Monday, August 11, 2008


There is my bucket – adjacent to my now guest bathroom. I’ve been using this bucket and a few others, collecting them up and devouring sawdust. I kept my collection –about two months worth of buckets – off to the side in the woods. About two weeks ago I decided to freshen up my buckets and do a transfer, a dump along the tree line to reinforce (nutrient-wise) the sand “soil” along the shore line to support the tree cover. Taking a “short cut” (those buckets are heavy!) down a rise of about 15 feet of forest floor, I, of course, tangled a foot in some branches, tripped and toppled and you can only imagine – UGH and yuck-O! Stinky, sloppy, slushy, oh my gosh: Ugh. ( I was peeing in the buckets too) Burying that mess wasn’t so bad with available materials although I had to ward off my dog who has the common disgusting canine habit of rolling in stinky stuff. Would it mean anything to him to roll in MINE? Who knows but I really didn’t want to find out. Its one thing to wash out the ground in scat of a bear or deer from his fluffy furr but my own? Ew. Humanure definitely has its EW moments. Anyway, after the clean up, some how my bucket wasn’t as attractive as it used to be and I was inspired to make a system change - And really, the rim is so small and narrow to sit on anyway. My latest is a kind of human litter box-tray. Rather than poop directly in the bucket, and have to be intimate with all that plastic, I am now using the much more comfortable and healthy squat method into an ample and plush pile of sawdust and then dumping That in to the weekly collection bucket which I will transfer to the ground weekly! - Rather than a stinky bi-monthly chore of multiple buckets. I am really happy with this. Much softer, a much warmer welcome to the mornings.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

your soils' vacation spot

this was the cache until end of june. there is more now, and with the project wrapping up with an bonus month of collection, these remote woodlands will be peppered with bins of your soil transforming itself into what else? soil.

a full bin getting picked up!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

a farewell, of sorts

Sadly, it had to be done. Or, perhaps it didn’t.

A choice needed to be made about my involvement with Humboldt Pile Chicago. I decided that I could no longer participate. Instead of talking about the rational for this decision, I’d like to share what this experience has contributed to my awareness of my self and my connection with the earth.

That’s just it “connection with the earth”; a phrase that is utilized profusely these days as we’re scrambling to find solutions to the complete mess we have made of our home. I have been sensing this loss, my deep loss of connection, but I couldn’t even begin to identify what that “connection” looked like, felt like. Well, my time with Test Hole definitely brought all that crap to light.

In the past few months, my perception of this loss has narrowed. Luckily, I have met new folks with a wealth of knowledge who have shown me that the earth is more powerful than I had ever imagined. Even under all of this urban toxicity, its rhythm is strong and generous. And the best part, your own body – no matter what size, color, scent or flavor – carries and creates an ingredient of that generosity everyday. How absolutely freakin beautiful is that!

My decision to quit was purely logistical. The honest conclusion: do I miss the Test Hole, not really. Do I miss my connection, yes. I would say that if I built a composting toilet outhouse in my backyard I’d definitely say adios to the indoor one. Also, if you’re going to poop in a bucket with multiple folks, it’s important to be on the same page about cleaning methods. It takes a lot of trust (and work) to share shit chores with a housemate.

This doesn’t mean that I’m through with composting my poop and piss; I’ll just have to find out what works for me as I reside in this system of a city. Gotta run and pee, maybe I’ll reach for a jar…

Monday, July 7, 2008

make friends with maggots

just an update :

i have been hearing about maggots in some of your bins - it is fly season afterall. houseflies seem to be everywhere. since i haven't run into this with my toilet or storage bin, i would suggest using more sawdust and dumping more often.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


So in June I was in Missouri for a week in a rustic setting that included outhouses. It was really nice to continue to not poop in water, but honestly I missed the intimacy of a bucket. The outhouses there were the traditional 'long, dark drop' type which made pooping a very anonymous deposit. I like being able to see my poop in the bucket. It's an important indicator of how different foods and I get along and how my body is doing. Before CT scans and other fancy medical gizmos, poop, sorry, stool was a really important way of diagnosing various afflictions.

