Tag Archives: water

Getting back outside

It’s the start of May now and things have warmed up considerably since my last post. April was all over the place in terms of the weather. The last you heard from us we had just had a big snow storm. I took those pictures on a Friday morning as we were clearing the fallen trees from our driveway.

The next day we woke up to full sunshine and it was quite warm. Everything started to melt. This is what it looked like in the morning.

By 16:00 that day, there wasn’t a tree left that had any snow on it. Sunday was nice a sunny too and by the end of that day, the driveway was clear of snow, though still mushy. The following day, on Monday, we hit 24C (75F) and it was really humid. We had a huge thunderstorm in the afternoon too, with some really loud thunder and close lightning strikes. So in the space of five days, we went from heavy snow fall to serious thunderstorm.

With all of that snow and rain, things have not been dry around here. In fact, all sources of water in the area have exceeded their banks and there is a lot of flooding. Fortunately, most of it is flooding the forest. There are a few cases of people who are near the York river who are having difficulties.

This reminds us of spring 2014 when we first came to look at the property. The other pond we have at the top of the hill was over flowing. Don’t remember the picture? Well, here is what it looked like back then.

As a way of comparison, here is what it looked like on April 26th.

That’s really close to the 2014 level. I should add that we just had a huge rain storm that lasted two days straight. We haven’t been back up to the top of the hill, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the upper pond has now exceeded the 2014 level. I say this because, despite having a drain pipe under the driveway for the pond we have beside it, we had enough rain to wash out part of our driveway.

The drain pipe couldn’t keep up fast enough and the water just rushed over the driveway. I’m sure there will be another load of gravel in our near future.

Going back a bit to April 18th, it had dropped below freezing the previous night and the pond beside the driveway had a thin layer of ice on it. It looked pretty spectacular so, of course, we had to take some pictures.

Needless to say, we have had some really nice weather, and some really wet weather in April. We have been trying to get out as much as we can to work on important projects outside before the bugs arrive. The project with the highest priority right now is firewood processing for next winter.

Last week we had a good run of clear weather so we were able to get out many days in a row. Unfortunately, a bunch of our time was spent clearing fallen saplings from the roadway up to the top of the hill. We did get some trees cut for firewood though.

We started off with that small pile. Anything big I buck up on site and the smaller branches we just haul back and use the saw buck I made last year to make it easier to cut. It sure saves the back using the saw buck.

Another day, and more wood. I split some of it by hand. The cherry is pretty easy, but I leave most of the elm as it is painful to split by hand. All of it is dead already, which makes splitting it much easier than if we were trying to split live wood by hand.

We cleared out the middle section of our wood storage at the back of the trailer and this is where we are piling the newly harvested wood.

It’s not a lot yet, but it’s better than nothing. We’re hoping that things will dry up this week so we can get back out and do some more.

When we aren’t processing firewood or working on other projects, Kat and I like to take walks down our road. Kat uses this opportunity to pick up all of the dang garbage that people throw out their vehicle windows. We live on a very quiet road, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from polluting it. We’ve gathered several large garbage bags worth of things people have tossed away, most of it is beer cans.

There are some nice things to see while we’re out walking too. Like some pussy willows we found growing beside the road.

You have to take advantage of pussy willows pretty quickly as they turn into fuzzy tree buds soon after they appear. Yes the buds are all out on the trees now and some are even starting to sprout a few tiny leaves.

Soon everything will be exploding with colours. The leaves will be out in full force and the flowers will be in bloom. Heck, even Kat is looking really awesome in her spring colours.

She doesn’t tweet as nicely as some of the birds we have hanging around our place, but she sure is nice to look at.

It’s always good to end with a smile 😀

A few words about composting toilets

I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while, and since we aren’t doing much around the trailer right now, I thought this would be a good time to cover this topic.

Composting toilets are very often lauded as a more environmentally friendly option for dealing with human waste and this is the subject that I would like to address here.

There are many different kinds of composting toilets, from the home made to expensive contraptions. Kat and I decided to go with the non-electric version of the SunMar Excel, pictured below.

SunMar_Excel

We didn’t know much about composting toilets when we bought it, but now that we have been using it for about eighteen months or so, we have a pretty good idea of how it works. We also have had to deal with some issues.

Our toilet has a simple drum chamber where the solids collect. There is a screen that allows the liquids to drain into a dehydration tray. You add bulking material and spin the drum using a crank handle to mix up the contents. Fairly simple stuff. After a while, you move some of the material from the drum into the “aging tray” at the bottom and let it sit undisturbed for about six weeks and then, according to the manual, it should be ready for use as compost.

But is this system more environmentally friendly than using a conventional water-based toilet? Let’s look at the details.

First, construction. Most conventional toilets are glazed porcelain. When they break, there really isn’t any way to fix them, so they usually end up as waste at the landfill. This is not a good thing. There have been some articles I have read that say the porcelain can be crushed and used as aggregate for concrete, but I don’t know how often that actually happens.

