Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

Not piss poor,
fertilized with pee

September 13, 2009

Slim Pickins, fertilized with urine since 2009, Debra Solomon,
Didn’t go to the farmers’ market this Saturday

One of the reasons I gave my Amsterdam kitchen garden the name Slim Pickins was to show that even a postage stamp-sized garden with a relatively little crop could serve up a surprising amount of food. But the real reason was that it had piss poor soil and I always thought the garden looked scrawny. I used to blame the slow rate of growth on the location, but visits to many local organic farms and especially to the nearby school gardens had made it painfully clear that the anemia of my produce had nothing to do with living so close to the Polar Circle. Well maintained school gardens right in the middle of the city were lush because they had great soil.

Slim Pickins, fertilized with urine since 2009, Debra Solomon,
I’ll be chewing this cud all week

In the hope of increasing soil nutrients, I grew the green manures that were hugely successful in the Occitanian kitchen garden. But at Slim Pickins, the alfalfa, vetch, fenugreek and phacelia didn’t burgeon and produce huge mats of biomass like they did in the south, in a large part due to the blasted ground conditions. I’d been thinking about asking a farmer I knew if he’d bring me a load of composted manure, but I never ended up going ahead with this because I just don’t like the idea of importing large volumes of additives from afar. Searching for a solution closer to home, I considered making a worm composter and biking the castings over one recycled yoghurt container at a time, but there were already so many worms casting away in the garden that this plan just seemed bass-ackwards.

By the time I had returned to my garden in August I had basically resigned myself to a mediocre harvest. But two weeks ago I starting bumping into links about fertilizing with urine. I knew that pee was nutrient rich, balanced in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, and I had no problem with it in the animal manure. Why it hadn’t occurred to me to try using my own I’ll just chalk up to a deeply ingrained societal taboo against humanure. One YouTube video and 3 articles later and suddenly urine fertilizer seemed like a painless experiment with a material both abundant and free. I decided to give it a go. I might have even been giddy, biking over all those recycled yoghurt containers filled with pee.

Slim Pickins, fertilized with urine since 2009, Debra Solomon,
Not piss poor anymore

Following instructions, in a big bucket I diluted (DILUTE! DILUTE! OK!) 1 part fresh pee to 10 parts Amsterdam tap water, gave it a stir and poured it on my soil, trying to avoid splashing the leaves. It’s possible that there was some more giddiness at this point. Recycled yoghurt containers empty, I left the garden and returned one week later.

And now with jazz hands!

Pity I didn’t make scientific-style before and after pictures but you’ll have to believe me when I say that the results were striking. In one week’s time all of the plants suddenly produced a great deal of leaf, and the leaf-colour seemed to have deepened considerably. All of the plants, but especially the climbing ones (calabas and hokkaido), appear to have undergone an enormous growth spurt. This happened during a waning moon, and with ever cooling temperatures. At home in the window box my spindly vervain and green shiso that had always resembled bonsais, suddenly filled out in their pot.

Possibly you are thinking, “Hey Nut-Job, OY VEY, what about the SMELL, what about the TASTE?” I can report that there is no urine or amonia smell at all, even on my indoor plants. (When I saw the difference in just a few days on the herbs, I had to try it indoors.) Some of the net-lit studies suggest that insects (like aphids) can taste the difference and stay away. I can’t taste … any… urine. Well, how do you know what urine tastes like? I don’t know, how do you don’t? What? I don’t know. Shut up.

And to get back to the reason I did this in the first place, the Slim Pickins kitchen garden produced a two bike-bag bumper crop and it looks like next week will be the same. I had such an abundant harvest (chard, kohlrabi, kale, cavalo nero, various leafy herbs, tomatoes, chives) that I didn’t need to go to the Farmers’ Market. Although I don’t think the folks at Organic Farm the Knotwilg will have to get another day job, the results in my garden after just one week of urine fertilizing are impressive.

In case you were planning on coming over for a nibble of some Slim Pickins goodness, I’m harvesting on Saturdays and fertilizing on Mondays. You’ll probably pray for rain.

Slim Pickins, fertilized with urine since 2009, Debra Solomon,
The tomato that keeps on giving

debra at 21:16 | | post to


  1. this is one hell of a story!! I never got to tell you that I have a very sweet aunt that has a huge entirely biological garden in Midden-beemster. She’s basically arming on the bottom of an old sea, so the ground is just like clay,. it’s sometime very hard. But she does an amazing job. And she knows all about what plants fight bugs in combination with other plants.
    BTW love to see you soon, are you permanently back in our chilly Northern Spheres again? Whoa!

    Comment by rob — September 13, 2009 @ 21:35

  2. Ha-! Crazy.. Funny Girl… Ha Ha. I thought U would have great soil…. at least in pictures .. I’ve been all over Asia but never E.U.
    South Western Oregon U.S.A. must ROCK…! Go Little Garden Go…!!!

    Comment by Jeff Pool — September 14, 2009 @ 2:26

  3. Hi Rob,

    It seems, the Beemster is the place to be, if you’re a vegetable, animal or mineral!. Please let’s get together - we could also go pay Auntie a visit or do the brunching thing. For the time being I have devoted myself to the icy north. Lots of ‘cool’ stuff going on right here in our own back yards. YIMBY Yes In My Back Yard.

    Comment by debra — September 14, 2009 @ 9:21

  4. was giving your fertilising story the big up on Saturday night at dinner, discussions moving from the I pee on my lemon bush story (its always a boys story) yo the value of urine ….

    Comment by melissa — October 19, 2009 @ 0:12

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