Hi guys, I’m aware there are lots of threads on urine for the veggie gardens and seedlings here, but I’m actually looking to use it in commercial organic lawn care.
I understand the high nitrogen content can burn lawns if not well diluted and watered in, and I welcome any feedback regarding salt accumulation with constant application and how regular watering will counter this...
But my main question is regarding the better form of urine to use for lawn/soil food, and why? (Nitrogen content, plant availability, and potential harm to soil life - seeing as worms, bacteria, and mycorrhizal fungi are super important for healthy and organic lawns).
I have heard that the ammonia that urea breaks down into isn’t great for gardens? If this is because it damages soil life and drastically lowers PH, fair enough. But if this is just because the nitrogen because more readily available, that would be great for me - the more nitrogen the better - I’d just dilute it to keep the lawn healthy while being able to stretch the concentrate further
Also, I’m wondering what people’s thoughts are regarding soil PH in an organic lawn fertilised with fresh vs lacto fermented vs stale (ammonia) urine, and some reasonable organic and safe ways to counter acidifying the soil (lime, homemade seaweed tonic) and salt accumulation.
I’m planning on mixing the urine however it is prepared with homemade liquid seaweed, molasses, compost tea, weed/clipping tea, and cold blended homemade fish fertiliser.
I’m using ~1L urine per 100m2, every 4 weeks during our Aussie growing season (Sep - May - upside down I know).
Salt accumulation, PH, nitrogen availability (no point having a higher N product that can’t be used by soil/lawn) and soil life are my main areas of concern.
(All of this can be made for free, and offered to customers on premium plans for free with a siphon, bucket, and their existing fertiliser system - I’ve had success with fresh urine, compost tea, and a product called seasol which is an Aussie liquid seaweed tonic).
Please tell me everything you know because this stuff is super interesting - I know lots of people don’t like lawns because they take up valuable food space - but imagine a world without art and music, or food without herbs and spices - ornamental gardening has its place and us landscapers can use organic and holistic practises to promote soil and pollinator life while applying permaculture principles (reusing waste and local materials as garden inputs) 🙂🙂🙂
hau Thomas, this idea of yours is going to require quite a lot of urine to make it a commercial venture.
There are some things to consider while you are on the way to your goal.
Urine is sterile straight from the urethra, once air hits it for a couple of hours it is no longer sterile since many airborne microbes will have settled on the surface film, some of those microbes will be pathogens.
The Urea ( (NH2)2CO ) in urine is not exactly what we call ammonia (NH3), the enzymes excreted by some bacteria can turn some of it into ammonia compounds but most will remain as urea.
Fermenting changes the entire chemical structure of urine, so it no longer can be called or considered urine.
Stale urine is rife with pathogenic microorganisms, that is why it goes stale. This is not good for any plant.
Soil pH is very important for mineral and other nutrient uptake by plants so if the pH gets away from the sweet spot (6.8 to 6.2) then less nutrients will be able to be utilized by the plants.
pH is also very important for the microorganisms that process the raw nutrients for access by the plants.
To use urine in a commercial lawn operation you will need to not only have access to rather mass amounts, but you will also need to be able to keep it from contamination by airborne microorganisms.
This means a series of large vats with covers, piping, valves and pumps or gravity flow and containers for the finished product.
The best use of urine is actually in the creation of good compost, which is then used to create an aerated compost tea which is used to nourish the soil microbiome and thus plants.
Thanks for your reply redhawk
Would you mind helping me to understand how somethings work please?
I understand that urea is chemically different to ammonia, but I was under the impression that urea mostly broke down into ammonia (but you’ve let me know it mostly stays as urea), and was wondering how soil and plants use both urea and ammonia differently (as I have heard urea is a far better nitrogen source than ammonia, ammonium nitrate, ammonium Sunday’s, and ammonium chloride) - you can buy synthetic urea for nitrogen fertiliser as well as older fashioned ammonium nitrate, however I understand that too much nitrogen fertiliser, if not used by the plants, will acidify the soil (which I don’t want to have to try and deal with by adding huge amounts of calcium or magnesium).
