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Anthroponix (an instructable)


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In spring 2017 we branched with the maker space Dim Sum Labs into the field of domestic horticulture in close collaboration with microbiologists, agro-ecological tinkerers and 22 indoor planting enthusiasts to enter a three-month long experimentation of co-biohacking and co-learning. The basic goal was to enable our participants so that they could biophysically reconnect with the food loop, in a way that would be simple and suitable for their busy lives in hyper-urbanity. The following ‘urine-to-hydroponics’ instructable is the result of an immense group effort. Through this collective trial and error, stumbling forward, respectful failing and perseverance we reached a form or accelerated group learning that brought forth this agro-ecological approach.
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Project Title
The Field
Guide to
A collaborative effort by hackers and makers
Edited by Michelle Poon
Made possible with the Design Trust Initiative
The Field Guide to Hacking
Image: Close your nutrients cycle in 12 weeks
At Dim Sum Labs we are not confined to a specific maker space. Sometimes we deliberately go out into the field. By exposing ourselves to the reality of the
‘urban wild’ and the everyday, we can also explore how to engage with technologies in more convivial, playful and possibly more life-affirming ways.
In spring 2017 we branched into the field of domestic horticulture in close collaboration with microbiologists, agro-ecological tinkerers and 22 indoor planting
enthusiasts to enter a three-month long experimentation of co-biohacking and co-learning. The basic goal was to enable our participants so that they could
biophysically reconnect with the food loop, in a way that would be simple and suitable for their busy lives in hyper-urbanity. The following ‘urine-to-hydroponics’
instructable is the result of an immense group effort. Through this collective trial and error, stumbling forward, respectful failing and perseverance we reached
a form or accelerated group learning that brought forth this agro-ecological approach.
Markus Wernli . Sarah Daher
The Field Guide to Hacking
Exploring Agro-Ecological + Fermentive Co-Learning
Before creating this instructable we tried to learn about do-
mestic horticultural practices in Hong Kong as much as pos-
sible. We realised how some people are keeping with good
traditions. How they like to bring plants into their homes
and raise them, preferably for decoration, or, even better,
for contributing in little parts to fresh food and supplement
what’s usually comes from afar and unknown origins. Many
Hong Kongers live in tiny and dark flats, so recently these
water-based hydroponics plant incubators (equipped with
LEDs and air pumps) have become all the rage. No soil
and no sunlight is needed anymore, just the petrochemical
growing solution will make the veggie sprout.
Another good Hong Kong tradition is to be industrious with
available resources (at least on the home making front).
We noticed how some frugal indoor growers are adding
a splash of their fresh urine to the water or soil of their
plants with very best intentions since human nutrients have
been a priced asset in Chinese agriculture for ages. We
also observed that such improvised practices of life-hack
fertilisation did rather produce results contrary to such
good intentions: Plants would falter and odours would emit
because the bounty of human nutrients would literally go
up into the air (ammonification) instead of becoming palat-
able for plants.
From recent sanitation research (‘Terra Preta’ [1]) we knew
that lactic acid fermentation (akin to bacterial cultivation
of yoghurt) is applied to stabilise urine and make it smell-
free for indoor use. Combining this sensitive bioprocessing
upcycling with hydroponics and medical urine monitoring,
we wanted to test out with our 22 home-gardeners if eating
habits and lifestyles had an influence on the self-fertilized
Why Preferring Industrial to Homemade Options?
The following setup will enable people to circumvent petro-
chemical A/B or A/B/C solutions and grow basil, waterspin-
ach, tomatoes, radishes and lettuce using simply water and
overabundant urine. The growing takes longer than with
the petrochemical option but the taste of ANTROPONIX
veggies is easily beating the conventional option. And if we
are worried about harmful substances in our own urine,
we also need to contemplate if we really can trust the sub-
stances applied in industrial agriculture production.
Figure 1. Five week old water spinach, pure-bred from seed in fermented urine solution.
[1] N Andreev, M Ronteltap, B Boincean, M Wernli, E Zubcov, N Bagrin, and PNL Lens. 2017. “Lactic Acid Fermentation of Human Urine to Improve Its Fertilizing Value and Reduce Odour Emissions.” Journal of Environmental Management, no. 198: 63-69.
[2] R Mullen, D Aga, A Noe-Hays, K Nace, R Lahr, H Goetsch. 2015. “Analysis of Pharmaceuticals in Food Crops Grown in Urine and Related Products Fertilized Soil”. Rich Earth Institute, University at Buffalo, State University at New York in Buffalo.
Fresh cabbage
Kosher sea salt
Molasses or brown sugar
Still (chloride-free) water
Morning urine (at least 20 ml)
Coco-peat substrate (coir, coconut fibre)
Optional – Soluble seaweed extract
Optional – Pure wood ash
Optional – Biochar or perlite
Plant seeds (basil, lettuce, waterspinach or radish)
Optional – Plant cuttings (spinach or tomato)
Kitchen knife
Cutting board
Potato musher (or small glass jar)
Plastic or wooden cooking bowl (non-metal!)
