Friday, September 19, 2014

Remote Cabins: Trash, Garbage, and Waste - Reuse, Re-purposing, Disposal Issues

Living off-grid means not only that we receive no electricity, but also no municipal services at all, including those for disposal of garbage, trash, sewage, and gray water. So we have become very intentional about what we buy, make, and use, because we have to figure out how to dispose of what remains. I welcome any additional clever ideas that readers may care to share.

Below are some examples of what we have done with wood ash, packaging, vegetable and meat leftovers (including bones), animal and human waste, and construction debris.  Some ideas may be useful even to urban readers.

Wood ash:
Alder wood fire

As a fertilizer, wood ash reads 0-1-3 and softens acidic soil, which is exactly what our property needs. Hard woods are higher in the desired nutrients than soft woods, according to the U of Oregon extension office. Do not use wood ash on potatoes or the related families of blueberries/azaleas/rhododendrons, which like acidic soil.

Vegetable waste:
  • Kitchen and garden scraps can be fed to any of the animals (except citrus, potatoes, and onions) or trenched directly into gardens to enrich the soil. Some items work well in a compost tea or insect repellent. For example, sprays made from onion, red pepper, rhubarb, and tomato leaves repel many pests. Coffee and coffee grounds are best for acid loving plants. In fact, the Botanical Garden in Anchorage plants its potatoes in pots filled ONLY with coffee grounds scrounged from local coffee bars.  Banana and orange peels deter aphids, deliver potassium, phosphorous, and some nitrogen. Great around roses. Egg shells deliver calcium – particularly important to tomatoes and squash and the poultry themselves (pulverized) and they deter slugs (but are safe for red wigglers in vermiculture). In the winter, when we have fewer animals and frozen gardens, we keep red wigglers in the cabin in a worm farm and feed the excess vegetable matter to them. I have found that a compost pile doesn't work well for me here, so I just trench yard and kitchen scraps directly into gardens, particularly ones that are resting for a season. 
  • Meat leftovers: All bones are made into soup stock, then offered to the poultry. After they have picked them clean, the bones are tossed into the wood stove to burn to ash for the gardens (0-12-0 nutrients). I cut up meat fat and chicken skin and feed it occasionally to our ducks and chickens both of which make their happiest discovery noises when they get those snacks. .