Sustainable Living

Fertilizing Your Garden with Fish

Squanto or Tisquantum teaching the Plymouth about fish

Image via Wikipedia

Fertilizers have come a long way since the beginning of agriculture. Much of what we are putting in our soil nowadays is a combination of synthetic compounds and chemicals. Fish fertilizers offer an organic solution for effectively providing nutrients to the soil naturally.

The thought of fish fertilizer has some of us gardeners plugging our noses! While it is true that some fish products are unfriendly to the nose, they have a lot to offer the garden. As elementary students we learned of Native Americans like Squanto, showing the pilgrims to use fish (Herring) to fertilize their crops. Some stories suggest that each kernel of corn planted was put into the mouth of a fish and the whole things was planted.

In this article I am going to tell you what fish fertilizer is, the rights kinds of fish to use for fertilizer, and advantages as well as disadvantages of using fish fertilizer.

What Exactly is Fish Fertilizer?

First and foremost fish fertilizer can come from your own catch. As a child I recall a big garden covering most of the backyard, and whatever “junk fish” my father caught throughout the day would more than likely become fish fertilizer.

Next there are the store bought fish fertilizers. One form of fertilizer called fish meal, is made by grinding fish carcasses after most of the oils have been removed. The waste water left over from fish meal can be made into a slime-like gel substance made into fish emulsion which can also be used as fertilizer. Usually only junk fish are used to make fish emulsions.

Next there are Fish Hydrolysates. This form of fertilizer uses whole fish and enzymes to break down the meat and bones of the fish. Afterwards, phosphoric acid is mixed in to help control the enzymes from over digesting the fish, as a result the PH is low and the smell is not as bad as other fish fertilizers.

It is important to know that all fertilizers out there are not selling the same product. Some fish fertilizers use fillers such as seaweed, or ground up sea shells. Make sure you review product information before you buy.

Which Fish are Suitable to use?

Now that you have a background of what fish fertilizer is, let’s take a look at what kind of fish you will be using. When it comes to fish, commercially, there are two options for companies to sell fish.

Fish fertilizer

The first is the fish that people eat. These are usually all the fish that you know about like tuna, sardines, tilapia, and salmon. Now in many instances some of those fish are used in fish fertilizer in some way. This can be from a lack of demand for human consumption, or just the scraps being used like head, scales, and fins. Most of what is used in fish fertilizer is junk fish, scraps, or fish that cannot be consumed by humans because of high toxicity levels. For example menhaden spend a great portion of their lives in water that is contaminated with metals. Therefore they make perfect fertilizer, but not the perfect meal.

Fish fertilizer has many advantages for you and your garden. On top of that, a hidden advantage is the benefits it is doing for the mini ecosystem that is your backyard. Fish fertilizer is simply one of the best ways to grow quality crops and help renew the nutrients in your soil.

Fish fertilizer can also be 100% organic if you are self fertilizing or find the right brand to use. Fish fertilizers are have slower release rates than other types of fertilizer, therefore do not have to be applied nearly as often. When applying fertilizer like fish hydrolysates you are coming about as close as you can to burying a whole fish. Microbes love to feed on the organic matter and this makes for very healthy soil and very healthy plants. While fish fertilizer has a lot to offer there is also a downside.

Some Things to Watch our for

Using fish fertilizer comes with some disadvantages as well. The first thing you will notice is the smell, which unless you have the most sensitive nose in the world, can be manageable. Another common objection is the over fishing and the sustainability of certain fish used. A lot of growers are simply using only waste items and scraps from fish. Still then you can find the right fertilizers to buy just by doing a little research.

Another thing that may be a problem is toxins in fish from polluted waters. Most of these toxins come in metallic form and may even contain mercury. Fish that are more likely to be contaminated are the ones at the top of the food chain. Even still, plants that are not being consumed will have no negative effects but you still should do a little bit of background checking to see what you are putting into your garden.

Go Get Hooked!

Fish fertilizer can be an effective organic way to help grow healthy crops. There are many different forms and brand to chose from. One thing you might consider is catching a few fish and using them as fertilizer to test out the results. Beware of fertilizers advertising fish and really using filler content. Fish fertilizer can be a great way to achieve the maximum potential of your garden. Who knows, after a while you might get hooked on it!

How Well The Corn Prospered. Squanto Indian fish fertilizer

This article was written by Philip Russel. Philip helps to maintain a website that provides information and products for the treatment of Acne. In his spare time he enjoys gardening, and has planted one or two tomatoes over a fish to help his tomatoes grow.
+Shane Genziuk

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23 thoughts on “Fertilizing Your Garden with Fish

  1. EN Peru ya estamos utilizando fertilizantes líquidos de pescados, lo aplicamos por sistema de riego y en forma foliar, sirve para enraizar, antiestresante sobre todo haciendoles mas resistentes ante las sequías, inundaciones, exceso de sol, y siempre se incrementa la producción de todo cultivo, incluyendo césped, La empresa que produce se llama ECOCAMPO SAC y el nombtre comercial del producto es AMINOVIGOR

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  2. Have you ever heard of Fogroff? It’s a pretty new fish fertilizer on the market, but I’ve heard some great things about it. It’s not super smelly and they use fish that are an invasive species so it helps the environment quite a bit.

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  3. I just started putting our carp catch into the garden beds, burying them about a spade deep. I wonder if that’ll work okay?

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  4. Hi there. I live near Goondiwindi, Australia on the Qld/NSW border. Our western rivers have a huge problem with the introduced species European Carp. They outcompete our native fish for food and space in our rivers. I am a vegetarian so dont eat fish – but I do enjoy fishing for Carp and then using them as fertiliser. I have a tumbling compost bin and I put the carp into the bin and then spin the bin to cover the fish. After a few weeks the fish are gone. There is a bit of small for the first few days but that goes in time. I am about to start collecting coffee grounds again (use to do it) and think the coffee and fish together in the compost bin or worm bin will make an ideal combination. Silly thing is it is technically illegal to be in possesion of carp in Qld because they are a pest species – but on the other side of the river in NSW you can do it legally. Silly. We should encourage people to fish for carp and use them in compost and gardens. At least then they have some value. I can specifically target carp by fishing with kernels of corn on the hook. None of the native fish seem to touch it.

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    • That is a great thing you are doing Hamish, as those carp are a real problem in our waterways. Out of anything you would consider ‘meat’, I’ve found fish to be the easiest thing to add to the compost, and I can confirm that it will go even better in the compost with coffee grounds. Best of luck with it mate, and pass on the word to all your friends up in Goondiwindi.

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  6. Pingback: Eat What You Catch? : Fishing for Beginers and Advanced – General Fishing tips and Information

  7. Here in Kerala , which is a coastal state of South India, there has been a practice long in force, of adding fish around the root of coconut trees to make them give a better yield. The only thing is it makes you hold your nose for some days whenever the breeze brings in the smell.

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  9. Well it makes sense given all the products that are derived from seaweed or fish. I use the seaweed extract on my plants to great effect and recommend it for all gardens,

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