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Human Pee With Ash Is a Natural Fertilizer, Study Says

 
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Thought this might be of interest - Anyone doing this currently?

Via National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/09/090918-urine-ash-fertilizer.html
 
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Helena Norerg-Hodge mentions the use of human waste and ash in her book "Ancient Futures"
 
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after reading this my hubby said "we have pretty piss poor soil"..

I have been aware of this not only for fertilzer but also as a replellant for coon and bear.
 
Bardo McCoy
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@Lapinerobert: Never heard of Ladakh before - sounds intriguing.  Saw an amazing movie set in Bhutan a little while ago called "Travellers and Magicians" - beautiful movie, but I'd really recommend it for the commentary which provides an amazing glimpse into the history and society of the region.

@Brenda - thanks for making me smile!  And yeah, come to think of it, I hear coons hate the smell of people - In Toronto where I live we have tons of Raccoons - in my last neighbourhood (right downtown) we had about 7-12 on our block alone.  I also seem to have recall reading that they DETEST the smell of baby powder for some reason...

 
                    
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weve been using urine mixed @1:7 parts water for years on most of the rosacea in the yard from roses to apples.

havent tried it mixed with ash directly, but I do mix my ash with well aged humanure and plant under trees, the trees seem pretty happy with it. be interesting to find the ratios that the study used, how long the urine sat before use...it starts 'growing' after just hours and that could be unsanitary...

D

 
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If I were producing a lot of ash, I would explore ways to leave as much charcoal as possible from the process that produced the ash, and use a mix of urine and charcoal instead of urine and ash.

Charcoal contains all the minerals in it that would remain if it were burned to ash, but they tend to remain in the charcoal until it is colonized by microbes (usually fungi).  The minerals that leach from ashes might leave the soil more readily.
 
Brenda Groth
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in response to the  charcoal articles that I read on here earlier I have been spreading the char from our woodstove out onto the gardens this year..not really long enough to notice how much it has done to help ..but i can tell you that after manure and char on our asparagus, it got really strong and healthy..but that was after the spring cuttings..we'll see next year.

we have always used a bit of ash, mostly on the lawns and lilacs, less on the gardens as we don't want to over neutralize the acidity of the soil..

as for the pee..we are going into the winter season..and was wondering ..sure you can spread ash over the snow and it will leach down into the root level over melts..but what about the urine..do you spread it in the winter as well or hold it (yuk) until summer?

i do have huge numbers of plants growing "around" my drainfield (raised 4' with banks on 3 sides planted with mixed beds of perennnials, vines, shrubs and dwarf trees)..they do very well..guess they get all the diluted urine from the drainfield.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Brenda Groth wrote:what about the urine..do you spread it in the winter as well or hold it (yuk) until summer?



Urine goes stale.  The urea ferments into ammonia, which evaporates.  You would either have to keep closed containers, or find a way to absorb the nutrients of it in order to maintain the benefit.

One option I've heard of is a composting urinal, where a strawbale or similar keeps the N etc. fixed.

Charcoal also has an amazing and multi-level capacity to absorb.  As a pertinent example, charcoal made at low temperature, especially, has carboxylic acid groups all through it.  That's the active group in vinegar, and the "acid" part of amino acids; it allows the charcoal to chemically bind with ammonia.
 
                    
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Brenda Groth wrote:
.but i can tell you that after manure and char on our asparagus, it got really strong and healthy..but that was after the spring cuttings..we'll see next year.



Ive been suspect of biochar in temperate climates with acid soils- and this comment reinforces my suspicions. asparagus is an alkaline soil plant, which means that unlike wood decomposition which produces acidity, the biochar may be pushing alkalinity.

this goes in concert with my understanding of the difference between temperate soils where wet weather prevail vs. tropical soils where wet summers prevail. Its not that biochar is bad here, but that its results will vary widely from the results discussed in reviews of its use in the tropics, or even in areas with temperate wet summers vs temperate wet winters. climate changes alot when it comes to these soil chemistry issues.  love to hear more peoples feedback- but ill look for biochar thread
 
Brenda Groth
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DL you are probably right there as we do tend toward acid soil here..I do have to be careful where i put ashes or lime or char..as it does tend to raise the ph..i believe as well..

i do have things that require acid soil and will not put the char on those areas (blueberries, cranberries, etc)

i also think that is why it made the grass very green and healthy..as the soil is acidic clay where our lawn areas are..so the ash helps that..(also husband had put the char on the lawn which was stupid, and i raked up all the larger pieces i was able to..cause it hurt the feet to walk on the lawn
 
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This a great info!

