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FARMcurious

to educate, inspire and equip the urban homesteader

Brew your own fish emulsion fertilizer

October 2, 2012

Did you know you can make your own fish emulsion fertilizer instead of buying it in the store?  Fish emulsion is an essential product for the organic and natural home gardener for years, proving its effectiveness in feeding the soil and plants with biologically available nutrients while increasing soil and microbe health.

This week we’d like to extend a special welcome to guest blogger Stephen Scott, co-owner of Terroir Seeds, a family owned and operated heirloom seed company that focuses on the “Cycle of Terroir”- from the soil, to the seed, to the food you eat, providing heirloom seeds, education and information for all phases of the cycle.  Stephen is going to teach us how to make our own fish emulsion for use as a fertilizer and foliar spray.  Read more about Terroir Seeds below the article and be sure to check out their website at www.underwoodgardens.com.  Now back to Stephen:

The main drawback to commercial fish emulsion is the cost and the smell. While we can’t do anything to help you with the fishy smell, we can help you make your own fish emulsion that will not only save you a lot of money in product and shipping costs, but just might make a better product than you can buy! This homemade fish emulsion will almost always supply more nutrients than commercially available, but also supplies much more beneficial bacteria from the brewing process. In order to ship, commercial emulsions have little to no active bacteria, because they make containers swell as they continue to grow!

All fish emulsions are good organic nitrogen suppliers, but they also supply phosphorus, potassium, amino acids, proteins and trace elements or micronutrients that are really needed to provide deep nutrition to your soil community and plants. One of the benefits of fish emulsion is that they provide a slower release of nutrients into the soil without over-feeding all at once. It is usually applied as a soil drench, but some gardeners swear by using it as a foliar fertilizer as well.

Adding seaweed or kelp to the brewing process adds about 60 trace elements and natural growth hormones to the mix, really boosting the effectiveness of the fish emulsion. The seaweed or kelp transforms the emulsion into a complete biological fertilizer. Beneficial soil fungi love seaweed. Dried seaweed is available at most oriental grocery stores.

To make your own, obtain a dedicated 5 gallon bucket for this project. Trust me; you won’t want to use it for anything else once you’re done! Buy 10 cans of herring type fish such as sardines, mackerel or anchovies. Sourcing these from a dollar store or scratch and dent store makes perfect sense, as you don’t care about the can and aren’t going to eat them. Fill the bucket half full of well-aged compost, aged sawdust or leaves, or a combination of all three. Add water to about 2 inches from the top, put in the cans of fish, rinsing the cans with the water to make sure you get every last drop of the “good stuff”. The juices or oils in the can will breed beneficial microbes and supply extra proteins. To supercharge the brew, add 1/4 cup of blackstrap molasses to provide sugars and minerals to the fermenting process. The sugars also help control odors. Add the chopped or powdered seaweed to the mix. If you need extra sulfur and magnesium, add 1 Tbs Epsom salts. Stir well and cover with a lid to control the odor, but not tightly as it will build pressure as it brews. Let it brew for at least 2 weeks, a month is better. Give the contents a good stir every couple of days.

Once it has brewed for a month, it is ready for use! There are a lot of ways to use this brew, so be creative. Some folks will strain off the solids, put them in the compost pile and use the liquid as a concentrated “tea” to be diluted with water. Others keep everything together and stir the mix well before taking what they need. What you have is a supply of bio-available nutrients in a soluble form. For a soil drench, use 2 – 3 Tbs per gallon of water and apply to the roots on a monthly basis during the growing season. 1 Tbs per gallon of water makes a good foliar fertilizer. Just make sure to apply it by misting during the cooler parts of the day, not drenching the leaves in the heat. Half a cup per gallon will give your compost pile a kick start.

This brew will keep for at least a year, but you might want to make fresh each season. If you need less than 5 gallons, halve or quarter the recipe. It will smell, so store it where the odor won’t knock you out. I don’t trust the “deodorized” fish emulsions, as to remove the odor, some component of the fish product was removed either physically or chemically and is no longer available as a nutrient.

More about Terroir Seeds:

Terroir Seeds was born from both Cindy and Stephen being involved for almost 20 years in environmental education, habitat restoration, Holistic Resource Management in both grassland and rangeland improvements with several local ranches, as well as studying the impact of development and loss of agriculture on the health of soils and how to restore their biological activity and vitality. Their personal home garden has served as a test bed for over 14 years in learning to adapt the lessons learned in rangeland management and soil restoration to the home garden.

Cindy and Stephen both walked away from full-time jobs in 2008 to pursue their dream that was Terroir Seeds; a company that not only provides quality garden seeds, but helps customers improve their gardens and abilities with a wealth of information not found anywhere else. Early on, realizing that seeds were only one link in the chain of healthy food led to the model of providing not only the best seeds for the home garden, but also the knowledge needed to improve the soil for superior produce and recipes on how to prepare this treasure of home-grown food.

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Is fish emulsion a little too “ripe” for your taste?  Try Bu’s Brew Biodynamic Compost Tea Bags.  

A Certified Biodynamic liquid foliar (just add water!) chock full of microbial activity for all your flowers, veggies, shrubs, trees and grasses. Derived from the best recipe known to man to restore your plant’s vitality, this tea will make your plants go insane! They will LOVE it, and even better, love YOU for it! Contains all the preparations, plus some extra love! Demeter Certified.

4 single-use teabags; each teabag makes approximately 1-2 gallons of tea.

 

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  • Have you tried this with fresh fish parts and shore-gathered seaweed [assuming it’s not breaking some law here in Oregon to pick it off the beach!]? Does the “brew” attract animals [our property backs up to National Forest land], or flies? I would want to try this technique, but unless I could bury the bucket in a well-protected well of some sort, I’m not wanting to meet any black bears, cougars, skunks, bobcats, raccoons, rats or other vermin. How might it work as a “bury deep-dig up later” in a few months or so?

    Reply
    • Barry, fresh fish will work very well. In fact, it is how fish emulsion was traditionally made. Fresh seaweed will also work beautifully! The aroma can be attractive to carnivorous animals, and will attract flies for the same reason. I use a 5 gallon bucket from Lowe’s or Home Depot and put the lid on fairly tight, leaving just a small opening for venting the gas pressure that results from the fermentation process.

      Burying the bucket would probably work, you will have a layer of white mold on top after digging it up but just skim that off before straining. Let us know how it goes if you try this!

      Reply
  • I have the same question as Barry above.. I live on a lake and have abundance of freebie fish..so I guess I’ll just try it with fresh dead fish. :)

    I’ll post about it on my blog when I get it going so we shall see…
    http://pokeberrypatch.blogspot.com

    Reply
  • how much seaweed do you add to 5 gal?

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  • Will this work in an aerobically activated tea process? Can I put fresh fish guts through my bass-o-matic (Dan Akroyd and Saturday Night Live Reference) and pour that as part of the food as I brew up some worm tea?

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  • Sounds like a great idea as long as you don’t live in bear country…

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  • Use caned fish, is the salt content harmfult?

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  • What size cans of Mackeral, Sardines? how many ounce cans? thanks

    Reply
  • i read one article to preserve fish emulsion they requested to apply 5 percent of sulfuric acid to preserve the fish emulsion is it recommended practice or not

    Reply