Time to confess my little nitrogen secret

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:15 PM

This evening I read this interesting post from Erica over at Northwest Edible Life and it got me thinking.  Perhaps I shouldn’t keep my private little secret all to myself.  I mean others are doing it, right?  Maybe not folks I know.  But there are books written about the subject, right?  After reading through the comments on Erica’s blog, I decided that perhaps it was time to fess up.  So here goes.

I compost urine.  There.  I said it.  It’s out now.  It’s public knowledge.  I compost urine.

How and why?  When did I start?  When did I become serious about it?  It’s hard to say.  I think it was a convergence of a lot of things.  First, perhaps was convenience.  I’m out in the garden and barnyard an awful lot.  When I need to go, I need to go.  Yes, I could trudge back into the house (removing my shoes if it’s muddy) to do my business.  Or I could just cop a squat in the goat shed.  I mean the goats squat in the goat shed right?  I practice deep litter for a reason right?  The deep layer of straw not only captures their feces, but because it’s hollow it traps their urine and all that wonderful nitrogen as well.  So why not add my own urine to the mix if I’m out working in the back?  It seemed perfectly logical to me.

At some point I started to research a more environmentally friendly way to deal with my cat litter.  After spending hundreds of dollars and several years trying to convince my cats that a plumbed litter box, specifically the Cat Genie (BRILLIANT invention, BTW) was the way to go, only to meet resistance from Gabriel and utter refusal from Max, I had to figure something else out.  So I started researching if it was possible to somehow compost cat waste.  I found information on everything from in ground composting mini septic systems to a very interesting study by one damn smart kid about vermicomposting cat feces.

After a lot of research and a few unsuccessful experiments (due to human error/neglect), I decided that scooping was an inevitable reality for me.  But then, while researching litter systems for rabbits I quite literally struck gold, as in Liquid Gold (great book, BTW).  What was the secret ingredient?  Wood stove pellets!  What?  Yes, that’s right.  Wood stove pellets.  Okay, hold that thought…

The problem with cat litter is that the feces which may contain Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic protozoan that can cause birth defects when a pregnant woman becomes infected.  But there is absolutely nothing wrong with cat urine.  Nope.  It’s as sterile as human urine.  And it’s full of nitrogen!  Lovely fertilizing, make your garden green, nitrogen.

The answer to all my cat litter woes had been discovered.  Wood stove pellets.  What are they?  Compressed sawdust.  That’s it.  Nothing nasty added.  No chemicals, no nothing.  I’ve watched videos of the machines used in their manufacture.  Heck, you can even purchase one if you have an overabundance of sawdust.  Any wood workers out there?  I was convinced.  Why?  Because all the research I had previously done about Humanure (not in practice/use at my homestead) had talked about using sawdust as the layering material to absorb odors and moisture.  And that’s exactly what wood stove pellets are.  Sawdust.

So I started using them in the litter box.  At about $5.00 for a 40 lb. bag at the local home improvement store, it’s one HELL of a lot cheaper than any cat litter on the market.  It’s definitely a much more environmental friendly product than anything I could purchase at the pet store.  And it seemed to last longer.  The unexpected added bonus of using it is that it practically eliminates all odors.  Yes, you heard me right.  No litter box odor.  Assuming you tend to it semi-regularly of course.

So now I scoop the feces and flush it down the toilet.  When wood stove pellets get wet, they disintegrate back into sawdust.  So when the litter box is reduced to mostly sawdust rather than pellets, I dump it into the compost bin.  That’s what you call getting all your greens and browns mixed together in a damn near perfect ratio.  Mind you, a lot of other things go into the compost bin as well.  But the bulk of my cat litter is no longer entering the municipal waste stream (i.e. garbage can).

Now although I've told several friends they should try this at home, very few people know that I’ve taken to this practice myself.  What?  I not only piss in the barnyard, but now I use the cat’s litter box too?  Um… no.

Some of you may recall that I’m obsessed with conserving water.  Recently, I retrofitted my toilet with a dual flush kit which I had to modify slightly to work with my existing SinkPositive.  But as Erica so eloquently put it in her post, “Basically, the environmental and financial cost to piss in a bunch of drinking-quality water and then process it back into drinking water is huge.”  So even though I was drastically cutting my water usage, I was thrilled to figure out a way to not only reduce it further, but also to capture the nutrient rich liquid gold that my own body produces.

