Organic Soap From Scratch_PermaTree

Soap From Organic Raw Materials

In this article we will dive into how to make organic soap from scratch with raw materials. Directly extracted manually, off the beaten path in the Amazon Region of Ecuador. From local organic vegetable & animal elements to produce the highest quality organic soap. With ancestral time-tested methods of soap making via cold saponification. Without harming any living beings.

A Bit Of History

Imagine a wonderful summer night, a prehistoric hunter, sheltered in a cavern, grilling his latest catch on a marvelous fire. The fat from the meat melts and starts to mix with the ashes of the crackling fire. Suddenly, it storms. And the rain flows gently and the mix of fat with ashes and water create the ashes (rich in lye). All the ingredients are now gathered for the soap to arise from nowhere. The first soap is born, allowing to clean the cooking pot !

The final organic soap made with 3 elements.

  • 1.) Saponification Method: Extraction of Ashes for Potassium Hydroxide and
  • 2.) Soursop Seed Oil Method Manual Cold Extraction
  • 3.) Beeswax (to make it solid)

A Bit Of Chemistry

The organic soap is a product of saponification. During the process, a fatty acid is mixed to a basis (Potassium/- Sodium hydroxide).

Two Organic Cold Saponification Formulas :

  • Liquid glycerin = “Lye”, Potassium hydroxide (KOH) + fatty acid (animal fat or vegetable oil)
  • Solid glycerin = “Caustic soda solution”, Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) + fatty acid (animal fat or vegetable oil)

Most of the cosmetic products in the market include also mineral components like petroleum extracts (damaging for environment and health). For example please do check the ingredients of the so called “Melt and pour soap” basis which is clearly not organic.

  • Mineral glycerin -> Basis + Petroleum extract + fatty acid (animal fat or vegetable oil) + etc…

Two types of basis exist : a lye solution (potassium hydroxide KOH) or caustic soda solution (sodium hydroxide NaOH) which are dissolved in water. Mixing while heated the fatty acid and the basis convert to soap, also called glycerin. Depending on the basis you get liquid glycerin or solid glycerin.

The Benefit Of Good Home & Body Care

A good hygiene allows to avoid microbial growth and reduce significantly the risk of infections and diseases. A good hygiene is the basis of a good health. Good food cares for the inside of the body, and good body care protects the body outside.

A Holistic Approach

At PermaTree, we are using each part of the plant to extract raw materials to make soaps. The seed, the flower, the leaf, the fruit, the peal, the branch, the trunk and the roots. Each element finds a use. There is no waste in a holistic approach.

Overview: Soaps Formulation Tab

Some Raw Soap Materials :

Potassium Hydroxide

Method: Extraction of Ashes

The potassium hydroxide is one of the two key elements of glycerin. The other element is a fatty acid of your choice. Both mixed together transform to soap.

The processes to make Potassium hydroxide (KOH) fluid with Banana peal and Cocoa Pods ashes and rainwater (important).

WARNING : “Lye” Potassium hydroxide (KOH) fluid must be purred into the the fatty acid (oil), and not the other way around. Unless you want to witness a chemical reaction resembling to a explosion. Also be sure to ware gloves, boots and glasses and a mouth protection!

POTASSIUM: Ashes of Banana peal and Cocoa Pods which are full of Potassium. The Potassium does not burn in fire and stays intact.

The chemical element of Potassium is with symbol K and atomic number 19. It can be isolated from potash, the ashes of wood. We made it with the resources available at Permatree : banana’s peel and cocoa’s pods that are full of potassium. This meant to burn banana’s peel and cocoa’s pods in the adobe oven several times to obtain the above amount of ashes. So we did use a fair amount of firewood which was also used to cook delicious bread and cakes from Btina.

POTASSIUM HYDROXIDE: The final potassium hydroxide liquid after the chemical reaction of the saponification of water with potassium ashes.

https://m.wikihow.com/Make-Lye

Soursop Seed Oil

Method : Cold – Pressed Extraction

The oil is an essential raw material in the cosmetic care. Organic oils convey all nutrients and are therefore the purest oil quality you can get.

Practitioners of herbal medicine use soursop fruit and leaves to treat stomach ailments, fever, parasitic infections, hypertension and rheumatism. It’s used as a sedative, as well. But claims of the fruit’s anti-cancer properties have attracted the most attention.

