Sunday, December 2, 2018

Guest Accommodations

Over the Thanksgiving break my landlady's brother came to stay and as there was no room in her two bedroom house which she shares with her boyfriend, she planned on having him sleep in a tent in the backyard and asked me if he could use my toilet should the one in the house be occupied. I didn't want anyone I didn't know using my house let alone a man using my toilet (since it is strictly a sit down toilet) so I offered to set him  up with my guest accommodations in my Springbar cabana tent. It was never actually used.

And to sweeten the deal I offered to put up my largest tent and furnish it with my vintage cot and tent cot sans tent. One for sleeping on and one as a suitcase stand and bedside table. The best place to put the tent was under the arbor next to the tiny house. So it was very much like having a house guest since I could hear him snoring from my porch.

He turned out to be a very nice guy and I did invite him in for a tour of the tiny house and we ended up having quite a long chat while standing up in what was essentially my kitchen. He himself was thinking of downsizing to a tiny house back east where he lives in upstate New York.

Back dated to keep the timeline. Actually written 1/2/2019

Friday, September 7, 2018

Outdoor Expansion And A Party

I promised my writer's group that I would have a house warming party two years ago when I told them of my tiny house adventures. They were all very intrigued so when I met up with one of the members for a hike over the summer she encouraged me to do it and said she would help. The group had disbanded several years ago and we hadn't had a reunion in some time so before the summer slipped away we had our party. The prep for it was nearly as intense as my original work on the interior and took just as much brain busting for the space planning.

The only way to seat six people was to build an outdoor table, but the central space was taken up by two kiwi trees. They were two close together to permit a table top to be placed between them, but eventually I found a way.

I got my folding work bench out of storage and it just fit between the trees. From there I could build a table top around the trees using what wood I had on hand.

It was largely a matter of fitting a board on the workbench that would then support the "leaves" of the table. I also happened to have a framed board given away by an artist that fit perfectly in the remaining space between the trees.

For a table cloth I laid down two pieces cut from a canvas drop cloth we bought to cover the furniture once when the dogs were still chewing on things.

As a finishing touch I hung a tapestry of a pastoral scene that I thought was very tongue in cheek. A client off loaded it to me.

Then I bumped out one of my fence pieces and put one of my benches outside for seating.

I also felt the need to have a washing up station to do the dishes afterwards which would be the perfect opportunity to use the fish cleaning table I got off e-bay to use with my solar hot water unit and to use as a laundry table should I ever feel compelled to do off grid laundry.

This is a folding table with integrated sink. It comes with a detachable faucet that connects up with a hose. I used the top of my storage box as a dish drain. The faucet is the selling point of this unit as it allows for water to be turned on and off at the point of use.

I hooked up my homemade solar hot water heater to the faucet, but there was not enough sun to keep it warm throughout the day. This was a project I had been meaning to do because it meant cutting a hose in half and finding fittings to connect it to the black irrigation hose. I did manage it, but later in the summer the fittings popped off.

And finally I provided guest facilities behind a privacy curtain made from bent conduit pipe that I stuck into a pot of dirt.

The commode I borrowed from my mum from when she broke her ankle. I modified it with a $50 urine funnel I ordered from England off e-bay and never used.

Because the urine separator would only fit metric fittings it was near impossible to find a hose that would fit it. Finally I found a funnel that would do. In fact it perfectly connected into the gasoline container I had. 

Behind the separator I put a waste basket partially filled with straw for a poop bucket. 

Two of my guests used the toilet with good humor. It actually would have been fine for them to use my toilet inside, but this made things less complicated with the kitchen being in use.

The weather was still just warm enough. Everyone brought beverages, salads et al and I made fried chicken. I got them all inside for a tour and they could see that I had indeed managed to fit my whole life into this tiny house. At least my writing life. They loved the hammock where I do my serious writing. Two of the members had moved into retirement homes. One commented that she thought her apartment was small, but now she could feel it was spacious by comparison. And that was one of the messages I wanted to impart. Here is our group photo taken with my camera on a tripod attached to the trellis.

(This post has been backdated to keep a record of the timeline. Actual date of writing is 12/24/18).

