Permaculturing in Portugal

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

Compost toilet, bin and log store

We’ve been busy building a compost bin and wood store, not least because material for composting has been piling up from both the composting toilet and kitchen, and our firewood has been both rotting and remaining damp underneath its tarpaulin.

Oonagh helped for a while, but was really more interested in rehearsing her outfit for carnaval. So Helen and I did most of the work. Both compost bin and log store are now functioning, but we still need to build the roof to keep the rain off.


Oonagh “helping” to build the compost bin

Poles were provided by the fallen trees I cleared and prepared earlier, planking a combination of sawmill offcuts and some recycled remains of the big cowshed at Whitmuir, our local organic farm in Scotland, which I brought out in a vanload of other stuff. Pallets courtesy of a local builders merchants.

Helen removing the insect-harbouring bark from the sawmill offcuts

Helen removing the insect-harbouring bark from the sawmill offcuts

We’re following Joe Jenkins‘ method for our composting toilets, so this is how we built our compost pile, using bracken as our organic sponge. Bracken harvested at this time of year has the additional advantage of holding together very well when it’s shaped into a ‘nest’ to hold the material to be composted in the centre. As well as mixing in green stuff with the humanure and sawdust, we also add kitchen scraps and the wood ash from the stove.

We started the heap going with 6 bin-loads. I accidently managed to splatter myself with the contents emptying one of the bins. Unpleasant as that may sound, it underlined to me what I’d assumed when I chose to follow this composting toilet method – that this is not a particularly offensive job. Certainly far less obnoxious than emptying septic tanks, clearing blocked house drains or even cleaning out chicken sheds.

The thunderbox

The thunderbox

The toilet itself follows the same principles as Joe Jenkins’ “Loveable Loo”s, but rather than construct a purpose-built container for our bucket, I’ve adapted an old chest. The WWI-vintage wooden army chest (then the property of one Company Sergeant Major Grist of the Royal Corps of Signals) has seen over 30 years’ service with me as a linen chest, toy box and dressing-up box before ending up as the thunderbox. A circular hole is cut in the lid of the chest which exactly fits the diameter of the 20-litre plastic containers that fit inside, cut off-centre so that the space in the chest to the left of the toilet accommodates a substantial bulk pack of toilet rolls. The sawdust is kept in an ‘Edinburgh bin’ – a traditional Scottish heavy duty hot ash or coal carrier which has a lid and carrying handle.

Total cost (excluding the chest which I can’t remember the cost of): around £32. £15 for 3 x 20-litre white plastic containers and €19,95 for the toilet seat. Time: around 2 hours to cut the circular hole in the lid, fit a wooden brace across the centre of the lid, fit the circular cut-out from the lid to the base of the box to create a raised base of exactly the right height to slot the rim of the plastic containers into the hole in the lid, and fit the toilet seat. Ease of emptying: couldn’t be simpler! Lift the lid, take out full plastic container, swap for empty one. To my way of looking at it, this system’s advantages over any other composting toilet system are a no-brainer.

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  1. michelle February 7, 2010

    Hi Wendy,Oonagh and it looks like you have managed to really crack on with the work ..well done.Have decided on the same method for humanure for our place.Can’t wait to visit and see it in all its glory again!Will Oonagh be there when we come over ?If not we may leave the kids behind…

  2. sophie February 7, 2010

    Looking fab! When we gonna see you next? Are you doing carnaval in Coja?

  3. Quinta do Vale February 8, 2010

    Oonagh will still be here, Michelle, because the 16th is carnaval in Coja. She and Foxglove going as female musketeers.

    Sophie, we’ve been leaving you guys in peace to enjoy being just the two of you! But will be across this week for the last of the firewood from the Transit and because the van needs its MOT in Tábua (which no doubt it will fail).

  4. MIKE February 8, 2010

    looks great!!! not surprised that oonagh is more interested in carnaval…

    why do all the foreigners pay for portuguese inspections on their foreign vehicles? i guess the authority is happy to take the money but no other country in europe (to my knowledge) will inspect a foreign vehicle.

    capitulo III, Inspecciones art 116

    they only apply to portuguese cars

    maybe, unlike me, you’d prefer NOT to spend the night in the lockup… or have them try to steal your ride.

    hi to all!!!

  5. Fraser February 8, 2010

    Excellent work, looking forward to trying your thunderbox later in the week.
    Perhaps MIKE would like to make a contribution, but perhaps he has left enough already.
    Keep on keeping on,
    See you soon

  6. Quinta do Vale February 8, 2010

    See you tomorrow, Fraser!

    Mike’s capacity to produce compost is well proven hereabouts.

  7. Fraser February 8, 2010

    Ohh excellent.. thank you for the chuckle..

  8. Quinta do Vale February 13, 2010

    Mike … the van’s Portuguese. And wonder of all wonders, it passed!

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