Tuesday, November 20, 2012

That Much Coveted Sunset Gardening Award: The Dirty Little Organic Secret That May Help You Win!

After reading about the Nigerian Science Faire competition in Lagos, Nigeria a couple weeks back where four teenage girls created a urine powered generator which ran on one liter for 6 hours and posting an article on it along with other similar research studies, I decided to go a drip further. I really didn't want to touch on the "Yuck" or "Ick Factor", but some researchers and your average gardener have known about the beneficial effects of urine on plant growth for decades. Even if you've never ever heard of this before, you've been exposed to some of it's plant growth phenomena effects whether you recognize it or not. Take your own pet dog or neighbour's Doggie and your prized Lawn. Ever see the effects of Dog Pee on the grass ? There are either two effects actually, the brown spots or that deep bright green spot look on the lawn.

Photo Credit: Lawn Science

The Dog Spot
The above photo is dormant grass with the often opposite browning effects of dog pee on the grass. In this instance the effect is a greening one. Most people mistakenly believe that dog urine has either a very high or to low pH and/or some poisonous element about it. In actuality, the fact it is very high in a concentrated Nitrogen, along with Phosphorous and Potassium. It's that much concentrated application (especially by a female dog) which causes the burning or greening effect depending on the water dilution available or lack of it associated on the lawn. Your safest bet is to follow your pet around with a bucket of water or hose and dilute the area. Even still this region of the lawn will perk up a brighter green than your surrounding lawn.
I have actually heard about people using Urine as a plant fertilizer  for years but ignored it. I was always too creeped out to give it a go. My wife however had told me a story of her Granny Margit (who died six years ago) who collected urine and used it on her tomatoes. She said the effect was incredible. I'm not one for steering away from something that works, no matter how icky it comes off. Did my homework and sure enough this method is a favourite for tomato problem issues. I have never done well with growing tomatoes outside here Sweden. Climate really stinks for growing warmth loving plants and tomatoes usually have never done well in this Swedish soil without much soil preparation to make the ground palatable for tomatoes. This year I did something different. Instead of the usual in ground planting, I used XX-Large Planting Container Pots. The strategic idea was that if I could plant in the sun and expose even the roots to the sun's warmth, maybe I'd have a chance. No such luck. In fact one month after planting the ICA MAXI Store bought Cherry Tomato Seedlings, they still had one single stem and yellowed sick foliage after one month. My reasoning on choosing Cherry Tomatoes was that they would growing and ripen quicker. Needless to say I was bummed, but then I started thinking & pondering over the Granny Margit Tomato Myth. Hmmmmm, okay yes I did my own experiment, but my wife never knew about it until a couple months later. Take a look after two applications in one week and the results in three weeks time. 

photo: Mine

All in all it was a month and this was the picture result of the Granny Margit Urine Method. Even the Spanish Slugs and native snails left the plants alone, something which had never happened previously. I'm always fighting those creatures. Two applications that first week and nothing thereafter through the end of the season.  One of the biggest problems I've found here with many of the commercially available Potting Soil mixes is the heavy usage of Peat Mosses in the blend. I knew there would at least be something about the salt content and other chemical makeup of the *cough-cough* magic formula which would counter the excessive acidic effects of the mix. Sure enough I was correct as the photo reveals.  However there was more!

I also found it advantageous to experiment with other landscape ornamental plants in my granite rock garden. The cracks and crevices in the bedrock were for the most part limited and shallow. Not much in the way of nutrition either. Over the last few years my Columbines had deteriorated and also the Coral Bells were stunted. Take a look at the Coral Bells on the top of the slab underneath the two wild Scots Pines. The little tiny shallow triangular shaped natural pocket in the granite where I planted them and added a tiny amount of soil was a natural for this experiment. Never have they done much of anything in this location before. 