The Soursop Oil Properties :

  • Rich in Vitamin C
  • Antibacterial action
  • Rich in antioxidants such as flavanoids, polyphenols and saponins.
  • Great scent of roasted nuts
  • Light oil, evanescent and not sticky
  • Rich in omega 3,6 and 9.

Video Manual Oil Cold Pressing

We recommend the cold pressed extraction method because it retains all the oil flavors, aroma, and nutritional value, making the oils great for skin care requirements. Therefore, it can be used as a care for the face, the body, the hair and also to fortify the nails. Cold pressed oils are naturally cholesterol free and have zero trans fatty acids. In addition, the carbon footprint is zero because its extracted manually by hand.

Photo: Air Dried Soursop Seeds
Soursop Oil, PermaTree, Ecuador
We have used the handmade cold process method to extract the oil from the seeds, while first removing their shell. The process is quite long but allows to collect an organic pure oil for the body and hair full of healthy nutriments.

Pure Beeswax

Pure Beeswax PermaTree

The Beeswax is a essential element to give more substance to the formula and bring the soap to a solid state. In addition, it also makes the soap softer in the handling and moreover, brings a sweet soft scent of honey to the soap. Beeswax obtained from the Estación Experimental El Padmi | Universidad Nacional de Loja, with whom we collaborate for various projects.

Lemon Grass Essential Oil

Method : Alembic’ Distillation

The hierba luisa (Lemon Grass) essential oil was a big surprise here. Not every odorous plant is able to give their essence through the distillation method. Why did I choose the Hierba Luisa among all the plants present in this generous biotope ? Well, at random ! Above all, for reasons of its natural marvelous scent at 5 o’clock, after a warm sunny day. Subsequently, we extracted a wonderful fresh floral water (the hydrolat), together with the pure essential oil of the plant. A great moment.

Distillation process of Lemon Grass with the miniature alembic
Drawing: Distillation Alembic Process – Art by Delphine Jaquemart
This final result: 5 Liters of transparent liquid floral water (the hydrolat). 15ml yellow liquid pure essential oil.

Lime Essential Oil

Method Ancestral Sicilian Expression

We pressed the skin of the bitter mandarin fruit to pierce the scent beads located in the small cavities of the skin. With a spoon as main tool, like it was done by the Sicilians long ago. Consequently, we then collected the liquid from this action that contains two fluids. A scented water and the scented essential oil of the lime.

Sangre De Drago

Method : Directly Tapping From Living Trunk

The substance called “sangre de drago” is one of the most concentrated solutions in the South American medicinal herbology knowledge. Dragon’s blood doesn’t come from a fire-breathing creature living in fairy tales. The liquid comes from the Croton Lechleri, a tree found in the Amazonian Rainforest Basin. There are three trees at PermaTree, and we had the chance to collect directly the red substance from their trunks. Making incisions in the bark and collecting the unique fluid in a vessel. This process is called “tapping”. The scent of the fluid is similar to the scent of ginger.

Video Harvesting Sangre de Drago

The Dragon’s blood has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in a number of studies. Consequently, the liquid is widely available in dietary supplement form, and is also used as an ingredient in skin-care products. It has powerful healing properties, and is perfect to soothe burnt or damaged skin. Applied locally, it will make disappear the most stubborn and inflamed blemishes. A drop of Dragon’s blood stops the fire!

Harvesting the “Sangre de Drago” directly from the trunk of the living tree by tapping the fluid.
Photo: The final Sangre De Drado / Dragon’s Blood Liquid Extract

GOOD TO KNOW : 

On every soap’s sticker, you will first find a formula like “soidum…ate”. It indicates that you are in front of a saponificated vegetal or animal oil, that constitute a real good soap. In all other cases, the soap is made with detergent, a chemical component that comes from petroleum.

Some INCI examples :

  • Beef fat saponificated = Sodium tallowate
  • Coco oil saponificated = Sodium cocoate
  • Palm oil saponificated = Sodium palmate

Therefore, its up to you to check which one is the best, from an environmental point of view.

Detergent Impact On The Environment

The detergents are produced and used up to various billions of tones every year (56% for the laundry, 8% for the body hygiene, 36 % for the rest). Most importantly, their components are not biodegradable. They are dispersed in the aquatic environment. In conclusion, you can now deplore a serious damage to the aquatic environment, which is the source of the food supply chain. Only a strong individual awareness will reduce the impact of the detergents on the ecosystem balance.

