Category: Resilience

We have taken a huge leap of faith and pulled out our flush toilet, replacing it with a composting loo.

Living in rural Hawkes Bay we have been responsible for our water supply, the wellbeing of our septic tank and at times the unblocking of blocked pipes. Not only did we waste water through the toilet, we had to pay for the septic tank to be emptied and because we use creek water which is rich in lime, our toilet looked gross quite often and needed cleaning with a chisel, and because we tried not to flush unnecessarily it often smelt bad. We watched a video which pointed out that as a population we take 2 perfectly useful commodities: clean water and useful compost material, we mix them together and then create a problem with what to do with the mess.

The retired flush toilet awaiting recycling.

Where our loo is situated there is little space under the floor, so we couldn’t have a larger tank below. after much searching we found a suitable model that meets our needs. It’s a simple system with an outer case & seat. Inside is a bucket, which can be rotated to avoid pile ups! Actually we’ve discovered the simplest system is to save the toilet roll tubes and use those to redistubute any pile ups. We’ve connected the fan into the existing vent and the drain pipe for excess liquid is popped into the greywater system from the sinks, this goes into the septic tank.


Composting toilet in place

 Composting toilet in place

The system we have claims not to need emptying very often, but we find for four of us we empty it about every 2-3 weeks, which is not a big deal. We bought a large bale of pine woodshavings for $15 and reckon that will last us at least 6 months. We are using Greencane toilet paper, made from sugarcane and bamboo. I bought a pack of biodegradable nappy liners and we can use these in the bottom of the bucket to stop the drain holes from blocking up.  What we’ve also discovered is that to keep the drainage flowing it’s good to put a couple of plants stalks under the liners, I keep Lily stems and other semi soft stems to use, rather than sticks which will not break down.

Once the bucket is 3/4 full, which is about every 2 weeks for 3 people,  we take it outside with the lid on, (actually we put it into a big bucket in case it dripped) where it stays until bucket number 2 needs removing. We’ve set up two old drums away from the house where we shall empty the buckets and then leave for 12 months to quietly break down.

I keep and old toothbrush inside the outer drum and use this to clean the drainage base each time we empty it, and spray some nice smelling cleaner in there.

There are way more plusses than minuses for this new system, the lack of waste water, no maintenance other than emptying and rinsing out, no smells, and the toilet seat is warm! We shall have to wait and see how the compost turns out, I think it will get used to feed shrubs rather than vegetables, but we’ll see how we feel when we get to that point.

It’s generally recommended to leave the compost 6-12 months before using.

All set to go!

All set to go!


Drain for excess liquid

Drain for excess liquid


Fan into existing pipe

Fan into existing pipe


Our pine shavings

Our pine shavings


Wood shavings

Wood shavings

Building Resilience

You will probably notice a transition in the content of our blog over the coming months, away from nature focused posts and seasonal updates, towards something relative to the times we are currently living in.

Given the events that have transpired this year, the rampant confusion and agendas that have permeated so much news we see and read, the lack of transparency from governments in regards to information about Covid-19 and climate change, the fractures that have made themselves apparent within communities and countries, and the division that has taken hold among friends, family and countrymen, it is no wonder that people are feeling a little overwhelmed with 2020 and are looking forward to seeing in the new year.

In the beginning months of this year as we watched Covid-19 spread out around the world, and attempted to find clear information of just what the situation was, what was going on, and what we might expect in the coming months, it became increasingly clear that things were changing in a big way, and that if we wanted to remain safe, we had to follow our own instincts, at least until the governments caught up with the situation and started putting the right procedures in place. Here in New Zealand, we have been incredibly blessed that the government didn’t attempt to hide the facts or downplay the severity of Covid-19, and were instead up front with us, putting human safety ahead of the economy.

It’s no surprise that around the world, the mental health of people has suffered. After all, the ramifications of the changes taking place are huge. Here at Millstream, we were fortunate enough to follow Chris Martenson’s videos where he analyzed current news and information about Covid-19 and the situation going on around the world. It was an anchor for us, knowing that he had no agenda behind his videos other than clarity, we could cut through the noise of news, and felt a sense of safety in our shared perspective.

