I Am Not Taking the Pee

Let's talk fertilisers. See, I can see you cringing already because of the post title. You're thinking, 'Oh my god, he isn't is he?' Yes, for the last few months I have been using urine in a test patch just outside the back door. For those of you imagining me happily peeing behind our house, I will have to stop you there; for a starter undiluted urine will merely scorch your plants, which is what D discovered when he was little when he killed part of the hedge near the shed and after a little coaxing, then dunking in a water butt (just kidding, it was the compost heap) he admitted that this was his favourite outdoor 'pee place'. Thankfully, he had not decided to christen a 'poo place'. He was young and the hedge grew back after he was banned from peeing there. I am not that young, so why am I peeing on my plants? For starters, let's talk about urine as a compost accelerator, many of us know that urine is packed full of nitrogen and this accelerates the rotting down process. Often referred to as 'liquid gold' urine or the nitrogen packed element, urea, has been used in straw bale gardening to; the idea is simple, go for a tinkle on your bale a few weeks before planting, keep doing so until the bale is soaked in urine. Then top off with garden compost and away you go, the plant then has access to all the nitrogen it needs and plants love nitrogen.


Strawberry

So, why are we so squeamish about pee? Let's face some awful facts about urine and how in our culture we pump it out into our oceans. Nitrogen is not great for marine life, it promotes algae blooms, which starves the ocean of oxygen, raises the acid levels and kills off fish. We are somehow disgusted by eating anything grown in or around human waste. As a teenager, a man came around the pubs selling some the finest tomatoes I have ever tasted and then someone pointed out that he worked at the sewage works, and the tomatoes were probably growing there. He lost all his business over night and a few people rushed to the toilets. In some EU countries they are now pumping human waste through pipes in peoples houses, as the bacteria break down the waste, it gives off phenomenal amounts of heat, meaning houses are literally being heated for nothing. We are not taking the pee. Yet, for the last hundred years, since the advent of closed sewage systems, we have been wasting a resource that was once used on farm land. Yes, people of Britain, Cheshire is literally built on the waste of Manchester and Liverpool. Essex on the waste of London. I am saying nothing about any reality television shows filmed in either county. Now, we pump some of it out to sea and at no point do we feel ill about eating fish but if it goes near our strawberries we suddenly turn green.


Rose

It is time we looked at our own waste as something that is useful. We should just start with pee. Urine is full of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, the building blocks of plant life. When it leaves your body, unlike faeces which must be stored for a minimum of six to twelve months in a compost toilet, it is 100% sterile. At present our faeces goes through a system that is known as 'tertiary anaerobic digestion'. This kills off up to 99.99% of pathogens, the resulting waste is known as ‘biosolids’ which can be used on farmland and would eliminate the use of synthetic chemicals. Yet, we are still guilty in the UK of pumping back into the sea. Something the EU are not happy about but come Brexit we can carry on with our great green credentials that this government says we have. Let's talk about how your waste is taken care of, after you flush your toilet, the waste goes down through pipes into a screening plant, here anything that shouldn't be there is picked out; things like nappies, sanitary items and cotton buds. I remember a friend once telling me during the collapses of the economy over ten years ago, that the screening plant was finding loads of mobile phones from the city of London. Well, it beats all those bankers throwing themselves off tall building as they once did. The next stage is to separate the poo from the wee, this is called the primary stage. At the secondary stage all harmful pathogens are removed by the introduction of good bacteria. The same stuff you drink in those yoghurt drinks. In the final treatment stage, this bacteria is removed. The sludge, as it is known, is recycled and can be used on agricultural land as fertiliser (and is, so there you go, you are already eating it and you didn't know), but companies also burn it to provide heating and electricity. So, the idea that your poo makes it to the ocean is wrong, but the water that has come from it at the primary stage, rich in NPK does. We are literally taking the piss. When we should be literally taking the piss out of the oceans. Farming in the UK is still reliant on synthetic chemicals rather than biosolids, and there should be a drive to make our waste useful. We should have a self contained system but that should be a system that pumps nothing into our oceans.



