Last week as Claire was putting the finishing touches on the newspaper column, she called to Rusty in distress, “It’s not flowing smoothly!” Rusty, whose head was in the toilet (literally), grumbled that nothing was, but assured her that all would be remedied soon.
The signs of a sluggish septic system have been haunting our household for a month or two. At first it acted like a periodic plug, solved with a simple plunge or a five gallon bucket of water poured from chest height. However, the commode contents weren’t always eliminated after such calisthenics. Rusty, suspecting a full septic tank, consulted with a plumber friend who showed up early one morning. As soon as he yanked the toilet off the floor, it smelled like the tank was wide open. You didn’t need a trained nose to distinguish the distinctive septic aroma. After some serious snaking and meticulous measuring, the plumber and assistant found the exact location of the septic tank and found it to be flowing freely. It was five feet below ground surface under a lilac tree that Rusty had planted six years ago. Back inside, the toilet was wax ringed and given a prognosis that “it was old and needed to be replaced.” Could it be – a worn out toilet? Rusty thought maybe another opinion was needed so he took the toilet’s history and headed to the local plumbing shop. Dave, plumbing extraordinaire, had never heard of a worn out toilet and suggested loaning his closet auger to clean out the toilet’s trap. Sure enough, things were flowing so smoothly that Rusty was ready to kiss Dave when returning the borrowed tool. A week later, the flush just didn’t have it’s get up and go after Rusty got up and went. So Claire was sent to buy the auger for lifetime use; this remedied the flow for a few days and then stopped (up). At this point Rusty jumped on the porcelain throne and swore he would get to the bottom of the problem. Carrying the victim out the front door and placing it on its side, he was now ready to pressure wash “whatever” out of the toilet. As he geared up for business, he noticed something peculiar inside the toilet’s floor hole. He fetched a pair of pliers and grabbed hold of the shiny gold item as he bent and twisted it. Out popped a lid from a quart canning jar! Apparently an ambitious dishwasher had poured dirty dish water in an attempt to flush the toilet and had not seen the lid disappear down the can.
We’re still celebrating in honor of the cracked case of the clogged commode. So much to be grateful for – a super clean toilet and twenty more years of flushing, although through this long ordeal, Rusty has seriously been researching composting toilets. A bucket of sawdust could sure simplify life.
On Sunday Rusty enjoyed his fiftieth birthday at Joe’s house in Barkeyville, Pennsylvania. Present at the party was an international film crew, a début of a song recorded on the west coast, and a large group of people munching shrimp and cheese while toasting with Ssparkling beverages.
None of this, by the way, had anything to do with an herb farmer turning a half of century, but rather the celebration of selling 35,000 copies of the host’s book, The Humanure Handbook by Joseph C. Jenkins. This self-published guide to composting human manure is available in fifty countries and has received many awards including the “Outstanding Book of 2000” and “Most Likely to Save the Planet.”
His book has donned our bookshelf since 1995, thanks to Claire’s Dad giving us a copy. It fell apart due to many students reading it here at the farm and in Claire’s seventh grade classroom at Brookville Junior High. Currently, it has been replaced with the second edition explaining how Americans take flush toilets for granted.
We are a culture that defecates in a large bowl of drinking water and then flush it downstream. The book thoroughly examines many composting disposal systems addressing pathogens, hookworms, and disease.
Jenkins’s simple solution to humanure is to use a two bucket system. One bucket is full of sawdust or shredded junk mail to cover any deposits made in the other bucket -- an odorless, waterless, environmentally-friendly toilet. Some folks may consider this repulsive, but Joe’s book humorously calms the fears of any “fecophobic.”
Many cultures find Joe’s composting concept both life saving and economical. South Korea, for example, sent a film crew to create a documentary on the subject. Not having a word to translate Humanure (now recognized by Wikopedia); the Koreans are using their equivalent for our poop word. Historically this is the first time ever the Korean media has allowed the word to be broadcast.
Joe, a true environmental steward, has generously granted translation and publishing rights to any international organization for free. The book is available on the Internet, but really worth the investment by ordering a copy at WWW.JENKINSPUBLISHING.COM. His talents exceed sawdust toilets, as portrayed by his beautiful self-built home using recycled lumber and slate, and his gardens and orchards boasting with organic produce. In his extra time, he restores stone roofs and updates The Slate Roof Bible, another one of his comprehensive publications.
We congratulate Joe Jenkins and his many achievements and wish him continued success greening up the planet.
Behind the Quiet Creek barn sets a green metal shed that puffs out more smoke than a chain smoker. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year for the past twelve years, our outdoor wood burner has faithfully supplied the house and barn with warm heat and hot water.
Many a visitor has queried with a pointed finger, “Is that a smokehouse?” Rusty actually planted a smokehouse apple tree next to the boiler so he could reply “affirmative” without fibbing or going into detail about our renewable energy heating system. Finally, he can truthfully state “yes, it is a smokehouse!”
It all came about when desiring smoked meats without synthetic preservatives. He investigated a venison ham rub recipe that required forty hours of cold smoking. Needing a simple source of smoke, he then created his “redneck smoker” in conjunction with our heat source.
In the development stages, Rusty noticed nine out of ten days, the wood burner smoke blew to the north. Hoping to capture the majority of it, he acquired twelve feet of furnace pipe (six inch diameter) with assorted tees and elbows from his dad. Then he attached a one by two by three foot plywood box to the nearby tractor shed. Cutting a hole for the furnace pipe, he began telescoping sections toward the wood burner chimney with a few screws and wire strap and the pipe was angled straight to the smoke. Finally, Rusty rigged up a metal garbage can with a hole cut out of the bottom. The garbage can funnel was wired to a metal ladder leaning against the wood burner and extended it to a spot just north of the chimney.
The wood burner gleefully puffs away as the wind pushes the smoke down the funnel through recycled furnace pipe and into the plywood smoking chamber. There hangs the ham from a wire, basting in the swirling cold smoke. An exit hole with an elbow allows the smoky air to flow through. There are two hinged doors on the box’s side make for easy access to hang items (i.e. hams, cheese, and jerky) and for checking the smoke progress.
Rusty is particular when it comes to high quality smoke. His first ham was completed with green maple and oak and the next is to be christened with hickory or apple wood.
Come on out for a Quiet Creek visit any Friday and Saturday to warm your hands and/or sample some hams.
In the past financial trouble, social unrest, and pending doom have spurred Americans to turn to backyard gardening. The Victory Garden during World War II is one such example. Eleanor Roosevelt had the White House lawn tilled up to plant vegetables. Incidentally, the soil is not the only thing that got worked up.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with agribusiness frowned upon the First Lady’s suggestion. She wanted “small town” America to grow its own food to insure plenty of food for the military troops. USDA feared the American people would lose their dependency on food production from large-scale farms.
By the mid 1940s, the victory over thSue Axis and cheap food soon lured the public back into grooming large lawns with petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticides.
Sustainable farms, like Quiet Creek, can be a resource to folks in the twenty-first century wanting to replant (and sin no more). We welcome your questions to discover how easy tomatoes, peppers, beans, and herbs grow. We encourage families to become involved in growing food in raised beds where the small space is manageable, attractive and full of edible treats.
Be sure to seek buy-in from all family members. Who likes cherry tomatoes? How about red raspberries? These need full sun. What about salad greens? Part shade is best.
Growing your own food will give you a sense of accomplishment, a break on your grocery bill, and a good health report. Enjoy your summer; the Victory Garden returns.