for National Geographic News
When it comes to cultivating a green thumb, gardeners perhaps need only look to their urinals and fireplaces.
That's because human urine mixed with wood ash can help produce bumper crops of tomatoes, new research shows.
In many ways the substances are natural complements, explained study leader Surendra Pradhan, an environmental scientist at University of Kuopio in Finland. (Related: "Urine Battery Turns Pee Into Power.")
Urine is high in nitrogen, while wood ash is rich in nutrients not found in urine, such as calcium and magnesium.
Human urine and wood ash have each separately been used as fertilizer for centuries. But until now, no one had explored applying them together.
The scientists fertilized several groups of greenhouse tomato plants: one with human urine and birch ash, another with commercial mineral fertilizer, and another with just urine.
Plants fertilized with urine and ash yielded nearly four times more tomatoes than nonfertilized plants.
This compared favorably with commercial mineral fertilizers, which produced roughly five times as much fruit as nonfertilized plants.
To the team's surprise, urine alone produced a slightly greater yield than those of urine and ash together. (Read about sustainable-agriculture projects around the world.)
But the urine-and-ash plants became larger than the other groups, and they bore tomatoes with significantly higher levels of the nutrient magnesium, which is key for bone, muscle, and heart health, among other biochemical functions.
A group of 20 taste testers ranked tomatoes grown by all methods as equally tasty.
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