Mason jar or large recycled glass jar with lid
Zip-lock bags (small)
PET drink bottle small with lid (0.5L for fermenting)
PET drink bottle large (2.0L ml for planting)
Cheese cloth or triangular bandage
Optional – Urinalysis test strips
Optional – pH test strips or pH dye indicator
Optional – food and lifestyle journal
Pipette or measuring cup (50ml)
Cutter, scissor and awl (pricker)
Drill and large 30 mm drill bits
Water-resistent marker
Airline tubing (7 mm wide), 150 cm long
Aluminium foil or white and black acrylic paint
Small water can
In ANTROPONIX we combine small-scale waste upcycling
with plant growing that is sensitively adapted for urban and
indoor use. Our bioremediation process includes three ba-
sic phases of (A) cultivating lactic acid bacteria and prop-
agating them, (B) collecting, inoculating and stabilising the
urine, and (C) diluting the urine in water and exposing it
to coco-fibre that helps mineralise the human nutrients so
it becomes the growing medium growing your plants. The
coco-fibre provides good aeration that stimulates essential
bacterial activity permitting ‘passive’ water-based growing
without external air pumping. Cultivating lactic acid bacte-
ria takes four weeks (A), fermenting the urine takes three
weeks (B) and raising plants from seeds takes another five
weeks (C), totalling twelve (12). ANTROPONIX uses fermen-
tation to stabilise nutrients and eliminate odour because it
but doesn’t require any electricity input and keeps green-
house gases emissions at a minimum (compared to other
processes like pasteurisation).
We are aware that many environmental toxins and pollut-
ers (like micro-particle plastics epidemic in our tap water)
are entering our penetrable bodies are out of control and
will end up in your urine. Yet, over the intake and use of
foods, drugs and body care products we do have certain
control. Pharmaceuticals linger for about two weeks in our
organisms and antibiotics which sabotage our fermentation
process for up to six weeks [2]. It is advised to abstain
from such substances ahead of the urine collection period.
ANTHROPONIX users who want to learn more about the
substances in their urine we recommend to keep a food
and lifestyle journal and do an Urinalysis test before each
The Field Guide to Hacking
There are many different ways of cultivating lactic acid
bacteria (from rice-wash residue to bio-enzyme from cit-
rus peels). Here we opt for sauerkraut from fermented
cabbage because it is the most effective and ecologically
very sensitive option. Amazing about cabbage is that its
leaves already contain both the lactic acid bacteria and the
sugars essential for fermentation. Because these DIY lacto
acid bacteria are awakened and raised in your neck of the
woods (hence ‘indigenous’) they are much better adjusted
to your specific ecosystem than industrially isolated bacte-
rial strains from the lab [3].
1. Get fresh cabbage. The best season for making sau-
erkraut is autumn and winter because lower temper-
atures slow down the fermentation process improving
the taste.
2. Remove outer leaves. Shred the cabbage very finely.
3. Mush shreds one layer at time (with a pinch of salt)
until saturated with liquid. The salt ensures the sauer-
kraut gets a crunchy bite (consistency).
4. Stuff cabbage into jar, press down with water-filled
Ziplock bag that serves as weight. Close lid tightly.
Make sure the cabbage remains soaked in its own
juice which keeps the air and mold out. Place jar inside
a bucket and store for three weeks in dark, cool space
(shield from sunlight). In the fermentation process, ex-
cess liquid and carbon dioxide is released over night.
5. After three weeks, sauerkraut is magically to be found
in the jar! Squeeze out the juice with (rich in lactic acid
bacteria) with cheese cloth that is used as whey for
urine stabilisation. Store in fridge in airtight bottle. Eat
the remaining solids as a probiotic salad or steamed
6. Before the sauerkraut juice (whey) can be used to sta-
bilize the urine, it needs to be propagated: provide the
lactic acid bacteria with plenty of sugars so they can
get to work (since there is no sugars to feed on in the
urine). For one part (10%) sauerkraut juice, we add
one part (10%) molasses or liquefied, brown sugar
and fill it up with eight parts (80%) of tap water that
has been aired for 24 hours to be free of chlorine and
iodine. Store in airtight PET bottle for one week. Now
the lactic acid bacilli should be well fed and releasing
carbon dioxide that is bulking up the bottle. This prop-
agated whey is ready to use.
[3] R Nout, P Sarkar, and L Beuchat. 2007. “Indigenous Fermented Foods.” Food Microbiology: Fundamentals and Frontiers 3 (July): 505–59.
Urine concentrates about 85% of the nutrients released by
the human body. If sensibly collected and applied as ferti-
lizer, the urine of one person per annum would be enough
to grow up to 250 kg of wheat or rice [4]. When urine is
reeking like ammonia it is this volatile bounty of nutri-
ents that is chemically reacting with the oxygen in the air.