photo: Mine

This small plant in it's tiny crevice was never so big before. In fact though I did not photograph it at the end of the season, it had doubled in the foliage you see here and had a much deeper green colouration than the lighter green here. As you can see there is really not much space for soil to speak of any where here. Even those pines when they first germinated so many decades ago were only lucky to find that perfect fracture in the granite bedrock for to sink down some very deep roots.
I actually was embarrassed to do it during the day, so I sneaked out of the house very early in the morning (4:30am) and avoided having my neighbours on either side see the jar I was holding which in actuality was a diluted 50/50 water mixture. Still it would have looked odd. I suppose I'm busted now since two of my neighbours read my blog regularly. For the last three or four years my Columbines have been stunted in growth to almost nothing. Only a few were still visible and below is one of the yellow varieties I call the Arizona Western Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha).  

photo: Mine

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and a Pink flowering Dutchman's Breeches in the background. Most of the plant's I put in the rock landscape did very well at first but gradually declined in the following years. Or well at least until the world renown magic mixture experiment took place. Whatever! At least the science is actually behind me on this one. Take a look at a piece written not long ago.

There was an article in July 23, 2010 issue of Scientific American by Mara Grünbaum (Deutsch = 'Green Tree' - what an appropriate name) Here is the article source link:

 Gee Whiz: Human Urine Is Shown to Be an Effective Agricultural Fertilizer
Researchers say our liquid waste not only promotes plant growth as wall as industrial mineral fertilizers, but would also save energy used on sewage treatment.
The beets Surendra Pradhan and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski grew were perfectly lovely: round and hefty; with their skin a rich burgandy; their flavour sweet and faintly earthy, like the dirt from which they came. Unless someone told you, you'd never know the beets were fertilized with human urine. 
Pradhan and Heinonen-Tanski, environmental scientists at the University of Kuopio in Finland, grew the beets as an experiment in sustainable fertilization. The nourished the vegetables with a combination of urine and wood ash, which they found worked as well as traditional mineral fertilizer.

"It is totally possible to use human urine as a fertilizer instead of industrial fertilizer," says Heinonen-Tanski, whose research group has also used urine to cultivate cucumbers, cabbage and tomatoes. Recycling urine as fertilizer could not only make agriculture and wastewater treatment sustainable in industrial countries, the researchers say, but also bolster food production and improve sanitation in developing countries. 
Urine is chock full of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, which are nutrients plants need to thrive - and the main ingredients in common mineral fertilizers. There is, of course, a steady supply of this man-made plant food: an adult on a typical Western Diet urinates about 500 liters a year, enough to fill three standard bathtubs. And despite the gross-out potential, urine is practically sterile when it leaves the body, Heinonen-Tanski pointed out. Unlike feces, which can carry bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, urine poses no health risks - astronauts on the International Space Station even  drink the stuff after it's been purified. 

