Composting toilets are a great thing. They take what has become a problem in modern systems—human excrement—and make it into something useful: rich compost. Despite simple and effective ways of making composting toilets, humanure does still bring about some controversy with those who are worried about pathogens. Confident composters won’t hesitate to put a well-rotted humanure compost in vegetable gardens, whereas less trusting composters opt for applying it to fruit trees. The important thing about either type of composter, however, is that we start making the most of cycling the waste rather than contaminating our water sources.
With all of that said, urine is a completely different excretion, one that really doesn’t need to set off the same alarm bells. Most basic composting toilets are anti-urine, concerned about the high moisture levels, though some argue this needn’t be the case, that the moisture is actually good for the thunderbox. Nevertheless, the idea remains that urine is something else we should be thinking about. Unlike solid waste, urine applied to gardens doesn’t come with the risk of pathogens; rather, it is just, some would say, pure gold. In fact, it can be used in many different ways for boosting production.
Make Wee for the Garden?
Urine is very high in nitrogen, so much so that it should be diluted a minimum ratio of 1:10 with water before being used on plants. The wee of one person is said to be rich enough to fertilize a tenth of an acre of vegetable garden for the year. Once diluted the micturition mixture, or tinkle tincture if you like, should be applied within twenty-four hours of the urine being expelled. Older urine can become a bacterial issue, and a smelly one at that. The mxiture can be sprinkled on the soil, around the plants, or used as a foliar spray. The boost in nitrogen should also liven up the mulch and soil life beneath.
To get a little more technical, urine is mostly water with trace minerals and vitamins dissolved into it. That accounts for over 90% of what we are peeing. Much of the remaining percentage is perhaps a bit more interesting, as it is an organic compound called urea. Urea is wicked high in nitrogen. Synthetic urea has come to occupy the largest space in chemical fertilizers. Of course, our healthy bodies produce a cleaner, organic version, and it’s of such high quality we have to dilute it in order not to burn our plants.
Another option, one that might have a bit more lasting power than a foliar spray is mixing urine with ashes. Urine is high in nitrogen, as well as potassium and phosphorus (that’s NPK), while ashes fill in missing trace elements, such as calcium and magnesium. This combination actually has a lot of research proving its effectiveness, and it outperforms commercial fertilizers. Seeing as both of these components are readily available on homesteads, it’s only sensible to combine their powers and grow some tomatoes.
Stoking Up the Compost?
There are many ways to fire up a slow-burning compost. Aerating (turning the compost), adding volume (a cubic meter is about the minimum), and maintaining moisture levels (like a damp sponge) are all classic ways of doing this. In permaculture, we are fans of adding comfrey leaves or tossing in some road kill. We also know that our nitrogen elements are the fuel that drives the decomposition of carbon materials, and that’s where pee can start to help.
Urine, too, is a great compost stimulator. Obviously, the stiff shot of nitrogen and a bit of moisture both help, and the uric acid (urea) is also very beneficial. Uric acid levels are said to be the highest in the morning, so that’s the best time to rain down on the compost pile. Another popular method for composting with urine is creating a ‘pee bale’, which is used for a while and then added to the compost. This is a pretty clever way of collecting the pee without having to walk out to the compost heap or deal with chamber pots.
Torch the Weeds?
When urine is diluted, it’s aces for helping the garden thrive; however, in its pure form, the stuff is just far too potent for little plants to deal with. This is why a spot that gets peed on repeatedly, as the ground beneath a fire hydrant, will often turn yellow and die. There’s just so much nitrogen and acid that the plants burn out. Knowing this, if there is a particularly problematic spot with weeds, it possible to use 100% urine to try to get rid of the issue. Of course, if done without regard to the weather forecast, a rain could dilute it, and the plan might backfire and encourage the weeds to grow.
Defeat the Fungal Diseases?
Urine, oddly enough, can be used to help clean things up. For plants that struggle with fungal disease or mildews, a bit of diluted pee (1 part urine to 2 parts water) can make an effective foliar spray. Similarly, legend has it—and this widely disputed—that urine can be and has been used to help with curing human fungal problems, like athlete’s foot.
Fresh urine is known to be a great sterilizer and has been used medicinally for centuries. It has been applied topically to treat rashes, stings, burns, and sores. Fresh urine has been used to sterilize areas, especially on battlefields, because it is far safer than using water. Some doctors have even recommended that patients drink their own urine—moderately, of course—for health purposes. I’ll leave those recommendations to the professionals.
Some claim that early morning urine from a male is effective for keeping animals out of the garden. Early morning urine is the most pungent, and male urine has specific hormones that help with the repelling. Apparently, deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and skunks all detest the smell of masculine, half-asleep human urine.
There are many options to try out. Urine can be collected in a spray bottle and diluted, and that solution can be applied directly to plants that are being eaten. Stronger urine can be poured around the perimeter of the garden. And, yet another option is to soak something, perhaps a cotton ball or a bit of the old “pee bale”, and put that around the garden. Whichever method one chooses, it’ll be necessary to reapply the urine after a rain or watering.
Whatever we find ourselves doing with our pee, the main point of it all is that we really should use it in some way. Urine is not something to be flushed away like a problem. It’s a solution. Whereas composting toilets might be difficult for folks in densely urban areas, using pee rather than flushing it poses no health risk and is easy to do. It’s actually an amazing commodity for those willing to take advantage of it. Plus, it’s a great excuse to have another beer.
Feature Photo: Urine (Courtesy of Ajay Tallam)