I live in the rainy Northwest and want to try using urine.  However collecting and keep seem to be an issue.  Since you only use it every two weeks, it seems like mixing it with something would be necessary. 

Any other ideas besides hay?

~Jami
 
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When I lived/grew up in IL, 2 young red maple trees were planted in front of our house. My dad worked in the garage, drank beer & he would just pee in a jar, as to not go in the house all greasy & dirty.

When the jar was full he would dump it around the root zone of the trees. One tree got pee tea more than the other because it was closer. after about 10 years of doing this the pee tea tree was obviously larger & more robust. I haven't seen those trees in 13 years. I wonder how they look now?
 
Bardo McCoy
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I just wanna say that everyone sharing experience and knowledge like this is awesome.  I've got a whole lot of research to do now on soil chemistry.  MUCH thanks, everyone 
 
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In another thread somewhere on these forums we have a lot more about using pee as a fertilizer and the concerns around that.  In a nutshell:  just try to spread your pee out - and it will help your growies a lot if you cut back on your salt intake.

And then there is another thread somewhere here about the many uses of wood ash. 

As for combining the two:  my only concern would be to think about how lye is made:  wood ash + straw plus a little water.  Lye is freaky toxic stuff.  I think it might be a good idea to understand how this is made so that you don't accidentally make some when you are mixing pee with wood ash.

 
paul wheaton
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Brenda Groth wrote:
after reading this my hubby said "we have pretty piss poor soil"..



Well, at least it's pretty. 


 
Jami McBride
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I've made lye from wood ash and hot water is involved, so I wouldn't think it is a naturally occurring substance in the fall using ground water.... but I am not a chemist.

~Jami
 
Brenda Groth
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yes it is pretty    and not really piss poor as I have encouraged the menfolk to use it ..mainly as coon and bear deterrant..

but you are right about the lye thing..i think they used the urine..and then a few weeks later added a sprinkling of ashes.

also in old outhouses they would use ashes and lime to sweeten the outhouses..and then when they moved the outhouse ..yearly or wheneveer..they would fill in the hole and plant a tree there..

we put a catalpa tree near where our old outhouse was..but not in the hole..but excavators putting in our home and drainfield did some damage to it..otherwise it is a nice big tree but had some winterkill and root damage..

i think that all these discussions are really good for the soil..and the soul
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote: Lye is freaky toxic stuff.  I think it might be a good idea to understand how this is made so that you don't accidentally make some when you are mixing pee with wood ash.



You won't make little crystals of concentrated, dry lye like you'd buy in the store.  That stuff is freaky toxic, partly because it's so unnaturally dry. 

You'll make a very weak solution that has a livable amount of lye in it, but some of the most caustic minerals will be neutralized by natural acids from the urine, because caustics are greedy for any acid they can get.

As a matter of fact, I bet such a high pH would lyse the urea to form carbonate ions: instead of lye, you'd have a mix of ammonia and washing soda, with maybe a tiny bit of lye in it.

Paul, did you know that lye solution turns to washing soda if it sits open to the air?  The same reaction is used on submarines to scrub the air of CO2.
 
paul wheaton
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so if you were to open a package of commercial lye, and lay it in a pan, then in time, the lye would become ..... safer (I hesitate to say "safe") and the air would have less CO2?

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Yes.

A package of solid lye begins to absorb moisture out of the air and become a liquid immediately after it is opened.  It comes in coarse granules to slow this down a little, but when I've worked with it, it has been difficult to weigh out, both because it gains weight, and because it becomes sticky.

This phenomenon is called "delquiescence."

