Monday, May 11, 2015

How and Why I Put Urine To Good Use in My Garden

I've been busy in my gardens whenever I have a hour or two of free time.  The gardens usually take priority over my other hobbies during the day, one of which includes writing articles for the blog.  That is partly the reason for the lack of updates over the past few months, with the other part being that I've had a hard time coming up with topics for posts that haven't already been done by people more experienced and knowledgeable than myself.

All that aside, I want to talk a little about something generally considered a waste product, and how to turn it into a valuable resource. 

Wasted to Worthwhile

Urine is that thing I was referring to.  I have started using my own collected urine as a fertilizer for my edible plants.

Most people would understandably be put-off by this, as the culture of the United States is to consider urine a waste product, something that is "gross" and "unsanitary."  But from a scientific perspective, urine is a wonderful (and relatively safe) resource for growing plants.

First off, urine is unlikely to harbor any harmful pathogens as it is leaving the body.  While it is a stretch to say that urine is completely sterile, the bad bacteria like e. coli and salmonella probably aren't in it unless it was contaminated after leaving the body.  For the truly paranoid among us, research has shown that urine stored for eight days at 86 degrees F will eliminate virtually all bacteria in it.  But if the urine you're using is being collected from yourself or your family, it's most likely harmless.  Sterilization is usually necessary when the urine is also contaminated with feces.  Not an issue in home collection for the garden.

Urine has an NPK ratio of about 11:1:2, which makes it ideal for fertilizing plants like lettuce, where the leaves are harvested as the edible part.  It is also ideal for heavy nitrogen feeders like corn.  This PDF has all the info on various plants that benefit substantially from urine fertilization, as well as others plants that benefit from it, but not quite as much.  Add in some wood ash, however, and you have a super inexpensive, commercial-grade fertilizer.

I have not personally mixed wood ash with my urine to fertilize my plants, but I pour diluted fresh urine around my leafy greens, such as lettuce, spinach, and kale.  I also give small amounts to my tomatoes, beets and green beans, but only once or twice a week.  I don't want the plants that need to produce flowers for fruit to become vegetative monsters from the high nitrogen content.

Beets looking good.

Urine-fertilized lettuce is bountiful this year, and the kale behind it is gaining some size.

My tomatoes have really started growing now that the temps are getting into the 80s.

If I have to pee a lot, any extra urine gets dumped on the compost.  Using urine as a fertilizer/compost additive not only reuses something that generally goes to waste, but also helps conserve water by not having to flush the toilet as often.  It brings us another step closer to being self-reliant in our own back yard.

Now, using urine from healthy individuals as plant fertilizer should be no problem, hygienically speaking.  However, if you or your family members have a UTI or some other type of infection, it might be best to not use your pee on your edible plants until the issue is resolved.  I couldn't find any specific examples of urine spreading infectious disease, but better safe than sorry.  I've also heard concerns about prescription drugs lingering in the soil, supposedly deposited by urine.  There is some concern that the plants might take up trace amount of these drugs during their growth.  As before, I haven't read any specific examples of this occurring, but in this case, I am a bit skeptical of any risks of this being hazardous to health in any way.  Until further research is conducted, though, you may not want to use urine to fertilize plants if you are taking medications... just to be safe.

I also use my urine to fertilize my flowering plants.  They seem to enjoy it.

Given the results and the relative safety of using urine as fertilizer, I will be putting my own supply to good use in my garden.

Hope you enjoyed this quick article on a "home made" fertilizer.  I want to have more frequent updates to the blog as the garden work transitions from "getting everything going" to more of a maintenance mode.

My next article topic will be on the water-saving ground feature, swales, and I plan on showcasing my own designed swales in my small suburban garden.  If we can ever get some decent rainfall here in the mountains of North Carolina, maybe I can make a video of them in use as well!  Until then, keep at those gardens.  I know I will.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What's Happening In the Dow Dominion Garden for the 2015 Season

March in the mountains of North Carolina is the beginning of the gardening season, and I have a lot to accomplish this month.  In today's post, I will give you the rundown of the typical tasks I complete to get the garden ready for planting, as well as some of the new things I am trying out this year.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

How To Make A Winter Sowing Container

Winter Sowing
Here's a brief summary on how winter sowing may improve your self-reliance.

  • Winter sowing allows you to start a large amount of plants from seed with reduced costs and work compared to growing seedlings indoors.
  • Reduces trash that ends up in landfill by using common, recycled materials.
  • Eliminates risk of plant death to overexposure (transplants are already hardened from sun/wind burn and some cold snaps), and reduces risk of pest problems.
  • A passive approach makes winter sowing easy and generally problem-free.

Last month, I began recording my progress towards self-reliance with an article about high-efficiency artificial lighting for decreased home energy consumption.  Today,  I am going to change gears a bit and talk about an important part of creating a sustainable and reliable food supply.

In order to be released from the choke hold of the modern grocery store, one must somehow provide themselves the bulk of their caloric needs from their own land.  And to do that, one must grow a LOT of food.  Furthermore, one must have a continuous supply of this food through the growing season.

