Growing food with urine is safe and effective and should be a common practice. As a biology artist with a background in agriculture, I’m interested in the ways humans can shift their relationship to the earth from parasitic to symbiotic, and using pee to grow plants is one simple way.
Synthetic fertilizer reduces biodiversity—it’s a leading cause of pollution and could easily be replaced with a daily byproduct of human life: urine. What if we could help dismantle the patriarchy and close the consumption loop? And what if pee helped? What if pee helped preserve and increase biodiversity? What if pee saved our relationship with the earth? What if pee saved lives? It sounds dramatic, I know. But hear me out.
This article will touch on the extraction methods of synthetic fertilizer, briefly compare the makeup of urine to synthetic fertilizer, roast the toxic relationship the majority of humans have to Earth, provide a nuts and bolts how-to that anyone can do, and answer frequently asked questions around peeing on plants.
Mother Nature Needs Our Love for Us to Survive
I’m a sensitive person and know I’m not alone when I say that I feel the earth sort of groaning under the pressure of human life. I have nostalgia pangs over the biodiversity lost in all the places I’ve known for so long, and these pangs are usually followed by an urge to run away to a new place for a fresh start. With that fresh start comes a new baseline and an uncomplicated “just the facts, ma’am” getting-to-know-you of the place. A common human experience has been one where we long to escape the damage we’ve caused, fall into brand new love of a new-to-me environment and explore it—then we colonize the shit out of it.
“Let’s see what’s under that mountain over there, and under that forest.” No stone goes unturned. We become the invasive species (here’s looking at you, Mars). It seems that, whether we go or stay, the vast majority of humans need to come to terms with our role on this rock and the wake that we leave, lest The Great Nothing That Consumes Everything stays on our heels. Up next, the Sixth Extinction, while we just chase our species’ tail and squabble over that last spacesuit.
This might be a stretch, but what if we look at all that through the lens of patriarchy? We already do, it seems. Mother Earth and mankind are old tropes. Certain groups of humans have been trying to glorify and force their dominion over the earth for how long? She won’t submit, bless her, and she’s ready to swear off man altogether, threatening to burn the house down. I can’t say I blame her and she has never been known to make an idle threat.
What if we could stay together, though? I imagine a sort of couple’s therapy, the earth and her most dominating and draining lovers. We’d promise to change and if she just wouldn’t be so withholding and get so worked up and always superstorm and polar icecap melt on us then…no, we’re past that point.
It’s past time to listen to what she has been saying all along and be in this relationship, to give as much as we take. At this point, it feels like we can never make up for all the shit we’ve put our old lady through and we just can’t help it, but down the block, there’s this redhead, Mars, and she sure seems like a hot little number. She doesn’t have much, but she’s sweet. Nothing a little colonization won’t fix, if you know what I mean.
But Earth is still so good for us and she just needs us to love her for it to work. Really love her. And she wants to try golden showers. Don’t be nervous.
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Using Liquid Gold as Fertilizer
The use of properly diluted fresh urine as a nutrient source for plants is a safe and effective practice that protects human life and promotes a healthy environment. It’s a practice that has been commonplace for public works for petrochemical in other countries but is pretty much taboo for Western culture. Sure, we have reclaimed water for irrigation on golf courses, a similar concept, but we can simplify, broaden and personalize the application.
Here are some rapid-fire fun facts.
Urine is not a very effective vector for disease (as opposed to solid human waste), which makes it safe and simple to use as fertilizer. It has pretty much the same salt, mineral and general other constituents as the ubiquitous moist, crystalline, blue house plant food concentrate, but your body just makes it. For free. All day.
The same house plant food company strip-mines and mountain-top-removal-mines for nearly the same salt and mineral content that we piss away multiple times a day. Those mountains are more than sometimes home to endangered species and indigenous populations of humans that are then “displaced” in order to access the materials under them. Urine is great news for all the mountains since it is so plentiful and free. Did I mention it’s free?