Could you kindly explain how urea and ammonia are used by plants and what they do to soil, particularly any differences between them
Also, could you please tell me about how fermented urine is different? I’ve heard fermenting the urine prevents much of the urea from turning into ammonia, and am curious to know how soil and plants will use the fermented urine differently - does it acidify the soil more than other nitrogen sources. (Does it lose nitrogen when fermented, does fermenting it with lacto bacillus prevent it from being overrun by pathogens etc).
When it comes to compost, my main concern is the lack of nitrogen when the compost and compost tea is fully matured - I understand the micronutrients, the humic acid, and potentially the microbes (I’ve heard conflicting reports about whether these microbes actually survive long after being applied) are beneficial, and I plan on using compost tea, liquid seaweed, and liquid and fermented homemade fish fertiliser (cold blended, fermented, and strained made from the throw away skeletons and guts of local fish shops), but I just need the higher nitrogen of urea for lawns - and I’ve heard that urea is much better than ammonia and other nitrogen sources. I understand I’d have to use less nitrogen, while diluting it, and applying every few weeks to keep it safe for soil health (and please correct me if I am wrong).
Our suburban lawns in Australia aren’t too large, and I will have enough for between 4 and 8 thousand square meters per year, and it’s really as easily as filling a bucket and setting up a siphon system with their sprinklers (but I want to ferment everything to prevent pathogens), and as for other clients who get in last - provided they pay for the organic fertilisers and soil conditioners, I will apply for free on certain premium plans
Urea is a water soluble compound which is why it is used by farmers as a nitrogen fertilizer. In water the NH2 molecule portions break and bond with one of the hydrogen atoms from a water molecule to make NH3, this only happens when there are ions available since both Urea and Water are fairly stable compounds.
One of the ways electric charges are conveyed to these two molecules is via friction (as the urea compound makes its way down into the soil it rubs against minerals and creates a small amount of friction which can produce a static charge just long enough for a molecule split and reformation to occur.
Another way is by bacteria excreting enzymes that break the molecule down and the end result is NH3, NH4, CO2 and Carbolic Acid (C6H5OH). In lightening events urea has been found to form Nitric Acid and Carbolic Acid, these two acids will acidify soils and form salts by combining with minerals in the treated field.
The end result of using Urea and Ammonium Nitrate or Nitrite is acidification and salinization of the soil treated with these two chemical compounds, this results in poisonous conditions for the fungi and bacteria living in the treated soil and results in their death and so we have created dirt from healthy soil.
This is compounded as the farmer continues to add the artificial nitrogen compounds to the field until all microorganisms have been killed off and that creates more of the unsustainable use of synthetic chemical fertilizers.
Fermenting Urine results in salts being formed from the urea in urine and other salts are also formed by the other elements contained in urine. (Kidneys are good filters and concentrate all that passes through them that the body recognizes as waste and those compounds are then expelled with the urea as urine)
Adding Urine to compost piles has several advantages since it is a source of not only urea to be broken down by the compost microorganisms but it usually contains some trace minerals that are used by the bacteria to grow and multiply.
If you make a 5% solution of urea and pour it on a healthy patch of grass, then pour a 5% solution of Ammonia on a same or similar patch of grass, the urea will be more likely to cause root die off (burning) than the Ammonia.
This is because it will form carbolic acid where the ammonia won't do so as readily because ammonia doesn't contain a carbon atom but urea does.
The reasons for creating compost and compost teas is to add microorganisms to the soil and thus let nature provide all the nutrients needed by the plants in the manner nature has since the first plants evolved.
The only reason to add nitrogen to any soil is to provide food for the bacteria, most green plants get their nitrogen primarily from the atmosphere, not the soil.
Plants will draw N from the soil during their CO2 phase (usually at night) but when photosynthesis is in full swing the nitrogen in the atmosphere is the main source for this nutrient.
While bacteria and fungi, along with the rest of the microorganisms do die, they also reproduce very quickly, nematodes and other "higher" life forms take longer to reproduce than either bacteria or fungi, these two major players can become a million strong in less than one hour when they have all the nutrients available.
However, when we go and try to feed the microbiome with artificial means, we actually create the conditions for them to die off (we murder our microbiome).
