Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Flies in My Outhouse - Chickens to the Rescue

Most women I meet have a spontaneous “ugh” reaction when they learn that we rely on an outhouse at our off-grid home. Then they are silent. Maybe they can't imagine it. Or maybe they picture a disgusting porta-potty at an overcrowded public venue. So, as a public service to polite, silent, curious people, here is a ”tell all” about what it is really like living with an outhouse.

The hole beneath is 4 x 5 x 6 ft: plenty large for the two of us for a decade or more! Every once in a while we toss some lime down there, but let's face it; an outhouse is a low maintenance space.  Above ground, I asked for a large space because I am scared of spiders, and so I wanted lots of elbow room. Thus, our outhouse is 4 x 8 inside, which, if you think about it, is about the size of powder rooms in many homes. For ventilation and light, it has two screened windows and screened soffits under the high, steep eaves. We also added one of those whirly-gig things you see on the roofs of many houses to release the rising heat in attics. In our case, this one punctures the hole beneath the structure and carries away any methane. Thus, there is no more disagreeable smell in our outhouse than when one is alone in a powder room.

There are other inconveniences, no doubt. It is outside and unheated, and in Alaska! So, in the corner of our bedroom, we have a “chamber pot” like your ancestors did. For us, it is a white 5 gallon bucket, on top of which sits a camper's plastic toilet seat with a round aperture for just such an application, topped by the bucket lid. The arrangement is about the same height as a regular indoor toilet, so it is easy enough for a sleepy person in the middle of the night, except for the privacy issue, which took me  some getting used to. Every morning, I dump the bucket in the outhouse and rinse it at an outdoor spigot. About once or twice a week I swish it out with vinegar.

OK. As a long time suburban woman, I learned to deal with the “necessary room” outside, and with having no privacy inside. For me, the “ugh” part of the outhouse is creepy crawlies. The first July we lived here, I was so appalled by the number of flies crawling up the walls (from the hole, I assume) that I wanted to remain constipated all month to avoid entering. Even mosquito coils did not seem very effective. But then, we got chickens. Thank goodness for chickens for so many, many reasons! One is that they love bugs, dead or alive. Every morning during fly season (late June through July), whoever opens the outhouse door first calls the chickens. They come running as though to a free pizza buffet. It is immensely satisfying to hear the “peck, peck, peck” sound they make on the wooden floor as they chow down. With a handy rag, I swipe off flies that died on the window sills and shelves. At those extras, I swear; the hens make a delighted, giggling sort of utterance, like a diner who receives an unexpected amuse-bouche at a first class restaurant.  Overall, the "girls" rapidly decrease the number and duration of these unattractive seasonal visitors. 

Chickens cleaning the floor of the outhouse
The only time I see spiders is daddy long legs (which aren't actually spiders but the “ugh” factor is super high for me). If they are so good at catching bugs, why do I never see them until August, when all the other insects seem to be gone? They give me some ancient, visceral creepy feeling. Unfortunately, they are usually too high for the chickens to reach, so insect eradication during that season falls to my husband... each and every single time I see one in the outhouse (or anywhere else). Hey – he was the one who wanted us to move out here to the woods.

Pay back in the outhouse, buddy.

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