do too heavy of a pruning because the stress of a major trim plus the onset of cold can kill a plant, but tidying is totally worth it.

6. Fix What Bothered You On Your Homestead

Fixing things on the farm

A homestead is an ever-changing machine.  We try new things: how to better grow a vegetable, a new way to water our chickens, a way to handle post-harvest produce if we sell at market.  The experiments we run never end and we are always looking to improve things.  Think about things that you love about your homestead, then think about what things you don’t like.  How could you make those things better?  What little things bother you on a daily basis during the busy season?  What things are a total pain, constantly breaking, or just don’t work?

When you think about these problems on your homestead, how can you fix them?  Now’s the time to get them on your to-do list and get them done.

7. Improve Your Workflows On The Farm

Improve workflows on the farm

One thing that I see too often is people not considering their workflows on the farm or homestead.  What are the paths in and out of your farmstead?  You bring in a dump truck of compost to add to garden beds, diesel fuel for your tractor gets trucked in, and you buy lumber to build things.  Once on your land, you have to do various things: you spread mulch, fuel up the tractor, and you work on things in your shop, etc.  From there you grow things and harvest them which requires an area to do post harvest cleaning and packaging.  You might bring them to a farmers market, you might can them for your own pantry, or you store things in your root cellar.  Think about all these flows!

All of these things take up time, occupy space in storage sheds, and you have to lift and move materials here and there.  Think about how you can make work easier, how you can reduce the number of times you move something or the ergonomics of lifting things etc.  This will let you get things done faster, it lets people who might not be “farm strong” help you since it’s optimized and you spend less time laid up because of less risk of injury.

8. Fix Your Fences

fixing fences on the homestead

An old farmer once told me the easiest way to collect firewood is to put up a fence and watch all the trees that fall down on it.  It’s funny, but also seems to be some unwritten law of the universe, trees seem to always fall on my fencing or across my driveway.  All. The. Time.

Take time this winter to get your fencing back into tip-top shape and consider upgrading or expanding if you need to.  In some places, the ground will be too hard to use a post hole digger, but in many places, you can do this most any time during the winter.  I also like to take this time to cut back the vegetation near my fences so that I can run a bush hog along my fences easily.  I’ll help dying trees fall away from my fence and prune branches.

While many don’t like to spray, the fence is one area I’ll use a spray at the base of it to clear the ground totally right where the fence meets the ground.  This let’s me easily see areas where predators might be be crawling under your fence, where water route out a ditch that life stock can slip through, or weaken a post’s purchase.

9. Winter Homesteading Activities And Crafts

homtest crafts and hobbies

Making soap for the coming year and gifts during the holiday.  Melting down wax for salves, wood finishes and candle making is the perfect time for this.  Mending clothing, knitting a sweater or scarf, or other needle crafting.  Whatever you love doing, take this time of year to get them done and enjoy your time.  Explore other great hobbies you can do, even in a small space!

10. Split And Stack Your Firewood… For Next Year

stacking and splitting firewood

It can be tough to keep up with all the wood you need if you have a wood stove or fireplace, but if you really want to be on the ball, you need to be splitting and stacking wood for 2 years away. Living off the grid isn’t easy and a solid plan for heating is really important.  Firewood needs to dry out and become “seasoned” so that it burns better in your wood stove, burns hotter, and doesn’t build up as much creosote.  You should always split your wood and then allow it to dry out at least one year before you burn it.  A hydraulic wood splitter is a great investment for this task on your homestead.

If you buy your wood, go ahead and buy a double order this year so that you can have one pile sit for a year and dry out.  I’ve seen too many people get told that the wood is dry and come to find its basically green and freshly cut.  If you bite the bullet this year, you’ll never have to worry about it.

11. Take A Vacation From Your Homestead!

during the winter take a vacation from the homestead

This is the perfect time to take a vacation.  You can enjoy the winter weather or escape to somewhere sunny.  With things winding down you can take a week or two away from the farm or have someone watch your homestead when things aren’t as complicated.  You’ve worked hard all year long, so take this time to recoup, relax and enjoy time with your family.

