Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To Pee or Not to Pee...

It's strange how these things happen - that is, how the sight, scent or taste of something can suddenly trigger the recall of a distant memory. As I walked through the garden tonight and looked at my tomato plants, this was precisely what happened. Of all things, the memory centered around pee - or more precisely, the use of pee as a liquid fertilizer.

As a child of the '80s, having grown up in a modest brick row house located in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, I distinctly remember that like my dad, our next door neighbor - a lovely and rather large multi-generational Japanese family, also maintained a wonderful urban vegetable garden in their backyard. While our main crops were tomatoes, miniature eggplant, cucumbers and kohlrabi, theirs' were bitter melon, watermelon and an assortment of Asian greens. One summer day, my eyes wandered over the fence and I watched as the petite, gray-haired Japanese grandmother carried a rather large bucket of pale yellow liquid out to the garden and proceeded to water her vegetables with it. When I asked her what the liquid was, much to my horror, she told me that it was pee. And judging by the size of the bucket, I gathered that all three generations must have contributed to this smelly enterprise.

As odd as this revelation might have seemed to a 8 year old, I did learn something that day. Apparently, diluted human pee makes for some good plant food, particularly for tomatoes. Furthermore, it's sustainable. If you don't believe me, click here.

So I will go ahead and ask all of you this very frank question - Do you (or would you) use diluted pee (urine) as a liquid fertilizer in your garden? While I hesitate to partake in this endeavor myself, I'm curious to learn about its potential.

Before I leave you and while we're on the subject, here is a quick update on my tomatoes:

My mid-May planted (main crop) tomatoes are over 2 ft tall and flowering.

My late April planted (early) tomatoes are almost 4 ft tall and fruiting.

I was good about labeling my 30 or so main crop tomato plants. Unfortunately this was not the case with my 9 early ones. This is either a Cherokee Purple or Black Krim tomato.

Green Zebra maybe???

Red Siberian???

Easy one - Sungold.


  1. Interesting question. No, I haven't used urine, but have researched the idea some. Unlike feces, human urine is sterile, so there's no risk of contamination using it in the garden. I think I'd prefer to pour it onto my compost heap, as a nitrogen additive, instead of applying it directly to growing plants, though. Maybe chamber pots should come back into style?

    While we're on this somewhat strange subject - I have "marked my territory" while out camping. One night, in my tent alone, I was almost asleep when I heard a bit of a ruckus just outside the front flap. Peeking out, I saw a large, canine-type (almost too big to be a coyote, and wolves aren't completely unheard of in that area) doing the alternating back-leg scratching up the dust a few feet away. I sat quietly for quite a while before peeking out again. All was quiet. I warily snuck out and squatted a couple of places between where he had been and my tent, then crawled back in and went to sleep.

    My boys "water" their pumpkins to make them bigger....and I beg them for pee for my tomatoes.....HOWEVER, my garlic apparently is nitrogen deficient, and needing a quick organic fix. The only thing I can think that would work is PEE....and I just can' I crazy??
    off to read your link.....

  3. I have heard of this before but I'm not sure I would do it. Seems a little crazy to me :-)

    Your tomatoes look really good. Most of mine are 8" high now, started them late this year. There only is one early 'Siletz' with fruit.

  4. I'm with MamaLou! Liquid Gold is a very interesting read.

    I encourage the rest of the family to go in a bucket when possible (!) and mostly pour it onto the compost heap as an activator, but have also watered plants directly with it (diluted).

    You can't catch a disease you don't already have from your own urine. It doesn't smell if it's fresh- only stale urine that's been sitting around gets wiffy, so we 'pee and pour', as it were...

    From an environmental point of view it makes sense too, as nitrogen run off into our rivers from various sources is a growing problem. Close the loop by putting it back into the soil!


  5. No, I wouldn't use pee in my garden, nor in my compost....even if EG did say my composter looked like a potty chair. If I ever catch Mr. Granny peeing in my garden, he's going into a retirement home ;-)

  6. I guess such practises are bret out of us these days. I'm sure in the past it was common practise. I don't view it as being that much different to using animal manure which a lot of us clamour for in great amounts.

  7. I never thought to use it in the garden, but I guess you are right, pee is a good source of nitrogen. Can you get sick from your own urine?