As part of his series, he often talks about the concept of resilience, and this is something that has really resonated with us. We have begun the task of improving our resilience for whatever may come in the future. As you may have read in our last post, we now have another water tank in place (to accommodate for those years with less frequent rainfall), we have attempted to spend less (putting aside money for unexpected future costs), our power supply is supplemented by solar, and we are experimenting with making new or alternative food options so if we are unable to get ahold of something, we can substitute and not suffer disruption.

So we are building our resilience in material ways, but there is also a certain “mental preparedness” that we are working on as well. The concept of accepting a future that is less bright is not an easy one to wrap your head around, and yet that is just what we need to do. We need to look at the various pieces and recognise that things are changing, that even if Covid-19 disappears next year, things will not miraculously return to normal. Climate change is happening, and we need to be prepared for that. It’s not an easy task, but being mentally prepared, and understanding the predicament which we face, ultimately helps us be stronger and more resilient come whatever may. If we can shine a light into our near future and illuminate just a few obstacles, we will be better off to avoid them, if and when we encounter them.

Resilience is about being prepared in our homes, and in ourselves. As we learn and experiment over the coming years, we hope to offer some insights, suggestions and information that may in turn help you to increase your resilience.

Be safe.
Giles & The Millstream Team

Making changes…

Since Giles & Rauna returned from Denmark in July, we have been consciously looking at how we function here at Millstream, in terms of our impact on the environment, how we use/waste resources, and how resilient we are to changes that may come.

It is great to have four heads working on this, and four peoples’ energies to help decide and make any changes we decide on. This has helped us to be less daunted and more positive about taking action. We want to share some of this process with others in an attempt to maybe help others to feel that even small changes can make a difference, and also to create a sense of community.

Part of our resilience assessment is that we are vulnerable in our supply of water. At present we have 2 concrete tanks that catch rainwater from the house roof, this is supplemented in summer by water pumped up from the stream.  Droughts seem to be a much more likely event now, and indeed we are already in need of a good dose of rain.  So far the stream has always flowed, but it’s not something we can take for granted any more, we feel incredibly lucky to have the ‘Millstream’ run through our land, but we don’t want to abuse it by over use.

The first step we have taken is to buy a watertank for the workroom. This is a 21,000L plastic tank, which was dropped at the end of our drive last week. We’ve also got a second filter system, so we are safe to use it domestically. We already have two small tanks which catch just rainwater from smaller roofs, and these keep us supplied with sweet drinking water.

Other steps forward:

*We have started a fund where we each put in $10 a month to put towards buying more trees to plant around the property and to pay for fences etc.

*We are going to set up a system for recycling jars from our customers, hopefully by November.

* We have been encouraging each other to shop less and have this neat pyramid to remind us, plus peer group pressure!! Our main weaknesses are plants and books. Plants are easy to justify and at least books can be sent back to the op shop and earn some more dollars.

*We are gradually being able to source better options for packaging, we have compostable tapes for packaging, along with recycled boxes. Some courier bags are compostable, but not many yet.

* We took advantage of Solarzero’s offer of free solar panels so we can supplement about 25% of our power with solar.

* We have completed an Ekos carbon evaluation for our home and are waiting for the calculations for the business for the next year.

*We are cutting back our meat eating, not huge anyway. Since we have our own sheep, lamb is always a good option. Giles and Rauna have some good ideas for food alternatives, including making oat milk, then using the oat residue in hummus, bread and biscuits, and we have bought some mushroom growing spawn on dowels to grow on chestnut logs. This is very exciting, and mushroom growing is a Speeden passion! We will have to wait until the Autumn for any crops, but hopefully the logs will keep us supplied for 5 or 6 years.

Just a thought on toilet paper, we have been buying boxes of 48 unwrapped rolls of toilet paper from ‘Greencane’ ( which are made from bamboo and recycled sugarcane, which seems like an excellent use of plant material and a better option than trees.

On the down side we still have no easy way to recycle soft plastics, and many of our tins and jars are packed in plastic, any ideas??