Saturday, April 28, 2012

This Compost by Walt Whitman

I'm upset because I can't find my copy of 'Leaves of Grass'. *   It's always in a shelf in the attic, but I can't find it there. I'm worried that in my enthusiasm to reduce the number of my books I may have inadvertently thrown it out. But almost everything is on the net - even someone reciting Walt Whitman's poems. And a new copy of his poetry is available at the click of a mouse - not that I've clicked yet. I may find it in a real bookshop. I'm not particularly attached to my university copy anyway.

 I do like compost. I hate it when I'm somewhere without a compost heap and I have to throw out good vegetable matter into a bin when it could be going into the soil.

 I love our composting toilet, too. When we first got it, I considered making a copy of this Whitman poem to put on the wall.

 To explain my loo: it's called a Clivis Multrum, designed in Sweden, I think, in about the 1930s. When you go to the toilet, you put a handful of wood shavings in afterwards to balance the carbon and nitrogen, in order for good composting to take place. There's a composting chamber where it all takes place, a small electric fan and a vent to extract the smells, and the pedestal looks pretty much like a normal toilet without the U bend or a water holder at the back.

 Simple and efficient! And easy to clean. I just use a squirt of white vinegar over everything about once a week (harsh chemicals will kill the microbes), wipe it down with paper kitchen towels and throw the towels down afterwards. I use a toilet brush if it needs it. It's a waterless system, but you can throw a bucket of water down once in a while to help clean the chute. In fact, sometimes you need to add water if it looks too dry down below - or more shavings if it looks too wet. You shouldn't use it for other compost - don't throw down vegetable scraps. Rake down the poo pile once in a while. Dig it out once a year, put it around trees (not on vegetables).

The resulting compost is rich and odour-free. Good, pure, beautiful organic matter from something we find corrupt and offensive.

 I think Walt would have enjoyed my toilet.

* (added later): Happiness! I have located my Whitman in the Blue Room.


  1. oh for the day when i have a composting loo!

    i hadn't paid much attention to this poem before, so thank you jo, it's wonderful.

  2. Ah, kate! And i will miss my composting loo when i eventually leave here - 'normal' toilets seem so unnatural!

    One of my favourite of Whitman's - but he's all-round pretty wonderful and an hon shiela.