It is very possible to treat lawns (some golf courses are now being organically grown at less expense than previously done) without resorting to blasts of nitrogen in detrimental forms.
The nitrogen left in finished compost is contained inside the bacteria and fungi that created the finished compost, and that nitrogen along with other nutrients are the ones that plants can instantly utilize.
addendum: when you ferment anything the organism you are growing is lactobacillus, lactobacillus doesn't kill pathogenic organisms, it is the salt used to start the fermentation that kills pathogenic organisms.
I had NO idea that non-nitrogen fixing plants could fix nitrogen from the air or even get it from bacteria without those special nodules on their roots - I know that with a poly culture complete with nitrogen fixers this can be achieved but I really didn’t think a lawn could work this way?
Would salt accumulation be negated with regular/semi-regular deep watering, as well as low application rates diluted to a rate of 1:10?
Also, in theory, would colonising the urine with lactobaccilus prevent other microbes from colonising? Competition and the likes? It makes sense that lactobaccilus wouldn’t kill certain pathogens.
It's finally spring here and I was looking out on the backyard where my daughter's dog has been going for 4 months. The grass hasn't been cut yet (it's just starting to grow) but you can clearly see where the pup's been peeing since January. Where she's peed, the grass is 3-4 times higher and much greener. I looked at the other yards (it's a common area at the back of each condo) and the only other spots like that are a couple just next door where she's wandered occasionally.
I've used mine for years on the compost or diluted for the garden, but even that didn't prepare me for the huge difference it can make on the lawn.
A piece of land is worth as much as the person farming it.
-Le Livre du Colon, 1902
That gives me confidence applying the stuff heavily diluted then 😁
Don’t shoot me down permies, but when clients have clover in their mono-lawns, I spot treat with extra diluted-urine to add nitrogen and discourage the clover and encourage the lawn - better than herbicides - deal with the problem (low nitrogen) and not the symptom (clover). If I was to give people a “permalawn” it would be evenly laced with microclover, and maaaaybe dandelions depending on their preferences (and if you can even buy dandelion seeds) 🙂
A second reply to redhawk - I know that mycorrhizal fungi will make locked up mineral potassium and phosphorus available to plants, and I know that my seaweed, compost tea, and molasses tonic will help with trace elements and microbes.
You’ve got me extremely excited about microbes meeting the nitrogen needs of the lawns though - especially hearing about those golf courses seeing as these lawns are mostly going to be monocultures without clover being cut to </=4inches (with gold and sporting fields often being cut to around 1-1.5”).
Nah I haven’t but it looks pretty awesome and I will check it out.
I also had another question arise today if someone wants to fill me in please - if urine will cause salt accumulation in soil, won’t it do the same thing to compost? Minus the nitrogen which is lost in the composting process?
I’m eager to learn this is super interesting and I’m finding organic gardening is so much more enjoyable as a business and an individual
Thomas, you certainly are asking good questions, thank you for that.
In the case of urine in compost heaps The combination of organic materials is hopefully fairly diverse so that there will be a good microbiome of many different species of all the micro organisms.
Since compost usually gets more oxygen than soil that is stationary with grass plants or other plants growing in it, there is plenty of opportunity for the microbiome to digest, form and re-digest components.
The "Big Three" NPK are usually highly over stressed by most folks, a healthy microbiome in your soil will recombine atoms over 20 times before plants might get around to making a call for a particular nutrient through their excretion of exudates.
Salts are constantly being formed, broken apart and those parts reformed into new compounds. Lab testing shows that initial salt formation has transformed over a period of a week so much that the initial salt concentrations have been reduced or transformed into other compounds such a phenols.
By the time a compost heap that has had regular additions of urine (inparticular) has completed the break down phase enough for mycelium to take over from the bacteria the salts created have mostly been broken down into component parts and reformed into easier to use compounds.
Usually it is soil that continuously receives additions of Urea (fertilizer applications) where we find rising concentration of salts, when we are talking about urine there is always the issue of how hydrated the animal that provided the urine was at the time of urination.
The more hydrated the animal, the more dilute the urine (which is a combination of micro concentrations of many elements provided by the diet of the animal as well as the functioning of the animals cells).