Now I don't want to go off-topic by getting into the exact numbers of plants a family needs to grow in order to supply the majority of their food from their own land.  However, we can assume that in order to have a self-reliant food supply from one's own property, one would need to start by growing a lot of plants from seed.

Today's article is going to be explaining how to do just that: Starting plants from seed easily, frugally and efficiently by using a method know as "Winter Sowing."

Flowering plants are easy to winter sow, but will it work for vegetables as well?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Is the Egg Industry Fooling Us Into Thinking Eggs Are Healthy? A Review of a Study On Eggs and Cholesterol Levels and Weight

Some scientific studies have shown eggs aren't harmful for your heart.  But is that the truth, or are these studies fundamentally flawed?  Here's a brief look at today's research review.

  • The study under review today claims that eating eggs does not affect cholesterol levels in the body, but the researchers tested cholesterol levels after a 10-hour fast.
  • Participants who ate eggs in the study for just three months showed modest rises in fasted cholesterol levels, though not enough of a change to be considered statistically significant.
  • The researchers had almost no control over the subjects' diets, making it practically impossible to draw conclusions from the data collected.
  • This study uses other poorly designed scientific experiments as citations for its hypothesis, building further upon already flawed research.  
  • Unsurprisingly, this study was funded by the American Egg Board.

For a long time, I thought eggs were a nutritious food.  They have lots of choline, a decent amount of protein, and a moderate amount of calories.  Eggs are generally cheap, filling and tasty to boot, which made them a main stay in my breakfast meal for most of my life.

But are they really that nutritious?  I've changed my mind about eggs being healthy, due to a large variety of research I've been reading over the past few weeks.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Journey Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting

Formerly "Moving Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting"

I've been slowly working towards my goal of being self-reliant in food, water, energy and finances.  Today, I want to discuss how to become more energy-efficient as part of the larger goal of becoming self-reliant.  More specifically, I want to talk about high efficiency lighting.

Do Light Bulbs Really Use That Much Energy?


According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, artificial lighting accounts for at least 10% of the typical American's total energy usage in their homes.  Various other sources claim even larger figures, with some experts citing that lighting can make up as high 30% of the annual electricity usage.

It's hard to imagine that a simple light bulb would use that much of total energy a house expends throughout the year.  Indeed, even the most inefficient light bulbs don't use that much power compared to other appliances, like refrigerators or clothes dryers.

Hardly anyone uses just one light bulb in most rooms in a typical house, however.  The combined sum of wattage used by light bulbs can quickly surpass that of larger, power-hungry appliances, especially when left on for long periods of time.

Obviously, turning off lights when not in use will save energy and money.  However, most of us like having artificial lighting, especially at night when we would accomplish nothing without said lighting.

Artificial lighting may be necessary, but we can choose specific types of light bulbs to significantly reduce our energy usage.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Garden Progress, Early September 2014 - Helpful Tips and Tricks from the Dow Dominion Garden

It took me longer than expected to post an update of my frugal veggie garden since my last article, but fear not!  Today, I've posted a new video going over some of the routine tasks I do in the garden, as well as some other tips and tricks I've picked up along the way this season.  I also do a tour around my garden (what's left of it, anyway) to show my readers what I am growing right now and what plants are still producing from the last sowing.  Here's a few highlights of the video:

  • What material I compost 
  • How often to turn the compost pile
  • How many tomato plants I expect to need to feed my family during the next growing season
  • Lots of mulching advice and recommendations
  • Fall gardening experiments
  • Beans, beans and more beans!
  • A primer on winter sowing
  • And more...

I hope you guys enjoy the video.  Let me know if there are any specific questions you would like answered, or any particular topics you would like to have me cover.  Stay tuned for further videos and articles!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Learning From 2014's Successes and Failures So Far

The weather has been strange lately.  Very strange.  The last week of July produced temperatures cold enough to need a comforter on my bed during the nights.  We normally expect to turn the AC on around this time of year, but it felt more like a nice, cool week in the fall, not smack-dab in the middle of summer.  So we decided to open the windows instead, to save money on electricity and to get some fresh air in the house.  It seemed very unusual, but we were welcoming of lower temperatures none-the-less.

My garden has gone through a number of changes over the past few weeks.  Most of my cool season vegetables have produced what they could and died off.  A majority of the summer crops are now producing ripe, delicious food.  Beautiful flowers that attract pollinators and predators have started to bloom, and I've started to sow more veggie seeds for the fall.  It's been a pretty bountiful gardening season, but despite that, I'm already starting to plan and design how next year's garden will be set up.

Today's post is going to be a review of what worked (and what didn't work) in my garden this season.  It's important for me to keep a record of these things, because I can further improve upon my successes, and either fix or avoid the failures that I had this year.  I think I have mentioned before that I would like to eventually have 80-90% of my family's food grown from our garden, and accurate record-keeping is necessary to move towards that goal.

So let's take a look at my successes and failures over the spring and summer this year, and how that will influence my garden's design for the next season.