Read Also:

Your Turn!

  • What would you add to my list?
  • What’s your favorite part of fall and winter on the homestead?

fall on the homestead pinterest

Tiny House Composting Toilet Blues

composting toilet

I’ve been living in my tiny house now for a good while and the big challenge of composting toilet has been going well.  Initially I had wanted to have a flush toilet and my house is setup so I could drop a toilet let in quickly, but the quotes for a sewer line alone started at $50,000 so I begrudgingly went with the composting toilet.

I haven’t really read too much online about people’s experiences with composting toilets, the few I’ve read were just over the moon, glowing reviews.  So I thought I’d share my experience so far.  It has mostly been positive and easier than I thought, but with this recent incident it goes to show it isn’t all great.

It's more than a dietThe other thing I don’t think people talk about in their composting toilet posts is diet.  I have learned that a good diet beyond good health, impacts how easy it is to use a composting toilet.  Good healthy foods, meals with salads, and less processed foods makes composting toilets easier to manage.

With a good diet your body functions better, it can extract more moisture and nutrients out of the what you eat and keeps things with composting toilets easier.  I also know the better one eats, the more regular one is; for my body, I usually need to visit the restroom at 10:30 am almost without fail, which 9 times out of 10 means I’m out and about, where there are toilets for me to use.  So diet is worth noting and was something I felt was missing from the discussion.

Currently it is illegal in my city have a composting toilet, as it is in most municipalities; plus I’m renting my land, so I wouldn’t want to be composting on land I don’t own.  What seems like the happy medium and it is what I do, is bagging the waste every week into a biodegradable “plastic” bag and then sending it along with the city trash; at that point its essentially like a diaper, but the plastic will breakdown in a landfill quickly.  There are other options out there for this too and I considered them, but for me this works.

I am currently using pine bedding (from the pets section) which has a nice scent, but I don’t think it absorbs as well as other options.  I’m thinking I’m going to switch to a mix of half pine bedding and half mix of peat moss which is very absorbent.  Peat moss is a pretty good option, but it isn’t a sustainable material, it’s harvesting is actually quite destructive to wet lands.  I know for gardening that coconut coir (husks) is the sustainable version of peat, but I don’t know how it performs in composting toilets.  I’ve ordered an 11 lb block of coconut coir for $16 to try out, which I’ll report back on later.

It has been pretty straight forward, but I still opt to keep my bucket setup outdoors.  I do keep my liquids and solids separate, which at this point means I go peep in the woods and then use the bucket.  Later on I hope add a urine diverter later on, but it isn’t a must at this time.  I have a mini deck space that I keep it on.  The smell isn’t anything to be concerned over, but I’m not sure having it inside with no moving air would be a good idea at this point.

luggable looMy bucket has a pretty tight seal on the lid, so it is pretty hard for things to crawl in, but it is possible.  The other day I went to use my setup and when I opened the lid, I was greeted by a swarm of fly larva.  A hundred wriggling maggots.  It was gross!    What was interesting was they were on the seat between the seat and the lid.  What I don’t know is if that was because the flies couldn’t get into the toilet or if they just preferred that narrow space.

Luckily it was very simple to take care of.  I easily popped off the lid, then hosed it off in a very sunny spot.  I figured the intense sun would kill the larvae so I didn’t have a ton of flies.  I double bag the bucket so I closed the first bag, then tied up the second bag that was still clean.  Job done, took all of two minutes, but I realized something is flawed in my system.

I did some googling to discover that this is a semi-common issue when the heat of summer comes on.  You’ll be going along in the winter, it gets warmer and then all a sudden the flies come out.  I learned about a product called Mosquito Dunk, which you crumble into a spray bottle, mix up with water and then when you use the toilet, you give it a few mists on the surface.

mosquito dunkMosquito Dunk as described by the maker  is a “larvaecide that kills mosquito larvae only. It is deemed organic by the USEPA.  Dunks are harmless to beneficial insects, pets, birds, fish or wildlife.  Kills within hours and lasts for up to 30 days.”

So I’m going to give this option a try and see how things pan out.  I will report back in a few months as I learn more,