Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Pee... Or Not To Pee

Yes, we're talking liquid gold today! So if you're squeamish about bodily functions feel free to check out tomorrows entry :)

You've probably read along the way that peeing on your compost pile is good for it and for your garden later on. Why? Because urine contains valuable nitrogen. That's why those spots left from your dog on the lawn turn nice and green. Ok, so why do they turn yellow if the dog pees in the same spot all the time? Because you can have too much of a good thing! And because urine also contains salts. So if you're going to collect and use urine as a fertilizer it should be diluted with 3-5 parts water.

Now, I'm not saying you should pee in a jar all the time. Although that's the easiest method. Many toilets these days have separating features to keep liquids and solids apart for better composting. Handy if you're a girl and don't have a shewee in your pocket. But it's just something to think about in the overall health and vitality of a piece of land. If we're so concerned about putting back on the land everything we take out to maintain fertility then why are we flushing all these minerals and nutrients away? We've talked about composting toilets let's just talk about half of the issue, pee.

These corn plants are part of a much larger experiment involving the use of urine as fertilizer. The ones on the right are fertilized and the ones on the left received regular water. Notice any difference? The eventual crop yields of the fertilized crops were five fold compared to the regular crops. 5 fold!! The only difference was that urine was mixed 3 parts water to one part urine and watered as usual. This being done once the plants had established their first set of adult leaves. The idea was an extension of the arborloo idea where a pit toilet is allowed to compost (and therefore shrink in volume) for a year or two and a layer of soil is added and a tree planted. The trees grow very well in what is otherwise very marginal soil.

Well you might be asking why this even matters to us. We can buy fertilizer cheaply and easily and it's plentiful. Right? It allows us to grow one crop year after year on the same ground without any damage to the soil, right? WRONG!! Almost all commercial fertilizers made this century are derived from petro chemicals. Gone are the guano deposits and easily mined minerals. Gone are the slag heaps from which to get lime. Now it's up to large companies, like PotashCorp to supply the world demand for fertilizer to try and eke out as much productivity from the arable land as possible. Many of the world's subsistence farmers do not have the access to or ability to pay for fertilizer, so being able to use the resources already available to them, like urine, could boost their food security and increase the soils ability to support them and their families.

Steve and I don't believer that's  the best way for our land to be managed. We believe that we can continually increase our fertility by adding compost, manures, cover crops and by rotating crops so that they benefit from the crop that has come before. By planting clover along with our grasses in the pasture we're helping fix nitrogen and by having animals graze the land in rotation we hope to have soil that is light, full of humus and fertile, so that pest problems are minimized by robust plant health. Of course that's the goal. Who knows what will actually happen, but it's a good place to start.

If you're interested in reading about the experiments using urine as fertilizer, check this out.

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