Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I had quite a few fishing trips this spring, and each time after cleaning fish I buried the leftover parts in my garden compost pile. Through the summer we put lots of garden and kitchen vegetable scraps on top of the pile, mostly a whole bunch of green corn shucks. I went fishing yesterday for the first time in a few months, and I cleaned a big bunch of fish today. For the first time since about June I dug into the compost pile to bury more fish parts.

I saw what had happened to the fish heads and parts I'd buried there before - wow! Those layers turned into the richest-looking, blackest, sweetest-smelling garden soil you can imagine, and I can't find a single fish bone in there. I think the Indians were onto something if they really did compost fish for fertilizer.

Dallas, TX

Never heard of putting 'fish parts' in the compost pile. But it doesn't surprise me that they've had a good effect. I've been using liquid fish and seaweed as a fertilizer for years. Plants love it. Can use as foliar feed, or on the soil, as often as every 2 weeks. (Unless one is a little lazy like me.) Just looked at the label and it does mention adding it to compost piles. Has a fishy smell but that dissipates pretty quickly. There are a number of brands on the market. It's nice, tho, that you can provide your own fish.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I went back and looked at the center of the compost pile where a whole bunch of fish were, and the soil is rich-looking, black, and it smells good - but it's real heavy and wet. I think, by itself, it would drown plant roots and it's probably 'way too strong in nutrients, too.

No problem. We live on six acres with big oak and hickory trees and the annual fall leaf round up is about to start. When they start falling I'll chop up and catch lots of dry leaves with the riding mower, then mix them into that heavy fish-soil compost with a tractor bucket. I bet that combination will make some real nice garden compost for next year's season.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

You know that reminds me of my elder telling the story of the prettiest flowers and trees and the biggest Nightcrawlers could always be found in Cemeteries ..
Yes it does okay , use to do that with carp parts ,,
good it is though ^_^

I forgot to add ;I suppose the moral of the story is the minerals from" Blood &Bone " are all the same to the earth and the plants processing as they do ..

This message was edited Oct 11, 2013 10:57 PM

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Yes, I suppose it's the same thing - but in my mind fish are different, somehow. That is, I'd never dream of composting the "parts" left from butchering, say, a cow or any dead mammal and then using the compost as garden soil. Somehow doing that seems OK to me with fish, though.

Maybe it's because I was given an illustrated "Hiawatha" book as a small child and I studied it over and over for years. The illustration on one page had Indians teaching Pilgrims to bury a whole fish for fertilizer with each corn seed planted. Even as a little kid I rejected that, figuring that a whole fish here and now was more and surer food than the one or two ears of corn you might get off a single cornstalk months in the future. I guess I was always more practical - I'd have just eaten the fish!

Utilizing the parts of fish we don't eat to make useful compost, though, makes sense to me.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

sounds awesome. I would use a bit of very diluted drippings from the compost to water potted plants.
When I used fish emulsion from a store, I had very 'healthy smelling' potting soil. As in reminded me of forest soil or compost.

Helena, MT

Sam, I don't think you can get it too rich with just fish parts. I make out a garden plan for the next season each year about this time and have one 60 foot row dedicated to winter squash. The end of that row is where I plant my pumpkin seeds. I dig a patch about four foot square and loosen the soil after harvest each year in this dedicated location and that is where I deposit fish parts until spring. By loosening the soil and placing a 4ft x 4ft piece of scrap plywood over the loosen soil along with a layer of hay on top I can typically deposit fish parts into this plot for much of the winter. The board also helps to keep out cats, dogs and what not. A brick is sometimes necessary if a large dog finds this spot and tries to dig under or move the board. About the last thing to decompose is the skins if I dig into an area which hasn't decomposed.

Pumpkin seed planted into this plot have often exceeded the size stated on the seed packet by double even in our short season. I generally limit the numbers to match the number of grandkids (6) which also helps. Pumpkins are a good uptake of nutrients and if you want to have some fun get a packet of those giant pumpkin seed and plant them with your fish compost. You might just get a state record at the fair.

I knew a wastewater treatment plant operator in Winfield Kansas who took the state fair record in consecutive years by planting a pumpkin patch at his treatment facility each year. He watered his patch with digested sludge from his secondary anaerobic digester each day, and had a pumpkin in excess of three hundred pounds each year which he entered into the contest at the state fair in Hutchinson Kansas. I believe he recorded one over 400 pounds one year.

