This is a largely taboo topic in the homestead world.
On one side of the coin, you have people who strongly discourage using human urine as fertilizer in the garden. They are most concerned about disease, and it’s just plain gross if I can be bluntly honest.
However, with the homesteaders we are, we believe in using all that is available to us. While we haven’t used humanure compost, nor have we tried to implement human urine in any way, it does sound like a great, natural way to add nitrogen into the soil.
And with that, you have the other side of the coin. People who can use human urine to enrich nitrogen within the soil, or to get a compost pile burning even hotter. Once you get past the gross aspect of it, it sounds pretty smart doesn’t it? Let’s talk about it! Join us in the comments!
Is Using Human Urine in Your Compost, Garden, or Food Garden Safe?
I’ve been doing a bit of research regarding the safety of human urine. Generally, urine is sterile with the exception of a urinary tract infection (UTI). However, I did find some other disturbing news; you learn something new every day! Remain calm for this one, because it’s a real bite of information to swallow.
One disease that I found was cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, which will stick with the infected individual for life. Symptoms are similar to glandular fever. However, more 50% of people within developed countries are already carrying this virus. That’s right! Half of the people within your household are likely already infected. Since it is viral and spread through urine, there is a good chance that if one family member is infected, the others are. Most of us share toilets within our homes, so it’s just not unlikely. Therefore, you’re far more likely to be exposed to it in your home than using it in your compost pile.
I did find even more; Typhoid Fever is a relatively serious illness, caused by Salmonella typhi. This bacterial infection can be cured with antibiotics and seems to occur in 6,000 people per year in the United States. However, only 400 cases are reported annually. If you are utilizing sanitized water and clean food, then your risk of infection is low. If no one in the home is carrying this bacterial infection, and you are not using urine from outside of the home, then this disease is likely irrelevant for your family.
And just one more; but I do not see it to be relative to upper North American (particularly the United States) homesteading. The last is urinary schistosomiasis; it is a disease caused by parasitic flat worms. This disease is considered a “Neglected Tropics Disease”, and is second only to Malaria in its ability to devastate populations. If you are not in a tropical area, then this is not a concern.
With all of this being said, there are risks. For most of our families, using human urine in the compost pile or in the garden is not for health. If you are concerned about someone within the home being infected, all family member can be tested for these illnesses before practicing humanure and and human urine use.
How Does Human Urine Help a Compost Pile to Burn Hot and Produce Compost Quickly?
Human urine contains urea, which is rich in nitrogen. In composting, you need greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbons) to get the pile cooking. If the pile is cold, the green to brown ratio is likely off. By adding plenty of human urine, you are adding lots of nitrogen to encourage the chemical reaction that causes decomposition. As the nitrogen and carbon ratio becomes more balanced, it’ll burn hotter and hotter. The hotter a compost pile is burning, the more quickly the compost will be ready.
What Can Human Urine Do to Help Plants In the Garden? How Should Human Urine Be Applied?
Personally, I probably would limit my use of urine to the compost pile, if anything. But for those who need nitrogen in their soil, it can’t be any worse than the neighborhood dog or cat peeing in your garden (or a wild animal who could be carrying disease, such as Rat Bite Fever or Leptospirosis). When you put it into perspective, human urine really isn’t any worse.
Anyways, I would only apply urine at least 30 days before harvest. This gives the urine time to break down into its chemical components, and it allows the rain to naturally wash it down into the soil; away from the fruits and vegetables. Certain vegetables such as spinach, corn, squash, beans, vining squash, vining melons, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes could all benefit from a nitrogen boost during the foliage growth stage. Once the plants near their mature height, they won’t require as much nitrogen.
Try applying the urine a few inches away from the plant stem, so that it can penetrate the roots. Do not reapply urine ever single day; you do not want to burn your plants with nitrogen. As a matter of fact, it is recommended to dilute urine 1:10 with water for garden fertilizing. After 30 to 45 minutes, once the urine has time to soak in and dry, it is a great idea to further water the plants to allow the urine fertilizer mixture to soak into the ground, rather than sitting on top. A great time to apply is right before a rain storm.