By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Did you know that if you plant some bulbs and corms too shallow, they will pull themselves to the depth they are happier at? They do this with contractile roots. This type of root loose much of their length as the root cells shorten and broaden. This action pulls the bulb down in the soil. Isn’t that a spooky thought. 

Flowering bulbs that have this ability are, crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, glads, freesias, lycoris, alliums like onion, garlic, the flowering alliums and many lilies. Tulips and trout lilies can’t do this trick however, they can push themselves to the surface of the soil by using “droppers,” underground tendrils that grow new bulblets at their tips. This is why you can often find tulip bulbs just under the soil. They have so many small bulbs at the bottom of the pile that they have pushed the larger bulbs up to the surface. That is your indication that it is time to dig up the clump and replant. Because chipmunks and squirrels find tulips delicious, invest in a bag of chicken grit. This is small chunks of granite. The pieces are very sharp. 

Did you know that University of Michigan researchers are collecting students’ urine? Environmental engineering professors Nancy Love and Kista Wigginton got a three-million-dollar grant from the Natural Science Foundation to test advanced urine-treatment methods and investigate the public’s attitude about the use of urine derived fertilizers.

To do this, they built a split bowl toilet. It is designed to send the solids to the treatment plant while routing the urine to a holding tank.

The title of their study is “Pee on The Peonies.” It’s definitely an attention getter. Love is a co-author of a study published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal that stated that urine diversion and recycling led to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and energy. Urine is rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus and has been used for thousands of years as crop fertilizer. Many gardeners know that peeing on your compost pile will make it heat more quickly. It also is a deterrent dribbled around the perimeter of the vegetable garden.

The professors found that at first, people thought it was funny, then, as they understood it, supported the idea. They dubbed it “pee-cycling.” It is a way to create a renewable fertilizer, as part of the “circular economy of nutrients.” The term, “pee on the peonies” grabs people’s attention so the professors can talk about nutrient flows and nutrient efficiency in their communities and how to be more sustainable. 

The researchers have approximately 800 American, European and Canadian peonies to experiment on at the University. There are over 10,000 flowers at peak bloom. 

For now, the urine derived fertilizer the researchers are using, originated in Vermont but if all goes according to plan, they will be using locally sourced fertilizer soon. For now, the facility is upgrading its freeze concentrator and adding a new energy-efficient pasteurizer, both developed by the Vermont-based Rich Earth Institute. Now you know the rest of the story.