#23 - The Pros and Cons of Fish Fertilizer

Did you know you can fertilize your plants and lawn with fish guts? 
In this episode I discuss how it works, what kind to get, what it is best for and some of the pros and cons of using fish as a fertilizer source. 


Hey, what is up everyone, this is Ete with another episode of Eco Lawn Science. Today I want to talk about a new technology that is ancient. So I guess it's neither. It's something that the Native Americans did way back in the day and all kinds of Islanders have done. And what that is, they've used fish as a source of fertilizer for their crops. You know, for corn, indigenous people around the world have used fish to feed and add biology back into the soil. And so I want to talk a little bit about that cause there's been for the last 10, 15 years, fish fertilizers have been very popular in organic lawn care. It's been a minute since I've used them and we'll discuss why I stopped. But overall I liked the products. I love the concept. I love recycling and not wasting things.

So the way they make it usually is, you know, you go to some areas, like let's say, the one company I used to use is out of Boston, back on the East coast. And there was a fishery right there on the water. They'd bring the fish in, you know, they get the filets off and then you have all this leftover stuff, you know, the carcass, the bones, the scales, the skin that they...People don't eat those. Rather than waste them and just throw it away they realized that they could take these parts, the parts that are often wasted and basically recycle them. They, they kind of grind them down. And some, there's different processes of ways to make fish fertilizer and not all fish fertilizers are the same. And I want to say that in case I forget to come back to that point.

You need to understand the process is very important on how they're making the fish fertilizer. So what's cool is, yeah, instead of wasting all the bones, the scale and the skin, they're actually using it and they're putting it back into garden flower beds. You can use it on lawns and even some trees. And it's a really cool thing. Not only does it fertilize, but it actually helps, you know, feed some, some living material, right, some organic biology back into the soil. And a lot of them–there are a lot of brands selling fish fertilizer–a lot of them are OMRI listed, so they're fully organic. Just a lot of cool benefits of fish fertilizer. One of the things I love is that when you use on an all natural fish fertilizer, they're processed differently in the soil because they contain the nutrients that need to be digested by organisms like the bacteria, you know, the Soil Food Web things that we've talked about.

All this microbial activity actually enhances the strength and the vigor of the plants and that overall increases the amount of organic matter in the soil. So a little on the Soil Food Web, this is a great way to, to help it out and be part of it. It has, you know, it increases the soil fertility by providing these primary nutrients that these plants need to thrive. So just a really cool product. I like all that. 

Again, there's all kinds of different brands, different types. You can get some at the Home Depot, the Alaska brand, it's like a 5-1-1, are the numbers on the label: great for annuals, vegetables, herbs, all these types of things. If you're going on a larger scale, it would be expensive to buy it that way. But they have a great product. I've used it and I like it. The one that I actually liked the most comes, is the one I was referring to. I think it's Boston. It's been a while since I've used it, but the product was called Neptune's Harvest or it is called Neptune's Harvest. And again, it's all, it's all natural. It's organic. And the numbers on the...It comes in these five gallon drum, little like buckets, and it has a 2-0-2, so 2% nitrogen. But again, you don't need the high nitrogen when you're working with organics because the way it's processed and broken down is eco-friendly. It has all these benefits and really cool. I really like the Neptune's Harvest. I liked their product, I liked the company, I liked their core values. So I like a lot of things about it.

The hard part for me and the reason I stopped using it is, there's a couple of reasons. One is, to do it on a large scale to all of our clients, it goes down heavy. You put down two gallons of this stuff per acre. So you know, you got one of these big tanks, a 200 gallon tank or so, and you're trying to put down the proper product and the square footage. I mean you could need, wow, a five gallon pail on one of those. They just got to go down heavy and you got to do it 2 or 3 times a year to see the benefits. So it definitely went down heavy, about 6 ounces per thousand, which that's not actually, that wasn't actually a big deal for me. We have products with similar rates. The other thing was just the smell.

So it definitely has a fishy smell. I think the best way to explain it is it's like, it's like you're down the shore, you know, it has that kind of smell. So for some people I know they liked it. You know, I had some clients in Park City, I remember sprayed it, they were from the East coast, like Jersey area. And I remember they were like, "I love it when you guys come in. Just reminds me of being on the beach." But for many it's just a foreign smell and they just can't get past it. So I had a lot of clients that just got stuck on the smell from the hydrolyzed fish and the seaweed that's in it. So that literally was the biggest thing that stopped me from using it consistently. 

As far as pricing, they sell it 1, 5 five gallon, 55 gallons, 275 gallon totes, a five gallon pail or that little bucket of their 2-4-1 hydrolyzed fish fertilizer, which makes up to about 640 gallons. You get that for about 150 bucks. So if you do the numbers, it's definitely affordable in a good program. 

Again, for me it was just the smell. I remember one time we were spraying and the wind came. I think it was one of my partners, Tim, was with me. We were up in Park City. It's a very windy area and it just washed it all over us. And I felt like I had fish guts on me, so I didn't love that. So in windy areas, maybe not so much, but in areas that are very calm or if you get up in the morning before the winds come and you apply it, it's not too bad. It just smells like you're down the shore. For some they won't, they won't be able to stand it. For some others they will. I know we actually had a couple of complaints from neighbors who said, "what are you guys applying?" So that was enough to shut it down. Now could you apply it with a masking agent? Yes, you could get a winter green oil, something like that, like a Hawkeye, I think it's called that Lesco makes and that could work just fine. But overall that was my big thing. 

I love fish fertilizer. I love the recycling element. I'd love to find a way to get it back into my program. I think where it really shines is in the flower beds, garden plants, these type of areas. You know, it's organic, it's healthy, it's recycled, it's just a cool product. I love the concept. I think on a lawn care program it's not, it didn't work great as a standalone to give me that dark green lawn that the clients want. I think if you have a lawn that has a healthy soil food web and it's been fed for years with humates, organic products, compost teas, it would thrive off of this. But if you had a lawn that's been treated by synthetic nitrogens and chemical treatments and you just switched over to fish fertilizer, you're going to see a significant lack of color. The lawn's not going to be as green as the client wants because you've got to build up that biology in the soil over time and have a healthier food web. So if you do have that scenario, this product will work great on the lawns. So that's my take. Overall I love it. I think Neptune's Harvest is a great company. 

The last thing I didn't mention is the shipping was hard and maybe that's changed cause I haven't used this for about 6 years. The shipping costs is hard for me here in Utah, but I'm sure if you're there in Boston or on the East coast or on the West coast by a plant that's making it, you can bring it in local, you're going to save a lot of money and it will be very affordable to use as a lawn care provider. Anyway. I hope that helps. If you're a homeowner and you want to put some on your, your gardens just go over to Home Depot or on Amazon, look up Alaska fish brand. They sell it to homeowners in a smaller, and you can also get Neptune's Harvest in smaller packs. But yeah, you can get that, apply it on your plants three times a year. It's awesome. 

I hope you have a great day. See on the next episode.

This weed control scored a 6 in EIQ (environmental impact quotient) which is pretty low (that's a good thing) for a weed control. In this episode I discuss how it works, it's impact on the environment and pricing. 

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