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Building Compost Toilets

How it all came to be.

The idea for building compost toilets in the canal field was proposed by Julie West, a member of the Warland Farm community who came to live here in December 2020. As part of living at the Farm Julie took on the responsibility to manage the Canal Field and part of that role is to facilitate greater use of this and the adjacent hay meadow. The Farm will continue with old favourites such as community picnics and the Rush Cart decorating events, as well as introducing well-being sessions and more practical and creative workshops along with a back-to-basic micro campsite. By creating these infrastructure facilities this will support the canal field’s wider use. 

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A compost toilet or earth toilet is one where human waste is collected, usually dry and wet waste separately, which allows natural processes to break down the human waste to produce compost through aerobic (presence of oxygen) decomposition. This dry process supports the introduction of organisms, including bacteria, fungi, insects and worms to break down the waste into a mixture of crumbly minerals that plants use as nutrients. 

For further information on compost toilets please see http://www.lowimpact.org/?s=compost+toilets.

The Building a Compost Toilet Course was the result of part of a successful funding application to the Community Foundation for Calderdale and is a partnership between Live Wild and Warland Farm Community. Both Julie (a therapist and well-being trainer) and Miranda (an Ecologist and nature crafts teacher) both freelance for Live Wild and have a strong connection with Warland Farm and so this made for ideal partnership working. Both organisations share some common aims. We invite individuals/groups to protect and reconnect with nature, which can help us feel alive, empowered and gives us the space to learn, play and explore. In a fast-changing world where many are disconnected from each other and nature, learning to live harmoniously is vital. All our services and activities help create healthy minds & bodies, joy, resourcefulness and confidence, as well as skilled, resilient and caring communities. Follow the link to find out more about Live Wild.

The bid covered funding for building compost toilets, pipe work for hand washing, planting of natural toilet paper plant species and running 4 well-being sessions on the site. Community cohesion and social networks have been and will continue to be strengthened as more events take place. Places on the course were prioritised for existing volunteers and people from partner organisations. The attendees who came on the course will be able to pass on their skills and knowledge to other local groups and community businesses.

Details of our well-being sessions and other events will be publicised on this blog, Warland Farm Community Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/warlandfarmcommunity/  and Instagram #

The outcomes of this course tie into Warland Farm’s vision to ensure the history of the farm is appreciated and preserved and its social value is restored by building a self-sufficient, co-operative community around the land’s shared wealth. The project will help the community to be more self-sustaining and protect the environment and educate people about environmentally friendly alternatives. Gaining this grant and the work it enabled will provide direct employment, occupation and skills development for local people in a caring and beautiful space that supports emotional health and wellbeing. 

Over three months Julie liaised with the tutor Miranda Cowan of Ecology Limited, an ecologist and adult education tutor specialising in environmental education, foraging, ecology and green woodworking. Miranda has built a number of ecological structures including compost toilets, solar showers and cob oven. Feedback from the course evidences that she is an excellent teacher, we look forward to future courses and craft sessions (Email quirkyforager@gmail.com, Mobile 07834359072)

The aims for the participants were to:

  1. Understand how compost toilets function in the decomposition of human waste and how this can support sustainable living.
  2. Develop a systematic plan of how to self-build a compost toilet, through understanding what materials are required and approaches to developing a design.
  3. Develop confidence in the use of hand tools through knowing what is required to construct a compost toilet, application of tool care ad appropriate safe use.
  4. Develop new skills is basic woodwork and engage in the creative exploration of applying a more rustic approach to working with wood.

Building the compost toilets.

The toilets were sited in the canal field; the access is easily reached from the canal path. 

The area was dug out and prepared by Darren, Dave, Dan, Susie and Julie from Warland Growing Together. 

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The base is constructed.

Although the course started out as inclusive, women snapped up the places first so it consisted of female students with a wide age range. Miranda had drawn up plans and pre-built three different aspects of the design as a visual aids so that participants could replicate this and quickly gain confidence. At the start, she and Julie checked out everyone’s confidence and skills levels, emphasised that all questions were acceptable and invited the participants to select which element of the design they wanted to start building. Throughout the course Miranda demonstrated safe handling of tools, woodworking skills and self care.  The atmosphere was steady, supportive and cooperative.