Author: Delphine Jacquemart

Delphine Jacquemart
Delphine Jacquemart harvesting Sangre de Drago at PermaTree in Ecuador.

Parisian based beauty and fragrance expert. Research & Development Office in Paris, France. She holds master degrees in olfaction’s formulation, fragrance and cosmetic markets from the ISIPCA of Versailles. Additionally holds a masters of economy from the ESSEC University of France together with the Georgetown University of Washington DC in the US. She has worked and collaborated with high end organizations within the Beauty, Catering and the  Pharmacy sectors. Inspired by the scent of nature, she founded and directs R&D Office in Paris where she has a strong focus on innovation in the process, quality and raw materials sourcing. On-Demand perfume creations and derivatives.

Bamboo Potential for Regenerative Micro Enterprises

As of March 2019 we have our 3rd anniversary at PermaTree. Living on-site and off the grid in this very unique tropical climate, we are now, better able to understand what works best. We try to focus on less work. Even if thats not visible yet 🙂 but hopefully in the not so far future, it will be. Anyway. For us it its now crystal clear that Bamboo is one of the most promising regenerative resources. Im a bit surprised that bamboo is not more talked about and used in permaculture theory. Because from a permaculture philosophy bamboo is predestined to be a key element in any permaculture design.

Stacking Functions

In efficient permaculture design we speak about getting many yields (outputs) from one element (thing) in your system. This is often called “Stacking Functions”. Every function is served by multiple elements and every element serves multiple functions. Elements are parts of a system. They can be plants or animals (wild or domestic), structures (tree-nursery, access road, house), or even established systems (chicken cop, fruit orchard, fishpond). Functions have to do with movements, they are everything an element does, wanted or unwanted.

For example wild snakes passing by our farm are on occasion an element. And among its functions is to take wake up our dogs and eat the young chicks and scare the chickens. But the same element (snake) also serves other functions. That are more directly use-full for us, for example keeping the rat population and venomous snakes in check.

Stacking Functions of Bamboo

Bamboo provides shade, filtered water, shelter for wildlife, carbon fixation, produces mulch and building materials, be a wind break, fertilize the soil (the leafs are nitrogen fixer when they break down), erosion control, natural water tank, slow down water flows across surface, provide a consistent supply of food, charcoal, construction material, etc. The Bamboo grass is ideal because of all the stacking functions. It can do a lot of different work for us in our system.

Next part is even more exiting. Because with Bamboo providing a consistent almost never ending supply of raw material we can start to create use-full things. From edible bamboo shoots, to music instruments, construction and medicine. Even beer, accessories and furniture. But also textile fabric, paper, cardboard, floorings and the best is innovative people are discovering new applications for bamboo everyday.

Bamboo Added Value Products

Image: Use-cases of Bamboo products

Now we could say the same thing about oil and one derivate which is plastic which has many use-cases. Whats the big difference? Bamboo is truly regenerative. Obviously oil and plastic are not at all regenerative. It will be a big challenge for future generations. To get rid of all the plastic trash produced in the last 100 years. Why is Bamboo regenerative? Well Bamboo can be harvested continuously in a sustainable manner. Did you know that: edible bamboo shoots appear from the roots every year. And grow to harvestable condition in just 4 or 5 years. Far faster than slow-growing hardwoods. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet. This is because Bamboo is part of the monocotyledonous flowering plants family known as grasses (Gramineae) and is not considered a tree. There are more than 1500 endless Use-cases of Bamboo (!!)

Yearly Bamboo Plant Cycle

The Yearly Bamboo Cycle

Bamboo Micro Enterprises Opportunities

Bamboo Project Timeline

The Bamboo plant has a very strong potential of being transformed into a number of high-value products. This is one of the many reasons why bamboo deserves more attention. From decision-makers striving to bring new economic growth potential to their countries. Bamboo offers a range of business opportunities to private sector entrepreneurs and local economies. Income generating and micro-business uses range from crafts to furniture, from flooring to textiles, bicycles and even beehives. And, with increasing urbanisation in much of Africa, bamboo is a valuable resource for construction. As strong as steel, but renewable and with a far lower carbon footprint, bamboo can be an excellent and affordable building material. Particularly – but by no means exclusively – suited to areas prone to earthquakes. In China, emerging industrial applications for heavy industry are showing how bamboo has ideal strength properties to replace concrete and PVC for grills needed for cooling high temperature steam in many industries.