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Greywater Filter Upgrade

The water draining from my shower pan into the 11 gallon container that rolled under the house had to be drained and distributed once a week. This water I would use to irrigate the garden. When I mentioned my system to my permaculture group it was pointed out to me that grey water that sits in a tank for more than 24 hours becomes classified as black water because of the growth of bacteria past that time period. I did not know this. I would more describe it as brown and the smell was minimal unless mixed with urine, then it could amplify the smell of urine to noticeable detection. Not optimum in a dense suburban neighborhood. 

Once my attention was drawn to this factor I cut pipe to attach to the drain and had the water directed to the bare ground away from the cement pad directly below the drain. During the dry summer months the ants crawled into the pipe and into my house. They had not crawled in so easily before because the drainpipe did not touch the ground outside and there was a sizable gap between pipe and the 11 gallon container on wheels. I thought to have the pipe disconnected and the water fall onto a receptacle. I began to research bio filters on Pinterest and once I grasped the concept I could design one to fit my situation.

 A bio filter allows water to fall onto its surface much like rain. A layer of sand filters the water of organic matter. But it can't just be all sand because the sand would drain out too. Plus it would take a long time for water to filter through so much sand. So a layer of small pebbles supports the sand and under that a layer of larger pebbles supports that. I just needed the right size container to fit under the house on a platform that would be raised high enough to allow drainage through the pipe.

I found a 5 gallon plastic storage box with a lid that was recessed. This served to hold water rather than shed it. Then I drilled holes at all the intersections of the grid pattern. Later I realized the holes were too big and too far apart to simulate rain so I drilled many more smaller ones.

I also had to drill a large hole in the bottom of the box and find a pipe fitting to connect the drainage pipe to the box so it would be water tight. There are not many options here because the connection has to make contact with the walls of the box on both sides. I eventually found such a fitting in the electrical department for making water tight outdoor connections between electrical boxes in commercial buildings.

The next step was to add my layers of large pebbles. 

Then small pebbles.

And finally the layer of sand.

Once the filter is in use a layer of microbes grows over the sand and eats the organic matter so the theory goes.

Here is the filter in place under the house. I happened to have a wooden platform on wheels from another project to put it on. I then placed a plastic scrub sponge under one end to give it a little drainage elevation.

It appears to work perfectly. 

To assist with screening cooking fat (and large bits of food) I had already made a filter of straw that sits in the drain pan inside the house. I used an old collapsible water tote I had for camping. I cut the top of it to make a hatch for putting in the straw. I also directed the drain hose from the sink into it. The filter is shown here with the spout visible. This straw is replaced every week or so and used in the garden as mulch. The filter also serves as a compost bucket so I no longer needed the one I was using. I found that the spout would clog up way too often so I removed it and eventually replaced it with a rubber funnel (actually a diva cup I no longer used, heh).

For a more finished look I made a cover from some silver vinyl to go over the filter.

The whole system took a lot of problem solving to work out all the details and to think of what I could use for each part of it. If there was more room under the house the straw part of it might be preferable outside, but I don't mind it inside once I had a cover for it. It makes it easy to change the straw plus being a compost bucket. 

The best thing about this upgrade was that I no longer had the considerable weekly chore of dragging out the 11 gallon tank and draining water into buckets to distribute. Such a drainage tank would be more useful if I were traveling with the tiny house which is unlikely so the tank is in storage and I would be happy to part with it if there was someone who could use it.

(This post has been backdated to keep a record of the timeline. Actual date of writing is 12/23/18).

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Talking Tiny In Thailand

The first thing I realized about giving a talk about tiny houses in Thai was that there is no word for trailer. They are simply not widely used in Thailand. If you want to haul something you have an array of trucks to choose from, but none of them are equipped to pull a trailer. An expat living in Thailand told me that if you want one say for a boat you have to have it custom built.

The occasion of this talk was a presentation I offered to give at the women's adobe building workshop I attend annually in Northern Thailand. And as the building instruction was given in both Thai and English to accommodate the Thai women attending as well as our mud hut sisters from Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Europe, Australia and North America I opted to give my talk in both Thai and English rather than have it translated by one of the instructors. This also served to keep my talk short I explained since my Thai was not as proficient as my English. Luckily I had plenty of pictures to use in my power point to show what I couldn't manage to describe. But no picture of a trailer so in the end I called the tiny house a car house. A house built with wheels like a vehicle.