Just like when we flood a field with sea water, which if done on a timed application basis doesn't cause the perceived salinization of the field, this is because NACL and other mineral salts are immediately being utilized by bacteria and amoeba and flagellates for food sources.
The concentration is going down as soon as the salt water sinks into the soil and this breakdown continues until it is all converted to other compounds that the microorganisms can use.
Much of the Nitrogen that we perceive as lost really isn't gone it has just been combined into new, less water soluble compounds, some escapes but not quite as much as most reports convey.
This is an area of the ecosystem functions that is still being discovered and data is constantly being gathered and analyzed, so eventually we will have a far greater understanding of how nature takes care of all living things. which will make it easier for us to mimic her methodologies.
I’m blown away by your knowledge redhawk - I’ll be getting started on your work on soil next week during the coming ng rains when I can’t work
My last question for the time being is this:
Without nitrogen inputs (such as fertiliser), how will the lawn get its nitrogen? I understand mycorrhizal fungi can make mineral phosphorus and potassium available to plants, but I’m not sure how soil microbes and fungi make nitrogen available to non-nitrogen fixing plants.
If I was to make ‘perma-lawns’ for eco conscious businesses and residencies, I would include clover and the likes, but for monoculture lawns, even if they need far less nitrogen fertiliser than is traditionally though, I’d still assume that they require some nitrogen inputs - even if I’m mulching he clippings back into the lawn some of that nitrogen will be lost and need replacing...
Would fish hydrosylate with its proteins and amino acids be better than urine do you think? That way they get broken down by the microbes into nitrogen for the lawn - possibly buffering any problems caused by adding plant available nitrogen. I really don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s just a thought that occurred to me 😬
Most grass plants don't need much nitrogen from the soil or via fertilizer if they are growing in good soil, this is true for all plants actually, if the soil is healthy (good organic matter and rich microbiome) almost all plants can get the nitrogen amounts they need.
Grasses can pull nitrogen from the atmosphere just like most of the plant families such as Cucurbitaceae and Brassicas.
Adding nitrogen via fertilizer is similar to giving a plant a donut or coke, the sugar rush makes them look good but the results are short lived and detrimental to the soil microbiome organisms, except for those that we consider parasitic or pathogenic, they, like cancer cells, love sugar treats.
Additions to any soil we want to grow plants need to be long term additions, not short lived ones, the slower the release of nutrients the better for the microorganisms, they have to get their workout in and that keeps them fit and vibrant.
Fish hydrolysate or fish meal or fish emulsion are great additions, they are slow release and their components are good foods for the bacteria and fungi that feed our plants.
What the good care taker of the earth mother does is feed the soil microorganisms instead of trying to kill them, nurture them so they can perform their functions in the ecology.
When we do what nature does, we can not go wrong and that means we don't give our soil a junk food diet.
soil that contains just 5% nitrogen will grow very healthy plants P and K only need to be around 7%, the other minerals should be available through bacterial breakdown of the rocks in the soil. (even sand, silt and clays can be considered rock since that is where they came from)
The single most damaging things that can be done to any soil is to make unneeded additions via any fertilizers.
Soil tests all depend upon water soluble minerals, not total mineral content of a sample, the microorganisms tend to go dormant or die when excesses of fertilizers are used to "enrich" the soil, it ends up being turned into dirt (dirt is the mineral base of soil, soil only occurs when living microorganisms are active).
Urine is not always sterile, if you have a UTI (which can go unnoticed) or any local infection 'downstairs', it can be passed on.
Gardening, pets and children make the perfect vector between lawns to hands and mouths.
Bill Mollison would rail against the use of resources on lawn maintenance.
I'm sympathetic to the snake-deterring qualities of lawn, but to my thinking, a 'permaculture lawn' is defined by how little you can do to maintain its function.
When grass is allowed to mature, the stems and seed provide habitat and food for birds.
I prefer mowing a couple of times a year to maximize carbon in the volume of clippings - perfect for soaking up urine and bulking out a compost heap.
Examine your lifestyle, multiply it by 7.7 billion other ego-monkeys with similar desires and query whether that global impact is conscionable.