While looking at my poo, I notice all sorts of things like undigested seeds from serviceberries I foraged. I picked some seeds out of my poo with a stick and am doing an experiment to see if there is a difference in germination rates between serviceberry seeds that are digested away from the fruit and seeds that have been mechanically separated from the fruit. Stay tuned as the moon waxes...


Sunday, June 22, 2008

human versus animal

• 1,000 humans produce as much total solids as:
20 dairy cows
60 beef feeder cattle
280 feeder pigs
6 200 laying hens
11 000 broiler chickens

• 1,000 humans produce as much Total Nitrogen as:
40 dairy cows
90 beef feeder cattle
340 feeder pigs
7 000 laying hens
12 000 broiler chickens

• 1,000 humans produce as much Total Phosphorus as:
30 dairy cows
70 beef feeder cattle
190 feeder pigs
3 800 laying hens
8 600 broiler chickens

• 1,000 humans produce as much Total coliform bacteria as:
30 dairy cows
1 300 beef feeder cattle
10 000 feeder pigs
130 000 laying hens

Dairy Cattle - mature cows
total manure per cow: 68.7 L / day

Beef Cattle - feeders
total manure per animal: 21.3 L / day

Pigs - feeder pigs
total manure per pig: 5.8 L / day

Chickens - laying hens
total manure per chicken: 0.2 L / day

Chickens - broilers
total manure per chicken: 0.07 L / day

from: 'human versus animal: a comparison of waste properties'
fleming and ford, university of guelph, july 2001.

Friday, June 20, 2008

satellite pooper from michigan!

Oh! And poop~ okay I am joining the group as an outpost of the outpost. Here are my current habits/functions.

5 gallon poop-n-pee ala heather

I am on bucket #3 and think I have something workable. I do have the luxury of keeping and using everything outside on lots of land. So smell is not an issue or detectable but system is working. I am putting about 3-4” of sawdust on the bottom of the bucket and begin pooping after awhile (doesn’t take too long as I’ve been following a high-fiber diet). It gets so high that I can’t poop freely. (I sit on the rim.) at that point, top it off (fully) with sawdust and move it to a pee only location. Then I pee into it (no t.p. anymore) until the sawdust is moist (sponge damp like good compost – usually determined! Hee hee! or is its feeling appropriately heavy. At this point, I am just letting the bucket sit in the forest but soon I’ll run out of buckets and have to dump. How long will it take to be less/non stinky, messy, recognizable? I was thinking of introducing worms that I find in the local soil to help speed things along.

Honestly my motivation here is really to process and breakdown sawdust. We have and use a sawmill here and have PILES! Of it and nowhere to put it as we can’t put it in the soil or NOTHING WILL GROW THERE. Hey, do you know if that quality of being able to grow anything totally transformed after composting? Presumably yes, but I always eave room for my ignorance.

I am very curious about the characteristics and suitability of consequent soil/compost.

Is there a good/better/best thing to plant in such a soil?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The First Bin!

This is a transcribed audio interview with Nance and the fabulous winners of the 'first full bin' award...enjoy!

Nance: Do you want to say something about your first two weeks’ experience with Humble Pile?

Sara: Well, ah, my first two weeks of experience it wasn’t as trying as I thought it would be. Like, you know pooping in a bucket it kind of feels like camping inside my house. I like the fact that I get to get toilet paper now for free. I get the non-bleached napkins from Whole Foods and just snag a whole bunch, put them in my purse and bring them home. Sometimes it’s a little bit hard at night when I’m half awake and have to use the bathroom; sometimes I just use the regular toilet because I don’t want to deal with the bucket. So far so good. Every time I flush the toilet….

Andrew: I heard the toilet flush the other day I washed the dishes the other day and said, “Who flushed this toilet?”

Joanna’s been using the flush toilet because she’s been to lazy to come upstairs, she said “I know it’s such a lame excuse, but I just haven’t made it up to the summit” so I put a bucket downstairs for her.

Eduardo: She likes to save water. That’s why she’s not flushing the toilet all the time.

Nance: Any questions for the last two weeks of Humble Pile?