Plans.

During the initial process of constructing the base, Leonie and Imogen are discussing measurements before sawing some wood.  In the second image, Miranda is overseeing Imogen using clamps.

Imogen and Leonie
Miranda oversees Imogen.
Miranda demonstrates how to use the nail gun.
Miranda shows which nails are the correct length for the job.
Leonie uses the nail gun.
The first panel is screwed to the base.
Imogen gets ready to do a puppet show.
The central panel is constructed.
Everyone helps to bring the central panel to the base.

Everyone helps to hold the structure in place to check measurements before the nail gun is used.
Imogen uses the nail gun.
Steeve and Leonie work together to attach the cladding.
The structure begins to take shape and the toilets are situated.
The toilets are connected to the collecting system underneath.




Sooze brings the sawdust

Miranda checks the toilet.
The toilets are nearly finished.
Inside the toilet.
Temporary handles before new ones are whittled.

The students went home and over the next few days Julie, Miranda, Sooze and others added the final touches. The roof was lined with a waterproof material so that it can planted up to be a living roof.

How did it all go?

At lunchtime on both days, participants’ experiences were recorded in one-to-one interviews; here are the main points of their feedback:

Tutor/Quality of Teaching:

Miranda’s preparation, planning, outlining of the process, breaking things down into manageable tasks, attention to participants’ skill set and competency helped volunteers to feel safe so that they could ask questions. Participants took their time to create accurate work in a supportive atmosphere. Miranda provided a supportive, inclusive group so that all the participants worked within their competency and energy levels and could find their own rhythm.  As a participant said “I wasn’t made to feel old.” (Sooze)

The fact that she had constructed three different elements of the building beforehand was helpful to two of the participants who learn visually and kinaesthetically and for whom diagrams would have not been enough.

Use of Tools:

There was a wide variation in the group regarding previous experience of using tools: some had used tools before, others never; most had not used power tools. During the course Miranda demonstrated how to use a nail gun and other tools, e.g, saw, hammers, jigsaw and generator, clamps, set square and cordless drill. One of the participants did not want to use the nail gun and this was respected. 

On completion of two days, the overall feeling was of confidence and empowerment with regard to tool usage and the possibilities to construct compost toilets and other structures elsewhere (The tutor had printed out the plans and given each volunteer with a copy). As Leonie said “It’s taken the myth out of working with wood; I’m now thinking about how to build other structures.”

Constructing the stud walls, using the nail gun and thinking in reverse were a challenge for Julie as she had to explain what needed to be done to another participant who had been on a different task the day before. This was especially hard as she had only learn what to do the previous day.  However, the level of support and team work enabled the task to be completed.  As Julie commented, “Doing this sort of work was challenging as it used a part of my brain that I do not normally use.”

Women only group

Helped the attendees to feel more comfortable in using tools and asking for help in such a supportive environment.

Culturally, women are, on the whole, not encouraged to use tools, especially power tools and so the absence of men helped participants to show their lack of knowledge without fear of criticism, or by anticipating this and standing back.

There was an emphasis on co-operation, attention to the process than being task orientated, with a gentler pace and no rushing.

Having a female facilitator gave permission to other women to try using tools. “If she can do it, so can I.” (Steeve) This helped to give the students confidence and gave an example of what was possible.

Experience of being at Warland Farm

“The place seems an exciting place to be with huge potential.” (Steeve)

Good ethics.

Welcoming and supportive. Kindness here.

Great to work in nature, has helped with me and others with our mental health.

Working with others

Great to meet and bond with other women

Lots of mutual support and learning from peers.

Sense of being part of a whole and achieving something together, “When I look at the toilets I know that I have been a part of making them”. (Sooze)

Sense of pride in the work and wanting to do the best they could to produce the best outcome.  Participants worked systematically and methodically and people self regulated, this built a sense of trust and belonging without feeling pressured.

