My moment on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time (promoting the virtues of compost toilets)

Yesterday’s edition of Gardeners’ Question Time -Sunday 19th January 2020 – satisfied one of my lifetime ambitions – I was on the programme, asking a question!   The show was recorded in Nailsworth in December, and once I wrote my question on the piece of paper handed to me at the door, I had a good feeling that it would be chosen.  The question was:

“I have a compost toilet in my garden.  It saves tens of thousands of litres of water a year, and makes wonderful compost.  Do the panel members have compost toilets in their gardens, and if not, why not?”

The producer chose it as the first question of the show.   You can hear it here (at 4 mintues 47 seconds into the show)

The panel members didn’t really know much about compost toilets, but at least they were positive about the idea.  Hopefully this bit of exposure for compost toilets on Radio 4 will set more people thinking about them, and lead to more people making their own.

My compost toilet sits at the end of my garden.  I built it in the autumn of 2016, and after 3 years of use I couldn’t be keener on it – I love it and I think that everyone who has the space should have one.  One of these days I’ll write a detailed step by step article about how I made it and how it works.

My compost toilet, exterior view

My compost toilet, interior view

This was my second attempt at getting onto Gardeners’ Question Time.  I went to a recording of the show at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester about 3 years ago, but didn’t have my question selected that time (“Why is Glyphosate/Roundup weedkiller not banned in gardens?”  Too controversial I expect).

Here’s  a photo from the Nailsworth recording in December 2019

Recording of Gardeners' Question Time, Nailsworth 17th December 2019, broadcast 19th January 2020.

They actually recorded two shows in Nailsworth that evening – the second is to be broadcast on 2nd February (I guess they needed to cover the Christmas and New Year gap).    Each time I’ve been to a recording of GQT, I’ve been really impressed with the incredible skill of the chairman in linking everything together so smoothly and coordinating the panel and questioners’ contributions in such a good natured way.  This time it was Peter Gibbs, last time it was Eric Robson.  Both of them such excellent broadcasters.  The panelists were good too of course.  It was a shame that Bob Flowerdew wasn’t on the panel for the compost toilet question – I’m sure he would have had plenty of informed comment on the subject.  Pippa Greenwood asked (probably not seriously) if I would design a compost toilet for her garden… if you’re reading this, Pippa, just get in touch 🙂

One surprising thing about the show is that they don’t record any extra questions that don’t get broadcast.  They choose just the right number of questions, and the show goes out on air pretty much as it was live, no doubt with a few very subtle edits to keep within the overall time limit.

My Gardeners' Question Time question as submitted on the night.
My Gardeners’ Question Time question.

Now my dream would be for Radio 4 to get in touch with me to present a 30 minute programme all about compost toilets 🙂  There are quite a few around in Stroud, and promoting them is a real passion with me…

4 thoughts on “My moment on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time (promoting the virtues of compost toilets)

  1. Hi Peter, heard it live and very excited to hear your question up first. Great flag-waving for permaculture and compost loos – congratulations. Looking forward to the half-hour show, or perhaps something with Monty on Gardeners’ World?! …

  2. Hi, we are planning on putting a compost toilet in our garden, and I must confess I am a bit confused and overwhelmed by the conflicting information I keep reading….should we have a urine separator or not etc….. So any tips you could give me from you experience would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Nearly all the compost toilets that I’ve known well and used a lot, in woods, campsites, etc, didn’t have urine separators and they were fine. If the compost collecting chamber has an earth floor, or the collecting container has drainage holes that can drain into the earth, it should usually be fine. A very non-porous, clay soil could be problematic, and a separator might be needed in such a case. I like to keep things as simple as possible, so I made my compost toilet without a separator and planned to fit one later if it seemed to need it, and it hasn’t. I think that urine separators are better designed than they used to be, but the old problem with them was that they clogged up with toilet paper if people weren’t careful, which of course most people aren’t. If you especially want to collect urine (and that’s where most of the plant nutrients are) for your compost heap, a separator is the way to go, or a separate bucket for compost enthusiasts to pee into.

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