Chad: it’s been great it’s really like first nature. It’s intuitive. It doesn’t feel like anything different, to be honest. The smell of it, but that’s OK.

Mark: I had a near emergency which is I want to ask if I could spot on the bucket, and I thought, I wasn’t thinking and I did it like I would on a toilet I just stepped on the one side of the bucket and put my weight on it and the bucket fell over. And it was mostly full and like my heart stopped I thought there’s gonna be this big pile of shit on my bathroom floor. And I was like ‘oh shit’. So luckily I, while I was holding my breath, none of the logs did. That was my only close call.

Andrew: I’m, um, definitely a proponent of more that one or two handfuls per log.

Sara: Yeah!
Andrew: Because it’s definitely stinky if you don’t cover up the entire log. And here we turn to Chad!

Chad: Way too much sawdust!

Mark: That’s what I think. Me and Chad are kind of on the same page.

Andrew: That’s why it stinks!

Chad: It’s does not stink! I mean, you’re gonna have two different smells. You’re going to alternate smells one or the other. It’s not like it’s gonna get rid of one.

Mark: I kind of agree with Andrew. Like, I thought it smelled but I wouldn’t want to have any, like, I’ll just say uninitiated guests into the bathroom.

Andrew: Exactly.

Mark: Because, I was bragging to my brother was bragging that it “doesn’t even smell” and he opened the lid and he’s like “oh man!”

Chad: It’s poop, man! I mean, Jesus!

Mark: But is it going to be more palatable to people as a feasible movement? You know, um….


Nance: A “feasible movement” ?????!!!!

Mark: NO pun intended!


Mark: Because you know like my uncle said to me a couple of years ago, he was saying that Ireland was “backwards” He’s like, for example, people are still shitting in outhouses. You know and I’m thinking that we’re “backwards” because we’re shitting in flush toilets, ya know. And then my brother is like “this is like this: no one’s gonna NOT have a toilet in America. That’s why these expensive compost and dry toilets are being sold because they’re shaped like toilets and you could still feel like you’re using a toilet. And they have fans so you’re house doesn’t stink. So if there’s a way we could do it without all that contraption and plastic.

Chad: I don’t know man, I think it’s an enculturated response to poop. That it smells bad. If you could retrain yourself and reeducate yourself. Like it doesn’t even really smell that bad to me.

Andrew: But our poop is really close to our refrigerator! People who shit in the woods and do what we’re trying to assimilate here their poop is not anywhere near they eat.


Andrew: Nowhere near the river where they wash and get their fish.

Sara: Yeah we’re dirty.

Andrew: It’s think it’s a fine smell but there’s a reason that no matter where you’re at, no matter what culture you’re from shit is shit and it stinks for every person.

Mark: I’ve walked into our bedroom and smelled shit and that’s not good.

Sara: Then I don’t know what you guys are up to! Why isn’t it in the bathroom?!

Andrew: The bathroom is right off… The bedroom is just basically the same door to the bathroom.

Nance: I think you need to dump your bucket more often.

Sara: I don’t smell poop in my bedroom. Just to let you guys know, it’s not smelling anymore.

Andrew: I would like to share a little anecdote that didn’t get recorded yet. So, Sarah’s friend Nancy came over and I was in the kitchen doing dishes, and doing something, eating and Sara was in the bathroom and Sara shouts through the door “Nancy did I tell you yet that we poop in buckets?” And Nancy was like, “No, you didn’t but that’s so funny because just earlier today my coworker and I were talking about this lady on the Southside that’s spreading around all these buckets and having people poop in them!” And Sara and I were like, “I think that’s the same person! Is her name Nance?” So that was a fun time.


Chad: It’s not an obsession or anything but we would, I’m 40 and just a few years ago, me and my friends would send pictures of our shits to each other cause… who doesn’t look at their shit after they shit?

Sara: I look at my shit.

Chad: I know. It’s just a natural thing. There’s something about it.


Andrew: I have to look at what’s happening.

Mark: Eduardo, when you poo, do you look at it?

Eduardo: Um, yeah.