To give my story context I opened the talk by showing pictures of houses in the Bay Area and talking about how very expensive they were, all of them a million dollars or more. And how much rents were. So post divorce I knew I could not find housing in my budget so had opted to buy a tiny house on wheels. The picture of said tiny house evoked a round of "aww" at how cute it was. Then I explained how I needed a place to build the interior and had had to ask my stepmother, who was living in the house of my deceased father, if I could bring it to what was now her house to work on it. In my Thai translation this part of the story took up a lot of space and I later realized I was telling my story of how a high born Thai person such as I was managed to become nearly homeless, but by virtue of my building skills had averted such an outcome. The fee for the other Thai women for the course was half what it was for foreigners. (Some had their fee waived altogether.) This allowed for women of all classes to attend including a woman from a hilltribe village and a lesbian couple from Northeastern Thailand. Two cousins living in Bangkok had family land they wanted to turn into a permaculture food forest and a third had been offered land to farm that belonged to a friend. They were curious as to why I kept repeating this course. The concept of finding one's tribe was not a quest for them as it was for me. Thai people are much more rooted in family and childhood friends.

They were also accustomed to living in small houses or living communally so the experience of moving into a tiny house was not nearly as compelling a story as it is for Americans. In fact I didn't even call it a "tiny" house. But to show the size of it I arranged the tables in the hall to outline the floor space. This also gave the presentation a special stage set. Nor was the off-grid aspect of it unusual. Because of the many street food vendors Thai people are very familiar with using chest freezers for keeping food cool as I do.

But most of the country now has flush toilets and septic systems so everybody was interested in the off grid composting toilet aspect of tiny house living. And as builders of houses made from mud and straw they were interested in the details. We were after all staying on a farm commune that was off grid where the flush toilets drained into a pit where the contents sat composting. And the toilet we used at the building site was just a board laid across a pit. So no one was squeamish about a homemade system. Nor was the concept of Bokashi composting new to them. In fact one of the families that lived on the farm was so enamored of the technique that they had named their daughter Bokashi. Still not even the instructors of the workshop had used Bokashi composting to dispose of poop. And this had prompted me to offer to make my presentation in the first place.

I also wanted them to know how hard it was to find a place to park the "car house" and how draconian the laws are in the states about housing size. I gave lots of information about how much things cost too since that is a universal measurement especially in Asia. Best of all my presentation made them all laugh throughout because I used a lot of pantomime to make up for my lack of words. And there are some words in Thai that really convey a sense of comfort and ease that resonated with my Thai audience, while my Western audience marveled at the minimalist aspects of it. It was one of the most fun presentations I've given.

(This post has been backdated to keep a record of the timeline. Actual date of writing is 12/23/18).

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Tiny House Living One Year Later

I have now been living in my tiny house full time for a year (and two months). When I moved in I was uncertain if this home would work out in the long run. I had never lived alone before. At f first I had been afraid of being alone. It went against my upbringing to live out of community, outside of family. I felt loneliness when I returned to my tiny place. I would joke that I came home to an empty house, but it was so tiny the moment I got inside it it wasn't empty anymore. 

The cultural ideal of being in partnership was still strong in my mind so when a new love who had reintroduced herself from my past engaged my heart I willingly committed myself. Love is a potent incentive to reorganize and reshuffle one’s life and the mental exercise of envisioning what was possible forces you to consider every possibility.

Our love was such that we felt compelled to explore how we might make a life together, but soon the challenges of our geographical separation stymied us. We toyed with the idea of shipping the tiny house to Hawaii where she lived and where I could continue my business, but I soon had misgivings. It had taken me 20 years to build my extensive social network here in the Bay Area and I was not ready to give it up only to start again in a strange place. I also knew instinctively it would just increase my loneliness to rely on a single person as my sole emotional support. On my own turf my tiny house was obviously too tiny for two and the housing crisis here in the Bay Area was just as financially impossible. The urgency of being now in midlife with no time to waste seemed to put a deadline on us. Within nine months of our correspondence she was telling me she didn't think we were meant to be romantic partners after all.

I was crushed, but enough had been revealed to give me a new perspective. It was not I who had been in such a hurry. I didn't need to make a new life. I already had one. I thought I wanted a life with a partner, but I'd done that already. There was a reason I had built the tiny house with just me in mind. It was the only vision I had ever built for myself. I had too often just fit myself into someone else’s vision.