At the same time, it is absorbing CO2 from the air.  You may already have known this, but a similar reaction (but with Ca in place of Na) transforms slaked lime to something like limestone, and powers the workings of tradional whitewash, plaster, and mortar.  Lime isn't as caustic as lye, and limestone makes an insoluble film unlike washing soda, so the reaction takes years vs. hours.

Washing soda isn't perfectly safe, as you've mentioned, but it is safer than lye. 
 
Jami McBride
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So this lime that powers the workings of traditional whitewash, plaster, and mortar - is what they mix with water and store in the ground for years before it's ready to mix with plaster?  I've never understood this when I've come across it.  Can you explain?

~Jami
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Jami McBride wrote:
So this lime that powers the workings of traditional whitewash, plaster, and mortar - is what they mix with water and store in the ground for years before it's ready to mix with plaster?  I've never understood this when I've come across it.  Can you explain?

~Jami



Here's the narrative:

CaCO3:  limestone, coral, oyster shells, etc.  The natural state of "pure" calcium minerals.  It isn't very soluble in water.

CaCO3 --> CaO + CO2:  This reaction absorbs a lot of energy; it happens in a lime kiln.  CaO has the traditional name "burnt lime."

CaO + H2O --> Ca(OH)2:  This takes a while.  It releases energy fairly quickly at first, but the hydroxide ("slaked lime") forms as a coating on the remaining CaO, so it may be a while before this reaction goes to completion.

H2O + CO2 <--> H2CO3:  "Carbonation."  This is a huge part of the reason global warming has been so very slow to ramp up: the oceans have absorbed the bulk of the CO2 we have produced.  The reverse happens when you open a bottle of carbonated beverage, and in your lungs as you blood releases CO2 into the air.  More to the point, it happens at the surface of any moist slug of slaked lime, because deeper in, the following reaction is happening:

Ca(OH)2 + H2CO3 --> CaCO3 + 2H2O:  This is a standard acid-base reaction, which restores the slaked lime to its insoluble, mineral state.  Crystals of CaCO3 will grow into any pores, bonding to surfaces mechanically and sometimes chemically.  But the carbonic acid (H2CO3) has to diffuse in from the surface.  A thin coat of whitewash may allow the reaction to finish all the way through, but reasonable-sized structures tend to have this reaction still going on centuries after they are poured.  A big block of wet mortar can safely be stored for years, and only harden on its skin; the pores in bricks speed up the process tremendously.

Bonus:

Ca(OH)2 + H2SiO3 --> CaSiO3 + 2H2O:  Silicon is in the same period as carbon, and can sometimes react in analogous ways.  Silicic acid isn't even as stable as carbonic acid, but tiny amounts of it and related chemicals do form right at the surface of silicon-bearing minerals.  Finely divided silica, like volcanic ash or diatomaceous earth, has so very much surface area that this sort of reaction happens at an appreciable rate.  Dust that can react this way is called a "pozzolan," referring to Roman masonry.  Slower versions of this side-reaction probably help lime bond to sand and other masonry, as well.

One thing I have left out is that most minerals are heavily hydrated: water is a significant part of their crystal structure.  But that's kind of an advanced topic, and doesn't inform this discussion very much.
 
Jami McBride
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Very well done!  Thank you for the explanation.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Quite welcome!

Glad all those classes have some benefit.
 
                          
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I just know that when I burned a woodpile (didn't want to but we were moving away) and then hosed it down to make sure I could go to bed that night, my sneakers were partially damaged on the bottom- stepping through the wet ashes had converted part of my sole in to red crumbly stuff.  Am much more careful now- thank goodness didn't wear croks back then!

I pee in a bucket when convenient and put that on my compost.  DH refuses but will at least pee on the compost pile when outdoors if close by.  I tell everyone to pee outdoors please.
 
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Urine is high in phosphorus, ash is high in potassium, particularly wood ash.  Urine also has a CN ratio of 2:1.  Its good stuff.

I did the math on urine.  A typical healthy human male of 180 pounds produces enough urine to produce about 1800 pounds of compost in a year using 80:1 browns and urine as the exclusive nitrogen source.  Thats enough compost to cover 583 sqft of raised beds an inch deep, once a year.