Is bamboo industrialization profitable?

Example from Colombia: At what scale is bamboo industrialization profitable?

There is a great analysis from Jörg Stamm regarding the profitability of the bamboo industrialization. This essay begins with the experiences of the author in the civil construction with bamboo and the craft manufacturing of laminated guadua angustifolia in Colombia, South America. With the data obtained in these experiences on input costs and small-scale returns, there are projections on a medium production scale. Such as bamboo industry machinery in China of the Woven Strand Board (WSB, also called “Strand Woven Board”). Also larger scales with automated wood industry lines in “commodities” such as the Oriented Strand Board (OSB) and Middle Density Fiberboard (MDF).

Surprising and very challenging, on the other hand, is the fiscal policy environment, which punishes industrial development with various types of direct and indirect taxes. The report also names niche markets with high added value and research, which propose the use of bamboo fibers with epoxy resin. For replacement of steel bars in concrete constructions by high density compounds. An analysis of different technologies with the natural Bamboo as natural resource. Read the full industrial bamboo potential (2016) from Jorg Stamm here.

Environmetal use of Bamboo

Bamboo for land restoration, a valuable environmental asset When it comes to restoring degraded land, bamboo is a powerful ally. Wherever it grows, bamboo protects and rehabilitates the surrounding environment. By conserving soil and water and improving the quality of the land. The plant grows rapidly slowing degradation and repairing damaged ecosystems. It is particularly suited to reforestation, afforestation, agroforestry and watershed protection.

Photo: Bamboo for land restoration

Its robustness and ability to thrive on the poorest of soils. Means that bamboo will thrive where other plants cannot survive. This makes it perfect for rehabilitating land damaged by erosion or industrial activity. Bamboo is used to help repair severely degraded land and ecosystems, while producing new revenues for local communities.

Bamboo also provides rapid reforestation. And in in doing this, contributes significantly to combating climate change, offering large-scale carbon sequestration. As a versatile material that can replace timber for the manufacture of a wide range of products. Bamboo will play an ever-increasing role of relieving pressure on timber forests.

Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP)

With the Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP) our focus is:

  1. Enabling improved manual access to the crops.
  2. Enhancing the soil quality with nitrogen fixing plants – Arachis Pintoi.
  3. Let the microorganisms do their magic with the soil – Vetiver Grass.
  4. Reducing erosion on a micro and macro level.
  5. Slowing down the water flow. Tropical rainfall can be extremely abundant quantity of water in short time.
  6. High efficiency in food crop production.
  7. Economically feasible solution.
  8. Creating diverse types of mulch material on site.

Experimental Zone Information

Aerial Photo: Experimental Zone (Steep Hill Farming) Information – ACAP

Our test site is located in a area with a elevation is 875-950 meter above mean sea level. Its about 1 Hectare in size. The slope is very steep. Its between 26° and 45° degrees steep! We have a average annual rainfall of 1000-1500 mm per year. The soil consists mainly of – Ultisol – red clay with high mineral content. Within the Köppen-Geiger classification we are in the Tropical rainforest climate.  Monthly average rainfall of 170mm, yearly almost 2000mm.

Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP) 

So basically we are using the different inspirations such as: “Contour Hedgerow Alley Intercropping” and the “SALT-System”. With the primary need to enable access within our crops on a literary VERY steep slope. Thats how we came up with the idea of the Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP).  Building graduated terraces on the hill with the help of heavy machinery is not always a option, because of the economic cost and the accessibility to the parcel.

So the alternative is to create only the most needed part. In our case that consists in a access path, of 20-40 centimeters width, following vertically the contour elevation within the slope. Now in our case we built it adaptively to the actual contour line. Because its not 100% on contour line. It depends on the procentual steepness of the slope. The steeper the slope, the closer the contour access path should be; conversely, the flatter the slope, the wider the spacing of alleys. To rebalance the difference spacing, we build all the access path adapting slightly up or down the contour lines, depending on the slope steeples.

Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP), PermaTree BirdView
BirdView-Illustration: Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP), PermaTree

So every 5-8 meters we build another Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP). In between them we have alleys which we use to plant intercropping 5x5m (triangle) permanent producing fruit trees, shrubs and herbs as well as endemic flowers. In a second phase we will plant alternately perennial crops between the permanent annual crops. Because with the spacing of 5×5 meters until the permanent producing fruit trees grow there is plenty of space. Even once those fruit trees are producing there will still be enough space for different crops, on different food forest levels, thinking in 3D farming. Plant short- and medium-term crops between and among permanent crops.  Now every now and then there is a fruit tree near to the access path.

In between that space we plant Vetiver grass. Like a contour hedgerow. Once the vetiver grass has grown mature, it can be trimmed down to 25 centimes every 3 month. The left over material is ideal mulching for below the fruit trees. Instead of having to buy organic material the cut off vetiver grass will break down within 30-60 days in a tropical climate with lots of sun and rain.

As ground cover we use Arachis Pintoi. Both elements will help within the system to evolve. The Vetiver roots are very dense and deep and will attract microorganisms and thus enhance the soil quality. The Arachis Pintoi is the perfect tropical climate ground cover processing nitrogen from the air and into the soil in a collaborative relationship with soil organisms. This system is holistic because including the endemic flowers such as Heliconias we provide food (nectar) for the birds and insects such as the different type of stingless bees we have on the farm. They will help with pollination of the fruit flowers and will produce. Obviously existing fruit trees such as Theorboma Cacao and Bitter mandarin will be part of the system. 

At the highest level of the ACAP we will plant giant bamboo (Dencrocalamus Asper) to have a constant production of nitrogen fixing leafs landing on the system slowly running down and breaking down. Also the giant bamboo will help filter water and slow down the water flow. Every bamboo stem will be filtering water and will act as a natural water reservoir in case of a dry period.

Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP), PermaTree SideView
SideView-Illustration: Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP), PermaTree

ACAP Agroforestry Enhancing Biodiversity

So obviously our goal is to enhance the biodiversity. To increasing our food production security not just in a sustainable way – but in a self-sustainable totally renewable way. By enabling all the players to have a mayor positive impact within the test zone. We have planted about 18 different plants – most of them for food production. Planting spacing in triangles 6x6x6 meters to allow maximizing photosynthesis with an average of 12 hours of sun light. Unlike classic agroforestry / syntropic farming practices we have not planted the fruit trees in rows, but have something more like extreme polyculture with a almost random assembly method.

We picked the fruit species randomly with the exception of never planting twice the same species one bordering the other. This should enhance diversity from within. Time will tell. But not only. Also focusing on enhancing the microorganism and mycorrhiza of the soil on different levels with Vetiver and Arachis Pintoi. Or the endemic insects and tropical stingless bees with a diverse tropical flowers: Heliconias, Hibiscus and two local shrubs that have lots of round yellow flowers.

Fruit Producing Bioadiversity Overview

Alphabetical ordering of the plant diversity and its latin botanical name within the ACAP experimental site at PermaTree:

  • Arachis Pintoi (for ground cover) 
  • Avocado, (Persea americana) 5 different type about 50 plants
  • Breadfruit, (Artocarpus altilis)
  • Fruti Pan Cacao (Theobroma) 
  • Cupuacu, (Theobroma Grandiflorum)
  • Giant Bamboo (Dendrocalamus Asper)
  • Guayusa (Ilex guayusa) 
  • Heliconias (flower nectar to attract birds and insects. Pollination and pest control)
  • Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
  • Lemon Grass Membrillo, (Cydonia oblonga)
  • Quince Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
  • Noni (Morinda citrifolia)
  • Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum)
  • Peach-palm, (Bactris gasipaes)
  • Palmito, Chonta Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum)
  • Snake fruit, (Bali Salak (Salacca zalacca))
  • Soursop (Annona Muricata)
  • Starfruit (Carambola)
  • Vetiver (Increasing soil microorganism activity)
Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP)
Photo: BirdView Adaptive Contour Access Path (ACAP) 9th March 2019

Vetiver Grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides)

Vetiver tolerance to the extreme climate fluctuations such as prolonged drought, flood, inundation. Waterlogging tolerance extended to 45 days and the withstand temperature range from-100C to 480C. When planting vetiver will grow each dust (like lemon plants), there is no need to take it (bull spread as reeds). Therefore, when it will grow as time grows planted in rows, not grow rampant as weeds. It features not produce seeds, propagated mainly by asexual methods should not fear the spread uncontrollably. Besides, sharp vetiver leaves and roots of aromatic odor, capable of banishing snakes, rats and other rodents. 