Part of my journey into tiny house living was to come to terms with what I could make sustainable given the resources I had. And this goal had brought me to a very different way of living. One so different from the norm of flush toilets, showers, upright refrigerators and real closets that people did not quite get that anyone would entertain the idea of living without these amenities. This was a huge assumption on their part. I had given up these luxuries in order to embrace a more radical way of life. One that had long been in my mind as a way to change a centralized economic system that all our lives revolved around particularly the waste and excess of it.

And now that I had manifested this life, the tiny house had become a retreat from all things that were not me. Inside it I was me in everything I did from loading ice into my cooler, to lighting the candles of my flower pot heater, to the maintenance demands of my composting toilet system (which my new love had helped me finesse as described in a previous post). This was a lifestyle that wouldn't suit most Americans. And I did not need to be rescued from it. I wanted to explore it further as my personal experiment in minimalism. Not that I was a purist. In fact tiny house living was often about how I could spend more time in other people’s houses.

It was an integral part of my physical comfort to be able to go to my ex’s house to take a shower, do laundry or some sewing and any other project that required space. (In return I walked our dogs while she was at work and fixed things.) Some might think this was cheating in terms of being self sufficient, but tiny house living isn’t necessarily about being completely self contained. It was more about seeing what I could do in community. I had maintained a friendship with my ex to the point that we could have dinner once or twice a week and watch The Crown on her large screen TV. I cooked casseroles that I could portion off and freeze to heat up in my toaster oven on other nights. I joined a permaculture discussion group that met once a week and visited friends for dinner too so more could enjoy my company and facility for discussion. 

Once I realized that living alone didn’t mean being alone all the time my community became richer and more diverse. As a single person my life was much more flexible and accommodating to whatever opportunities might crop up week to week. And when I travelled alone I was more aware of where I was and enjoyed the camaraderie of other solo travelers. I began to feel liberated from the dominant paradigm. Taking care of others in a partnership in the domestic sense had grounded me and made me feel useful. But I had to use my mind and my projects to carve out a space for myself.

Now not only could I take care of my original household I could extend my care to my clients or friends as needed. And having a tiny place to retreat to meant I didn’t have to work so hard to maintain my own perspective and peace of mind away from the anxieties of a partner. 

I turned to books for companionship filling my mind with new knowledge and the storytelling of erudite writers. In this cocoon like existence I felt myself expanding further off the mainstream, questioning everything, wondering if all I had been taught was a flawed compromise if not outright wrong and needing to be reinvented from the ground up. I felt on the cusp of adventure with these new eyes. 

As for my first year in my tiny house, having worked out the bugs both metaphorically and literally after an infestation of fruit flies, I could turn to another aspect of my tiny life—gardening. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Good Book On The Disposal of Human Waste

Given the role that tiny houses are playing in leap frogging the old flush toilet/sewer system this book is filled with details worthy of a tiny house dweller since inevitably we will have many a conversation about how our composting toilet works. Plus it's a great read. I love accompanying a journalist in search of answers. Here I have noted my favorite takeaways from The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World Of Human Waste And Why It Matters.

Rose George, a British writer after my own heart, extensively explores the unmentionable topic of the disposal of human excrement. This sends her on a worldwide journey investigating toilets and sewage treatment or lack thereof. Her journey begins in the London sewers with the flushers—crews of professionals who maintain these underground pipes. The enemy of the flushers is restaurant fat. Massive amounts that stinks more than poo and is hard to remove. She does a similar tour in New York. Here it is confirmed that New York sewers (and likely the cities of many a reader) are designed to discharge raw sewage into the nearest waterway when overwhelmed by rain. This happens about once a week in New York.

At the opposite end of the system sits the throne toilet unchanged for decades until the Japanese took it to new heights of function by making this unmentionable household feature marketable for multiple upgrades–a marketing feat in this story. Japanese toilets famously can adapt to their owners habits and monitor their health while cleansing them with warm jets of water and heated air to dry them. I’m seeing them in the restrooms of high end shopping malls in Bangkok now.

But most fascinating of all is the human story. No serious book about toilets would be complete without addressing those who have none. For this we must visit the rural villages of India and Bangladesh and learn that just imposing toilets from on high does nothing to dissuade people from open defecation. Authorities armed with facts on the dangers of feces will not force sanitation to become a priority for poor people. It takes a skillful engagement of the villagers to realize for themselves that they want toilets. The slow way is to bribe with offers of running water and wash rooms if an investment is made in a latrine. The most effective way is to engage their disgust. Theirn lies a story in itself.

