So, you’ve adopted the philosophy of permaculture and are working with nature in the management of your homestead. You thoughtfully observe what’s happening on the land and see how everything works together to be self-sustaining. Well, what could be more natural than urine, right?
Urine can be used in permaculture as a nitrogen boost for plants. It can also be used in compost heaps and biomass production to speed up decomposition and add valuable micronutrients. For compost or biomass purposes, it should be fresh and undiluted. As a plant feed, it should be diluted with water in most cases.
To be clear, we’re talking human urine here, not that of sheep, horses, and cows. In urine permaculture, it’s used as a biological fertilizer. It’s free, and there’s no shortage in supply. Most humans produce between 25 ounces to a half gallon per day, assuming a normal fluid intake of around a half a gallon a day.
What’s In Human Urine?
Fresh human urine has the advantage of being free of bacteria and is pretty sterile. Even if you are taking vitamins, the quantities in your urine won’t be high enough to affect your plants significantly.
Ninety-five percent of urine is water. However, it’s the remaining five percent that is really interesting.
More than three thousand metabolites have been identified in human urine in the past three decades. Its composition varies depending on age, race, gender, diet, exercise, and medication. It can also change in the same person throughout the course of the day.
Generally speaking, the other five percent of urine contains –
- 2% urea
- 0.1% creatinine
- 0.03% uric acid
Urine is a rich liquid that contains many micronutrients used by plants. When it is more than twenty-four hours old, it starts smelling unpleasantly of ammonia. You can store fresh urine for several months in a sealed container to avoid the smell.
Urine typically has the same nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (N-P-K) ratios as commercial fertilizers.
Swedish studies in the 1990s demonstrated that the urine of an adult holds enough nutrients to fertilize between fifty and one hundred percent of the crops necessary to feed an adult. It is the creatinine and urea in the urine that contain nitrogen.
However, you must ensure that the urine is not contaminated with human feces, which carry many pathogens and are far from sterile. If you use a barrel composting toilet system, you need to divert the urine using a diverter in each barrel. Then a hose is used to transport it to a drainage system.
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If you don’t have one of these special toilets, it is better just to urinate into a jug or bottle to prevent fecal contamination. If you have a urinary tract infection or other bacterial or viral illness, your urine is not suitable for use in the permaculture of edible plants.
Using Human Urine In A Plant Feed Solution
Urine is too concentrated to use it as a feed for plants in many cases. Fresh urine should be diluted in a ratio of one part urine to between ten and fifteen parts water if you intend to use it on young outdoor plants. It should be diluted in a ratio of one part urine to between thirty and fifty parts water for indoor plants.
When used as a feed solution, it can provide a short-term nitrogen boost that assists in plant growth. It shouldn’t be used as a plant feed every day – even when diluted. Plants that will benefit the most are tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, and squash which usually need a lot of nitrogen.
If a plant is nitrogen deficient, the leaves will turn pale green or yellow. This can be remedied by feeding the plants with a urine solution. Just remember that a little goes a long way.
If a plant has too much nitrogen, the plant may not bear much fruit and will attract aphids. Plants given excess nitrogen may have curling leaves and grow more bushy foliage instead of fruit.
You can fertilize lawns and ornamental plants with diluted urine too.
Using Urine For Composting
Urine can also be used to make compost. As a compost additive, you don’t need to dilute it. Simply pour it directly into the compost together with straw, bark, dead leaves, dried tree branches, cornstalks, or woodchips as the carbon from these materials facilitates decomposition.
These materials are called ‘browns’ in permaculture to distinguish them from ‘greens’. Browns break down more slowly than greens and are higher in carbon. Greens like vegetable scraps, garden waste, horse manure, and grass clippings are higher in nitrogen.
An easy way to remember the correct mix is two buckets of browns to one bucket of greens.
Urine is relatively high in nitrogen, so it counts as a green. The bacteria that do the composting need both nitrogen and carbon to grow and multiply. If your compost heap is already high in nitrogen, it is best not to add urine.
The recommended ratio of carbon to nitrogen in a compost heap is between twenty to thirty parts carbon for every one part of nitrogen. Urine can also be used to kick off the decomposition process in a new compost heap.
Using Urine To Create Biomass
Biomass in permaculture is organic material that is harvested to make soil. Straw bales will gradually decompose as neat urine is applied to them, and you can use the decomposed straw as compost. If you have a pile of bales, you can apply fresh undiluted urine to speed up their decomposition and then plant fruit trees directly into the composted straw.
Biomass can also be made from dead trees and branches. Living deciduous trees like hickory and oak that drop all their leaves in the autumn are great for creating biomass. You can heap the leaves into piles and add undiluted urine to decompose them.
You can also judiciously apply undiluted urine to heavy mulch made of woodchips, dried leaves, or other high carbon material around fruit trees and other plants. Just don’t overdo it. We have all seen the yellow patches caused by dogs peeing in the same spot on the lawn.
The idea of the smell may put some people off, but if you dilute the urine before using it, this isn’t usually a problem. Fresh undiluted urine applied to carbon sources in outdoor areas usually won’t smell for very long because you don’t need to use large quantities, and rain and wind will rapidly reduce the smell.
Homesteads are not regulated like commercial farms, and you probably won’t receive any unwelcome visits from health inspectors if you are growing crops for your own use. Regulations for commercial farms vary from region to region.
Urine definitely has its uses in undiluted form in the compost heap and biomass creation. In diluted form, it can give outdoor and indoor plants a welcome nitrogen boost from time to time. If you use it as liquid plant feed for edible plants, make sure the donor is healthy, and the urine is not contaminated by feces.
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