Mark: Do you look at mine?

Eduardo: I want a visual of what’s going on there.

Sara: I do have to say that pooping in the bucket, my poop does look a lot smaller than in the toilet.

Mark: I think mine looks bigger!

Andrew: It feels bigger than life in the bucket!

Chad: I tell you why. The amount of pressure that goes into a poop, I’m really fascinated by what comes out!

Nance: The product of your energy.

Chad: Yeah, basically.

Nance: You’re packing in one right now!


Mark: So how many people have you had conversations with?

Nance: You guys are the first. You guys are the first ones who loaded up a bin.


Nance: I have to put a #1 on your bin!

Mark, Andrew, Sara, Chad: Yah!!!!!

Sayre discovers the steathy aspects of bucketpooing...

so, just to fill you in on some delightful testhole developments...

I am finding that I am holding my poo when I am out so that I can poo in my bucket at home instead of a flush toilet.

I have found that pooing and peeing in sawdust is very quiet, with no resonating splashy tinkling sounds. Bucketpooing is so quiet in fact, that I pooed while on a conference call and no one had any idea that's what I was doing. Tee hee hee!

you are a nutty nut nut.
i am soooo happy.

imagine if they had said something like this:"what was that muffled thud?"

what would your reply have been?

I would have blamed it on the cats of course.
hee hee hee

Prehistoric Pooping!

Sean D. says:
Here's an interesting exchange I had concerning ancient poo recycling With Dr. Dennis L. Jenkins, the Senior Staff Archaeologist/Archaeological Field School Director of the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

Dear Dr. Jenkins,
Not knowing much about the behavior of our Homo sapien ancestors, such
as it might have been, 14,300 years ago, in what's now Oregon, I'm
curious about the placement of the coprolites you've uncovered. It
seems as if, if these caves were used for shelter, cooking, etc., that
it might have been a good idea to excrete elsewhere. I'm assuming it's
potentially hard to speculate, but based on your expertise, do you
think it's possible that certain caves were used as latrines at
certain times? Or perhaps just once or twice? I can imagine that these
individuals might not have been super-fastidious, but it seems like
small measures like the separation of food and feces might have been
survival mechanism-style behaviors.
Yours sincerely,
Sean D

Hi Sean,
People tend to defecate in particular areas of a cave (alcoves, cracks in boulders, pits in floors, etc.) or just outside it. They are more or less storing waste material that could potentially provide an emergency food source that might mean the difference between life and death. Seeds which have not been entirely digested can be retrieved, cleaned and consumed again, believe it or not. This has been termed the 2nd harvest by the Seri, I believe. Hope this helps.

Thanks so much for your reply. It's incredibly helpful information, and connects some dots for me. It makes perfect sense. I hadn't thought of "the second harvest," but I've read about such things in a sometimes questionable book called The Scatologic rites of All Nations by John G. Bourke, specifically concerning the Indians of "Lower California" and cactus seeds. I've also noticed the practice of seed retrieval from goat dung to make Argan oil in Morocco, and not least the Philippine, Palm Civet-digested Kopi Luwak coffee beans, which are so value-added that they fetch steep prices. I'm definitely sympathetic to the view that modern humans share more predilections and habits with our ancient ancestors than we may realize, which is why certain parts of regional continuity seem to ring true, not least the idea that Homo sapiens interbred successfully with those they encountered as they traveled.
Thanks again,
Sean D

Innovations, injury, and family shit from Mark

Nance/Humble Pile,

I sent my dad some x-rated photos of extremely anatomically accurate
vegetable shapes and he sent me an e-mnail back that I wish I had saved,
that basically said

"That's about as funny as the news of your human-shit-composting experiment. I continue to have higher hopes for you."

2 lines. Like a dagger.

I told him that if we didn't shift our dogma toward shit, sex, and food
that our culture will end with a crash (as if it won't already).

I think I may be the first one who rececived a test hole injury today,
when taking my own advice I wiped my butt with that thick brown paper and
sustained a paper cut wound to the upper crack. Luckily it missed the test

I finally figured out a good wiping system, and I haven't sliced my butt
since that first day (I started using a softer brown paper).

