Thursday, January 15, 2009

Farmer, There's a Hair in My Salad...

File this one under “Ewww, gross.”

Researchers say that human hair could potentially be a great addition to our compost piles someday. Studies conducted have shown that the hair, which is readily available as a waste product from barber shops and beauty salons, may provide high levels of certain kinds of nutrients which could be used to enrich soils.

Apparently, the stuff has already been made available to some farmers. But one day in the future we may all find the stuff for sale at the garden center.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Mississippi State University and published in the journal HortTechnology, was designed to assess whether commercially available non-composted “hair waste cubes” would support plant growth. Their tests involved using the cubes as a sole source of nutrients for four crops: lettuce, wormwood, yellow poppy and feverfew. Results suggested that hair waste could not be used as a single source for fast growing plants, but that the stuff could provide sufficient nutrients to container-grown plants in a manner similar to the way conventional commercial fertilizers are now used.

The team notes, however, that there are health concerns associated with using this kind of product, and it is unclear if hair cubes would be a viable option as fertilizer for edible crops. It also seems that the hair takes a really long time to break down, and so there fore it takes a long time for those nutrients to become accessible to the crops.

Ugh. This is terribly gross, and I am not a person that is easily grossed out! Perhaps it is unscientific of me to say so, but YUCK!

This takes having a hair in your salad to a whole new level. I am picturing tumbleweeds full of tangles rolling across drought-afflicted fields… although that might not be accurate I have to say that is what comes to mind. Also, I can’t help but wonder what kind of run-off would come from hair that had been color-treated or straightened using strong solutions, or curled into perms. Those are some powerful chemicals. How would hair waste contaminated by that stuff get filtered out, I wonder? I suppose those are the health concerns they are talking about….

The complete study and abstract are available at the American Society for Horticultural Science HortTechnology electronic journal website.

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