The next time you find yourself preparing to throw out spoiled fish or fish remains, stop for a second and reconsider. Fish makes a very good natural fertilizer for nitrogen and trace minerals. In fact, it works so well that many Native American horticulturalists buried a fish at the base of each crop plant. Check out the video below!
How to Use Fish Scraps as Fertilizer
You can grind your fish parts up to make your own fertilizer. We recommend using a hand grinder or stick blender rather than your kitchen blender. It’s easier to clean and can be used as gardening tool and not the kitchen. Then work it into the soil, or you can bury chunks of fish at the roots of your plants. Be aware, however, that dogs and some wild animals are fond of strong smells, and may dig up your garden if you use fish as fertilizer. Be sure to bury it deeply, or fence in your garden.
If you don’t want to bury fish scraps, try making your own fish emulsion. There’s a link below.
Or, add ground up fish bones and skin to your compost pile, adding nitrogen and trace minerals to your compost. Keep in mind fish scraps can increase the chance pests will find your compost. Here’s a detailed PDF from Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service: Composting: A Disposal Method for Fish Waste. This is a great resource if you know an angler or fish yourself and want to set up a compost pile for fish scraps.
Where to Find Fish Scraps
If you are not an angler, don’t worry. There are many ways to find fish in your community.
Try a fish market and ask for their scraps. Most will be happy to give them to you. It’s just like asking the coffee shop for their used grounds.
If there is not a fish market close by, try a high end market, grocery store or restaurant with a great seafood selection and see if they have any wastes. They are more likely to clean their fish and have scraps or even fish heads.
Scraps you’ll want to ask for include: intestines, liver, gall bladder, heart, fins, tail, scales, fish heads/gills and bones.
Want to learn more about using fish as fertilizer?
Make Your Own Complete Fertilizer from University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service: See how to make fish emulsion here.
Organic Fertilizers: Fish Emulsion from Colorado State University Extension Program
Creating Community Gardens from Northwest Indian College Cooperative Extension: Great information on building soil with fish and shellfish.
Honorato Pineda says
Muy buena información intentare poner en práctica aguas ideas.
Jigle man says
I would love to give this a try but we live in NEPA, in a very rural area; tons of animals, bears included, and the occasional cougar. I am afraid they just have too good a sense of smell, and that the fish would attract everyone to my back garden
Don gallegos says
Bury chicken wire around your plants and use spikes to keep the mesh down. I done that to all 43 knockout roses i have and it keeps critters out.
Sprinkle the fidh with lime. That will cut down the ordor. I do it all the time.
Where do you get the lime?
Do you still live in this are
I’m heading to the pond after work to catch dinner. I’m going to try this with the scraps tonight.
Do I still fertilize my tomatoes after using the fish.
Christopher Hillier says
I live in Newfoundland and I use fish for my fertilizer and soil amendment as been done for decades maybe centuries. In early summer we get caplin roll up on the beaches and I bury them in my potatoes garden between the rows, and during the fishing season I catch cod fish each weekend, and throw the scraps, skin, bones and guts into my raised beds. I give them a few days until maggots start to crawls and then i cover it all with a little dirt. Smell isn’t that bad, but it keeps my garden organic.
When to start seedling once maggots start to crawl? I am a new terrace Gardner..have buried fish remains in the bed formed for seedling tomatoes..maggots have formed …and not sure should I start sawing seeds now or wait..? Please help.
I put left over sucker in the hole then plant my apple tree. This past summer and it grow two extra feet that help to keef it healthy same with other tree. Now im plan do do more for my garden next years
Alaskan fish emulsion at Walmart is about $6 & won’t burn if used sparingly. But I think a heep of fish chunks decomposes so slowly that it never burns!
DA Cuffel says
I have used whole fish as fertilizer. I have friends who go bow fishing for carp in eastern Washington and I asked them to keep 6 or 7 for me. I buried these whole fish in my raised beds and the results were fantastic. Everything I planted produced spectacularly. I now use fish fertilizer every year and will bury fish parts or whole fish when I can and when I can’t will use fish fertilizer.
Is their anything else work to keep the odor down with fish fertilizer other than limes? Would adding baking soda perhaps to keep the odor away from preventing animals from getting to the fish?
Baking soda helps every way.
I would not use baking soda, it is a base and will change the soil pH. It will neutralize the acids, i.e. not good.
I plan to grow Edamame, tomatoes, sweet corn, lettuces, sunflowers, garlic, some squashes including pie pumpkin, and various herbs… I wonder how far deep into the soil below the seed should I bury the fish, and is there any other thing that I should bury with the fish that would compliment it. Bear in mind that I’m planning a greenhouse full of raised beds
It would depend on the size of the fish used. I plant small fish, such as sardine size a minimum of a foot under the surface, larger fish you would plant deeper, or cut into smaller pieces. I also trap many, many mice in my outside workshop; I freeze them and at planting time they go under seedlings. The roots of plants will find the buried fish, just get them deep enough so the local cats or other pests won’t easily smell them and dig them up.
Grace, I cover the fish with my coffee grounds as well as digging the hole deep enough. I did not have a problem.
Paul Hoven says
I have shrimp that been cooked in a brine. Can I use the shells and heads for a fish fertilizer??