Next up is China for its investment in biogas digesters, a decentralized in-home system that makes methane for cooking and nutrients to put back into the soil. China has a long history of using night soil on fields and thus insuring the fertility of their fields for centuries. Lots of possibilities for innovation here.

She also includes a slight diversion to tell the story of a pair of inventors on two continents creating a hand pump for collecting privy contents by motorbike. A possible business opportunity in Tanzania.

And on our side of the planet we must also learn about hazardous sludge being used on fields. And no it is not the processed shit itself that is the biggest problem; it is the load of industrial chemicals added to the wastewater from every imaginable industry from chemical production to morgues that make up 25% of our sewage stream. Talk about the wrongful use of the commons. So many different chemicals that it is impossible to prove that such sludge is causing dramatic health problems for nearby residents. Dumping sludge at sea and in landfills also done and not desirable. By now it becomes clear to the reader that so much is wrong with using clean water as a vehicle for waste which then must be cleaned again. And that many, especially those who source their water from rivers, are drinking that water over and over again.

Back in China we are offered a possible future in a rural village where a urine separating composting system is being tested. Invented by the Norwegians, the Eco-san has a urine separator so the urine is processed separately making the solids easier to compost on site for use in the fields. In the city such compost could be put out for collection along with all our other recyclables. Such would be my ideal vision.

What makes this book such an interesting read is all the colorful characters she meets that have taken up the politically unpopular cause of sanitation plus the complex psychological issues of attempting to change human behavior. How culture and social protocol impacts behavior i.e. how the caste system of India created a population of people, the untouchables, who accept being covered with fecal matter as their lot in life. And to add another layer of complexity on the government and world aid level, how sanitation is discussed and addressed as the poor cousin to the much more sexy issue of clean water. How the connection between clean water and the contamination of water by people lacking sanitation is so rarely addressed as one and the same thing.

I am grateful to Rose George for cramming so much interesting detail and stories into this journey and resisting the urge to pass judgement or rant. She has also apprised me of the levels of denial humans are capable of if they don’t want to admit that something unpleasant is going on. And what I already knew to be the cultural dominance of the flush toilet as the pinnacle of human sanitation she makes clear is so not sustainable that the developing world needs to leapfrog this dinosaur whose infrastructure is now crumbling. There is a glimmer of economic hope in the passing mention of the rising price of nitrogen and phosphorus the two main elements of urine. So I’m thinking surely there would be a business opportunity to collect human urine from the source. A stimulating book of a reality humans have created and not fully addressed.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Toilet Report And Bokashi Upgrade Game Changer

People’s reaction to my DIY toilet is out of fear for their nose. So sure are they that their sensibilities will not be able to handle it that they rarely ask me how I go about disposing of my own waste. Less you think my nose is impaired I will start by saying that if I make a tuna fish sandwich I cannot sit in my tiny house for long before the smell of tuna oil drives me to put the empty can outside. So we can start with this shared sensibility as a benchmark.  

The gold standard of composting toilets allows your poop to fall into a chamber under the floor where the user can forget about their deposits for an entire year. At which point the poop is shoveled out from a trap door outside the house as close to compost as your delicate nose might require. The unit is vented with a fan that draws fumes away from the toilet inside the house and has a heater to bolster the composting process (or rather the dehydration process). The price of such a system is $2000. As you can imagine the elitism of this price is more offensive to me than any odor. It was so staggering that in response to the tiny house spokes person offering this information I felt compelled to post a picture of my $2 solution—a frisbee lined with a square of newspaper.

My DIY Toilet

Ok let me back up a bit so to speak. Before I got my tiny house I had already made and used my own toilet on a week long urban camping trip. My design though technically a porta potty and not the more glamorous sounding composting toilet does incorporate the most advanced technology of separating the urine into its own chamber. This I did with a funnel that drains into an oil drain pan container via a rubber hose. The orifice to this funnel being blocked by a plastic toy golf ball and the hose blocking the entry to the oil pan so no smell emanates from my toilet. I did not use this toilet for poop until using it in the tiny house. At which point I placed a small bucket (with sawdust in the bottom) inside the toilet box behind the funnel. And after each deposit I covered the poo with sawdust and this kept any smell from emanating into the tiny house. This would have been the end of it had I not been subjected, as many were on FaceBook, to the marvelously funny animation describing the natural squatting position of humans when defecating which led to the invention of the squatty potty bench now being sold at a highly recognizable big box store near you.

