How to Build a Tree Bog

“The Tool Box” was set in place last fall as a bunkhouse for our visiting volunteer/retreat groups to Appalachia, but it needed a bathroom nearby. There is no electric or running water at the site, so I was going to dig a 4 foot pit out back for a traditional outhouse with a nice view of the woods.

But I hit water after only 2 feet.  Then, I Googled “homemade composting toilets” and the Humanure Handbook led me to the ingenious concept of the tree bog. Bog is the British slang for toilet, and a tree-bog works with the sustainable practice of permaculture.

Waste falls into a “chamber,” onto the ground.  Liquid and nutrients seep into the soil and are immediately absorbed by roots of small trees either planted or naturally occurring around the bog.  The trees thrive and can be harvested & used for multiple purposes.  After 2 years, the humanure can also be used as fertilizer. Meanwhile, there’s virtually no maintenance.  You could stick a rake in the chamber for some “Mountaintop Removal,” but we tend to frown on that concept around here.

So, before the snow fell, I found a place next to the Tool Box where I could dig and not hit water. I planted my posts, built the platform 3 feet up (1 meter as suggested), and cut the “poop shoot.” Next, I wrapped the stilts with 2 layers of chicken wire, attaching one to the outside, and one to the inside.

Then, to complete the “chamber,” I packed straw, not too tightly, between the layers of chicken wire. (Next time, I’ll do this step before putting on the platform, so I don’t have to crawl under to pack it from beneath!)  The chamber simultaneously 1) acts as a veil, 2) allows odors to escape, and 3) lets air flow through to help speed up decomposition.

In the spring, it was time to get back to work since the nearby baby sycamores were eagerly awaiting their bounty! As their last service project before flying home, students from Seattle University helped me build and get up the brace for the roof so I could frame it.

It was my first time building a gable pitch and I greatly appreciated the advice from many, but am indebted for the help from a few. Karen assisted in cutting and putting up the metal roof panels, and Viv held our ladders and took pictures on what I swear was the hottest day of the summer. I got to try my hand with the new toy I’d purchased that saved a lot of trips back and forth from the house; a battery-operated reciprocating sawz-all!

Needless to say, without having had much practice, cuts were not as straight as I would have liked. So, we just hippie-rigged the mistakes by putting them under the roof-cap, and left the manufactured edges in view.  Then it was time for us to hit the pond for a dip!

The rest I could do myself.
I recycled windows and used old
barn-roof tin for the outside paneling…


…after hanging the door, which always takes me a while, I attached door handles & latches, inside and out…


But the steps were a snap!  The hardest part was
the math to figure out length of the stringers.


Then, students from Xavier University took a little time out of their weekend-retreat to do the finishing touches, like, spray-painting the inside…


…attaching the “oval” to the “office,”
putting in screening up top to keep the birdies out,
and also using it to replace 2 window panes I had broken
(grrr…don’t ask).

They hung the outhouse toilet paper holder I had made (to keep out the mice), and added a garbage can for trash and one for saw dust/cedar chips (to drop a handful down after each use). Then, they fluffed up the straw in the chamber and mowed around the bog & Tool Box…

…Finally, before the first deuce (rather quatro!) was dropped,
they added the autographed Presidential photo of Jed Bartlett
from “The West Wing”…

…because a very generous donation from actor, Martin Sheen, paid for all the new materials, hardware, and even the sawz-all!!  Thank you, Mr. President!

And, THAT’S why it’s named, “The Oval Office!”

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll paint the outside or not. I kinda like the look of the tin the way it is.  I think it may blend in better that way than if I were to add a color.  Besides, the “rustic look” fits the idea behind using a tree bog in the first place, which is a major reason why many people come here.  The sentiment Martin Sheen wrote with his autograph, quoting St. Elizabeth Seton, says it best: “Friends, Thank you for ‘living simply, so that others may simply live’.” And with our new Oval Office, those “others” now include the trees!


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2 Responses to How to Build a Tree Bog

  1. bodanza says:

    This is fabulous! You know I want to build one of these, right? But I doubt West Seattle (or my wife) would approve. And while I think W is a more appropriate image to display where one deposits waste, I understand why you chose the other Mr. President.

  2. Heather Dotson says:

    The Oval Office looks great.
    Martin Sheen rocks!!!

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