But Wait, There’s More!
We’ve got news that you may find disturbing: if you live in the US, you’ve eaten food that was fertilized with “biosolids.” That’s a nice way of saying “treated human sewage.”
Every time you or the hundreds of millions of other Americans without septic tanks flush the toilet, wash dishes, shower, etc. that waste doesn’t just disappear into the ether. It goes to a waste treatment facility to be “processed,” before being reused as farm fertilizers and other products.
Sewage treatment is a sh… er, dirty job, but it’s actually quite important. A few decades ago, all of our waste was simply dumped into the nearest river or ocean. If you enjoy seafood or vacations at the lake, you’ll probably appreciate this development.
Biosolids Are Not Allowed Under USDA Certified Organic Standards
Certified organic farmers are allowed to use composted animal manure on their farms. The composting techniques required under organic guidelines utilize heat created from microorganisms in properly-managed compost as a source to burn out the pathogenic organisms (140 degrees is the magical temperature at which this happens). Interestingly, what’s left behind from this process are the beneficial microorganisms that help boost soil and plant health.
However, USDA certified organic farmers are NOT allowed to use biosolids on their crops. While it would be nice to “close the loop” by reusing this waste product, organic practitioners rightfully have some concerns considering some of the other goodies found in human biosolids after they’ve been treated. As Rodale Institute says:
“Heavy metals, although declining in recent years, are still a concern as are antibiotics, hormones, steroids and other pharmaceuticals, or things like triclosan, flame retardants and solvents that end up poured down drains.
Researchers at Virginia Tech, for example, recently warned that excreted antibiotics spread on farm fields are contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and are a serious environmental problem.”
If you grew up in the U.S., the only way you would have avoided eating foods that were grown using human waste is if you strictly stuck to certified organic foods and beverages.
If you’re like many people, you might have grown up thinking that food grows on a grocery store shelf or freezer. After reading this far, you’re now horrified to know that your food grew outdoors in soil—and that there’s a pretty good chance that soil was fertilized with processed human #1 and #2, aka biosolids.
And what’s in soil? Well, a single teaspoon of healthy, living soil is comprised of trillions of tiny microscopic organisms (aka microorganisms) that poop and pee all over the plants that become your food. Gahhhh!
Now hang on… If those critters didn’t poop and pee around the rhizosphere of your food plants, your food plants wouldn’t be able to grow. (Your plants don’t call it “microbiosolids,” they just call it “food”.) In exchange for these tiny gift packages, your plants offer their microbial friends a constant supply of delicious, carbohydrate-rich food through their root exudates that they make via photosynthesis. Yes, they feed each other and probably even swap love notes when nobody is looking.
Why Are You Telling Me This? I’ll Never Eat Anything Again!
We don’t want to gross you out. We’re sharing this info with you for two reasons:
- We want you to know that nature recycles everything and no matter what you eat, it was likely grown from the waste of some other critter;
- If you find out that you’ve already been eating food grown from the waste of other critters (including your own waste), you’re less likely to be grossed out by what we’re going to tell you next…
Shut up and give me my free fertilizer!
Hang tight, we’re about to give you your free fertilizer coupon. But first we want you to guess what we’re describing below:
- If you’re a human being, you make 400 – 2,000 mL of this secret ingredient every day;
- Its nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium (N-P-K) ratio is about 11-1-2.5, plus it contains lots of other trace nutrients;
- You make enough of it each year to grow every calorie of food your body needs in a year;
It’s completely sterile when it leaves your body, e.g. it contains no pathogens (unless you’re sick or have an infection);(*see update at bottom of article)
- It rhymes with “wee.”
What is it? OMG, it’s pee! And it’s completely free! (*Pee and free also rhyme.)
You may now redeem your coupon for the free fertilizer that many gardeners refer to as “liquid gold.”
Things To Consider When Using Your Liquid Gold
As with anything, there are good ways and not so good ways to use your liquid gold, and also info you might want to take into consideration before using it:
- Dilution – Due to its high nitrogen ratios, liquid gold is far too concentrated to use directly on your plants without causing fertilizer “burn.” As such, be sure to dilute your gold somewhere between 6:1 – 10:1 with water before applying.
- Overuse – Just as with any chemical fertilizer, when you use liquid gold you are giving your plants a quick short-term boost of fertility in quantities and ratios that they might not need. What isn’t taken in by your plant’s roots or used by other soil critters will eventually be flushed through your soil and find its way into a nearby waterway or aquifer. This is what causes massive fertilizer pollution in our waterways. This is also why biologically active fertilizers (living composts) are much better for your plants and the environment than chemical fertilizers—they don’t wash away and they aid in nutrient cycling. Overuse of chemical fertilizers also causes longterm, systemic soil imbalances. Think about it like this: if you take steroids, you might look great/muscular for a few years, but your body’s ability to produce its own testosterone are thrown out of whack and the long-term effects on your health can be devastating. So if you’re using liquid gold, be sure to focus on building healthy living soil first, and your need for fertilizer inputs will be minimized or non-existent.
- Best Uses -
- Potted Plants – We grow a lot of citrus in pots. (We live in Ag Zone 7b so we have to take our citrus indoors in the winter.) There is only so much soil in a pot and only so much nutrition that can be cycled/reused within the confines of a pot. Since citrus is a bit of a nutrient hog, liquid gold is a great, free source of fertilizer for our potted plants. It’s a lot less expensive than organic fertilizer we’d buy from a store—and we never run out of it. So liquid gold is a great, free fertilizer for your potted plants.
- Compost – If you have a big pile of carbon-rich leaves, straw, or wood chips that you’re composting, liquid gold is a great way to get nitrogen into the mix for composting.
- Medications – Are you taking pharmaceuticals/medications? Psychotropics, antibiotics, and other drugs aren’t necessarily broken down in your body. If you’re taking these medications, you probably don’t want to use your own liquid gold on your garden, because you could end up creating the next generation of antibiotic resistant bacteria—or get your cat hooked on Ritalin.
- Special High Tech Equipment – A dual flush toilet is going to set you back many hundreds of dollars. An empty glass jar? Well, that’s as free as liquid gold itself! No special equipment is required to operate a high quality liquid gold operation in your home, except for…
- Man Equipment vs Woman Equipment - This might go without saying, but men are much better “equipped” to operate a liquid gold operation than women. We certainly don’t want to discourage women from participating in this activity, but just recognize and plan around your limitations here.
Now, go forth and fertilize the earth… or at least your potted plants and compost!
Update: Thanks to reader Alan Morse for pointing out that urine is, in fact, NOT sterile. New research from Loyola University has proven that human urine has lots of bacteria in it. “By using a technique called expanded quantitative urine culture (EQUC) and sequencing the subjects’ bacterial DNA, the team was able to identify bacteria not usually picked up by traditional urine cultures.” This finding isn’t surprising, considering every human being is made of 10x more bacterial cells than human cells.
Thanks for the correction Alan!