Additionally thanks to the development of deep and dense root system, vetiver has the ability to absorb toxic in water and soil factors such as heavy metals, chemical plant protection.

Perennial Peanut (Arachis Pintoi)

As a nitrogen fixer the rhizomes of the perennial peanut process nitrogen from the air and into the soil in a collaborative relationship with soil organisms. Thus providing a free alternative to the nitrogen salts of chemical fertilizers. With its extensive root system, rhizoma perennial peanut spreads across the ground as a sod grass would perform.

Arachis Pintoi can be seen as living mulch (ground cover growing around the fruit trees). This is an management strategy that improves soil quality, reduces ground clearing weed maintenance by growing into a dense ground cover.  

SALT (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology)

SALT is system on soil conservation and food production, integrating different soil conservation measures in just one setting. Basically, SALT is a method of growing field and permanent crops in 3-meter to 5-meter-wide bands between contoured rows of nitrogen fixing trees. The nitrogen fixing trees are thickly planted in double rows to make hedgerows. When a hedge is 1.5 to 2 meters tall, it is cut down to about 75 centimeters and the cuttings (tops) are placed in alley-ways to serve as organic fertilizers.

SALT is a diversified farming system which can be considered agroforestry since rows of permanent shrubs like coffee, cacao, citrus and other fruit trees are dispersed throughout the farm plot.  The strips not occupied by permanent crops, however, are planted alternately to cereals (corn, upland rice, sorghum, etc.) or other crops (sweet potato, melon, pineapple, castor bean, etc.) and legumes (soybean, peanut, etc.). This cyclical cropping provides the farmer some harvest throughout the year.

Soil Erosion

The greatest problem man will encounter when forest trees are cut extensively without replanting and improper farming of fragile, sloping lands is soil erosion. The erosion of the topsoil. That thin upper crust on the earth’s surface on which man plants his food crops. Is an extremely serious issue in the amazon basin of South America.

Water Systems

As holistic farm we focus on treating all resources efficiently. Even more Water.

Did you know that water is vital for all known forms of life, even though it provides no calories or organic nutrients. Water is the one of the 4 elements (Earth, Water, Air, and Fire). Humans are born of water from our mother’s womb. Our bodies are made up of 70% water. The Earth’s surface is covered by 70% water. Most plant life is 90% water. Humans need to consume water in order to survive. It is a crucial resource here on Earth.

Gravity Fed Water System at PermaTree

Water System Gravity Fed PermaTree
Water Fed Gravity System At PermaTree

We at PermaTree collect water from small springs (1) high up in the property. Then the water is funneled in black water pipes to several tanks which break the water pressure into a big 5000L main tank (3) about 80 meters above the main house (4). From this main tank water pipes go to the different locations. Between the main house and the tank is the natural swimming pond (5) and backup water tank in case of drought. The water not used in the house goes into the natural swimming pool. The runoff of the swimming pool goes 50 meter lower into another smaller 1500L tank which is used for the tree nursery (6). The runoff of that tank goes finally back into the creek. Before first passing 100 meters of Vetiver Grass run off natural filtering. Our entire water system runs off gravity, no electric pumps are needed.

Spring Water

Here we harvest the crystal clear water. Gravity fed pressurized spring water which goes to the homestead

The water which is not used goes directly as run off into the natural swimming pond. After that, into another smaller tank which is used for our plant nursery. We additionally do collect partially rainwater into another tank. Compared to urban treated water, we have super clean water, because below the springs the mountains stops and there is no further neighbor.

So when you take a shower at PermaTree keep in mind its gravity-fed system no electric pump needed at all.

Berkey Filter for our Drinking Water

The Berkey Filter

Now tapping the crystal clear spring water and using it for showering and our crops is one thing. For our drinkable water we use a extra gravity-fed water filter system. The Berkey water filter system is a water purification which removes remove micro size particles (nanometer = .024 micron), viruses, protozoa and bacterium.

