The first time I learned about an arbor loo was Sanitation In Service Training (IST). Right away, it sounded like such a cool idea. Since my big cement latrine plancha broke and my 7′ hole filled with water, I was in need of an alternative. The idea of an arbor loo is simple: dig a shallow hole (~3′), cover it with an arbor loo plancha, fill it up with your poo/wood shavings, pack it in with dirt once it nears the top, then plant a tree!
The benefit of digging a shallow hole in Bocas del Toro is that the high water table will not effect it. I suggest also making a drainage ditch around the hole, to mitigate runoff and rainwater from entering. After a day’s work of digging the larger 7′ hole, it continually filled up with groundwater and runoff. Each day I was emptying water by the buckets with the kids. So we filled the deep hole with dirt and banana trunks and found a new method- digging a shallow hole every month or two.
The great thing about an arbor loo plancha is that it is small and therefore easily mobile. The idea is to move the plancha each time a new hole is dug. The first plancha I made for my pit latrine was so large that it took 6 men to move and ended up cracking and falling apart during the move. I could move the arbor loo plancha all by myself. As opposed to the pit latrine plancha, which was a flat thick square, the arbor loo plancha is made similarly to the base of a rainwater tank. Ferrocement-style!
First, measure out a circle with a nail and piece of string. Make sure the ground is level underneath! Think about how wide you want your hole to be, then make the circle 2″ wider on all sides. Make a mound in the center with dirt that gently slopes down. It should be about 3″ tall. Along the rim, create a raised edge to ensure the cement mix doesn’t spread beyond your dimensions. Place a plastic bag on top, then a layer of chicken wire. Reinforce the edges with alambre dulce. Make your mix (1 cement: 2 sifted sand) and apply thinly. Let it dry for two hours before applying a second layer that will cover all the chicken wire. Cover with plastic and continually spray with water for several days. Let it strengthen before using. Since my plancha looked like a turtle shell, I painted it as such. Thusly, it is my turdaloo…turtleloo:D
The arbor loo plancha described above serves as a cover for your shallow hole. Other arbor loos have wooden planchas or flat cement planchas with holes in the center for immediate defecation. With the design I used, I then had to create a poobo elsewhere and transfer the poo into the loo. Either way, toss wood shavings on top! This will help break down the poo until it is compostable and will not contaminate the water table. It also reduces bad odors from emanating from your arbor loo. Always make sure the hole is fulling covered. I usually have to dig a new hole every 1-2 months, depending on how often I drink coffee and am in site. To make your hole last longer, pack it down with a stick after filling it.
Unfortunately a child or animal cracked my cement arbor loo plancha. So Mr. Turtletoo is no longer in use. Instead, I am using a plank of wood that serves just as well. Wood is generally more accessible for community members too…if you’re thinking about doing a charla on using arbor loos. Happy pooing!