Pee-Cycling & Humanure
Wet Your 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 most comprehensive book on humanure available, The Humanure Handbook includes directions for inexpensively making your own composting toilet at home.
This humorous look at the use of humanure reveals that it's really much less icky than chemical fertilizers.
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 .
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.