For all my fellow test holers: Revolutionizing shitting is a big piece,
but revolutionizing wiping is a step beyond even yet. "Sure I'll shit in a
bucket, no problem. I'm a bad ass (I'm hard-core, etc.)" BUT(T), ARE YOU
WILLING TO TOUCH YOUR SHIT? I'm not just trying to proffer a
"grosser-than-thou" adolescent one-upmanship yucky contest. I'm saying
wiping with an industrially prefabricated paper product is as nutso as
shitting into purified drinking water. I have been waiting for a vehicle
for my campaign for years, and finally through Humble Pile I have found
it. That campaign is:

WIPE WITH WATER!!! It even has a certain ring to it. Here's how it works.

My friend coined the perfect question for this proposition. It both
illustrates the point and gives serious post-food for thought. The
question is... Should someone approach you and smear shit on your face,
would you:

a) wipe it off,
b) wash it off.

"Ah-ha!" most people say. But another clever friend said "I would wipe it
off and then wash it off." Good answer.

And so it came to pass, my perfect wiping system that I recommend for
test-holers everywhere:
Go to your nearest grocery dumpster (I use Red Hen bakery on Milwaukee Ave
where I can pick up pastries and bread along with my toilet paper: the
poop fuel and the clean-up product in one!) where you will find a plethora
of clean brown paper bags, cleanly packed in garbage bags. Use that paper
to wipe and then pitch it right in your montoncito humil. THEN, when you
are already wiped up, using a small jar, proceed to the toilet to clean
the rest. To take those of you by the hand who may be faint of heart and
walk you through it: with one hand pour the water over your crack, with
the other scrub-a-rub your test hole until it is squeaky clean. To prove
the hygienicism of this system, you can even smell your fingers afterward-
if done right there should only be the smell of roses on your baby-soft
skin. And, of course, wash your hands well with herbal soaps made from
dumpstered animal fat. The beauty of this is that there is so little poop
on your 0 that you will not have to flush the toilet, and you won't be
adding a bunch of water to make your pile unpresentable to diplomats,
senators, building inspectors, and other varmants.

Enjoy, poop away, and savor the nutrient cycle!

"The trouble is that once you see it, you can't unsee it. And once you've
seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as
speaking out. There's no innocence. Either way, you're accountable."
-- Arundhati Roy

Concerns about the dry commode.

Re: drop off of the dry commode...

how's monday morning for either of you?
could also do another drop monday eve.

lemme know.

bombs away!

monday morning could work. what time?

nance, i'm really not sure how the commode will work for my situation. could we go over logistics of it before you drop it off? what do i need to do? when is it picked up? what are any precautions/things i should be aware of? i can't keep it in my bathroom, with my clientelle. the back porch does not seem realistic. i can try for that back utility closet perhaps, if i organize it better and clear it out. i'm just a bit concerned, as i am not the most organized nor conscientious person and don't want a shitstorm (litrally) on my hands. i have a hard time getting food composted, let alone poop. at any rate, i really want to be supportive, but am feeling a little overwhelmed. could we chat?

Nance, Joanna, Andrew, and friends coordinate.

Yes, the rest of the household is ready to move forward. I
just have a couple more questions. Is the 'can' and
the sawdust something that I will be able to keep in my
bathroom if I have a one year old who likes to explore?

i am providing you with sufficient sawdust. you can put it in a conatiner that works for you. the toilet lid can can be taped down with some duct tape and opened as needed.


How big is the barrel that will sit outside?

it is a 32 gallon garbage can.


Do you remove the entire barrel only once it is full?

yes. and then i will bring you another one.

How long do you think it would take to fill if there are 5 of us?

if using constantly then 2 weeks or so.


Sorry for all of the questions. I just imagine that once the barrel is in place and filling, it is a pretty permanent decision. Thanks!



