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Should You Pee On Your Compost?

Should You Pee On Your Compost?

Are you peeing on your compost pile? †If not, you may want to start.

Human urine is rich in the nitrogen that plants need to thrive. The commercial chemical fertilizers widely used to add nitrogen to the soil come at a steep cost to our environment and our health. Their application results in algal blooms, oceanic dead zones, contaminated drinking water, human health problems and more. Meanwhile, we are literally flushing billions of tons of free, naturally-created nitrogen down the toilet each year.

I first learned about this idea from permaculture and edible forest expert, Dave Jacke, when I had the good fortune to walk the land with him this spring at the new†Thorn Preserve, a beautiful, 60-acre parcel in the Hudson Valley.

According to Dave, peeing on your compost is a wonderful, completely free, environmentally-friendly way to add essential minerals like nitrogen back to your soil.

I did a bit of digging and found several studies that support Dave’s claim. A field study done in Kathmandu, Nepal found that sweet peppers fertilized with human urine and compost yielded the most fruits and tallest plants of the eight treatments they tried.

Peeing on the compost pile by Eve Fox, The Garden of Eating, copyright 2014

Another study done by the University of Kuopio in Finland found that greenhouse tomatoes fertilized with a mixture of human urine and ash yielded nearly four times more tomatoes than non-fertilized plants. The tomatoes fertilized with urine, alone, actually yielded a bit more but the plants did not grow as tall or strong and the tomatoes contained less magnesium than those fertilized with both ash and urine.

According to the researchers, one person could provide enough pee to fertilize roughly 6,300 tomato plants a year, yielding 2.4 tons of tomatoes. That’s a lot of tomatoes…

Ulster Germaid tomato from our garden by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2012

Although this idea may be new to many of us, it’s actually a pretty old one. Nepalese farmers have been applying urine to their crops for centuries. And “night soil” (a.k.a. human manure) served as a traditional fertilizer in Japan and China †right up until World War II in Japan and the 1960s in China. But I would not recommend using “humanure” — in addition to the very considerable ick factor, there are far too many pathogen and heavy metal-related pitfalls to make it safe or practical for home usage.

Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants by Carol Steinfeld

Some have raised concerns about hormonal or pharmaceutical residues in human urine but, ideally, your compost should get hot enough to burn off any potentially harmful residue in your urine. It’s this same magic of composting that allows commercially-run composting facilities to transform all sorts of waste, including meat scraps, bones, cardboard, waxed paper, grass clippings from lawns that may contain both insecticides and weed killers into rich dirt that even an organically-certified farm can use. And use it, they do.

According to Carol Steinfeld, the author of Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants, we Americans are pissing away enough nitrogen to fertilize roughly 12 million acres of corn every year.So drink up, then get out there and pee on that compost pile! 

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Eve Fox

Eve is the creator of The Garden of Eating, a blog about food--cooking it, eating it, and growing it. She has a legendary love of aprons and can often be found salivating over the fruits and veggies at one of the many farmersí markets near her home in Woodstock, NY. Want even more recipes, photos, giveaways, and food-related inspiration? "Like" the Garden of Eating on Facebook, or follow Eve on Twitter or Pinterest.

113 comments

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6:13AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Another option in composting. Thank you.

5:59PM PDT on Aug 20, 2014

Fascinating array of comments! Just to clarify a few points - urine is sterile so there is no risk of bacteria and I have not noticed any odor at all besides the distinctive smell of compost - it is decomposing food, after all.

For the women and girls reading this, I would suggest that you collect your pee in a container. And you can definitely do this inside and carry it out to discreetly dump it on your compost if you have neighbors close by. They won't know what it is.

Those who have mentioned concerns about medications, I think that is a valid point but the things I've read indicate that those residues are dealt with during the composting process - in essence, they burn off in the high heat of the decomposition. This is the same reason that industrial composting programs can accept all sorts of things including waxed paper, grass clippings from lawns sprayed with fertilizers and weed killers, meat scraps, bones, etc., yet the soil that these facilities produce is fine to use on a certified organic farm.

But I make no claims at being a scientist or an expert so I encourage you to do your own research, of course.

8:03AM PDT on Aug 20, 2014

Interesting, not surprising though since I'd heard things from my Grandmother that spoke to urine use and its benefits, in more ways that one.

I'm sure to many this is not a pleasant idea, yet, before there were toilets, there were TOILETS. :-)

I'm going to share this with the Elder that loves to grow things. We have both been witness to what menstrual blood does for plants...another great natural fertilizer.

Thanks for sharing.

11:06AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

I told you that the dog urine on dandelions might be the secret of all of their vitamins!! I still say-no to dandelions and dog urine.

9:23PM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

I'll pass the info on to those I know who compost. What they choose to do with the info is their business. I don't want to know.

1:49AM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

In old days chamber pots were emptied into kitchen gardens. So now everyone can climb onto compost pile, never mind the neighbours...

12:15AM PDT on Aug 2, 2014

no thanks

3:40PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

Not interested, thanks for your opinion.

7:19AM PDT on Jul 31, 2014

Thank goodness my lot is so small that we don't have a compost pile. thank goodness no agonizing over "to pee or not to pee, that is the question".

4:25AM PDT on Jul 31, 2014

Hmmm??

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