Look What the Cat Dragged In: Homemade Fish Fertilizer Recipe

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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I honestly don’t have a clue how this dead fish found its way into my yard. We have had a lot of rain recently but not that much! I discovered it at the lower border of the orchard bed as the photo shows — half in the lawn, half in the ground cover.

Perhaps a cat picked it from someone’s trash. Or a raccoon dragged it from the creek half a mile away then got spooked by a passing car. Maybe a neighbor wanted to make a not-so-subtle comment about the time it’s taking me to weed my bank. Isn’t there some biblical story about fish raining from the sky — maybe I’m getting my Bible stories conflated.

No matter how it got there or why, I’ve already thanked the Universe for this gift — however delayed it may be. A few years ago I purchased some live sweetgrass (native to Ohio) to grow for personal and ritual use. Upon its arrival, one of the requirements for boosting the starts was a fish fertilizer bath.

My first leaning was to see if I couldn’t economically make some from scratch. I looked up recipes on the internet and found a few calling for fish heads and scraps. Since I don’t fish (other than for salmon with my dad, now passed), I checked with a couple of local seafood counters. No one had any extras to sell me so I opted for Alaskan Fish Fertilizer since it was a name I recognized from my years in the Pacific Northwest.

My initial reaction to this new find in my garden was frankly “WTH?!” But, because of that search a few years ago, that reaction was followed immediately by a decision to create some of my previously imagined home-brewed fish fertilizer. I Googled once again and found new recipes. Most called for more than one fish but I’m a McGyver-style, make-with-what-you-have-on-hand kinda gal so I simply pared back on the recipes. I even learned that Native Americans used to bury a fish before planting corn seed — smart people, maybe in my future!

Anyway, step one was to fetch one of my handy used cat litter buckets. I then placed a lovely bed of sawdusty composted arborist chips in the bottom, added the fish, graced it with some blackstrap molasses, and topped it off with water.

I saw several recipes that included seaweed and something nudged a memory of my having bought some on a whim while at one of my favorite stores, Jungle Jim’s (in Cincinnati). I didn’t want to divert from other garden chores just then, so put that addition off. Three days later, I found the seaweed and braved opening the bucket to find a lovely fermentation bubbling up with no maggots — something that could have easily happened as flies had time to help the decay along before my discovery, I’m sure. I added my seaweed and closed the bucket back up and swirled.

One of the benefits of using my cat litter bucket is that it’s not airtight so it will automatically burp out the gases from fermentation. This bucket is safely tucked away in my garage, aka gardening shed, so the smell shouldn’t be bothering anyone. I’ll be giving it a good sloshing stir by simply lifting it by the handle and swishing it around a bit every few days until the brew is ready to use in a few weeks. I’m guessing many of my plant babies will celebrate this new find as much as I am once they get their first drink.

Don’t forget to label the bucket so no one (including yourself) is surprised by the lovely, overpowering smell if the bucket is opened without forewarning! My brew should be plenty aromatic when I open it up again for use but that will be tempered by my giddy anticipation. I have plenty of weeding to do for distraction until it’s time to see what I have wrought.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online atHumings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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