How to use urine in your garden?

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How to use urine in your garden?

Dear all,

There was recently a fundamental question asked on the EcosanRes discussion group on Yahoo, which received a flurry of responses within a few days (and which had been asked on previous occasions). So I decided to copy it to here in order to archive the answers and make sure next time, we can simply send this one link (and to ensure it is found by Google searches). I think the question which Mike asked can well be classified as an FAQ section (frequently asked question).
It is actually interesting how the answers got longer and longer and eventually moved to composting toilets.

Hi: I'm a newbie here:
Question: what do UDDT users do with the urine? Solids I got, bag it and compost it. But urine? By my calcs a family of four could easily generate 180ltrs of mixed urine & water per month. I want to know what Jo Blo householders 'really' do with it.
Thanks
Mike


Reply by Karsten Gjefle:
mix it into the water you use when watering you garden or fruit trees - 3-4 parts water and the rest urine is fine...

Reply by Richard Holden:
Another option If you have a compost heap with garden waste is to throw it on the heap.

Reply by Michael Carmichael:
thank you Richard. My concern is the ammonia smell this would cause by continuously pouring on the heap or around the garden, and potential leaching hazards.


Reply by Richard Holden:
No smell and it rarely makes it to the bottom of the heap (which is on solid rock)
Climate is hot wet summers and dry winters.

Reply by Michael Carmichael:
thanks Richard, my UDDT device would be in use in S.E. Asia so I'm looking for all the variables given the hot and humid climate.


Reply by Mike Otterpohl:
put urine to plants diluted if you follow chemical agriculture as this is also dangerous mineral fertilizer that detoriates soil in the long run.
for small gardens you will need to export as you import food
mix with plenty of woody waste and compost if you go for ecological agricuture with buliding humus soil.

Reply by Anna Richert:
I just came in from fertilizing with urine in the garden. Nowadays I dilute it to half, tonight i spread it to pumpkins and squash, and afterwards I watered it down a bit. The neighbors were dining next to our lot, and they didn´t even notice. But they admire the garden... :-) I have a very green lawn from urine fertilization in early spring, it will get another dose in july probably.

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Reply by Gunder Edstrom:
Hi Anna
Nice to hear from you. You are right that watering down urine is OK when you have access to water all the year around. I suppose you are in Sweden right now. I am looking more at how to do fertilising in dry areas where you do not even have access to proper drinking water for months or years, less for irrigation. Then you have to rely on the seasonal rains. That is why I tell people in Ethiopia and other countries in the peri-urban areas and the countryside to inject urine into the soil during the 6 to 8 months of sunshine but no rain, and start planting when the rainy season starts. Then you get a harvest that is 4 to 10 times as big as an ordinary fertilised Ethiopian harvest. But you can of course use this way of fertilising also in Sweden during summertime.

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Reply by David:
Hi Mike,

Good question regarding urine utilization.

I have been applying my urine straight (no dilution) to my 400 sq. ft garden for the past 5 years. All my urine goes to this garden-about 6 gallons per week average.

My plants are strong and healthy. I am growing kale, beets, potatoes, mustard, collards, tomatoes, garlic without issue. I find it simple and effective way to recycle nutrients-particularly nitrogen and phosphorous. Although I have not measured the CO2 release, humus levels, microbial activity, and available calcium, my soil appears healthy without adding much compost over this same period. Soil remains moist and aerated for week without rain. I water an average of an inch per week. I am located in the Pacific Northwest part of the United States, which has an annual precipitation of 30 inches, but a 3-5 month period with zero precipitation.

I believe the myth that its necessary to dilute human urine needs to be examined. I don't believe its necessary, I suspect dilution dissuades many from urine recycling because of the increased hassle to mix water and urine. It may come from what was noted with pet's urine burning grass. I drink the recommended 3-4 liters of water a day, my urine runs fairly clear, which is perhaps why dilution is unnecessary.

Thanks for asking. Hope that helps.
Best,
David

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Reply from Gunder:
Nice to hear from You Mike!
I have not followed this discussion lately but this matter have been discussed and tested since 15 years back. We started looking at this question from the angle of how we use artificial fertilisers for young plants and seeds. I was taught that I should dig a furrow, 7-10 cm, put down the fertiliser (NPK or UREA pellets or liquid) fill back most of the soil, plant the seedlings or put the seeds and cover with the rest of the soil. Water and leave them to Mother Nature in Sweden (climate different from where we live now in Ethiopia). The plants will start to grow and reach the "food". This is also what we do with undiluted urine and it has functioned for us and the families that were in the first ECOSAN project in Ethiopia 1996-97.

My selfmade explanation is that you can compare it to pouring juice into your hair in the morning and hope that it will reach your mouth. You will not get much of it into your stomach! The same for the plants. Their "mouth" is in the soil not above ground and if you put the urine on top of the ground you have to water it to go down into the soil otherwise it will just be an annoyance for the plant and most if it will evaporate and the fertiliser is lost.