Enter the Luggable Loo.  I actually purchased this brilliant little bucket toilet for use while camping last year.  It’s quite convenient when you wake up early in the morning with an urge that won’t wait until you can put on your clothes, shoes, jacket, etc. and then trudge all the way to the privy.  Although I was quite suspect of the chemicals used in their disposable bags, I found that if I put some water in the bucket before use, the dilution was enough to eliminate odor and it was easy to dump out once I was up.  I simply watered a tree or bush with the bucket, gave it a really good rinse, put in a few inches of water, and then put it back in the tent.  Presto, ready to go whenever the time came.

And then, after the litter box revelation, it struck me.  Why not put the Luggable Loo into use at home with wood stove pellets?  I couldn’t think of any good reason not to give it a try.  So into my bathroom it went with a small layer of pellets in the bottom.  It’s enough to last for a few days.  I didn’t want to be lugging a heavy full loo with my bad back.  So I settled on a more reasonable amount, lighter weight, and regular routine.  And if guest are coming by, why it’s super simple to empty the bucket and put it into the spare room or garage.  Out of sight, out of mind where visitors are concerned.

So that’s it.  Human and cat feces are flushed.  Human and cat urine are composted.  Not all the time.  I’m not perfect.  If I have to do double doodie so to speak, I’m sticking with the toilet.  But the system works for me most of the time.  It might not be practical with a family of four.  But for a single gal who has a regular 9 to 5, it works just fine.  And yes, I still cop a squat in the barnyard sometimes when I’m out working in the yard.  It’s just natural to me.

Now, I wonder how many interesting comments I’ll get on this post.

10 Response to "Time to confess my little nitrogen secret"

Erica / Northwest Edible Life Says:

I love this! Thanks for sharing, Kitty! The woodstove pellets idea is fantastic, I'm going to look into that for use in my chicken coop, too.

Kai Says:

great post and i am loving the inspiration. My girls spent a weekend on a intentional community farm with no sewer/septic. They compost. It was interesting for them and a few days after being home the blogersphere explodes with the benifits of urine.

Gene Anderson Says:

So about flushing cat feces...apparently Toxoplasma gondii is harmful to sea otters, so CA law encourages disposal in the trash and not flushing. See leginfo.ca.gov

The wood stove pellets idea is great! We've been using wood pellet litter for our cats for some time, but that's a lot cheaper.

Kitty Sharkey Says:

Interesting info concerning the flushing. I hadn't heard of that before. Sounds like I need to reconsider that detail in my routine. Perhaps I should revisit the vermicomposting option again.

slywlf Says:

Wow - that is great! I followed the link from Erica's NorthWest Edible and wow! Whole I cannot follow your lead just yet, as I currently own a small motel, sometime in the next year I will be selling and moving to a mini homestead of my own, and my cats and I will make good use of these tips! Thanks ;-)

rabidlittlehippy Says:

LOVE it! Fascinating and I will look seriously into the cat litter options. We just came across VERY locally made sawdust pellets only 2 days ago so they are on my radar. :)

Kelli Swearingen Says:

I live in the burbs but I have a large garden and compost pile. When people are over for cookouts, I encourage them to pee in my compost pile. Guys don't seem to have a problem with it but because my compost pile currently has three walls, the ladies don't feel as free to drop trou. I let that secret slip in front of the wrong people before and now some people won't take veggies from me. I've even gone so far, in trying to explain that you're not eating urine, to get out the thermometer and taking the temp of my pile. Some people get some don't. Great to see a blog post about it!

Gordon Says:

Great post, and so many ideas to follow up on. I like the stove pellets. We use sawdust and wood shavings from the workshop - put them into a 100L bin with a lid and add the overnight urine bucket to it in the morning, until it is full. Then leave it to "mature" for a couple of months, topping up as necessary. A perfect balance of carbon and nitrogen and it either goes straight onto garden beds that are dug over in preparation for planting or into the compost pile. Can't remember the title of the book that we got this idea from, but the author called the product "rocking horse poo".

Anonymous Says:

You use wood stove pellets in your cat litter boxes?? My little girl would be confused at first
but if she only wants to drink out of the bathroom faucet, I'am sure she could get use to it.
You have always been a clever woman and thanks for the tip. Your someone I have the fondest memories of.
Hope your well.


Anonymous Says:

I followed over from Erica's post after I googled the idea after I really needed to go while out in the greenhouse. Those 5 gallon buckets work great and I can purchase a toilet seat to fit over the top. The wood pellets worked like a charm. No more ammonia smell! Thank you! (and now I don't feel the need to add a little bathroom off my mud room for these while-gardening emergencies).