Experimental Homestead

Leak on Leek: Pee is the key to massive alliums

leeks 'n' pee header



Everyone wants to grow big leeks.  I get hits on my blog all the time from people searching the web for how to grow big leeks.  Choosing the right variety, appropriate timing, a favorable climate and consistent water all help, but no leek will grow large without fairly heavy fertilizing over a long season.  Manures work great, as do many other fertilizing stuffs, but just about the easiest and most effective fertilizer for leeks leaks out of your body every day… that’s right, pee.  This short post is an excuse to talk about using urine as a fertilizer, while focusing some traffic off the web for the commonly searched topics of growing large leeks and the occasional search for using urine to grow leeks and onions.  Much of this has been said already in some form in other posts, but I have a lot of new readers and it never hurts to reiterate things that are awesome.  I will be expanding on using urine as a fertilizer soon, with an emphasis on calming fears and busting myths.

Leek search terms

There is increasing talk about soil mineral depletion and closing nutrient loops by returning human waste to the land instead of flushing it all away.  We are essentially mining our soils of minerals and dumping them into the water, or putting them where they will do little good.  Bad Human!  You might be surprised to learn that the vast majority of nutrients useful to plants leave your body dissolved in urine.  Most people are still hung up on trying to figure out composting toilets, which is a great idea and worth pursuing, but if we just divert our urine in the meantime, most of the problem of cycling the nutrients we consume is easily solved.  Not only that, but compared to using human feces as a fertilizer, urine is much, much safer.  Most recommendations are to apply it fresh with no treatment.  I don’t accept that it is 100% safe, but the fact is that I used it for years, and lets just say that I didn’t lose any sleep over the health risks.

The only reason I don’t still use urine in my gardens is that I sell some of my produce at markets, and I don’t think the bureaucracies that be, nor all customers would be stoked about that, besides which I can’t be sure enough of the safety outside my family to expose quantities of other people without their knowledge.  I’ll be looking at ways to “launder” urine before the nutrients make it back into the garden, like maybe applying to pasture and composting the resulting growth, or feeding the hay to stock to make manure.

You can do your own research on the subject and decide for yourself how safe it is.  Ecosan, a group dedicated to making the shift from a waste paradigm to a resource paradigm regarding the stuff that leaves our bodies, is the best resource I’ve found out there and has a fair amount literature available.  I use it either fresh or stale, it doesn’t matter that much as far as the plant is concerned, though it may if you want to be picky about health concerns, but that will have to wait for another post.  I don’t eat very many leeks during the summer.  They are mostly a winter and spring food supply.  So, I tend to fertilize infrequently  the further into winter we are, and not at all toward spring when the seem to do fine with the stores of nutrients available in the soil.  Not that it matters a lot, since I always cook them and only apply fertilizer to the soil surface… not that I wouldn’t eat them raw, just sayin’.

Ok, we're totally using the hold-it-out-in-front-of-you-to-make-your-fish-look-bigger trick, but that's still a pretty big damned leek! And the leeks were planted unusually late that season. Tonia, grower of corn, burner of lime and instigator of chickens, has left Turkeysong to pursue her passion for the sensible union of architecture, communities and building. She will be sorely missed. Wish her luck!

Ok, we’re totally using the hold-it-out-in-front-of-you-to-make-your-fish-look-bigger trick, but that’s still a pretty big damned leek! And the leeks were planted unusually late that season. Tonia, grower of tortillas, burner of lime and instigator of chickens, has left Turkeysong to pursue her passion for the sensible union of architecture, communities and building.  She will be sorely missed :(  Wish her luck!

All three of the major plant nutrients N (nitrogen) P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) are well represented in urine with the balance leaning toward nitrogen.  That’s good, because the whole onion family, and especially leeks, are heavy nitrogen feeders.  Also represented are an abundance of minerals, and all of it in a soluble form ready for plants to use.  Finding out that pee is an awesome fertilizer was like the best gardening discovery ever!  Suddenly I was completely free from worrying about scrounging for nitrogen sources, and most other fertilizers.

Since urine is soluble, it is somewhat more transient in the soil than some other more solid fertilizers.  It doesn’t just flush right out of the soil though, as you might guess if you were to do some reading on soluble fertilizers.  If your soil is alive with a decent organic matter content, all kinds of little guys in the dirt are going to snatch up those resources and start cycling them.  If you way over water, it is possible to flush nutrients below the root zone, but it’s not likely under most conditions.  It still does need to be applied at intervals as the plants grow though.  Growing large leeks takes a long season and using a soluble fertilizer is a great way to continue to pump those suckers up even if you’ve already added a bunch of stuff to the soil at the beginning of the season.

I don’t actually mix anything into my soil under normal circumstances.  I throw some compost on top after planting as a sort of thin mulch, and also sometimes manure, seaweed and coffee grounds or whatever is around, but normally I rely on urine for most of the feeding ( or I did, now that is replaced by chicken manure tea which I have to say is much less convenient).  If you could apply pee very diluted frequently, that would probably be pretty ideal, but I apply it at variable intervals when it’s convenient.  Again, in a living soil, those nutrients will be cycled for a while.  There is no need to over-think the thing or be on a obsessive schedule.