This invention took me back to my childhood in Asia where the squat toilet reigns and I became obsessed with building an actual squat toilet for my tiny house. One I would decorate with mosaic tile and highlight as an icon of cultural pride. But I soon had to give up this idea. I just did not have room for it on my floor plan as the footprint of such a toilet was twice as big as the one I had. 

Then I found a frisbee in my dad’s garage and when you are obsessed with a design everything that comes your way is a potential solution. Thus the frisbee became my minimalist squat toilet accompanied by a bucket with a lid from a commode chair a client was giving away. I kept the frisbee inside my wooden toilet which is open on two sides so was it was easy to slide it in when not in use. This opening also made it easy for me to check how full the urine tank was to avoid it overflowing. If it did overflow I would soon smell it, but luckily the urine did not go anywhere as the tank was an oil pan and the depression to catch oil was equal to the task of keeping urine from dripping onto the floor of the box. I had also lined the box with plastic for easy clean-up.

To use my minimalist squat toilet I took it out from its hiding place and put it on the floor lined with a square of newspaper and a bit of sawdust. Then a covering of sawdust after use cut the smell immediately. The square of newspaper made it very easy to pick up by the corners and place in my bucket. Covered with the lid I was ok with it being inside the house in a corner of my bathroom. 

I had no intention of sharing this minimalist toilet with anyone even to talk about it for fear that y’all would think I had gone feral. The tiny house community are bashed enough without my radical contribution. I am well aware that in order to advance the cause of tiny houses becoming accepted within urban zoning plans it is best to assimilate and aspire to be as normal as possible just as gay people did while working toward marriage equality. 

I was urged by some to get a commercially made toilet that would compost or partially compost within the toilet itself. Most of these units had fans that had to be powered with an electrical hook-up and vented with pipes to the outside which would mean cutting a hole in the wall of my house. All of which violated my principles of simplicity. And none actually compost in the traditional sense of having enough mass to raise the temperature of the poop and sawdust deposits. I also suspected that there was a downside to many of these designs. The Nature's Head one seen in nearly all the tiny houses on TV has a hand crank to mix and aerate the poop to encourage dehydration. A user of such a toilet made a video of all that could go wrong with this design which thoroughly confirmed my suspicions from pee overflowing onto the floor for lack of a viewport to mixing in with the poop and being made into a gooey dough inside the toilet. I was so glad I didn't spend $500 on this learning experience.

The Poop Processing Part

At the time of my frisbee solution I emptied my poop bucket into the barrel of a rotating composter unit. I confess I had not thought this part out completely. The composter was one I had on hand found free on Craigslist. I put my poop into it and ignored it through the winter adding straw to aid in composting. I put the dogs poo from the yard in there too. But the poo didn’t really break down even after the spring heat waves. And rotating the bin just made the poo into cob like bricks. Now there are humans who make bricks from cow dung mixed with straw and if I sterilized my poop with enough heat to kill the pathogens I might have been tempted to try some building projects too, but I was too busy to entertain such a distraction. 

I returned to the Humanure Handbook which had first led me down this road of composting toilets. I was simpatico with the author’s philosophy of providing a simple, inexpensive, easily accessible method of processing human waste and returning it to the soil, but when it came down to it I didn’t have the space to commit to the whole process in traditional large outdoor compost piles dedicated to the humanure process. I did learn from their video on building a composting unit from pallets that the poop is never turned over as with other composting methods to avoid the spread of pathogens. I was also comforted by the fact that if all else fails it only takes a year to render the humanure safe as the pathogens do die off.

Greywater Action in Berkeley with their urban household greywater system and built in DIY composting toilet have a convincing video showing the benign smelling results of their toilet. They put the poop into bins and once filled leave them for a year, but this also required enough room to house at least two 55 gallon barrels for the allotted year.