From the stone walls

As raw material starts to emerge from our efforts we are exploring a few traditional crafts, for example:
• our first willow harvest was overseen by Todmorden’s basket weaver who took most of the ossiers and coloured withies in return for lessons later in the year. However, I have a lot of goat willow rods that shot from the coppiced wild trees in t’Other Bit and I’m already making brooms and baskets from those.
• my bowl carving is improving: they now take only hours instead of weeks and the results are far more pleasing.
• I have learnt that our back field—the forest garden—is exactly the right slope for an anagama kiln. I was looking for a location and will now reserve one side of the bodger’s yard for such a machine. When the New Barn has completed its role as the timber framing workshop and the Mickle Barn is open for business, I’m thinking of creating a pottery and a basketry in there.
• the Smithy now has its forge and just awaits warmer weather so that I can rebuild the external chimney. A new recruit told me of a cast iron jobbie on Arran Isle, ex Glasgow docks, that we could get cheap. May looks like a good month for elbow injuries.
The joinery is still going strong, of course. A big new wood turning lathe will allow me to make balustrades for the barn as well as experiment with recorder-making and other esoteric crafts. (This year I’ve made clavé sticks, renovated an accordion and started to tweak a banjolin so I fancy myself as an instrument maker!)

The second area where our craft base is developing is in the strategy for getting others involved. As none of our relatives have shown much interest in our project, we’ve decided to lease the craft facilities—joinery, smithy, bodger’s yard, pottery, basketry, bakery, art studio etc—to a co-operative, for which we will write the charter. The main aspects will be to manage and protect the environment, teach their skills, collaborate artistically and share the food production (so that no-one starves). When we have that working, in ten years or so, we’ll also lease them the accommodation and look to appoint one of them as a manager while we retire; in return, the co-op will be responsible for looking after us in our dotage. Finally, when we shuffle off, we’ll leave the whole shebang in trust for the co-op for eighty years which should ensure the survival of the woodland and the craft school for a long time. 

Obviously, we need to progress with great caution because co-ops are at great risk from subversion by strong characters. By the end of this year there’ll be enough work in progress for prospective members to see the potential and I’ll start a blog and a Youtube channel to raise interest (I hate FaceBook!). When the time is right, we’ll recruit the first core members and give them a year’s lease; then two, five, ten years with more facilities going into the lease and more core members. There will also be other classes of membership for folk who want to support the school but not take on responsibilities. Fingers crossed.

So, we’re still looking forward to good times though this year will be hard work. The rewards will be seeing the woodland and orchard trees growing in size and their produce multiplying. I can see many fruit spurs and catkins so I hope we’ll have plenty of apples and filberts. A big new strawberry bed should provide summer treats.

Sloth and gluttony

The saw vice is finished and works a treat. The jaws are sprung so that the central cam’s pressure is spread to the tips; and the vertical surfaces can be squeezed by the bench vice to add to the cam strength. The jaws had to have leather linings because this recycled oak is too hard to grip steel well. Apart from the steel cam pin, there’s only wood in the build and none of its strength relies on glue. Very happy.

The other vice? I finally made some oak dogs for my good bench’s tail vice, as you can see. It’s a great luxury to be able to hold a board steady. That’s not the vice to hold the saw vice, of course, just the best one to catch the light.

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The water meadow is mostly water, right now, and the waterfalls have stayed full bore for days. Rochdale Council has got its robot calling to advise us to move to higher ground but we choose to remain at 50ft above the river. The Aga and the shower, both of which heat water from external temperature, are showing that temperatures out there are dropping; maybe we’ll see some snow.

If it keeps on pouring, I’ll have a fine time sharpening and renovating saws with my bum warmed by the fire. After that, I might have to start building the forge. Tough times.

More progress

I dragged the trestles out to the pigsty again, this morning. When everything was in place to start work, I paused for a brew, during which I remembered and found a process plan that I put together before the weather changed. Turns out I’m nowhere near ready to cut joints into the bearers! First, my list says I need to; split and drawshave the oak dowels; make test joints; make a plumb bob (on the lathe); assemble the toolkit; weld up some steel draw pins for testing the joints; and make a heavy maul.