Leeks and onions can take a lot of nitrogen.  I use a dilution that is between one third to one fifth pee, the balance being water, for general garden use.  You can gauge by the health and growth of the leeks how much to use.  Using urine on leeks is pretty fool proof, but it is a very strong fertilizer, and as such it is of course possible to over apply it.  A watering can full of this mix can be put on a bed about 4 x 15 every few weeks, with some longer intervals here and there.  You will have to get a feel for it over time.  I’m not sure I’ve ever burned an onion or leek plant using too much fertilizer, and rarely see burning in other plants at this dilution, as long as it’s not applied too frequently, or in too great a quantity.

It is good to water in immediately.  After all, if it’s not in the root zone, then the plants can’t use it.  Apply enough water to flush the nutrients into the soil a distance.  I’ll typically water for a while to get the soil wet, apply the fertilizer and then water a little more to flush it down into the soil and dilute it further.  Early in the season, I dump it all over the plants, but as they get above about pinkie thickness, I start applying to the soil surface only, in order to prevent getting the stuff in the leaf bases where it’s hard to clean out. It helps a lot to have a well balanced long necked watering can like those made by Haws or Dramm.

I have this Haws watering can, and it's awesome! They have become extremely pricey, but they are the best.

I have this Haws watering can, and it’s awesome! They have become extremely pricey, but they are the best as far as I know.  They’re well balance, very high quality hot dipped galvanized construction, contain a simple filter that helps prevent clogging, put out a very fine but high volume spray, and hold enough to matter at two gallons.  A great investment that sees frequent use, especially for fertilizing uses.

Just try it, you’ll be amazed at the results!    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y    Y

Related posts: How to Grow HUGE ASS LEEKS! and Leeks, Size Does Matter!


July 14, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Very impressive! I feel like I am starting to see a bit of nutrient depletion in some of my gardens this year. I have applied my annual top dressings of composted manure, rotated crops, but have not had time/energy to apply any compost tea to annuals or perennials this year – I think I am noticing a difference.

    Once again Steven, your insight is highly valued by this urban farmer! Slowly we are starting to move in the direction of some of the advice you talk about on a regular basis, one of them being pee! Baby steps, but we are getting there!

    Comment by autonomyacres | July 14, 2013 | Reply

    • Once you start, you probably won’t go back. It’s just too easy and valuable. That is if you can get into the habit of saving it. That can take some adjusting, especially if you already have an inside toilet.

      Comment by Stevene | July 14, 2013 | Reply

    • i prefer to use rabit poo and urine soaked sawdust “rabbit bedding” best thing ive found to feed every and any plant!!

      Comment by rich ferguson | June 1, 2016 | Reply

  2. Great post, and valuable knowledge, thanks. In my experience the first one of the day is ‘best’ – i.e. strongest as a fertiliser. I think there could be some scientific backup for this fact.

    I do use urine as a feed on certain plants but most of mine goes on the compost heap. I also use the high nitrogen urine to soak a high carbon mulch, such as straw – helps balance the carbon:nitrogen ratio in composting’s favour and the plants get a feed.

    Comment by Tommo | July 15, 2013 | Reply

    • There is a huge variation in urine concentration. I think that the first of the day is often the strongest, but there are a lot of variables and I find it best not to worry about it too much. I’ve cut back a whole lot on my fluid intake to increase my metabolic rate and my urine is WAY more concentrated. Someone that lives on fruit and drinks gallons of water is going to have a much less concentrated urine than someone who lives mostly on meat and drinks just as required. I could say that it’s best to stay ahead of the curve and fertilize plants before they need it, or that it’s ideal to feed them steadily and X amount of nitrogen and etc and so on, but there is really no need to over think the thing. If you just pee in a bucket, it all sort of averages out in there and you can come up with a sort of baseline dilution/application with small adjustments… i.e. more and/or stronger on the leeks and less/weaker on seedlings. I think it should be liberating for people to know that if we just shelve all the information we have about who needs what and just sprinkle on some compost and add some pee once in a while that most things in the garden will do pretty well with an across the board treatment. Add just a little information, like alliums and squash need more fertilizer, and we should do pretty good without losing any sleep over macronutrient ratios, timing etc…

      Sounds like you’ve got some systems going that work for you. Becoming aware of and understanding our resources and bringing them together in different ways to suit or goals, styles and environments is what it’s all about. I’ve also used it in compost quite a bit, and it all ends up in the same place eventually! Urine does really get things moving in a compost pile, although some would argue that slower is better… another item to potentially overthink. I don’t anymore though for various reasons. The benefits of a soluble fertilizer are many, including targeted application for quantity and timing as needed, which makes it very versatile… and more so because the plants respond very quickly when given already soluble nutrients, say when correcting a nutrient deficiency that you can visually see. So I would tend to use it that way now, though there is always a surplus, even for a large garden, but then, on a sizable property, there is always someplace to put it. It is probably an ideal inoculant/precharge for charcoal before it’s added to the soil. I got my first experimental charcoal amended bed going this year, and if it showed anything it’s that there is a heavy nutrient drain on the soil when adding raw charcoal. So, I guess those recommendations to pre-charge it before digging in are probably valid. Did you ever get any charcoal experiments going Tom? I did a bed divided into threes- 10%, 5% and 0% dug in about 10 inches deep and otherwise treated the same. Lettuce on the 10% end totally stunted, but normal on the 0% end. I’ll be doing some more beds, but going slowly since it is irreversible (and it takes a lot of charcoal!)

      Comment by Stevene | July 15, 2013 | Reply

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