Oh…. (the word that stands for what the leach field is used for)!

Maine Outhouse

Dear Reader:

Once upon a time in Maine (and everywhere), people used quaint little outbuildings like this one to, er, “recycle” the food and beverages they had ingested. The concept was simple: Do your business, throw down some lime and sawdust, and out you go. Of course, someone had the not enviable job of mucking out the place every so often, and I suppose trudging to the outhouse in the middle of winter probably wasn’t much fun. But here is one thing our forbears didn’t have to worry about–a leach field.

Now, a leach field shouldn’t be a problem, but when I stop and really think about the rigamarole that goes into “recycling” nowadays, I wonder if we haven’t kinda stepped off the path of reason. Older toilets use 3.3-7 gallons of water PER FLUSH! Newer, high-efficiency toilets use 1.4 gallons or so. Where does all this previously clean water go? Into the leach field. Shower water–with a few bits of dirt and skin cells and some soap–goes into the leach field. Dishwater goes into the leach field. Washing machine water. Is it really necessary for all this water to be put into a system that takes up so much space? Is this really the most efficient use of land?

Outhouse Interior

What has got me so hot and bothered this morning, you ask? Didn’t I just solve all my problems by establishing straw-bale garden beds on my septic field? What was all the crowing about yesterday, then?

Well, my librarian friend, Renee, who like all great librarians is able to find all sorts of relevant information and truly enjoys helping people by getting them said information in a timely manner, passed along a link to the Maine Cooperative Extension newsletter that just so happened to include an article about growing gardens on top of septic fields. http://umaine.edu/gardening/blog/2012/05/03/maine-home-garden-news-may-2012/ The gist of the article? Don’t do it!

So, I read the article, and since I’m easily swayed by the power of the written word, especially by university-trained soil (NOT “soiled,” the typo I just now corrected. More than a little bit funny considering the topic of conversation!) scientists, I’m now worried about my straw bales…not only my straw bales but also my five new garden boxes simply because of their close proximity to the leach bed. How close is too close?

The Extension suggests that the best thing to grow on top of a septic field is grass, i.e. a lawn. But don’t roto-till it whatever you do because you might rip the lining that is underneath the mere 3-4 inches of soil sitting on top of the lining and then the gravel bed which is where the run-off goes to vent.

Ironically, another article further down in the newsletter talked all about how pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers are ruining our environment all for the sake of pretty lawns and we should instead be replacing lawns with “yard-scaping” and plantings.

So what are you supposed to do if your lawn is your leach field?

Apparently if you have a leach field, you can only do one thing: let the weeds take over, mow it as best you can, and just shut up and be thankful you don’t have to muck out an outhouse every spring.

So, what am I going to do about my straw bales? Bottom line (haha), I’m gonna grow those tomatoes this year. Unless we get a really, really rainy, wet season that could possibly raise water levels, I won’t worry about what lies beneath. However, I won’t tempt fate again next year. I will resign myself to scraggly lawn. I could maybe put down some compost on the “lawn” and see if I can green it up a bit.


When I have a little more time, I’ll finally write about toilet alternatives. They are out there. Composting toilets. Gray-water recycling systems. And I’ll daydream about what it would be like to have unlimited funds and the ability to build a house incorporating all these alternative ideas–solar panels and living roofs and composting toilets and greenhouses and geothermal heating and wood cookstoves and permaculture gardening.

And I may just fill out a request form with my HOA about cutting down some trees. Just when I was starting to appreciate the way the light filtered through them in the back yard, too. Or maybe it is time to relocate. Next door to a farmer’s market, preferably. And within walking/biking distance to the library. And zoning rules that allow backyard poultry. I could live with that.

6 responses to “Oh…. (the word that stands for what the leach field is used for)!

  1. Makes me wanna build an outhouse here on my farm.

  2. The coast is a wonderful place to live:)

    • Unfortunately, the coast we would move to is slightly too far south for us to be neighbors:( I would love to move to Belfast, for instance. They are now trying to call themselves The Book Community. Love it!

  3. Read the Humanure Handbook. It will change the way you look at toilets!

    • I loved the humanure handbook! There is a limit to how far my family is willing to go regarding alternative stuff, but I would love to experiment with so much of it just for the experience and chance to live the most sustainable lifestyle I could. Baby steps.

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