Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

A roof!

No. Not for the houses. STILL waiting on a delivery of more stone (over a month now) and the previous owner removing his stuff (over a year and a half now) before we can progress either of those …

The frustrations of waiting on a succession of Other People before I can get on with what I want to get on with were starting to get to me yesterday. Not only were there the ‘more schist’ and ‘less shit’ items above, I was also expecting a delivery from the local builders’ merchants, some parts of which were already a week overdue.

There I was with 3 (paid! in advance!) workers and nothing I could think of that they could be getting on with. Even the usual fall-back projects couldn’t be progressed further without the delivery from the builders’ merchants. It was beginning to look like a day of strimming and clay pointing.

So what do you do with a good roofer when he can’t work on a roof? The compost bin and log store! It had been sitting around in its incomplete state for so long (8 months to be precise) I’d stopped seeing it. Somewhat surprising given the bright blue-green tarpaulin keeping the rain off the firewood, but you know how it is once you get accustomed to living with half-finished jobs …

Now I can see it again. And I really like it! Great job, Michael and Chris!

Compost bin and log store with its new tiled roof

Compost bin and log store with its new roof

Compost bin and log store with its new roof

The roof poles came straight from our woods. Necessary thinnings. The planks and tile battens (cut from planks) were already onsite, as were the old but sound roof tiles. These older flat terracotta roof tiles are generally better quality and longer lasting than the newer ones or the half round ones so favoured locally.

While on the subject, I should note that the compost bin has been performing really well. It’s been maintaining enough heat to produce steam even on warm summer mornings and the contributions from the composting toilet and kitchen bins are already recognisably compost by the time it comes to adding the next batch – generally just 5-7 days. (Quite a revelation to someone accustomed to the painfully slow and largely anaerobic mouldering process which is the most you can hope for under Scottish latitudes and rainfall.) The wash water from cleaning the bins, which we also empty onto the heap, seems to have helped keep enough moisture in the heap throughout the long dry summer to stop everything from drying out.

We use fresh fine maritime pine sawdust (which we collect free from the local sawmill) in the toilet to provide sufficient carbon for the humanure composting process to kick off (without it, the mix of urine and faeces is too nitrogen-rich to decompose thermophilically), and add it to the compost heap in a mix with kitchen peelings, plain paper and cardboard, and garden waste (which is kept in a separate pile next to the compost bin and added as required). Joe Jenkins recommends using old rotted sawdust to prevent any likelihood of natural oils and resins in the fresh wood retarding the composting process, but so far we’ve had no problem using fresh sawdust.

We don’t turn the heap to aerate it. Not only does it appear not to need it, Joe Jenkins discovered that turning upsets the natural layering of processes and organisms in a thermophilic compost heap.

“When one builds the same pile continuously for a year, one will find during the course of that year that the thermophilic area of the pile is on the top where the fresh deposits reside. The lower sections of the pile have already heated and are now undergoing a cooler decomposition by fungi, earthworms, etc. The pile is constantly growing on top and constantly shrinking beneath, and the thermophilic layer is therefore constantly rising to digest the newer deposits. When a pile such as this is turned, the thermophilic layer on top becomes diluted with the cooler, thermophilically-spent lower layers, and the carbon/nitrogen balance consequently becomes disrupted. The thermophiles don’t have the proper balanced diet, and they cool down and die off, oxygen or no oxygen. All the oxygen in the world isn’t going to ensure a successful compost pile when the other requirements for successful compost are not met.” (The Humanure Handbook, 1st edition)

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