"If ye use to throw (in Winter) all about your Apple trees on the rootes thereof, the Urine of old men, or of stale pisse long kept, they shall bring fruite much better, which is good for the Vine also, or if ye doe sprinckle or annoynt your Apple tree roots with the gall of a Bull, they shall beare the better."
David Brossard, translated by Leonard Mascall, A Booke of the Arte and Maner, Howe to Plant and Graffe all Sortes of Trees (1575)
You probably thought Brossard meant ‘cherish’ as in ‘love and cherish’, rather than the more general meaning of ‘care for’, didn’t you? Me too. But in this case, we’re told we can get better fruit if we care for our trees with either… let me just double-check… okay, right, so that’s the gall of a bull, or a bucket of old man’s stale urine. Decisions, decisions.
Grandad, are you busy?
Joking aside though, what Brossard via Mascall is suggesting here isn’t all that different to modern fertilisation methods. Whilst we might prefer to pile on the well-rotted horse dung, or scatter a few handfuls of chicken manure pellets around the base of our trees, applying stale urine is roughly the same, at least in principle.
Urine contains urea: a substance produced by the body to aid in expelling unwanted nitrogen. Concentrated urea is a commonly-used modern fertiliser; it’s nitrogen-rich, odourless, colourless and pH neutral, so won’t do much more than add nitrogen to the soil. Back in the day, “stale pisse kept longe” would presumably result in some sort of evaporation of the liquid and therefore a concentration of the remaining urea, for similar effect. So as your fruit trees awaken from their winter slumber and use up their own root-based stores of over-wintered nitrogen, they will probably be able to make good use of all that freshly urea-enriched soil to boost their early season leaf, stem and shoot development.
And hey at least now, the next time you’re caught short when you’re down the orchard, you’ll be able to give a good answer when someone asks you what the heck you think you’re doing up against that apple tree.