Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Story of Crumbs - Part IV - Gross Stuff

Don't worry, it's just apple juice. I thought it best not to include pictures in this post. (You thought it was beer didn't you...)

We know that if it is organic, it will rot, flowing through the cycle of life begetting life but most of us have a dirty, little secret: we think our own input is disgusting. Pee, poop, blood, body, hair, skin cells and spit cause us to cringe. There is good reason for this, as we are vectors for disease. We have created sanitation systems, hygiene products and burial rituals to limit the risk. Clearly caution is warranted. With that warning out of the way, let's look at the hierarchy of fear regarding the body.

Nails and Hair: These are mostly made of the tough protein keratin. If you have ever observed the decomposition of a dead animal, you will see the hair lasts, along with the bones, for quite some time. The most commonly recommended use of human hair is to scare away pests but its protein origins mean that it is also a good source of nitrogen. I even stumbled on this article in Science Daily: Human Hair Combined With Compost Is Good Fertilizer For Plants.* I wouldn't hesitate to add my family's hair and nail clippings to the pile and add the resultant well finished compost to the garden.

Urine: Also known as liquid gold, it is oft quoted that fresh urine is sterile** except in the case of an infection or, I would argue, after it has touched your flesh when it would be innoculated with the usual skin crawlies. Being high in soluble wastes, which include nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, many people piss into compost piles to get them cooking. They also dilute it and use it as a fertilizer for plants. In fact, urine use in the garden is so mainstream, even regular papers publish articles on it. Common suggestions include applying it the ground, not the plant, and creating a buffer between last use and harvest if you are eating the plant to avoid transmitting disease. You get answers as to whether you can store urine. I wouldn't use it if you had typhoid fever...

Puke: Yuck! I suppose it probably composts but I draw the line! Okay, I tend to prefer spirals, and zigzags to lines so I'll address it but only for a second. Fresh, it probably can transmit whatever disgusting thing made you eject it in the first place. After some time in the wider ecosystem, it almost certainly is rendered harmless. I don't want to discuss it further.

Blood: Since I hope that most people don't have access to any appreciable amount of person blood, I'll restrict this to a talk to menstrual blood. Like blood meal, it is rich in plant nutrients and people do use it to fertilize plants. Most mentions are about non edibles. Because of the possibility of transmitting blood born diseases, it is probably safest to thoroughly compost this product before use. The Humanure Handbook handles the subject of composting bathroom waste which would include menstrual blood if you had a lady in her fertile years in your residence. Thankfully most of the diseases that freak us out do not last long in the hostile environment outside our cozy bodies. There is a reason that some diseases are only transmitted by intimate contact. Most woman collect their monthlies in non compostable products but biodegradable tampons are available as are alternatives such as washable pads and the menstrual cups. I'll let these people carry on the discussion.

Poop: Known as manure in polite circles, the solid waste of animals is often applied to fields either raw (more likely to cause disease) or after composting (less likely). As humans carry the highest level of human pathogens, it would make sense that it would have a high disease causing potential if not properly handled but that is not to say you should be poo phobic. Our current sewage system is all about waste: wasting water, electricity, work and so on. Historically (and presently), in many areas, its value as a soil builder is recognized. Just like with animal manure, it is applied raw or after composting and just like with animal manure, applying it raw has a higher risk. Composting toilets are a viable alternative to conventional sewage treatment. You can also do the composting yourself. I refer you again to the Humanure Handbook (Yes I like this book. It's an enlightening read).

Body: When it comes time to rejoin the earth, instead of being cremated or buried in a conventional casket, it is now possible to get a compostable coffin for your green funeral. As the subject of our own demise opens a whole other can of phobia worms, outside of my gardening jurisdiction, I"ll refer you to Natural and Green Burial page of the Pagan Pastoral Outreach site, with Ontario specific links.

The Story of Crumbs

Part I - Baby Flies
Part II - How to Guide (to Composting)
Part III - Will it Rot the Right Way?


* Original Article
** Even Wiki agrees (Wiki being the ultimate 'they' so they say it and if they are currently in consensus about it and I occupy the territory of they for others then I suppose they are probably right.)

Pee Facts: a website expouses its use as a fertilizer (always guard against the copy crazies and internet experts by cross checking facts and looking for not only the original source but it's validity)

Not exactly related but for the womb blood curious, a link to the Museum of Menstruation.

Night Soil - Wiki writers paint a unpretty picture

1 comment:

Robert Brenchley said...

I've been using pee as liquid manure for years. I collect it in a barrel, add any comfrey juice I have (depending on how organised I've been), and add a pint or so of the mixture to a watering can. I put a bit in my compost bins as well, but if I add too much it leaks out the bottom and goes to waste.