Low-Cost Garden Fertilizer from Sardines (with Recipe)

Reader Contribution by Mary Ann Reese
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Garden fertilizer comes in all shapes, sizes, and formulas. Books and magazines maintain you can make your own by mixing this and that, and you’re flowers and veggies will amaze you. So you run to the store and purchase their suggested ingredients and yes, it makes a good fertilizer, though you may be spending near what you would pay if you purchased ready-made fertilizer.

You can, however, follow our simple recipe for homemade garden fertilizer and not have to spend any extra money. We make our fertilizer for little cost and it works great! Our garden fertilizer is from sardines.

Benefits of Sardines for Health and Fertlizer

If you’re not eating sardines yet, you may be missing out on one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids and other important minerals, not to mention the taste is terrific! We’ve switched to canned sardines from tuna because of the reports we’ve read about smaller fish holding less toxins than large fish.

Sardines are very low on the food chain and eat mostly plankton. Their small bodies process their food quickly, because they have a higher metabolism, eliminating any significant amount of mercury or other toxins they may have ingested. Larger fish, like tuna and salmon, digest smaller fish they consume slower, allowing toxins to accumulate and concentrate in their organs and meat, later to be ingested by humans.

When I include sardines in a soup recipe, sometimes I pour the whole can, juice and all, into the kettle but sometimes I drain the watery juice off and just use the sardines. When I drain the can, I save the watery juice to make garden fertilizer. I simply add some water to the sardine juice and fertilize our outdoor plants and vegetables with it. Free fertilizer!

Our plants and vegetables thrive with sardine juice, because after all, it is fish fertilizer. Sardines are good for us and sardine water is good for plants. I make sure I buy quality sardines, mostly for the flavor but also for the quality of the juices, and I only buy sardines in water, never oil, and I always look for sardines with lower sodium both for our health and to prevent adding too much sodium to the soil.

Too much sodium can threaten the life of many plants, so read your labels! Saline soils can easily recover by promptly applying a sufficient amount of water to promote leaching of the salts out the root zone.

Sardines are rich in nutrients known to keep our cardiovascular system healthy. This cuts down on unnecessary fats in our diet and is more readily usable for the plants. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as EPA and DHA, which can lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Sardines are a great source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and phosphorus, which help our arteries and bones and helps us absorb calcium.

Sardines are rich in protein to help form muscle, connective tissue, and antibodies to keep our immune system strong. To learn more about the nutrients in sardines, click here.

Sardines contain many valuable nutrients we need:
• Selenium
• Phosphorus
• Iron
• Magnesium
• Copper
• Zinc

The name Sardine came from an Italian Island called Sardinia, where big schools of these fish were often seen. To read more about Sardinia, click here. With the increasing concern of the health of our open waters, many folks are eating sardines because they do not contain concentrations of heavy metals, like mercury and other contaminants as larger fish do.

These oily-rich fish are small, saltwater, and soft-boned. They are plentiful in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean Oceans. Actually the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is credited for making these tiny fish desirable by developing sardines as the first canned fish. This was the Emperors way of feeding the multitudes of people in the land he ruled. If you would like to read more about the history of canned sardines, click here.

How to Eat and Where to Find Sardines

Sardines are becoming more and more popular today as people learn about their rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, and their incredibly low levels of mercury and PCBs.

Here are a few ways to enjoy sardines:
• Add to any green salad sprinkled with lemon juice and olive oil
• Add to any pasta sauce with lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper
• Add to any soup for increased protein and delicious taste
• Eat right out of the can, adding your choice of spices and herbs
• Mash in a bowl, adding mayo and onions and spread on toast
• Add to your favorite dip or hummus
• Use in place of beef while making tacos

Some very good brands of sardines are:
• Bar Harbor
• Crown Prince
• Wild Planet
• Season Brand

One of our favorite ways to use sardines is with quinoa. This is our recipe:

Quinoa and Sardines Recipe

Yield 2 servings


• 1 cup cooked Quinoa
• 1 tablespoon chopped Cilantro
• 1 tablespoon chopped Arugula
• 1 teaspoon chopped Lovage leaves or Celery leaves (Read about Lovage here)
• 1/4 teaspoon Fenugreek powder (Read more about Fenugreek here)
• 1/4 teaspoon Bay Leaf powder (optional)
• 1 can chopped Artichoke hearts
• 1 can chopped drained Sardines (save liquid to make fertilizer)


Heat artichoke hearts and sardines in a small saucepan. In a separate saucepan, heat cooked quinoa, cilantro, arugula, lovage or celery leaves, fenugreek, and bay. Serve by putting artichoke-sardine mixture on a plate with a scoop of quinoa on top. This is, of course, gluten free and dairy free. Enjoy!

Homemade Sardine Fertilizer for Your Garden

1. Open and drain a can of your choice of sardines, keeping the liquid

2. Use the sardine fish any way you choose

3. Add two quarts (64 oz.) water to the sardine liquid, stirring to distribute

4. Immediately pour on outdoor plants and vegetables

5. Follow with a good watering to assist the sardine fertilizer into the soil

The draining of one sardine can makes a generous two quarts (64 oz.) of fresh garden fertilizer. This may not seem like much quantity of garden fertilizer if you have a large garden, but if you eat two cans of sardines per week, that’s a gallon of fresh fertilizer per week year round making a lot of very inexpensive garden fertilizer!

Disclaimer: All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The author of this blog makes no promises as to the accuracy of any information herein and will not be liable for any errors, omissions in this information or damages caused by this information. Read the Nutritional Facts on each label. Use Sardines with the correct sodium level for the tolerance of your plants. For more information on sodium levels and plants, click here.

Mary Ann Reeseis a certified mentor in designing, building, and operating food bank farms. She has also been certified to teach cooking classes to low-income families. As an organic grower, Mary has owned a mini-farm, greenhouse, chickens, ducks, and geese raised from eggs in an incubator and is happy to share years of wiser living advice with her readers. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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