  8. I wouldn’t use urine in my garden. I’m not saying that there are no benefits (obviously there are) but I just don’t like the idea... And the article says tomatoes tasted differently. I probably wouldn’t eat those tomatoes. It’s the "ick" factor.

  9. I do encourage my children to pee in the garden (and explained that it is good for the plants) - my three year old says 'it tastes like raspberry shortcake to the plants doesn't it',and delights in choosing which plant will get the benefit. I have on occasion but only when I'm sure no one is looking! And mostly because I don't want to waste good gardening time by going inside. Bob Flowerdew, one of my favourite gardening authors, highly recommends taking the opportunity while you're out there to add some to your compost pile.

  10. We use composted animal manure and rotted foods for fertilizer, why not urine?

    Makes for an interesting read.

  11. I never thought about using pee before. I wouldn't have a problem using it...but, my family might.

    Your tomatoes look great!

    It's funny that you did a pee post. We have a lot of pee going on around here. My grandson "Little Garden Helper" is just starting with the potty this week. Boy, that would be messy, if he saw me putting pee on the plants!

  12. Well pee is mostly sterile. There are diseases that can be carried by the urine, but they are few and far between (hanta virus comes to mind). If you use it in the compost pile I'm guessing it is safer than cow manure. It is a much more sustainable solution than fertilizers we buy in the store (organic or not). I personally would have nothing against using it in the garden, but I don't. In our overly clean, disinfected society too many people would get freaked out by it. I do feed my veggies to others. If we ever have a really bad depression and things are hard to come by or we actually do get an energy crash at some point, I'm sure I will use it. But unless that happens or it becomes accepted to do it, I'll cater to my OCD family and squeamish friends. I do wish people would get over it though as it is a very sustainable fertilizer.

  13. I don't have a problem with the idea, but I have way too uppity a stomach to be hauling around buckets of pee.

    That's basically the same reason I ended up in IT even though I had an interest in the medical field :)

  14. Daphne expressed my thoughts on this subject very well. No problem with using it but don't just because of the reaction others would have - but if things were dire and nitrogen sources hard to come by - then I would be all over it.

  15. I've heard of this before, but have not tried it and probably won't. I have heard it keeps the deer away, if that is a problem.

    Your tomatoes look terrific!


  16. In small doses it's fine, especially for alkaline soils, but as a regular thing I would worry about an accumulation of heavy metals and salts.

  17. Huh. I'd like to see a chemical analysis...

    My mother encourages my father to pee on the compost pile every now and then. There is a nice screen of bushes there for him, too :-)

    I say, Pee.

  18. yes I use pee in my gardens. for nitrogen loving plants it it great. I do dilute it though to a 10 part of water to one part pee.. it works great and allows us to keep being sustainable and having to use chemicals..

  19. I can remember trying to keep the deer away from the garden in my old house. The garden center guy recommended fox urine. I asked - why can't I just pee around the garden? he said - because you're not a fox. My reply? - I've been called a fox at times! :)

    I seen no reason not to use pee, although I'm not sure it would be worth the effort or worth the tongues wagging in a suburban neighborhood that already thinks my gardening habits are strange.

  20. My husband used to be in the habit of peeing in the garden because he didn't want to take the time to go inside. I could always tell where he had marked his territory because of the smell . . . I'm with Daphne, it would be a fertilizer of last resort.

    You haven't been peeing on those tomatoes, have you? ;-) They look fabulous, so big and healthy.

  21. Well, you can experiment, have Johnathan pee on one plant occasionally, mark it be HIS PLANT than compare with the rest of the plants and see the difference.

  22. I completely understand the use of urine in the garden, but I wouldn't do it myself! I know many use it on the compost, but I won't tell my kids or they would be out there all the time and I have "issues" with that. Camping and hiking, fine, but in my own yard, no! Maybe it's because I have a friend who lets her kids do it all the time and they come over here for a dinner party and proceed to do it in front of everyone... it kind of ruined it all for me LOL. And the smell in our humidity would probably ensure I didn't ever go out there again!

  23. I've certainly heard of it, and while I haven't used it myself, two weeks ago my boyfriend was visiting from Virginia and had to pee- I told him to go do it in my compost pile.

