cranes, compost and chickens

Our acequia madre.  Our irrigation ditch comes from our neighbor’s, and his crosses under Isleta Blvd and goes through two other properties before we reach this, the main ditch, the acequia madre that runs through all of Albuquerque, on either side of the river.  After getting there literally by walking through the (muddy but not wet) ditches,  and myself then found easy bike/walking access to the acequia from our road.  This part of the acequia has excellent dirt road on both sides, and fairly regular pedestrian/bike bridges across the ditch, as at this point, the ditch is pretty far from the river itself, and there’s a strip of private property in between.  that would be the place to live, with the bosque on one side and the tree-lined acequia on the other!  but i can’t complain; we have a large fam where the cranes land on one side, and are very close to the river.  i want to walk or ride much further up the ditch road soon, and figure out if we can ride bikes all the way up to Rio Bravo, where we can catch the official river bike path (which is paved and has benches and is designed for bikes & pedestrians, and much narrower than these dirt roads).  If so, i can ride all the way to work with minimal interaction with car traffic.  that would be really nice.  i may even try it, though it’s about 16 miles.

On several of those properties as we walked, we saw cranes.  They’re migrating, and they like the wide open fields that flank the bosque. 

I couldn’t really get close enough to get truly good photographs of them, but you can see them lifting off to fly above the trees here, across the field.  at one point, three of them flew almost directly above us.  of course i had  the camera turned off when that happened.  fox could see the red feathers that outline their eyes.  :)

And this weekend’s absolute triumph, orchestrated and accomplished by

The Sawdust Toilet!

Here it is after installation in the bathroom:

A sawdust toilet, or compost toilet, works with no water waste.  Instead of putting our excreta routinely into 3-5 gallons of purified drinking water several times a day each, we’ve got a bucket with 2-3″ of organic material such as sawdust (or in our case, chopped weeds; our friends Chris & Jenny use chopped straw; ‘s outdoor system uses leaves, and i think and ‘s system also uses leaves or grass clippings).  we happen to have a very large supply of weeds available, so we’re putting them through the chipper for this use–they’ll compost a heck of a lot faster, and provide a free, readily-available and excellent cover material for the toilet.  We also have leaves–with seven mature cottonwood trees, we have enough leaves to supply several people’s compost needs.  An additioal bucket full of cover material sits off to one side in the bathroom.  One covers their excreta with another handful or more of this cover material–a good general rule is, if you can smell it, add more straw.  The bathroom does smell faintly of straw, but there is no undertone (or overtone, for that matter) of excrement.  When the bucket is full, one opens the lid of the box, puts a lid on the bucket, removes the bucket and replaces it with a clean one from the nearby supply.  then one takes the full bucket out back to the compost and empties it into the compost bin.  Beside the compost bin is a bucket of water (long range plan is to put a roof over the dry-materials center bin of the composter, collect rainwater off that roof, and use it for bucket cleaning).  One rinses the bucket, washes it out with the nearby toilet-brush, and pours the water into the compost, thereby providing the compost with much-needed moisture.  then dust the clean bucket with new cover material, put a 2-3″ layer of cover material in the bottom, and it’s ready to use again. 

This system has a lot of benefits, of which the primary one is significant water conservation. Another is the compost itself: the resulting compost, after curing for a year, is extremely high in nutrients, and will loosen the soil, increase plant vitality and disease-resistance, absorb more water, and help prevent infestations of undesirable insects. Basic self-sufficiency is another major benefit. 

here’s the pretty box built, with commentary and assistance from mattie during the second part of the building:

And this one shows it with chopped weeds in, and chopped weeds dusting the sides.  providing this material beforehand means that cleaning the bucket is a really easy, no-mess, no-odor kind of job. 

Inside the box, the bucket rests on wooden supports that bring it up above the level of the pre-existing toilet plumbing, which we had to work around.  The box lid simply lifts up, toilet-seat and all.  The seat itself also lifts in the usual fashion, of course, being, as you can see, a perfectly standard piece of hardware. 

And this shows the interior of the box without the bucket in it, in case you want to build one.  There is a frame for support, and then the 3/4″ laminate plywood exterior. Note the splash-guard affixed to the lid around the edge of the hole, which effectively prevents anybody from “missing,” even small children. :)  It also helps ensure that the bucket stays exactly where you put it.  The splash-guard fits into the bucket an inch or so, and is itself made of a part of another bucket. 

Because this is a retrofit of a house that already had a toilet, Tristan had to work around the existing pipe, which protrudes from the floor.  After removing the toilet and sealing the pipe, he capped it with the circle of wood left from cutting the hole in the lid, and then added the supports on which the bucket sits.  These supports mean the bucket and the pipe-cap aren’t interfering with each other or causing wobbling or anything.  This photo also shows the sturdy frame inside the box. The frame was built first, then the box applied to the outside, the whole thing being sized for the available space in the bathroom. 

Meanwhile, outdoor preparations were also completed this weekend.  I cleared scrub elms from our chosen site, and then Matt and I built the compost bins out of old pallets:

The big pallets are screwed to the existing fence post (and wired, in one case where the wood is too far apart), and then the stardard pallets are screwed to the back.  The center bin will hold dry leaves for cover material, and the right-hand bin is now our current compost.  All kitchen scraps (well, the ones the chickens don’t get) and all humanure goes in here, with sufficient straw/leaf cover to prevent odor and ensure proper thermophilic composting.  Note the water bucket and toilet-bucket scrubber.  :)

  we had two girls picked off by hawks last week, so we have now added aerial protection to the coop.   

And here are the new and old girls together eating scraps:

The dark auburn ones are the Rhode Island reds.  the orange one is an Aracauna, and the black-and-white striped one is a barred rock (her sister isn’t pictured here, or our other Aracauna, below) and the other black & white is the polish crested hen we’ve had since summer.  that’s the one with the eighties-hair. 

and our pretty new Auracauna (thanks, !).  She’s not the brightest chicken ever, but she’s lovely.

and, oh, yeah, the Witches’ Ball was good, too.  All in all quite an excellent weekend.