Liquid Gold: the lore and logic of using urine to grow plants
by Carol Steinfeld
Illustrations by Malcolm Wells.
(C) 2004 reprinted with additional text and pictures 2007
Book Review by Janine Banks
As someone who has been using my urine for many years in my garden, I was very interested to see what Carol would write about this much wasted resource.
At first I was surprised by the style of presentation of the facts about the uses and value of urine but realized after a while that most people do not have my positive attitude to using urine in any way. Hence I found her writing style fairly serious and dot point with out making many jokes at all! And she has obviously done an enormous amount of research to make her case.
Every day, people in Britain excrete about 18 million gallons of urine. Most of it is flushed away. That day’s urine contains an estimated 1.4 million pounds of nutrients in the form of nitrogen. By some estimates, that’s enough nitrogen to fertilize up to 6,000 acres of maize in one year. And one year of UK urine could fertilize over 2 million acres of maize!Carol Steinfeld
She starts with pointing out that not only are we wasting this valuable resource but we are polluting other resources by adding urine to them.
“When we flush urine away it flows to wastewater treatment plants or to septic systems (among other places). These discharge it to the soil, groundwater, streams, lakes, rivers, or seas— often with much of the nitrogen intact.
In lakes and other surface waters, aquatic plants and algae consume the nitrogen, resulting in a great bloom of growth. When this growth dies and decomposes, it pulls oxygen from the water—which can suffocate fish and other aquatic life. Underground, nitrogen can seep into drinking water, posing a potential health hazard. At the same time, farmers worldwide purchase tons of nitrogen fertilizer, much of it from industrial fertilizer factories that produce it with imported energy.
Using urine’s nitrogen repairs this broken nutrient cycle by putting it to work instead of disposing of it. Add the fact that urine is usually sterile in healthy populations, and we have a golden opportunity. For those of us who appreciate a good free thing, urine is truly liquid gold—a product of our bodies that can help our trees, plants, and even food crops to thrive, saving fertilizer costs and taking a load off our overwhelmed environment.”
Carol does discuss safe practices with our urine use which are all common sense really. And she has set the book out revealing the amount of research she has done, into four sections:
- urine lore;
- unexpected urinals: uncommon and curious urinals;
- science and technology of using liquid gold; and
- gold to green: profiles of liquid gold at work in gardens and farms worldwide.
There is an amazing amount of information in this small book.
Amongst the amazing long list of historical facts about urine, I read that during the American Civil War, the women of Richmond, Virginia saved their urine for the manufacture of explosives. There is also a lengthy description of urine therapy, from treating jellyfish stings to sinus colds, and there are several books written about urine therapy. From the author’s research, (she has an extensive list of references) the healing properties of urine include anticlotting, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. It is also used for cancer treatment.
I found the section on Unexpected Urinals quite entertaining. A ceramic artist has exhibited his urinals in galleries worldwide. And there are urinals for women … have you seen one in Australia?
In the science and technology section I discovered that there are urine diverting flush toilets, and also waterless urine diverting toilets. We don’t seem to have any in Australia in my quick search online, but some countries have lots. Why don’t we? There’s also a design for a low-cost make it yourself urinal, called Mr Peebuddy, designed by Chris Melo who lives on a sailboat. This section gives lots of tips about using urine safely in many ways.
And the last section is also rather juicy with 17 stories on how folks from all over the world use urine on a daily basis. In Sweden there has been use of urine/liquid gold on grain farms since the 1990’s. Sweden has many lakes and shorelines and the government was aware of the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea from nutrient-rich run-off. A study using urine from a large public housing estate on spring barley proved effective and apparently there were about 3,000 porcelain urine-diverting toilets sold in the 1990’s alone, although primarily used in vacation and mobile homes. There is a large variety of stories of how folks around the world use urine to grow plants, but I’ve already written too much. Well worth reading and using its good advice.