What about our SunMar composting toilet? Well, it’s primarily made of plastic. There aren’t any recycling symbols stamped on it, so when the toilet breaks beyond repair, it too will end up in a landfill. Both the porcelain and the plastic will last seemingly forever, in terms of breaking down. No one really wants a compostable composting toilet.

Okay, so you aren’t really gaining anything with the construction, at least with these commercial versions. How about daily usage?

Water, of course is always the biggie. Conventional toilets use water as their transport mechanism. Most toilets today are low-flush, meaning the amount of water they use is less than in the old days, but you’re still using fresh water (in a conventional home) to flush your crap away. Depending on the size of your family, this can account for a large majority of the water being used.

With the composting toilet, you don’t use any water at all. However, you do use bulking material. Our SunMar toilet came with a bag of this stuff and you can buy more bags from the store. Their recommended bulking material is 40% peat moss, 60% wood shavings. A bag of this stuff runs $20 and it will last roughly 2 weeks for two people. That’s in addition to buying toilet paper, so now you have additional charges for using your composting toilet. On top of that, peat moss is a controversial material as far as the environment goes as it has been debated just how well it can recover after being harvested.

What we ended up doing is ditching the store bought bags of bulking material and just using wood shavings, which I can generate in large quantities using our planer. We also stopped using that aging tray mentioned above. Once we did that, we eliminated the gnat problem we were having during the summer. Which is another issue you generally don’t have to deal with when using a conventional toilet: insect infestations.

So, the purchased variety of composting toilets can end up costing you more per daily use, if you strictly follow the recommendations from the manufacturer. On the other hand, if your house is connected to a municipal water grid, you will likely have a water bill as well which your conventional toilet would be a prime component of, so it may equalize out in the long run.

How about electricity? Our toilet is a non-electric version so we don’t use any electricity at all. Your conventional toilet will use some electricity to run the pump to refill the tank. There are also compositing toilets that use electricity to run fans and a heater to speed up the composting. With those, expect to use way more electricity than your conventional toilet as using electricity to generate heat is not very efficient.

Now there are simple, homemade composting toilets. These might be a simple outhouse style or even just a bucket-loo. The bucket toilet is about as simple as it gets: you have a bucket with a toilet seat attached to it. Add your bulking material as you go and when it gets full, you need to dump it somewhere. The best option we have found for this is to get a big plastic barrel with a lid that can be sealed. Put the contents of your bucket in the barrel and when it fills up, seal it and start another barrel. Let sealed barrels sit for a year to digest and after that, you’ll have perfectly usable compost.

Composting toilets, no matter what kind you have, are a little more hands-on than conventional ones, which can turn people off. Of course, some are more hands-on than others. All for the sake of saving water. It can be argued that the composting toilet gives you access to the end product which you can then use to grow plants. A conventional toilet hooked up to a septic system will end up putting the materials back in the ground, but you don’t get to put those materials anywhere you want. If you live in the city, well, your crap just ends up in the sewer and eventually the sewage treatment plant. Who knows what happens to it there. I can probably guess they aren’t growing plants with it, though it would be really awesome if they did. Unfortunately, a lot of people like to flush things down the toilet that they shouldn’t.

Let’s consider the toilet situation in a conventional Earthship. Water in an Earthship is used several times. It’s first use is when you take a shower, do your laundry or wash the dishes. As the water goes down the drain, it is sent through the planters in the greenhouse at the front of the house. At the end of the greenhouse, there is a small well where water that has traveled the length of the garden will gather there. That was two uses, if you’re keeping count: once for the initial washing, then feeding your plants.

The water that gathers in that well I just mentioned is the water that is used to flush your toilet, so you aren’t using fresh water for flushing, you’re using your grey water after it has been filtered by the plants. That’s usage number three of the same water you used to do your dishes. With this system, you get all of the ease-of-use and benefits of the conventional, low-flush toilet, but you aren’t using any fresh water to make it work. You will still need a septic tank, which people who use composting toilets will say is one of the benefits of them: you don’t need to spend several thousands of dollars putting in a septic system to use a composting toilet.

You don’t have hands-on access to the effluent that comes out of the septic tank, like you do having access to the output of your composting toilet, however you can still use it to grow plants if you put a botanical cell between the output of your septic tank and the leech field. This works great in the desert to create lush jungles around your house, however up here in Canada, it would only be a seasonal thing as the ground is frozen for half the year.

In the end, having and using a composting toilet seems mainly focused on saving water. In some places, this is an absolute necessity and so are highly suitable for those locations. But depending on the style of composting toilet you have, it may be using way more power than a conventional toilet so it is a debatable to say that they are really more environmentally friendly.

All I can say about ours, is if we were to do it all over again, we probably wouldn’t buy the expensive, fancy plastic version. It’s way cheaper and easier to build your own and you don’t have to worry about parts breaking that you can’t replace.

Spring Scenery

Today is May 15th and spring is in full swing, though you might not know it if you looked outside right now as it is snowing.