So we recommend families to dig a furrow, add urine, let it sink down, put back some soil, plant, put on the rest of the soil. In Ethiopia where it in some areas is a dry spell 6 to 8 months and no water availabe it has been a very successful way to "dry fertilise" the soil by adding urine into furrows and when the rain comes, your garden is already ready for the plants. This method has functioned since 1997 and the families still get enough vegetables so they can some sell in the local market.

Good luck!

Gunder

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Reply from Mike:

Hi Gunder: as I mentioned to David - have you read the book Square Foot Gardening? Mel Bartholomew is using compost, not soil, in raised bed gardens and adds little or no fertiliser and far less water. Really interesting alternative to current destructive industrialized farming methods. Method is easy to use in households.
Are households using all their urine on their gardens or is some being collected and sent to farms? I am currently working on an eco san project for developing countries and trying to find out what really happens at ground level to solids and liquids.
I think i've got the solids down. Solids drop into a bag or basket. Add sawdust/coir after each use until reaches about 25ltr. Take bag and stack/store in a ventilated 'composting bin' for one year after last deposit. Sounds right?
Have you heard of a plant called Chia? It was the super food of the Mayans / Aztecs. I just heard about it and bought a packet last week. Lots of information about it at this site www.bestchiaseeds.com/ (no affiliation or connection to this site) I have been using it, the seeds, as a dietary supplement to replace lunch; very filling and full of good things like Omega 3. I planted some seeds 3 days ago in compost and they sprouted already. Need to rush around now and find some pots to plant them in etc. One 1kg packet of seeds can literally grow thousands of plants and go a long way to eradicating the hunger problem in Ethioia / Africa. The plant is self perpetuating and has an annual crop. The main edible part is the seed, which you mix with water/fruit to make a porridge, but leaves and flowers can also be consumed.

Gunter, I would love to hear more about your project in Ethopia and read about what challenges you faced and how you overcame them. Any photos you would like to share would also be much appreciated.

Finally, are you storing your water during the rainy season for the dry? In my travels around Asia I saw so many times the land all dried up and no crop when they could have harvested water in the rainy season.

Mike

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Reply by Mike:
Hi David: what an insightful and informative response. Great! I have read that undiluted urine can be used as a week killer, but have yet to road test any theories (or myths) with regard to microbial activity etc. In my UDDT eco san system the front pan would be washed with water creating a mix anyway.

I am assuming that you don’t directly water your salad plants with urine but water the ground before hand or the ground surrounding? I’m thinking / theorising more industrial use of urine as a replacement for chemical fertiliser.

I have read in many reports that urine is kept for periods of up to six months to ensure the death of any pathogens, but you are using it directly? Okay, interesting. And you’ve had no adverse effects over 5 years. This is great on-the-ground feedback. Thanks.

Are you also bagging and composting your solids?

Have you read the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew? Very informative reading about raised bed gardening.

PS: I live in Singapore where conditions tend to be hot and humid year round, or dry and there is a greater propensity towards things smelling bad on the land. I am hoping to get a piece of land soon in Malaysia (next door) where I can put the theories, and the gardening, into practice.

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Reply by Hakan Jonsson:

Good answer and interesting experiences David.

To Mike:
If you fertilize plants or trees the risk of disturbing smell is small if you do
it wisely.
I do not dilute the urine but fertilize with it as it comes from my urine
diverting toilets. They are flushed, so it is mixed with 1-2 parts of water from
them. By either incorporating the urine into the soil directly after
fertilizing, as described by Gunder, or by irrigating directly after, and if it
is on a lawn also before, the fertilization, the smell is small. It is just in
the very vicinity of where you fertilize and just when you do it and perhaps
half an hour afterwards.
I have used all urine from my family (earlier 5 persons and now 2 persons) in my
garden for 11 years, but I think it is only the one neighbor whose entrance is 3
m from our lawn that actually has noticed any smell.

And risk of leaching is very small compared to pit toilets or septic systems,
where you have smaller spreading area and no vegetation to take up the
nutrients.

As for soil quality, the added growth that comes from the fertilization means
more roots which will serve as raw material for production of humus in the soil.
The addition of carbon from this is larger, often far larger than the addition
of carbon you normally get from fertilizing with faeces or with compost.

According to WHO recommendations 2006 on use of excreta and greywater in
agriculture for small systems (one household systems) you do not need to store
urine before use as fertilizer, but you should always wait 1 month between
fertilizing and harvesting, and especially so for lettuce and similar crops.

Our plot is about 1000 m2 and we live in mid Sweden. Our growing season is 4-5
months per year.

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Reply by Mike:
thanks Hakan: I'm glad to see so many green warriors out there also interested in this very pertinent subject. 'pure' urine, from what I've read has very few pathogens and can be 'cured' by leaving out in the sun for the afternoon.

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Reply by David:
Hi Mike,
I do actually apply urine directly on the plants themselves, once they get to a certain height. Before harvest, there usually is enough rain to wash off any of the salts. And I have not needed to use industrial fertilizers-ever.

A 6 month storage time is another I have not had to do. I apply direct without much time delay-perhaps 1-3 days. Urine is sterile from the body but full of nutrients, ergo the quick transition for bacteria to produce the ammonia and its smell. 6 months of storage would require three 55 gallon barrels and a location far from humans. I'd recommend the quick pour on the garden method.