Nance to Andrew (in same building as Joanna):
4 people on your floor, right? still one bucket or two?
one 32 gallon garbage conatainer for both floors.
joanna's household is seperate. we are talking. she has her own questions and i have tried to answer them. she will get back to me if she feels

hi joanna.
i just talked to andrew in your building and it is all a go for their participation in HUMBLE PILE. have you had a chance to think over if you are interested in participating?
btw, when i use my dry toilet, i use a fair amount of saw dust in the bottom and between usage and the only cleaning' i do is a rinse with a hose - very little to clean out.
each household will be getting some liquid microbes to add to their cans in order to speed up composting.

I'm cc'ing all the Pile Participants in my household on this email.
Firstly, I want to announce to all that Humblepile will be installing the Pile Parts on Monday morning, from 9 to Noon.

Nancy--there were a couple of questions. How much peeing is allowed in the bucket, ie. when you just have to go #1 does that go in the bucket too? Also, if there are four poopers in one apartment, we will need two buckets, can you spare two for us?

/Andrew and friends

ps Look Sarah, this research team in Antarctica that composted poo used rocks to secure the lids before they emptied their buckets.

Hey All,
I believe we were all in agreement with to set up the 32-gallon drum in the backyard to be used by all in the house (4 upstairs) and me. 2 buckets for them to poop in and one for me; again all being dumped into the same 32-gallon loader.
I feel comfortable moving forward at this point, as I believe we just really gotta try it out to see if it is going to work for us.
Have a great day all!

Nance and Adam try to work things out.

hooray! i am ready to get you your 'humble pile' set up!

please choose one of the following dates and time
slots or suggest another one. set up should only
take 20 minutes or so.
sunday 27th
monday 28th
tuesday 29th

nance (testhole)


hi Nance!
Indeed this is exciting ...

before you truck over here, I need to clarify with you that this can actually work for my living situation. So, please read the following description of my abode and let me know how this could work:
I live on the second floor of a house in a three-bedroom apartment (with two roommates). We have a humble gated-in plot of earth, maybe 7 by 7 feet, in front of the house. My relatively small bedroom doubles as my yoga/meditation practice space. We have a pretty expansive living room/dining room space. We ferment kombucha in the dining room area. Large kitchen, small bathroom, grimy roofed-in back deck.

The reason I tell you these details is because I'm simply unsure where I would be able to do my humble piling... It seems unlikely that I'd be able to store the container in the bathroom, because it's a really small space, and I don't know if it would be sanitary to shit and do sun salutations in the same couple feet of hardwood floor? The back porch is a possibility.

Please excuse my reservation -- I just don't want you to waste your time coming out here if I can't actually participate. But I would very much like to, if it seems like it will work! So, let me know what you think.

Thanks for your time,


I feel I am being very high-maintenance about this already, I am sorry about that...
If this is going to work for me right now, I do think my house is a better option than the studio, just because the space is small and constantly in flux.
I have a basement that I could even crap in, especially because it's warmer now AND the basement already smells bad.
Maybe the next time you're in my neighborhood you could stop by and possibly drop off the stuff if it seems like it's feasible for me to do my business.
Thanks for your patience.


it's fine, adam.
no extra patience extended in your direction.
i am here to hold hands on this one.
just let me know when i can deliver a bucket toilet and if you want to coordinate with someonelse's barrel drop or what one of your own.
barrel = 32 gal trash container.

My other roomie expressed some reservation about the test hole ... not insurmountable, but quite frankly I'm starting to now question whether this is a good time to insert a revision into my routine. The concern is that, amidst the grad school madness, I'll just forget about the alternate route and/or not dispose of my "goods" in a reasonable time. And space is not ideal. I think I'm going to pass on this round of things, with the intention that I can get involved at a later date if it becomes a sustainable (sorry I know you don't like that word) method for some people in the city.
Sorry about this, and I appreciate your assistance in thinking about it anyhow.
Warm wishes,

Nance and Kevin arrange a dropoff...

hooray! i am ready to get you your 'humble pile' set up!

please choose one of the following dates and time
slots or suggest another one. set up should only
take 20 minutes or so.
sunday 27th
monday 28th
tuesday 29th

nance (testhole)

Monday 28th 6-9 works well. I will need a little support.

tues a.m, it is.
support you will have.
the entire journey you will have support.