In addition, this gravity filter removes the micro plastic particles which are found in our environment, oceans, rivers and urban tap water. Micro plastic particles can also carry pathogens and have a reported size of approximately 2.5 micron.

So as you see for us at PermaTree clean natural spring water is a very high priority. This because from our very own experiences exploring many different countries in Latin America we have been fighting diseases that have come through water. 

Black Water, Grey Water, Run Off?

Well as you can see now we produce no black water (sewage) because our toilet is dry. We do produce gray-water from the sink washing the dishes and taking showers. This water will flow down about 145 meters in a open canal bordering the access road to the house. Here you can often observe chickens picking rice hulks oder other edible bits which have been washed down. Before reentering the natural creek we have a 15meter long final run off with vetiver grass which again helps to break down the gray-water.

Infographic: Water Footprint of Humanity

PermaTree composting toilet

Composting toilet

The PermaTree compost toilet system explained

For our toilet system we do not use any water at all, because we have build a so called “compost toilet” which are water free. For most visitors at the farm, using a composting toilet is a first-time experience. This system which treats human waste by composting to produce a usable end-product that is a valuable soil organic material.

Opportunity

So instead of creating something called “waste” – we create something called a resource – organic material – a valuable and much needed soil fertilizer. You may not know but most soils in our region are very acidic and lack of organic matter. Adding fertilizer is the best option to increase production.

Also from another point of view – human feces are not a waste to be flushed away. Most importantly, because they are a valuable, nutrient-rich product when composted. Meanwhile, a typical water flush toilet system, the “waste” will decompose as sewage anaerobically. Thus releasing both methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now composting toilets offset carbon emissions because they decompose aerobically – meaning with oxygen. 

It turns human excreta into compost over a process of decomposition of organic matter. Made possibly by microorganisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) under so called controlled aerobic conditions.

This compost toilet will only need dry material such as sawdust after each use. Both urine and feces are mostly water, but also high in nitrogen. For every one part of nitrogen to compost, it needs 30 parts of carbon; therefore a lot of dry material. The sawdust creates air pockets in the human excreta to promote aerobic decomposition. Additionally it  improves the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and reduces potential bad odor. 

Inside the composting toilet tank, the material naturally heats up similarly to a garden compost pile. The heat kills off bacteria and the pile reduces in size, producing an odorless dry humus fertilizer.

Before using the compost, we keep the compost for a period of 12 month parked. To enable pathogen die-off. During this time we use the other compost toilet. And thats why we have two separate compost toilets with separate compost tanks.

And yes toilet paper is typically placed in the toilet. Therefore, the toilet paper will be visible long after the solid matter has broken down. Because paper does not decompose as quickly as solid wastes.

History of composting toilet

While basic water-based flushing toilets have been around since Roman times, waterless toilets are actually much older. As with many things, the origin of the earliest waterless toilets – composting toilets – come from China.

One of the most remarkable agricultural practices adopted by any civilized people is the centuries—long and well nigh universal conservation and utilization of all human waste in China… The storage of such waste in China is largely in stoneware receptacles … which are hard-burned, glazed terracotta urns, having capacities ranging from 500 to 1000 pounds.

F.H. King (American soil scientist), Farmers of Forty Centuries, 1911

One unusual feature of traditional Chinese agriculture, almost unbelievable to early visitors from the West, was the Chinese use of human waste as fertilizer for their agriculture. They were “fanatical recyclers”, recovering virtually all waste materials in their society. After an initial cultural shock at the idea, Westerners who heard of the practice would dismiss the concept as medically dangerous and probably resulting in serious chronic disease problems. Yet there is little historical evidence to support that conclusion, and in fact more than 40 centuries of evidence that suggests the practice was successful and sustainable. In light of the many other elegant inventions and methods of living that the Chinese gradually perfected, it is likely that the Chinese system of “night-soil” management was done in a way that largely protected public health.

The Chinese peasants use almost exclusively night-soil for manuring their fields. It is stored in large earthenware pots, either standing free or sunk in the ground up to their edges. In the latter case, privies are built over them. These, open to the public gaze, are not used by women. For the convenience of the latter a wooden bucket with cover is kept in the house, which is emptied into the free-standing earthenware pots out-side the house.

Rudolph P. Hommel, China At Work, 1939