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Pee-Cycling & Humanure

Updated on July 28, 2012

Wet Your Plants ...

... with fertilizer tea made from one part urine and anywhere from eight to 20 parts water.
... with fertilizer tea made from one part urine and anywhere from eight to 20 parts water.
Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants
Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants

Includes three methods for using human urine as fertilizer.

 

No. 1: Urine Fertilizer

When you buy a bag of mineral fertilizer, it ordinarily has three numbers on the front. These numbers refer to the amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) the bag contains. All three nutrients are essential to plant development and growth--and human urine contains each one.

Unlike feces, human urine doesn't contain harmful pathogens; in fact, it's virtually sterile. And although many people have the same initial reaction (Gross!) a growing number of organic farmers see nothing wrong with urine fertilizer.

Urine is readily available (most people produce about a quart and a half per day), and "harvesting" it rather than flushing it saves water.

Indeed, urination and plant fertilization seems an ideal match. As micturition expert Hakan Jonsson of the Swedish University of Agricultural Studies explains, when our bodies create urine, they break complex organic matter into the basic mineral form that plants like best.

Research by environmental scientists Surenda Pradhan and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski substantiates urine's effectiveness as fertilizer.

In 2007, Pradhan was part of a study at the University of Kuopio's Department of Environmental Sciences in Finland in which urine was used to fertilize cabbages, a vegetable that requires high amounts of nitrogen.

In a more recent study, Pradhan and Heinonen-Tanski raised beets using various types of fertilizer. Plants that received human urine in conjunction with wood ash produced markedly larger beets than those fertilized with any other type, including mineral fertilizer. There was no difference in the nutritional value or taste of the beets.

How to Make Your Own Pee Tea

Interested in making pee tea for your home garden? It's easy. Just add at least eight parts water to one part urine. (Some gardeners recommend a ratio of 20 to one.) Apply the wee brew around plants once every two weeks.

Pathogens in urine, and there usually aren't many, become harmless over time. To make sure none exist in your pee tea, allow the urine to age one to six months before mixing up a batch.

Other Whiz-Bang Ideas

In the February/March 2011 issue of Mother Earth News, contributing editor Barbara Pleasant shares two other strategies for using human urine as fertilizer. Because Pleasant dislikes making pee tea, her family deposits urine into buckets of sawdust and onto bales of hay. Then they use the pee-soaked material as garden mulch.

For step-by-step instructions on making pee bales and using urine in compost piles, check out the video below.

Straw Bales, Compost Piles & a Jug of Urine

Pee Jugs for Girls

For those women who watched the video "Human Urine for Compost, Start to Finish" and wondered, "How do I pee into a milk jug?" the answer is, "Don't even try!"

Instead, do what California resident and pee-recycler Anna Zanda does. According to a Mother Earth News article, Zanda uses two plastic jugs. She cuts one jug in half, reserving the top to use as a funnel for a larger plastic jug. When not in use, the hole is plugged with a wine cork to trap odor.

Reading Material for the Compost Throne

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third Edition
The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third Edition

The most comprehensive book on humanure available, The Humanure Handbook includes directions for inexpensively making your own composting toilet at home.

 

No. 2: Humanure

Composting human feces is also gaining popularity among organic gardeners. But making humanure, as it's called, is a more complicated and lengthy process than whipping up a batch of pee tea. In fact, it can take anywhere from six months to two years.

In Chicago, artist/landscaper Nance Klehm turned humanure production into a community project. The result? Bags and bags of pathogen-free compost labeled "The Great Giveback." For specific information about Klehm's "Humble Pile" project, follow these links: "Humble Pile: Human Waste Composting Project in Chicago" and “Weedeater.”

Of course, you don't have to be part of a neighborhood effort in order to compost human waste. You can do it at home like Boston gardeners Patrick Keaney and David Staunton, who create humanure out of waste collected from a homemade waterless composting toilet in their basement. Feces, mulch, wood shavings, and toilet paper season for a year in 18-gallon buckets with perforated lids. Then it's added to a composter and later used in their yard.

(Keaney and Staunton have also made the news for their auto shop, Green Grease Monkey, which converts diesel engines to run on used cooking oil.)

For directions on building your own composting toilet for about $25, see Joseph Jenkins's The Humanure Handbook .

Nature's Head Dry Composting Toilet with Standard Crank Handle
Nature's Head Dry Composting Toilet with Standard Crank Handle

Instead of building your own composting toilet, you can buy one. This waterless composting toilet from Nature's Head has a urine separator and a peat-moss based composting unit for ... everything else.

 

Comments

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    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for your comments, Ben. Happy to gross you out--in a good way. (: Jill

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Cool! Neat! Gross! But Mother Nature abides all odors doesn't she? Great article, interesting and weird.

      Best

      Ben

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Absolutely! There's always lots of research to do. It's a humbling thing to discover just how much I don't know! Thanks for reading & commenting, nancynurse. Glad you stopped by. --Jill

    • nancynurse profile image

      Nancy McClintock 

      6 years ago from Southeast USA

      Very interesting. Who would have thought it. You did your research. Thanks for sharing.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for reading, Veggie-Mom!

    • veggie-mom profile image

      veggie-mom 

      6 years ago

      This is fascinating information, thanks for sharing!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Gosh, I'd forgotten about that but have a hazy recollection of it from The Good Earth. Thanks for adding your comment, Johnna. DF

    • profile image

      Johnna Engelbreit 

      6 years ago

      About humanure - China I believe has done that for centuries. Pearl S. Buck, the writer, wrote about practices in China; they called it night soil - contents collected from slop jars grew beautiful roses.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Thank you for reading, Erin! I'm glad you stopped by.

    • Erin Eisenman profile image

      Erin Eisenman 

      7 years ago from Montana

      We had a university professor teach about this...she's a die hard pee fertilizer fan. I have to admit, I've tried it and been impressed with the crops' production. Seems weird but if you want natural...there's not much more natural than that!! LOL! Thanks for a great hub! Love it!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Thanks for your comments, James. Do you use humanure?

    • profile image

      James Connors 

      7 years ago

      This is not so unusual, only to Americans and other 'civilized' westerners who have been taught that human waste products are dirty and nasty and must be disposed of IMMEDIATELY after they leave the body. People around the world have used human waste products as fertilizers for centuries with no apparent ill effects.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Yes, Harlan ... oh, the jokes. Like you, I had to edit quite a bit, and maybe I should have edited more!

      Have fun p'cycling. (I feel the same way about the "other," too, although in theory it seems like the environmentally conscious thing to doo. :)

    • Harlan Colt profile image

      Harlan Colt 

      7 years ago from the Rocky Mountains

      I have all kinds of jokes racing through my head, but none of them fit my standards for a public forum. I started to do this last year and forgot about it when I went offshore.

      This will get me going again, however, I think the humanure - is going a little too far for my delicate sensitivities, I'll stick with the chickens on that one.

      Up and useful!

      - Harlan

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Wild, huh? I guess the trick is getting the right plumbing so it seems less ... icky. Thanks for commenting, mj!

    • profile image

      mj smith 

      7 years ago

      Wow...who knew!! The pee thing sounds reasonable, the latter...not so sure about that.

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