Yes, you read that correctly: snowing!

It’s not cold enough for it to accumulate, but it is still pretty chilly out, which is odd because we were in the mid 20’s C (upper 70’s F) earlier in the week with full sun. In any event, I decided to post some of the springtime scenery pictures we’ve taken over the last few weeks. The weather was much better when we took these.

Let’s start with the buds on the trees against a solid blue sky.

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Those are several maple trees, with some white birch on the left side. Here is a similar picture of a poplar tree against the blue sky.

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Those were taken back on May 6th and those buds have transformed into tiny leaves now. Not in all cases, some trees have yet to leaf out, but there are many that have begun that process.

Our drain pipe we put in last year because our driveway was being eaten by the pond is working quite well (thank goodness). On the far side of the pond, where it is draining to, there is this cute little stream where I took the following pictures.

SpringStream01

Yeah, in that one you can see the old pipe the previous land tenants had put in and it was so clogged with debris that it was no longer functional. That’s kind of a good thing because the pipe was so low that it would have drained the pond completely and we’re trying to keep it at a reasonable depth for the frogs and other life that use it.

SpringStream02

Further down the stream.

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After that, I went over to the pond and caught some shots of the sun on the water.

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Speaking of the pond, it is super noisy right now, as long as you’re not standing beside it. It’s spring peeper season. If you don’t know what that is, they are tiny frogs who are super loud. I’m sure you can find a video of them on youtube doing their thing.

Personally, I really like to hear them. I don’t find their calls disturbing at all. They have some otherworldly sense too, because if you very carefully walk towards the pond, hoping you might actually see one, you don’t have a hope in hell. No matter how quietly you walk, they know you are there and they all shut up as soon as you get within 5m (16′ or so). They are really patient too. You can wait a good 10-15 minutes and they still won’t start up again while you are close. Walk away and they start up again almost immediately.

Maybe that’s another reason they call them ‘peepers’: because they are peeping on you as you try to sneak up on them. I just hope they survive the frost we’re going to have tonight.

Oh, and if you didn’t believe me about the snow…

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I just took those a few minutes ago. At least we’re nice and cozy inside with our fire going.

The long voyage home, Day 3

We started in Bismark, North Dakota this morning and drove another 550 miles (880km) to Ironwood, Michigan. We started off on the I94, which is a major highway with a speed limit of 75mph (120kph), but we hopped off that one for smaller highways after Fargo, ND. Sure, you can’t go as fast, but the road and scenery felt a lot better.

Let’s look at some pictures so you can see what I mean.

This was early in the morning and we started to pass some lakes in North Dakota. This one had, what looked like to us, pelicans swimming on it.

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Once again, many fields of sunflowers. All that sunflower oil has to come from somewhere.

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More lakes, and by this point, more bugs on the windshield.

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We’ve switched from sunflowers to soybeans.

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At various points during the day, we saw several over-sized transport trucks hauling huge wind turbine blades.

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We stopped in this really cute town called Park Rapids, Minnesota to get some gas and exercise our feet. I took this picture of the water tower that had a loon on it while we were standing around.

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Kat snapped this picture as we headed down the main drag. We both love little towns so being on the smaller road we got to discover quite a few.

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At some point in the afternoon, Kat noticed some interesting cloud stuff going on and managed to capture a picture of it with the sun right behind it.

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More traveling down the road. Lots of trees and with leaves too. It was starting to feel a lot like home when we were driving through Wisconsin.

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This is another quaint little town called Walker, Minnesota.

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This was a large body of water that we passed several times, in fact, called Leech Lake. But it wasn’t the biggest lake we saw today 😉

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Endless corridors of greenery and blue skies. It was quite a nice day for driving.

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Here is another one of those wind turbine blades, this one a lot closer.

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I don’t remember which town we were in when we saw this. It might have been Hill City, Minnesota.

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Eventually we made it to a bigger town, with bigger water and much bigger bridges: Duluth, Minnesota.

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Our original planned route had to be modified as one of the bridges was closed for repairs so we took the detour over the alternate one. Here is us pulling into town.

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And heading across the vast expanse of Lake Superior. Okay, we only skirted the edge of it, but even so.

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It is one frikin’ huge lake, if you have never seen it. It is large enough that you can’t see across it to the other side and it is one of the only fresh water lakes that has surf.

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We crossed the bridge into Wisconsin and drove out of town. Kat managed to take another picture closer to the water of Lake Superior.

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By the time we crossed into Michigan it was getting on in the afternoon. We drove a bit further and ended up in Ironwood, MI as I mentioned at the start. It’s a nice little town. We had dinner at the Maplewood Steakhouse beside our hotel and after that experience, we won’t be going back. It wasn’t super bad, it just wasn’t anything to write home about. Funny, I’m writing about it now.

Anyway, another day of driving is done. I’m hoping to get home tomorrow, but we’ll see what happens. We’re planning to cross back into Canada at Sault Ste Marie and head down highway 17.