So, I measured the room one more time, subtracted the gap to the frame, added a bit for good luck and started to cut the bearers to rough length. This should provide the material for the pegs and maul. Arrgh! Best crosscut saw not sharp, nor any of the others. Decided I have to finally make a saw vice because I have a few working saws to sharpen and a dozen antiques to bring up to spec. So: three steps back but, now that the barn deadline has gone away, I’m cool about delaying so that I can do the jobs right.

I tried to buy some welding gas the other day. None in stock but the chap suggested I contact a mate of his nearby. This mate is 75 and his wife has told him to get rid. Allegedly, he has about seven sheds of woodworking and other gear. Better stitch up my pockets before setting off.

Rain

We’ve had a lot of rain but no problems at the farm; and no reports of problems around Warland. Tod and Hebden have avoided floods, too, so their new defences must be working. The wind was more of a problem but, beyond loosening the boat’s tarpaulin a couple of times, it’s the noise that’s a worry. Of course, as the “Storm Boy”, I’m the last one allowed to complain. I must try to recapture the delight I used to get from a good blow but that was when I had no responsibility for fixing the damage.

The weather has prevented me from getting on with the timber framing, though, because outside in the pigsty is the only large, flat area where I can work until the new barn floor goes down. I did get the Harry Potter trestles out and discovered that they have nuts welded on either end. This allowed me to insert some threaded rod and create an adjustable, wooden auxiliary platform. This is important for two reasons: every joint requires the heavy timbers to be levelled in two dimensions; and the oak would be stained by contact with the metal trestles.

Monica’s brother, Al, is here today to help her install the first fix wiring in the drawing room. Oddly, that seems to have involved taking apart the panelling in the hallway so the building site is creeping outwards. No wires have been hurt in this production.

I winterised the mill and the lathe today, mainly to keep out of Al’s way. Lots of light oil, grease and spray lube to keep the rust at bay. Until the forge fires up, the atmosphere’s a bit damp for the machines and it would be a shame for such fine old examples to ginger up. They were moved in a bit early but I knew the space would get filled with crap if left empty for long. I also tried to copy a complicated, turned spindle to repair my workshop chair. Good practice on the lathe. Al spotted the new lathe—could hardly miss it—and decided he wants his own back, which is good news, really.

Perhaps, tomorrow, we can get outside to play

Progress

Lots of weather-induced loafing at the moment. I’m catching up on my education with this channel’s Curriculum. Turns out I’m a romantic monastic stoic. Who knew?

http://youtu.be/Hy4QjmKzF1c

Watched, “The Last Flight of the Vulcan”. A wonderful old plane. I remember one rising up, full roar, from sea level flight and over the cliffs at Runswick Bay, where we were picnicking, as kids. I still haven’t recovered from the shock. I have a couple of spare parts for one, left by Ralph, though I’ve no idea what they do.

I should have been out selecting stones for the drawing room floor footings but: too wet. Monica has put together a slide presentation of the fittings and finishes she proposes for the room, which I need to review today. A few timely influences, such as the beeb’s “Restoring Ancient Monuments” have convinced her to attempt an honest, appropriate, consistent design rather than a pastiche of goodies from the antique shops. The room, even without its floor or ceiling, is a lot warmer and drier than it was with the wicking, sweating botches that she’s removed so we’re hopeful that it’ll be a great success and a safe place to keep instruments. 

She’s had similar success at another of Kevin’s two-bob houses where, by removing plastic paint and polystyrene insulation, a dripping ceiling has miraculously dried out without the planned replacement of its table-sized stone slates. The carpenter she’s working with—a friend of Kevin’s—is slowly understanding this forgotten system of building and appreciating the damage he and others have done with their “damp-proofing” over the years. I’ve suggested he and M set up as a house rescue team and they’re entertaining the idea.

The planning permission for the Mickle Barn has effectively lapsed. They slipped in a new condition when we renewed it, for a summer bat survey which we haven’t done. I was grumpy for a few days but Monica was understanding and it’s actually become a blessing. Rather than trying to finagle our ideas into Ralph’s permission, we can now present our own ideas as a complete design, in our own time. Meanwhile, I have less time pressure on digging the drainage and building the New Barn. As it happens, apart from the insertion of windows and moving in, most of the other components of the Mickle Barn can go ahead. I can replace the roof, rebuild the hay loft, even insert the oak frame, without bothering the Council. If I get them to inspect it, I can even put in a septic tank for the New Barn’s toilet that is sized for both buildings.

