When was the last time you were excited about your urine? For me, there has been only one time that I was excited about my liquid waste--when the pregnancy test came back positive. Aside from that one joyful bathroom moment, urine is something that I'm happy to flush and forget. But what if you could use urine as fertilizer in your garden? Can you pee your way to a greener garden?
The short answer is yes.
Surendra Pradhan and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski from the University of Kuopio in Finland published the results of their study of urine as fertilizer in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The researchers planted beets and harvested 280 of them after 84 days. The beetroots from the urine fertilized plants were found to be 10 percent larger by mass than those grown in mineral fertilizer. After subjecting some of the beets to chemical analysis, the researchers determined that all of them had comparable nutrient contents, and according to a blind taste-testing panel, their beety taste was indistinguishable.
The researchers also tested urine as fertilizer on cucumbers, cabbage, and tomatoes and also saw positive results.
The Finnish researchers aren't the only ones to test urine as fertilizer. Farmers at Fair Wind Farm in Brattleboro, Vermont, also used urine collected by the Rich Earth Institute as fertilizer on their hay fields. They report that the fields that were fertilized with urine were twice as productive as other fields that did not use urine as fertilizer.
A win-win-win-win-win situation
Human urine is sterile so it can be used immediately--no need to boil or let decompose like kitchen scraps or feces.
Urine is rich in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus which are all nutrients that your garden craves. Another added bonus is that urine is easy for plants to absorb, so those valuable nutrients get to work fast.
When waste water from kitchen drains, washing machines, and bathrooms is at a waste water treatment facility the nitrogen and phosphorus are removed. So, collecting urine isn't only good for your garden it is making less work for waste water treatment facilities.
Urine is also completely organic--that, is, if you eat a healthy, organic diet, it produces healthy, organic pee.
You won't run out, either. The average healthy adult produces 400-2,000 mL of urine per day.
How to use urine as fertilizer
Assuming that you're not a five year-old boy who actually enjoys peeing all over creation, you're going to have to collect your pee. This means that you're going to have to separate your liquid waste from your solid waste.
Remember that front-to-back technique that your doctor told you about the last time you had a urinary tract infection? Well, she was on to something. Urine is sterile as long as it isn't contaminated by fecal matter. So that front-to-back technique is going to come in handy when safely collecting urine.
Some folks use a separating toilet that is different from your bathroom toilet because it separates solid and liquid waste. Although these "NoMix" toilets are available in Scandinavia, they are not common in the U.S. yet, so you're going to have to use another collection tool, such as a bucket, to collect your urine.
Human feces are not sterile. This solid waste can be infected with salmonella and E.coli so, again, take steps to ensure that your urine isn't contaminated by that solid waste. Also, if you're on any medication that will be present in your urine stream so don't use that urine. Don't use your urine if you have a urinary tract infection as the germs from the infection will also contaminate your urine.
Once you collect your urine put it on your garden as soon as possible because it will break down if stored for too long. (You can refrigerate it, but having urine in my refrigerator is where I draw the line.)
A global perspective
Maybe the gross-out factor is too high for you and collecting your urine is a bridge too far to being a green gardener. That's understandable, but using urine as a fertilizer could be a boon in the developing world where both food production and sanitation are concerns.
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