Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Plants Love Poop

 How to give them what they want (and what we don't)

This may not be something you love to think about but, in reality, you depend on plants and their affection for eating dead, rotting organisms AND decomposed fecal matter. Fecal matter is a nice, science-y way of saying poop.

There are a lot of harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses that can be found in fecal matter. This is one reason that we see poop as distasteful (also because it's really smelly). Before the modern era when we discovered that there are tiny, microscopic organisms all around us, humans unknowingly passed around these harmful organisms which spread sickness and disease.

Since we now have a better understanding of how these harmful organisms spread, we can better protect ourselves. For example, we know that terrestrial plants (those that live in the ground) thrive on nutrients from things like poop. We can build situations to let nature take care of these nutrients for us.

Septic Systems

If you live away from the City limits, there's a good chance that your toilet flushes send your "waste" into your back yard. This is called a Septic System. These are systems that literally flush the poop into an area where nature can break down the waste into something that will break down over time. Eventually, a professional may have to come and *slurp* up all of this waste and haul it off because the septic system is too full.

Composting Toilets

     There are some people who have started to renew old techniques of getting rid of human manure. The old techniques go back very far. When people started grouping together in cities, the problem of human manure had to be dealt with. Some cultures simply made ditches for the poop to stay in (that would be smelly!). Other cultures, like some Chinese, devised interesting ways of using the human waste. This "night soil" (why do you think it's called night soil?) was used on crops as a form of fertilizer. In Japan, there was actually competition between some people to collect the highest quality poop. Can you imagine competing for poop? Maybe they didn't know it was so gross. Maybe we don't know its real worth.

     So next time you bite into a juicy orange, plump tomato, or spicy pepper, try to imagine what that plant "ate" in order to make your food so delicious. Or maybe you shouldn't think about it. Either way, appreciate that there are organisms in this world that value things that we don't. If they didn't like rotting, smelly stuff, then there would be a lot more of it sitting around for us to smell.

More info on how humans have historically dealt with poop -- AgroEcology & ModernFarmer

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