The Bokashi Upgrade

Fortuitously for the next stage of my education in the Dtao of Poo, I was in Maui visiting my new girlfriend who had serious experience composting having had a job managing green waste at the Maui recycling center as well as a degree in agriculture and a dedicated interest in organic farming. When I showed her on my iPad the bin I was using she read me the riot act on how this composter was the worse ever invented as it could never physically aerate all of the compost and would render some of the process anaerobic creating e coli in the process. All the reviews said so. She advised me to dispose of the entire thing as hazardous waste complete with warning labels. I assured her I would suit up in my hazmat outfit for the job. As this was the first heated conversation we had ever exchanged I was amused that it would be about compost so early in the morning. Then she jumped up and did an online search for a solution involving EM technology and presented me with a site that would sell me a kit for pet poop composting. I had barely heard of Effective Microorganisms let alone for fermenting poop. She told me later she had been introduced to this fermenting technology by a Japanese health institute in Hawaii and then visited a garden using EM methods that was the most fertile she had ever seen.

I had done worm composting when it was first made popular by the book Worms Eat My Garbage. I had made my own compost bins. I had done sheet composting of an entire lawn and anaerobic composting in sealed garbage bags. I had always been on the cutting edge I thought so I was eager to learn of yet another even more radical method. I watched the videos she had so quickly located online to process poop. The Bokashi method is used in Japan and South East Asia for fermenting waste in closed containers. The actual bins in this kit took up no space at all with a footprint no bigger than a five gallon bucket plus I was very taken by the screw top lids that came with them. Within the hour I had ordered the kit for a little over a hundred dollars. It arrived before I got home.

I mixed up my first container which required two gallons of water and 1 cup of the EM solution plus a tablespoon of bokashi impregnated bran made from wheat chafe all provided in the kit including the spoon. Then I slid my poop into it which left me with a sheet of poop stained newspaper. I could throw that in the mix too as it was organic, but then after several days it dawned on me that I could skip the frisbee step altogether, dispense with sawdust (a difficult to find ingredient) and poop directly into the bucket. I just needed the height to reach it such as might be provided by a squatty potty bench. I pulled out my folding step stool and tried this out. It was just the right height. I squatted on it and hung onto the opposite end of the stool to brace myself.

The experience of using my new toilet was of such a visceral nature as to defy polite description. Shall I just say that it was emotionally akin to an amusement park ridesay the jungle ride over a crocodile infested bog scented with pungent tropical flowers. Adventurous rather than revolting. And too close to the water line for any back splash. The slightly yeasty smell of the bokashi also masked the poop smell almost completely. This novel act of pooping into a bucket of brown bog made me feel close to nature in a primeval and unexpected literal sort of connection. It may however make any normal person run for the nearest Jack In The Box restroom. Down the street two blocks and make a right. You can’t miss it.

After these bog visions I hopped off my stool sprinkled a bit of the wheat chafe on my deposit and anointed the bog scape with an additional spritzing of EM solution before screwing the hatch back on the bucket and placing it gently in a corner of my bathroom pan. As my mini bog filled and became firmer I could see things growing on the top—white patches of yeast. I was assured by the FAQ page that this was normal. 

After several weeks the bucket was filled so I took it outside and let it sit closed up tight and undisturbed for another week while I put the second bucket into service. All I needed to do now was dig a trench where the soil might benefit from this infusion of beneficial microbes. I am not fond of digging trenches in drought hardened ground so I soaked it first. When I opened the bucket I was surprised that it was now mostly brown liquid with a sweet smell that was of such interest to the dog I thought he was going to try to lap it up like a chocolate shake. Luckily I had chosen a spot where he would not be able to reach it. I poured the contents into the trench, mixed in some dirt and covered it all back up. The surface was as liquid as lava and some of the stuff oozed out nastily. I hastily shoveled soil over the ooze. It took a day or so to firm up again, but it was done. Bokashi was now my next big thing. Garden variety compost I had long suspected was underperforming, rarely getting hot enough to fill claims of being able to kill pathogens and weed seeds, being at best a cozy home for a rat. Plus rotting material releases gases as it decomposes thus adding carbon to the atmosphere. This fermenting method released no such gases and is sealed from animals. I could see I would soon be looking down my nose at the compost pile just like all the other Bokashi enthusiasts. 

I am aware that this revelation of my tiny house lifestyle has likely made me unfit for normal society. I may never be able to live a mainstream life again let alone with a live-in partner. However when people ask me if I have a sewer system as someone did just yesterday while asking me about my tiny house I could proudly say I have a toilet system using cutting edge Japanese Bokashi technology to turn my waste into microbial rich water. My listener's eyes lit up at the mention of such water which for our drought state of California was nothing short of miraculous. I felt I had indeed arrived.