The nutrients in urine are also injust the right form for plants to drink them up, says Håkan Jönsson, a researcher at the  Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences  in Uppsala who was not involved in the beet study but has researched urine recycling for over 15 years. Food gives us nutrients like nitrogen as parts of complex organic molecules, but our digestive system strips them down into the basic mineral form that plants need - so "we have done half the job," Jönsson says. 
A small but dedicated contingent of organic gardeners in the U.S. and Europe already  recycle with urine at home , and researchers in Scandinavia have run pilot projects to recycle locally collected urine on small farms. But urine recycling may never become a part of large-scale farming in industrialized countries, because implementing it would mean drastically remodeling sewage systems in order to collect and transport liquid waste. 
It would also mean swapping regular flush toilets for  separating toilettes  , where a divided bowl and independent set of pipes separate urine from everything else. This detail is a roadblock, Jönsson says, because many people don't want a toilette that looks strange. "Acceptance is a big problem for this kind of system," he adds.
For the recent experiment with beets, the urine was obtained from specialized toilets in private homes. Heinonen-Tanski's group planted four plots of beets and treated one with mineral fertilizer, one with urine and wood ash, one solely with urine, and one with no fertilizer, as a control. 
After 84 days, about 280 beets were harvested. The beetroots from urine- and urine/ash-fertilized plants were found to be 10 percent and 27 percent larger by mass, respectively, than those grown in mineral fertilizer. By 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 results were published  in the February 10 issue of the  Journal Agricultural and Food Chemistry 
Effective fertilization is not the only benefit of recycling urine, Heinonen-Tanski sugested in a  review paper  in the January 2010 issue of sustainability. The separating toilets that collect the urine use less water than flush toilets, she wrote, and the simplified waste stream requires less energy in sewage treatment. 
"Agricultural and health organizations should encourage people to use human urine as a fertilizer," Heinonen-Tanski concluded in the paper, especially in areas where wastewater treatment is unavailable or ineffective. 
Though Jönsson is skeptical that micturition farming will ever happen on a large scale, his own family does practice urine fertilization: He and his wife use what they collect from their separating toilet to nourish their garden at home in Sweden. The urine that one person produces can fertilize about one square meter of soil a day, Jönsson said - but there's been less to go around since his three children left home. 
"It's enough for the vegetables and the flowers," he said, "but I can only fertilize very lightly on the lawn. Otherwise I run out of urine."
By Mara Grünbaum
Coming to you in bulk pack at your nearest Home DepotLowesHornBachBauHaus and other Home Improvement Centre near you. Okay, I'm kidding. But seriously, this free item will never be a serious marketing hit with the Corporate Giants.
Just a few parting words of advice on using this method. I'm still a bit creeped out on using such a system on things like root crops or leafy vegetables. Just my opinion. Usage on plants well above ground or even orchard grown fruit trees, great! Urban Landscape issues of any type, go for it!  Putting the grossness factor aside for a moment, forget the bodily fluids issues and turning this loose on your garden. Let's analyze just what most good fertilizers are supposed to contain and what this natural home grown product produced is actually made up of and how you could save 100$ not having to purchase the commercially sold synthetic biological source remedies.  

* N stands for Nitrogen which is important for stem and foliage development.

* P stands for Phosphorus, which aids in root development, along with flower and fruit production.

* K stands for Potassium, which provides general overall plant health and disease-resistance.

There are a number of concerns here to watch for. No contamination of feces should be present. Also be careful of pharmaceuticals if you take lots of medication. Give those soil microbes a break and don't do that to your plants. Some other tips would be the importance of diluting the urine with at the very least a 50/50 water dilution mix. Never apply it straight on as it could burn the plants. Be careful not to apply it directly on the plants. Always water around the drip-line area below the outer foliage where the feeder roots would most likely be located. If you are still a bit creeped out, put it in your compost pile and add it that way. Micro-organisms will break it all down no matter what. Remember this is the best and fastest acting natural cocktail you can give a plant to almost expect an immediate response. Also keep in mind that the researchers have found that though the Urine is a waste product, unlike Feces, it is basically sterile by comparison.
Below are a few more photos which beautifully illustrate the effectiveness of this technique. 

(photo by Peter Morgan, Aquamor, Zimbabwe)
Corn grown with urine fertilizer is much larger than the 
other corn. Urine is a valuable nitrogen based fertilizer.

Photo by Peter Morgan

The visual provided by the pictures really speak for themselves. Plants cannot lie. In the interests of time and further references of which there are many, here is a very long list of information on this subject which though a bit on the creepy side, is also very very fascinating and educational.

Some additional Reading References
New Scientist: "Purified urine to be Astronauts' Drinking Water"


The Washington Post: "Human Urine Safe, Productive Fertilizer"

Popular Science: Better Tomatoes Via a Fertilizer of...Human Urine?

Daily Mail Online: "Urinating on your tomato plants could give you fruit four times larger "

Here's a Swedish website with products to facilitate the Urine fertilization process:

Guldkannan Towa: Liquid Gold Toilet & Watering Can

Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management: Urine Storage

Survival of enteric bacteria and coliphage MS2 in purehuman urine

Evaluation of microbial health risks associated with the reuse of source-separated human urine

UNEP: "Human urine and feces as a Fertilizer"

Human Urine and Wood Ash as Plant Nutrients for Red Beet (Beta vulgaris) Cultivation: Impacts on Yield Quality

Sustainable Sanitation—A Cost-Effective Tool to Improve Plant Yields and the Environment


Experiments using urine and humus derived from ecological toilets as a source of nutrients for growing crops.

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