Roses

Anyway, the science bit is over. What can you do with your urine? Well, we decided to take a north facing, shaded area in our garden and test it on a crop of strawberries (remember it is sterile), a crop of oregano that loves to be in the sun, hostas that tolerate shade, ferns that tolerate shade, geraniums that had recently been divided, marigolds and a mix of roses. This area of the garden has been one of the worst areas to grow in as it is nothing more than a cutting behind the kitchen that leads to the steps to the main gardens. It gets sun first thing in the morning and last thing in the day, come winter it sulks in abject darkness all day long. So, we set up our test with a ten litre watering can and every couple of days I would pee in the watering can. I did this where I could not be seen, this is not some sort of weird voyeuristic gardening that breaks the law. I would dilute the urine with water from a water butt or tap. Filling the watering can full. Gentleman gardeners will find this easier. Lady gardens, get a bucket. 



Hostas

It must be fresh because the urine will turn to ammonia and the nutrient level will drop. The only time I found being in a watering can hard is when D caught me doing it and he laughed so hard, that it made me laugh, and he fell over laughing and I fell backwards, and yes the inevitable happened. Which made him laugh. Made me laugh and on and on. It was a source of much humour for him for days until I caught him peeing in the watering can because he understood that it could help the plants. He didn't know the science but he was not all squeamish about it being applied to crops we would eat. He was more horrified that we pump it into the sea. He thought this was cruel, and you know what, he's damn right. All plants were watered at the start of the day. Not one plant has suffered. The strawberries have grown fast, full and very tasty (see, you're gagging now but you have to stop doing this because faeces and urine is in everything you eat, everything. There are seven billion of us and that is a lot of human waste floating around; soil is literally made up of every waste you can think of, get over it and embrace it), the flowers all blossomed and have kept on blossoming. The roses have been simply spectacular. The geraniums have all grown back producing twenty healthy plants that are not suffering like the rest of them in the garden under this heatwave. Which brings us neatly to the idea of wasting water, each time you go to the toilet you flush away 6-12 litres water; yes, we all know the maxim of if it's yellow let it mellow and if it's brown flush it down works but not everyone does. Even if you flush the toilet three times a day, and there are three of us in this house, we are flushing away up to 36 litres of water. That's a short shower. I am not asking for toilets to be redesigned, though that day will come. I am asking you to consider saving up 36 litres per person in your household and saving money on buying synthetic feeds by embracing urine as a feed for plants. We use between 10-15 litres to water all our plants in this shaded area. Our urea is not being pumped out into the oceans and we are embracing a technique that is ancient. If our ancestors knew the power of our waste to improve food production why are we so scared of it? It is like we are nation of nursery kids, giggling about it and horrified by the thought of any of it getting anywhere near us. So, let's start with pee and blast some myths: Urine is 95% water, 2.5% which is urea (the nutrients), and a further 2.5% of which is a mixture of minerals, salts, hormones and enzyme (source: The Ecologist). People often cry out, 'But what about the drugs!' and they really shouldn't because that attracts the wrong kind of people. Let's break this down even further, only 2.5% of your urine could carry traces of the medication you are on - however, you are watering down trace elements even further by spreading it around your crops. The possible health concerns are less than drinking water which can have higher traces of estrogen in it; let's burst a myth here that the pill is responsible for men get more feminine etc etc - yawn - we all produce estrogen, and we all pee it away. However, the pill is not the main bad guy here, and a woman's right to choose her own reproduction should not be diluted by idiots blaming them for water pollution. The main bad boys in the estrogen argument is industry and agriculture, livestock (remember that cows are female and bulls produce estrogen too) and landfill. You can read a fascinating paper on it here and see why women are not ruining our drinking water, we all are. Most prescribed medications break down in the body and only powerful drugs are expelled through our urine. So, let's stop taking the piss, buying products whose production and distribution are damaging our soils and seas when you have something that is free, ecologically sound because you have stopped flushing that toilet when you have spent a penny, remember as a planet everyday we waste up two hundred fifty-two billion litres of water and that is a conservative estimate. That's three billion one hundred fifty million baths. That's four hundred and six billion showers. That's enough water for one hundred twenty-six billion people to drink. Pee in watering can. Save the planet. Feed your plants. Stop being like a four year old. The numbers speak for themselves.


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2 comments:

  1. Great post! And to think I got mad at The Man for peeing on the rhubarb growing beside his tool shed. Thanks for the info.

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    1. Ha ha, just tell him to dilute it next time!

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