So, it’s a thinky time for me and a bit less time-pressured. My back doesn’t like the lack of exercise so I need to start lifting these bearers and joists onto my trestles, soon, to keep my fitness up. There are also a few trees and one short fence to put in, this season, that will help. Martin is sending some replacement Mulberries up from Devon, the Lost Field is being planted with Sweet Chestnut whips and we need to swap the Elder and Field Maple around in t’Other Bit to correct last year’s mistake. 

Don’t fancy much of that in today’s damp, though. Fortunately, with a huge supply of firewood and lots more owed to us, we can stock up the stove. Enjoying a good loaf-about is a great skill; perhaps one I’m better at than most?

Carpentry

Last week, I joined the Carpenters’ Federation and the Land Workers’ Alliance. The former is the repository of all the timber framing knowledge in the country which is pitifully little compared to the French and German guilds. The latter is the biggest social organisation in the world: 800,000 small farmers and peasants trying to fight big industry and save their culture.

There was a quiet, international round of applause when I posted something on my Facebook page but, apart from the creepy behaviour of the company, I find the whole Facebook experience creepy and I doubt if I can carry on with it. In order to show folk what we’re up to, we have to endure dozens of photos of sexualising teenage relatives, the daily food intake of several friends and the drunken selfies of cousins who should know better. FB lets people we know what we’re doing but they will already know if they are bothered. To reach an interested, and interesting, audience I think a WordPress blog or our own web site would be better. I suppose I can work on the entries off line until I decide what to use.

We surveyed for the floor and the brick piers in the drawing room, today. I just need Monica to provide a sample of the slate that will form a waterproof barrier on top of the bricks and I can start work. In the meantime, I’ll be loafing around the joinery, burning lots of offcuts to warm the place up.

More rainfall

The well, in the workshop, crept over its sill for the first time in our history, and the first time since there’s been a wooden floor in there, but the water just flowed along the original concrete cow-poo channels and on its way. I have often wondered what would happen in a downpour and hoped this would be the result. If I had covered the floor with concrete, all the machines would have been swimming. I guess the slurry pit’s getting a good clean out.

A neighbour, from a farm above, came to tell us there was water over the road at the quarry. He wouldn’t have it, that this was just an exceptional overflow, insisting that I’d put a fence post into a culvert that he built aeons ago (no doubt without consulting Ralph) and had never maintained.

Hey ho. Monica took a walk up there and concluded there was no problem. This walk was already scheduled and the kitchen already filled with beekeepers, from the local group, who’d come to advise whether to move the apiary up to the quarry. The weather today probably influenced their advice but I think the hives stay where they are for another year. As a bonus, though, Monica was offered a mechanical hoist so that she could set up a dumbwaiter to lift her bits and pieces over the wall to the site. That’ll be a novel project.

The waterfalls opposite formed a continuous ribbon down the gully for most of the morning. There’s a six-foot curtain fall, right at the top, where the stream flows over a twelve foot wide slab. One of these centuries, that slab is going to be cut loose and crash downwards. Won’t everyone be glad of the trees on t’Other Bit that day?

Project Pigsty took a step backwards when four hundred second-hand bricks arrived from Kevin’s renovations, yesterday. They’re old, soft, local bricks and hence preferable for the forge build to the hard Cheshire bricks I was going to use. When I take down the Shippen end wall, those old bricks will be used to build the bread oven so I do have five hundred spare bricks. Perhaps I can build a pottery kiln?

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I used the saw horses I made for timber framing as temporary supports for the rhubarb bed. Of course, Monica’s oak floor requirement has arrived out schedule and I wasn’t keen to build more horses. Then I remembered that I was given, as a freebie when I tossed a couple of eBay anvils in the back of the truck, four massive steel horses that will be ideal for timber framing. The guy was an engineer in the printing trade and had spec’d and built them to support a twenty ton roller he was building. I think that gives me a bit of leeway, given the whole barn frame will be around twenty tons. That roller went on to print all of the Harry Potter books so I’m sure the stands will be magic.