Through fermenting we can acidifying the urine (lowering
its pH to 5 or below) therefore curbing ammonification and
odour release, and in effect stabilizing the nutrients. Also, in
this sour environment bacteria and viruses other than lactic
acid bacilli can’t survive [5]. Separated (diverted) collection
of urine is therefore the foundation for optimal nutrients
1. Collect the midstream of your first, morning urine in a
drinking cup. Fresh morning urine is sterile and most
nutrients-dense. Midstream ensure it is of purest
2. Dip Urinalysis strip into urine and remove it quickly.
3. Observe the reading time required (30 to 120 sec-
onds) for colours to indicate.
4. Check colour codes of Reading Chart and note re-
spective values.
5. Check appearance colour to monitor your body hydra-
tion and detox status.
6. Add three parts (30%) of propagated sauerkraut juice
(whey, see A6) to urine collection bottle and fill up with
seven parts (70%) of urine.
7. Store fermenting in urine for three weeks.
8. Test fermented urine with pH test strip (pH dye indica-
tor) or your nose: it should smell pleasantly like vinegar
or wine and pH needs to be below 5.0.
[5] Krause and S Jacobsen. 2011. “Aspekte der Hygienisierung im Kontext der Entwicklung eines neuen Sanitär-Ansatzes.” [Aspect of hygienization in context of developing a new sanitation approach] Berlin Technical University.
[4] Wolgast, Mats. 1993. “Rena Vatten: Om Tankar I Kretslopp [Clean Water: About Tanks in Circulations].” Creanom HB, Uppsala (in Swedish), 186–89.
The Field Guide to Hacking
After anaerobic (airless) fermentation in sauerkraut and
urine stabilisation (A and B) we need aerobic bacterial ac-
tivity in the last phase so that the organic nutrients turn
into mineralised form for plant roots to absorb. Keeping
our window garden off the electric grid, we use a passive,
hydroponic system where the porous and bacteria-friendly
coco-fibre provides the growing medium (with welcome‘ni-
trogen fixing’ and ‘phosphate solubizing’) for bringing hu-
man nutrients and plant seeds to fullest fruition. This top-
to-down, self-dripping vertical garden shown here is just
one, very space-efficient option. Other planting setups are
viable as well.
1. Drill hole into planter bottle base to fit another bottle.
2. Draw and cut two side openings in each planter bottle.
3. Drill hole into cap for plastic tube of drip water.
4. Cover bottom third of bottle with alu foil or paint (black
primer, white finish) as light blocker to avert algae.
5. Hang watering bottles, planters and recollectors into
rows: insert bottle neck in base hole, tighten with lid.
6. Start sprouting plant seeds on moist napkin in Tupper-
ware: observe seasonality and varietal needs!
7. Fill lower third of planter bottles loosely with dissolved
coco-fibre. If available, mix in biochar dust or perlite
for better porosity and cationic exchange.
8. Dilute urine (0.5%) with water (99.5%) at 1:200 ratio.
Fill nutrients solution in watering containers, impreg-
nate coco-fibre with urine solution.
9. After 2 weeks, double intensity of nutriemts solution
to ratio 1:100.
10. Check for nutrients deficiencies; add pinch of wood
ash or seaweed extract if needed.
In spring 2017, 22 planting enthusiasts engaged helped
us explore the possibility of closing the food loop over two
months. Each participant received a ‘Grow With Your Own
Nutrients’ kit that allowed them to collect, medically test
and ferment a small, daily urine sample over three weeks
at home. In each of those 21 urine specimen – after un-
dergoing lactobacilli fermentation – a lettuce or watercress
seed was grown. For comparing how one’s eating habits
and emotional fluctuations would be reflected in the urine-
bred plants, an elaborate journal was provided, for keeping
track on daily behaviour, fermentation process and plant
development. This home-based urine/plant cultivation rou-
tine was guided by five bi-weekly workshops where partic-
ipants received instalments of supplies, skilling and experi-
ence sharing. In wake of the initial technical shortcomings,
the intentional biophysical link between person and plant
was intensified. The shared, more-than-human precari-
ousness provided a springboard for participants’ creativity,
sociability and imagination.
In our time of insatiable energy demand, increasingly or-
ganic waste, including human waste, ends up powering bi-
oreactors, engines and batteries. In the age of environmen-
tal depletion and nature-human dichotomy, more mutually
replenishing, more concrete and direct ways of nurturing
our living foundation is required. Here human waste ap-
proached not just as energy supply but as life force lets us
test out sociable technologies and living feedback proto-
cols in a given context.
ANTHROPONIX was made possible with the generous sup-
port of a dedicated seed grant from Design Trust (Ambas-
sadors of Design in Hong Kong) and the Internationalisation
Grant from the Dutch Creative Industries NL in Rotterdam.
It allowed to produce a urine-to-plant growing prototype
and project documentary by videographer Benson Law.
More info on
Image: Self-documentation from ANTHROPONIX participants in spring 2017.
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.