Here are some other crazy stats, if you’re into that: The average American urinates into about 12 gallons of potable water each day, or 4,380 gallons a year, turning 1.25 year's worth of drinking water for one human into blackwater. Blackwater is a major contaminant to drinking water sources, lakes, rivers and bays, posing a health risk to humans and suffocating greater ecosystems. Meanwhile, a year’s worth of urine from one human can grow enough wheat to make 365 loaves of bread. We pee a loaf a day.
How to Change Your Fertilizing
Replace your mined petrochemical fertilizer with homegrown golden showers (for your plants).
For house plants, mix one-part fresh urine with nine parts water and apply, repeating every third time you water. For herbs and veggies, mix one-part fresh urine with five parts water for a stiffer drink and water as usual. Vegetables are heavy feeders, so repeat every other time you water your garden.
The great news about lawns? You don’t have to dilute if you don’t want to. You can put your urine in a watering can and sprinkle it sparingly over your turf.
For general use, you will need to supplement with iron (compost, worm castings, blood meal, menses) every so often, but you will have to do that with the store-bought stuff, too, in most cases.
Remember, the sun will swallow the earth someday, so hold her and love her and affect change for the better sooner than later.
Urine Gardening FAQ
Q: Can I do this with orchids?
A: Absolutely. Dilute the ratio to three-quarters or half-strength (one part urine to 13 to 18 parts water), feed and make sure to allow nutrient solution to flow through the pot as opposed to pooling in roots/media, the same as you would for any orchids. I put my indoor orchids into the unplugged bathtub and feed to avoid overflows and sogginess.
Q: If I water my veggies with urine, like you say, am I eating urine come harvest time?
A: If you rinse, as you would for any produce, you’re following best practices. You are eating minerals that the plants have extracted from the urine, just as they would from soil, manure or petroleum-based nutrient sources. You really are what you eat.
Q: What about the smell?
A: A two-part answer: It won’t have a detectable odor any more than that store-bought, blue house plant food. Having said that, dilution is key with both. Some people look at the directions and think, “If a little is good, a lot is better.” This adage perfectly sums up the fine line going from nutrient source to pollution. The more accurate phrase would be, “If a little is nutrient, a lot is pollution.” Secondly, don’t save it up for later. Aside from starting to smell, the precious nitrogen your plants need will escape into the atmosphere if it sits for more than half a day. That would be that ammonia smell of old urine. Besides, you will make more pee, I promise.
Q: How best do I “collect” my urine?
A: First thing in the morning is ideal, as it’s the most mineral-rich. But any point is fine. Some find it easiest to pee into a watering can or plant pitcher with a wide mouth. With—how do I say it—certain “tackle,” the world is your oyster. And by oyster, I mean piss pot.
Q: What if I’m on medication or supplements?
A: The main precaution would be to avoid using urine from a course of antibiotics. Wait two weeks before feeding plants again. Antibiotics are basically a nuke bomb on the rich microbiotic life that is the biome of soil, turning fertility into wasteland.
Q: How come dog pee kills lawns if urine is so good for plants?
A: The “dilution is the solution to pollution” rule applies here. I could burn my name into your lawn like Fido with a strong solution of blue crystal miracle-stuff.
Q: First you said that urine is safe and then went on to say that it’s a health risk in drinking water. Which is it?
A: I love this question. Both, really. Urine, like any fertilizer, is high in nitrogen and is perfectly fine to consume after having been turned into sugars and carbon by the metabolism of a plant. “Uncut” nitrogen consumed by mammals starves hemoglobin in the blood (and as a result, the brain) of oxygen. Following that pattern, excess nitrogen in bodies of water causes algal blooms, which starve the aquatic ecosystem of oxygen and causes mass die-offs of micro and macro-organisms.
Q: Why are you like this?
A: I’m not exactly sure, but I am uncomfortable with the plummeting levels of biodiversity and the stability of the ecosystem as a result of slipping into the Anthropocene. For further reading, enjoy this rabbit hole of amazing data about using pee for good.