It is an already established fact that organic wastes are good for plants. And when it comes to improving plant health and soil quality, nothing beats organic compost.
Are Fingernails Good For Plants? Yes. Many people throw away their nails after clipping them because they don’t know those nail clippings can be composted and used as organic manure to better the health of gardens and plants.
In this short article, we’ll be looking at the usefulness and downsides of using fingernails as composts for gardens and plants.
How Good Are Fingernails for Plants?
Keratin and biotin are the primary components that fingernails are made up of. Keratin is a naturally occurring protein and contains small amounts of calcium and phosphorus.
Biotin is an essential vitamin found in all living cells. Plants, like most microorganisms, have the ability to synthesize biotin. Biotin acts as a cofactor for a set of enzymes that catalyze carboxylation, decarboxylation, and transcarboxylation reactions in a number of crucial metabolic processes.
Since they contain a naturally occurring fibrous protein known as keratin, small amounts of calcium, and phosphorus, all of which are essential in fertilizers and beneficial to plants, fingernails are great organic manure to plants.
But they wouldn’t have much positive impact on the plants like other fertilizers would and they take a very long time to decompose.
Do Nails Decompose in the Soil?
Fingernails are decomposable like every other part of the human body. This is because they are made up of keratin- a fibrous protein that’s also found in the hair and skin which makes them biodegradable, meaning these parts of the human body that are usually sentenced to the trash, can end up being of great agricultural benefits in the compost garden.
When tiny microorganisms such as bacteria, and other lifeforms feed on the nails, they produce waste, which turns the nails into carbon dioxide and ammonia.
How Long Does It Take for Nail Clippings to Decompose in the Soil?
Nails usually take a long time to fully decompose and turn into the compost because they contain heavy metals from the environment which might have entered the body.
The good thing is if the levels of the heavy metals were too high, the person would likely have had some health challenges, certainly over time.
The part of the nail you see is already dead. Nails start their life cycle beneath the skin. And as new cells develop, they push dead cells up. So, your nails start to decompose before you even clip them.
Nails are part of the last stage of decomposition, called the dry stage. The rate at which human nails will decompose depends on the environment and the presence of relevant microorganisms in the soil.
When buried in the soil, nails will disintegrate into small pieces faster, such that you may not be able to recognize them after a few months. But it still takes time before it’s fully decomposed. About 40 years.
If the environment is conducive enough, about 35 to 40 percent of nitrogen in the nails metamorphose into nitrates in four months.
Because they take some time before they are fully decomposed, they are a slow-release source of nitrogen, one incredibly important ingredient of the composting process, the other being carbon.
Can I Use Nails as Fertilizers?
Nails could add to the overall well-being of the soil directly as they contain a lot of beneficial minerals and nutrients like keratin, phosphorus, and small calcium deposits. All of which are essential nutrients in fertilizers.
Large amounts of nails can improve soil tilth
Tilth generally refers to the physical condition of the soil as it relates to plant growth. Favorable tilth implies good conditions for seed germination and root proliferation, allowing crops to thrive.
Also, soil with good tilth facilitates other processes, such as water infiltration and aeration, which benefit both crops and the environment. Mixing the nails up with soil is a great way to improve overall aeration and drainage.
Are Nail Clippings Good for Compost?
Human nails and animal claws are biodegradable, so they can be composted. Natural human fingernail or toenail clippings, and even animal claw clippings can be added to compost heaps.
However, they won’t make a lot of agricultural impact on the heap (unless you have LOTS of them! Don’t add fake nails – acrylics – and excessively polished ones, real or fake, to your compost though.
Are Nail Clippings Biodegradable?
The primary component of nails is keratin which makes them biodegradable. Keratin, however, is one of the tougher sides of proteins and usually takes a long time to decompose, which is why nail clippings take pretty much a time to fully decompose.
Fingernails Can Be a Threat to Human and Animal Life
Fingernails are not edible and consuming them can kill or maim you. They are also a threat to birds like pigeons and sparrows who might eat the nails from the ground thinking they are food. It is therefore wise to dispose of nail clippings in the compost.
Not All Nail Types Can Be Composted
Certain types of nails should not be composted because they could pose a great ecological danger to plant life. These are excessively polished nails, and fake nails or acrylics. The compostable nail clippings should be free from all nail polish.
The danger with decomposing polished nails in the compost is that the polish and its removers are regarded as hazardous waste because they are toxic and flammable.
The chemicals in the polish will find their way into the compost and continue into the garden, poisoning it and could result in the death of the plants. On the other hand, acrylic nails are simply non-biodegradable. They will hardly decompose.
This is because they are made up of a liquid monomer and a powder polymer that creates a hard protective layer over your natural nails. For this reason, do not compost them.
Is Human Hair Good for Plants?
Human hair is another useful waste product that many people just dump into the dustbin. But instead of throwing your hair out, do you know you can use it to benefit your plants?
As I mentioned earlier, human hair is made up of the tough fibrous protein keratin, phosphorus, and small calcium deposits which are essential in fertilizers. Hair strands will feed microorganisms and decompose in the soil just the same as nails.
Unlike fingernails which offer very little benefits, hair has more beneficial minerals. In the compost garden, hair is a rich source of nitrogen and sulfur.
Nitrogen Encourages Growth
It is an essential macronutrient for plant function and is a key constituent of amino acids, responsible for the formation of the building blocks of plant proteins and enzymes.
Nitrogen is also a component of the chlorophyll molecule, which enables plants to capture sunlight energy by photosynthesis during the day, driving plant growth and grain yield.
Nitrogen also plays a very important role within the plant to ensure that energy is available when and where the plant needs it to optimize yield.
This critical nutrient is also present in the roots as proteins and enzymes help regulate water and nutrient intake.
On the other hand, Sulfur does a lot of beneficial things on the farm like helping in the formation of enzymes responsible for building plant proteins and helping to lower the pH level of the soil.
Additionally, Sulfur acts as a soil conditioner and helps in reducing the sodium content of soils. In addition to sulfur and nitrogen, human hair is a great source of magnesium which plays an important part in photosynthesis, so that added boost from hair will do your plants good.
Using hair in your compost garden can amend a wide range of soil issues and create a better-growing environment for plants. Human hair can also change the physical properties of the soil
How Long Does It Take for Human Hair to Decompose in the Soil?
On average, it takes about two years for hair to break down, unlike fingernail clippings which sometimes take decades to fully decompose.
Human hair can last for a very long time. This is because it resists Proteolysis. Proteolysis is the process in which enzymes turn proteins into amino acids. Hard keratins, such as those found in hair and nails, naturally resist the process to stay intact.
However, exposure to moist soil is sure to speed things up a bit. Decomposition can also be aided by increasing the humidity and temperature of your compost garden.
If you add hair to your compost pile, spread it out thinly. Avoid tossing the hair in as a bunch. Afterward, cover it with a sheet to build up heat.
Both fingernail clippings and hair are best when not used directly as fertilizer on plants. But it’s fine to add them as a part of your compost heap.
Both take a while to break down, and large quantities might cause problems, because human hair and nails may likely contain heavy metals from the environment which have entered the body.
Whether toxic levels of heavy metals are present in hair and nails can only be determined by a laboratory, but if they were that high, the person would likely have had some health problems, certainly over time.