Practical application of the theory is another matter.  Exclusive use of urine in a compost heap is discourages as it does not promote microbial diversity.  Salts and heavy metals being removed from the body will exit in the urine.  Years of use can result in a build up of salts and heavy metals in the soil.  While urine is sterile when it leaves the kidneys, pathogens can enter the urine while it remains in the body.  A sick body is a poor source.  While thermophillic composting can reduce the threat of disease, prudence would urge it not be used at all as a safety precaution.  Used in compost, the compost needs to get hot, stay hot, and be allowed to age for a couple of years.

In my view, if food crops are to be marketed or consumed by someone other than the producer of the urine, it should be avoided entirely.  As far as non-human food crops or non-food crops, I'd say go for it.  Plenty of crops out there than can use a boost: flowers, ornamental and feed corn, trees used for windbreaks, timber, firewood, christmas trees, cotton, flax, biofuels, ornamental pumpkins, gourds, and pasture, to name a few examples.  Used in moderation, its a resource.

 
                    
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I've added pee to my compost pile, but never added it directly to a garden bed. Does anyone have any information about the pros and cons of each approach?
 
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isn't ash and urine called salt peter or Potassium nitrate.

Potassium nitrate is the oxidising component of black powder. Before the large-scale industrial fixation of nitrogen through the Haber process, major sources of potassium nitrate were the deposits crystallizing from cave walls and the draining of decomposing organic material.[citation needed] Dung-heaps were a particularly common source: ammonia from the decomposition of urea and other nitrogenous materials would undergo bacterial oxidation to produce nitrates. These often contained calcium nitrate, which could be converted to potassium nitrate by the addition of potash from wood ashes. It was and is also used as a component in some fertilizers. When used by itself as a fertilizer, it has an NPK rating of 13-0-38 (indicating 13.9%, 0%, and 38.7% of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, by mass, respectively). Potassium nitrate was once thought to induce impotence, and is still falsely rumored to be in institutional food (such as military fare) as an anaphrodisiac; these uses would be ineffective, since potassium nitrate has no such properties.[2] However, potassium nitrate successfully combats high blood pressure and was once used as a hypotensive. Other nitrates and nitrites such as glyceryl trinitrate (nitroglycerin), amyl nitrite and isosorbide derivatives are still used to relieve angina.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium_nitrate
 
Ken Peavey
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Urine in the compost is not a problem other than the societal taboo and when used in moderation.

Urine in the garden beds is a problem.  The high nitrogen content can chemically burn the roots of the plants.  If added directly, it should be diluted 10:1, water:urine. 
 
                              
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I've done some tests on urine as to the safety and such.  I already humanure compost and am a firm believer in a fair amount of urine going into the compost to make for a good hot pile.  Hot composting is one of the best ways to deal with pathogens.  About the only thing that septic systems and sewer systems do to protect people from pathogens is to make the effluent more inaccessible to human contact, they do nothing to keep the chemicals and nutrients out of the drinking water supplies.

Anyway, fresh urine is generally fairly safe as long as it comes from a healthy person.  However, urine is easily contaminated by e coli naturally on the body.  If you leave urine sitting in an open container, it is going to grow things and become nasty quickly.  If you seal urine up in a bottle and leave it for a period of time (few weeks or so, it will vary though) the urea will convert to ammonia, raising the pH in the urine and killing off the e coli that is likely in it to begin with.  I have run tests to check for coloforms in aged urine and such.  The aging sealed up in a bottle does work for this.  However, there are illnesses that could possibly still survive the high pH and ammonia rich situation so I do not advise using urine of some one who is sick for direct fertilizing of plants.

As to urine burning plants, it will depend on the type of plant and the strength of the urine (this will vary depending on the person, diet, hydration, time of day, etc) but sensitive plants might want a dilution of 1 part urine to 20 parts water while some other plants can handle 1 part urine to 1 part water.  I would not recommend using the strong mixture too often though.  I do know of people who have very carefully dribbled urine full strength throughout their garden, probably before watering carefully.  In any case, using urine as fertilizer is kinda like using any liquid fertilizer, using too much can burn plants or cause salt build up in the soil.  (same even applies to using manure.)
 