    I don't have any qualms with it- it's sterile and I don't even think it is gross- but mostly the mechanics of it would be difficult to me. The idea of having to haul a bucket from my upstairs bathroom ALL the way out to my garden seems like an awful lot of trouble. But I will invite all guys to stop by and visit my compost pile...

  24. My pee is only for the compost pile, not the veggies.

  25. No one has mentioned medications yet, which I am surprised about. If one is taking anything other than a vitamin supplement urine in the garden is not a good idea.

  26. oooh good one, Kelly! And especially for those women taking any type of hormones, BCP or replacements. Those flushings are contaminating the water supply along with the extras put into our food is given as one of the main causes of girls early onset puberty, some at the age of 7, can you imagine?

  27. What an interesting post, and comment forum at that :)

    I definitely haven't used it at this point, though I don't think I'd be entirely opposed. I certainly work with it enough in the medical field! (NOT that I am in anyway suggesting that any urine besides that of my immediate family would make it into the compost, just that I'm used to dealing with it!!!!!)

    I can't imagine the smell being much worse than the fish emulsion stuff I put out there! I didn't want to be anywhere near my garden after I fed it yesterday, and this stuff claims to be "deodorized".

  28. Thanks everyone! There are a lot of great points made here. Kelly, I didn't even think about the medicine angle. I guess this ancient practise hasn't adapted to account for what we put into our bodies these days.

    I think the jury is still out for me. If my plants are being fed composted cow manure and blood and bone meal, is pee really any more gross?

  29. I'm glad to learn I'm not the only one that mixed up tomato plants this year!

  30. I don't know that I would have my hubby and son pee in my neighbors would probably think I'm even stranger than they originally thought. Since we are a medicine free family (except for Rhinocort) I don't think I would be concerned with medical body waste getting into our food.
    I also mixed up my tomatoes...but that's because the wind blew them off the table when they were first growing and I had to replant the sprouts...of course, the labels ended up all over the floor so I had no idea what I was planting. I guess I'll find out which is which when they are ready to pick!
    Oh, and my hubby grew up in Philly too...he doesn't (and his dad) doesn't remember ever seeing anyone do MIL would probably never let her kids eat a veggie if she did witness it!

  31. Not sure how I feel about it or if I could ever allow it in my garden but I did have an older gentleman tell me once that to keep the deer out of my garden, I needed to send my husband out after dark to MARK OUR TERRITORY in the garden.

  32. BAck to medications in pee, the best way to make your african violets keep flowering????? Put a bcp in the tray around the bottom....My mum used to bring outdated ones home from work for this purpose.
    We peed in buckets today!
    The big red bucket outside is a target for the boys....
    AND we had our piglets in our horse trailer for awhile (3 days) while we built their pen....THE GRASS AROUND THAT TRAILER IS BRIGHT BRIGHT DARK GREEN!!!!

  33. You can use poop too --> The Pee and Poop Show. As long as you eat organic vegetables from your garden it would be ok. I wouldn't want the neighbors poop though, they eat too much crap.

  34. I've used pee in my compost pile a couple of times this year, and if I ever think a plant needs some more nitrogen, I'm certainly willing to use pee.
    In general I don't grow enough of the high nutrient plants to worry about nitrogen though.

  35. I'm with Kelly on this one. I'm not averse to the idea, but everyone in my household takes medication of one kind or another, so I don't think it would be a very good idea.

  36. A little late to comment, but couldn't help myself... this is the first time I've seen a post about this and it brought back memories.

    My mother used to have a sprawling vegetable garden at our old house and I remember several childhood summers when my brothers and I were asked to contribute fresh pee (she'd dilute it in a plastic bucket) to the plants. I guess because we were the only medication-free people in the household. It was actually the only fertilizer she used until we got pet rabbits (manure galore) a few years later. The pee didn't smell at all, actually, and her fresh produce output always outdid several neighbors, despite being grown in difficult clay soil with little other amendment. I don't suppose it's much different than the way I later used aquarium water from tank-changing (also full of nitrogen from fish excretions) to water my plants.

    So yeah, I'd be willing to try it in my own garden once I actually have a plot of land to speak of, just because I know that it worked so well for my mom's.