Haven't read Mel's book but have read John Jeavons-"How to Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine book. A good read as well.

Haven't gotten into "humanure" yet (composting feces), but its being practiced at several locations in Portland. It requires a lot of biomass (carbon) to mix with the urine/feces to make the system work. This biomass either has to be grown or acquired from sawdust, etc. and reduces the overall sustainability of our eco-system. I don't know the numbers exactly but estimate it would take 200-300 lb. biomass per person per year.

The latest theory I have been hearing is that most of the nutrients are in the urine anyway, and that urine diversion and dry composting of feces, (over one year) is looking like the most practical approach. Feces without urine mix shrinks 100 times its size, and thus a 55 gal barrel, with good ventilation, would suffice for a family of 3 for several years before it needs to be changed out.

Cheers
David
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Reply by Mike:
Hi David: my way forward is definitely separating solids and liquids in a UDDT, thereby avoiding the toxic effect of mixed human waste and all of its pathogens.
My only concern - well, one concern, is people botty washing in the urinal pan, therefore introducing e-coli etc into the mix. I am currently developing a UDDT eco-san for developing countries called the human8ture ® and trying to cover all aspects, hence the caution and knowledge quest, as it is not just for personal usage.
As for the bio mass, yes, sawdust/leaves/coir etc are carbon organic (brown) and human waste is organic green (nitrogen) and the two mix together to produce an excellent nutrient filled compost:
not sure about and reduces the overall sustainability of our eco-system as sawdust/coir/coconut/straw tend to be in plentiful supply (in Asia anyway) and this appears to be a great way of using it up.
I will (hopefully) be starting test beds with composting human feces by end of this year. I am going this weekend to Bali to check out the Green School (google it for more info) and UWC Singapore, where I live, have indicated they would be willing to test out a boys n girls for my human8ture ® eco san can once i have the prototype up and running.
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Reply by Carl Lindstrom:

Hi Mike and all,
There is another way of going about this which is the long-term composting where separation in the toilet is un-necessary. Urine that seeps through the filter before being drained out is odor- and bacteria free due to the slow nitrification formation of natural nitrite and nitrate. This helps in terms of keeping a toilet clean and a urine pipe unclogged either by paper or by crystallization. With only manageable alteration of size and configuration, maintenance can almost be reduced to once a year inspection and removal of the pathogen-free fertilization liquid -- the best fertilizer we can get. This liquid can either be used directly or be added to compost to "fortify" it.
For those who enjoy the service of the toilets more frequently, it can still be accelerated but most situations call for less attention, service an maintenance in which case the long-term composting really is the safest way to go. see www.compostera.org

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Reply by Bret:
Hi Carl,

I'm curious about this concept of "long-term composting" and admittedly skeptical. In effect, what is the difference between an ELTC and an outhouse/pit latrine? I can speak from personal experience that pit latrines DO in fact fill up over time and capacity (as well as odors, insects, etc.) is an issue, how does a ELTC differ? Lastly, outside of projections and theories, are there any ELTC's that have been in use for 20-30m years?

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Reply by Carl Lindstrom:
Hi Bret,


I understand the skepsis ... many think it sounds too good to be true -- I have worked with this for 50+ years and I have seen many mistakes made and seen hopes in ruins and I have seen many who dismiss the need for expertise to make it work right ... "how hard can it be to maintain a compost pile???"


Answering your question:
The differences between an ELTC and the typical outhouse is
1. the outhouse loses the primary plant nutrient base, which is the stabilized liquid starting out as urine ... this either drains down into the ground water or needlessly fertilizes the area deep under the outhouse pile
2. the ELTC (Enclosed Long-Term Composting) is (as the name says) enclosed and blocks access to rats and vectors ... flies orient towards the odor-gradient and will only try to get access where there is odor that suggests an interesting habitat or food source ? ... that would in the ELTC case be the top of the chimney, but access is blocked by the fan. ODOR-FREE is crucial since, if odor comes out, flies come in !
3. you say that an outhouse eventually has to be emptied. That's a key question -- does it really or is it a extrapolation of what has been observed?Look at this figure which is both based on actual observation and numbers ... The most common mistake is that it LOOKS as if you are running out of space, especially if you can see the "pile" and it is getting close to the surface.

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Re: How to use urine in your garden?

Would be interesting to see how many in these discussions forum use urine in their gardens. Would be fun to make a poll:)

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Re: How to use urine in your garden?

I apply it directly on the high demanding plants (pumpkins and so on) or sometimes also a little diluted. I try not to hit the root zone and do it before rain.
It helps to invent a nickname for it, for acceptance.
In our garden its called: Pischerol (tm), the valuable fertilizer B)
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Re: How to use urine in your garden?

We have promoted the use of urine on most plants here in Kenya. Most farmers are applying it it the field with dilution during dry season and concentrated during rain season. I used it on my onions, Nappier grass, Trees and fruit trees and the results were so wonderful. A school has done a simple drip irrigation system where the irrigation water is mixed with urine to irrigate traditional vegetable and Kales commonly called sukuma wiki here.It is being accepted by most people now and we want to establish a way of marketing the fertilizer now.
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