                          
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what about urine from a person on long term medications such as cancer or hiv medications, what would be the residual things from these medications do compost wise?
 
                        
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g'day all,

we've used urine in our gardens for a decade + now, alone it is a good plant food as it contains nitrogen but also other elements from the body, in my case medications but whatever is in there gets converted by soil mechanisms before it is available for the plant roots to take it up. i'm on lots of medications.

mine usually gets mixed with pre-rinse dishwater or dishwashing water (we use green type detergent and use a hand basin in the sink for easy transportation of water to buckets and then garden). i only mix it so it goes around.

would always recommend using urine fresh, have been told after 24 hours it goes ammonic and can be used as a weedicide.

we are on high water management practises here, so no water is ever wasted flushing what urine goes into the toilets.

maybe those in wetter areas who want to use urine in any way shape or form, could save a day or 2 and add that to the already watered garden once or twice a week(fresh of course), and pee the rest into the toilet. everyone needs to always work out what is going to work best for them, it's not always one size fits all.

use it on food trees as well water only around the root zone areas of all plants.

len
 
                          
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Hi Len

I come all the way to America, to get advise from a fellow Aussie!
Happy New Year All

Bird
 
                        
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lol bird,

guess so hey chuckle.

and a happy new year to you and all forum members.

len
 
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So I googled around about this study, and found an article which summarizes what the researchers actually did - here's the quote -

********
Urine and wood ash increase tomato production four times URINEis a good source of nitrogen, a plant nutrient. Swedish and German companies have developed technologies to condense it into crystals which can be used by farmers on a commercial scale.

A group of researchers just made a recipe to exploit its benefits better. They mixed it with wood ash.

When wood burns, phosphorous, calcium, potassium and magnesium remain in the ash. This cocktail of nutrients was applied to tomato fields. The recipe was successful.

The researchers from the University of Kuopio in Finland grew tomatoes in pots. On days six, 14, 41 and 48 they fertilized the plots either with 1.48g per plant of synthetic fertilizers or with 16.2 ml per pot of urine or with urine and 2.14g per plant of birch tree wood ash combination. Some plants were not fertilized. The urine was tested for the presence of microbes.

The combination induced the tomato plants to produce four times more fruits than unfertilized plants and as much as plants fertilized synthetically. The combination also reduced the soil’s acidity. All tomato samples were said to taste equally good.
*********************

The source is www.downtoearth.org.in , an environmental mag in India.

Urine as it comes from a healthy body is sterile. But it is a great nutrient provider for all kinds of bacteria, so it gets colonized pretty quickly if you don't seal it up.  Dunno what effect meds can have on urine's use as fertilizer, but I wonder about antibiotics - seems like they might have a negative effect on the soil biota. On the other hand many of said biota produce antibiotics in their effort to monopolize their environs, so maybe a dilute amount of medicinal antibiotics wouldn't make any difference.

Personally, I intend to experiment with this.
 
                          
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the way i'm thinking is the meds didn't kill me the first time through so thet probably wont on the second, third times either
 
                              
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As to the meds, just use a bit of common sense

Like I probably wouldn't use urine from a bunch of people on chemotherapy in a recirculating hyroponic type system to feed a bunch of malnourished children 100% of their diet!!!

If you are using your own urine, then you are already taking the meds and provided you are not taking anything too extreme, diluted and mixed with soil culture is probably safe for the family too.

Might as well use the urine to support the plants rather than simply flushing the urine away and hoping dilution of the meds in the drinking water supply is better? 
 
jacque greenleaf
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Actually, I was thinking more about the possible effects of the excreted end-products on the soil life.

 
                              
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I expect that if some one is on strong antibiotics, it might be better to put the urine into the compost pile for the duration of the meds plus a few days, where there will be extra time and a multitude of microbes to deal with the excreted antibiotics before they get to the soil.

I'm not sure how other meds are likely to affect soil life, I'm not on many meds.
 
Brenda Groth
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guess i'll make the guys pee in the ash barrels
 
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