The fire’s on and dinner’s starting to smell good as I draw the curtains against the weather.

Rainfall

I was putting together my changes to the barn design for the Council and, because the weather discouraged me from measuring the Pigsty for its Bakery, decided to write and ask what form I should use. Then, this morning, I ran off a cliff.

They’ve spotted that I can’t start work on the big barn before the planning permission runs out because bat surveys are a summer thing and the deadline for breaking ground is March. I’d worked this out recently but thought that the change request or an extension would fix it. Turns out that, first, the changes we want were never going to be entertained and would have needed a new application; and, second,  they’ve decided not to allow any extensions for anyone any more.

We’re not as buggered as it seems because we still have the new barn to build first, as scheduled, which gives us time to work through a new application for the big barn and, as it happens, we’d have ended up in the same place by Hook or Crook. It just feels bad right now.

This new situation relieves the pressure a bit but it also brings a question: how much of our plans to reveal in the new application? Our idea was to ask for (what we thought were) minor changes to permission to build a dwelling and later to ask for Change of Use to allow the bunkhouse to operate. Now, we can lay our cards on the table for Council who have said they’re keen on such schemes. Unfortunately, a new application exposes us to scrutiny from the neighbours. We don’t think our style of bunkhouse would cause a problem but I’m sure the usual suspects will object on principle. One step at a time, I suppose. 

At least I can get back to my schedule without the distraction of the Council submission before March. Which means drainage! This next project is to find out where all this water comes from and goes to; and to control it. Weeks out the back with a hoe and a shovel. Real changes to the usability of the flows. Dryness in the barns. Security for our house supply. Conscious control of where the grey water drains away. Reed beds, gravel races and willow breaks.

And, heaven forefend, perhaps some TLC for the forest garden.

But, first, pour down a whisky and watch another downpour. Monica and I decided that, better than names, storms should be tagged with cuss-words. Hurricane “Bugger Me!”: do your worst!

Warland is exploding

We’re both fine and our projects are slowly moving forward. Monica has the Drawing Room gutted, from packed earth to next door’s floorboards, restoring the correct materials and eliminating recent botches. She was rewarded with two hidden alcoves containing newspapers and the previous wall light brackets: clearly, Ralph objected to his wife’s plaster-boarding over everything!

Tom Warland’s lime trees were joined by 1,800 others and almost all are doing well. I’m continuing the monthly time-lapse shots: on this one you can see the willow coppice but most others are still hidden in the weeds. The lime are doing well, though, as you can see.

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I’m doing more research because I’m drafting a Statement of Significance to support our application for changes to the Mickle Barn planning permission. A Lancaster Uni professor gave us a lecture on such research, pointing out that the world is moving on from generic historic listings of windows and chimneys. For example: Council insist we use stone or imitation slate roof tiles when the barn originally had corrugated iron, ‘cos the farmer had a brain in his head. We know this from photos, the roof construction and Ralph’s memory of the sheets blowing off in the ‘60s. What’s best: replace with iron and illustrate the original construction; or put up the same as every other barn, regardless of age?

Anyway, that’s my current challenge. Interestingly, though, I fell over this new reference:

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5EbnAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA107&lpg=PA107&dq=warland+farm&source=bl&ots=nbrkzSL-b9&sig=KNXbPg4JxXVgL9lwqLtv8eqeqLo&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=warland%20farm&f=false

which led me to:

http://www.andrewwarland.com.au/australia/georgewarlandaust1838.html

George left England as a quarryman and farm hand in 1838? He might have come from here, and moved to Salisbury en route. And there was a Warland’s Farm in South Australia! I wonder if I’ve been there?  Let’s presume, irrationally, that Ellen, George’s eldest, inherited William Warland’s Farm and bore her children there: I’ve actually stayed at that Stone Hut, now a hostel near Laura. Wild. There it is, behind her in the photograph. Now I have to rename my boat, “The Forlorn Hope”.

It’s a crazy, mixed up world =:D