You know what Sam, we could split a package of giant pumpkin seed and have a contest to see whose fish guts grow the largest pumpkin. Looser has to do a fish fry. You got a deep fat frier??? Anyone else want in?????????


Helena, MT


This could be you Sam.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

You're 'way ahead of me, Morgan. Good information - thanks!

I've actually been putting fish parts in my garden compost piles for years, and of course we have more warm-water fish species down here. My grandkids have had standing orders from grandpa all their lives - no going barefoot in the garden. You know how hard it is to keep shoes on kids in the summer - especially the little girls.

Catfish spikes, you see, are about the only fish bones hard enough that they don't break down in compost. They stay in the soil and they stay just as sharp and dangerous as they ever were, serrated edges and all!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)


For me it's crab shells in compost. They get fragile and crumble more quickly than you might think.

Helena, MT

Sam, I've read that tetanus can be contracted in gardens and what better way than to step on something as sharp as a catfish fin spike. I wear gloves when working in the garden and those latex gloves when harvesting. I have also heard that tetanus shots should be given more frequently like ever second or third year.

Changed my mind Sam, winner of the giant pumpkin contest should throw the fish fry. I'm looking forward to a catfish fry.

Dallas, TX

No, for adults (ahem) tetanus shots are recommended every 10 years. I am well informed because 2 weeks ago I had a tetanus shot, even tho it was almost 8 years to the day that I'd previously had one. And I had to insist on getting it bc/ I had been working in the garden. So here's the deal per the CDC. Will skip to the part pertaining to adults.

TD protects against tetanus and diphtheria.
TDAP was licensed in 2005 and protects against pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria.

If you've never had a TDAP, that's prob. what you'll get. And then every 10 years you get the booster of TD. (Assuming you're not pregnant, etc. etc.) For protection against a severe cut or burn, you might need an immediate dose of TD or TDAP depending on your history.

Just passing this info along. PLEASE no arguments about the CDC, Vaccines, Conspiracies, etc. As I just stated, I'm merely passing this info along.

Helena, MT

Well flower child no argument from me. I hated those shots and just had one a couple of years ago after reading something here in DG about gardening and tetanus. I get cuts rather easily and when I read about the risk we gardeners take I thought it was a good idea to get caught up since I had not had a tetanus shot in more than ten years.

I found Sam's comment about kids running barefoot in the garden interesting though. Neighbor's got four kids and they all have friends over every weekend. Guess where they like to play barefoot! Fortunately we don't have any catfish to bury in our outdoor compost piles, but there seems to be lots of ways for kids to cut themselves. I just don't understand why gardens are such a risk for tetanus.

I'm still going to plant a giant pumpkin seed however next season and see if I can win a state fair prize for biggest pumpkin using Sam's idea of feeding it fish parts. I also remember reading here in DG a method for making fish imulsion or tea. I'm going to go back to my filles and see if I can find that recipe. If I do I will share it with you all if interested. Maybe we could start a new thread with a contest for biggest pumpkin in 2014! How about it Sam, you game?


Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

If you really seriously want to grow a champ- check into a book, as there is more done than just good fertilizer. THey stake out the vine so it grows straight, with limited offshoots, or something like that. And water, lots of water.

Helena, MT

Yeah Sally I was doing some research and came to the same conclusion about trimming the vine and limiting the fruit production to just one. Watering not a problem as such, however I thought I would try a fish gut emulsion or tea for some additional watering.

I am curious about your statement on growing the vine straight. I figured once I chose the particular pumpkin to nuture I would remove any female flowers and let the vine grow along the edge of the garden where it can attach itself and get further nurishment and moisture from the ends of the soaker hoses. This vine could actually grow 100 ft if that were possible since the location I have chosen is at one corner of my 50ft x 100 ft garden. This location is roughly 10ft x 10ft and has been receiving lots of fish guts, coffee grounds and composted cow manure. I have a large piece of heavy cardboard and a large piece of plywood covering this spot as well.

I did locate some Dill Giant Pumpkin seed in packets at Ed Hume Seed Company. I found it interesting that the Dill company sold the seed based on the weight of the pumpkin the seed came from and the seed was rather pricy too. They were sold out of the 'smaller' pumpkin seed which I believe was in the 300 to 400 lb range. The next size was upwards of 800 or 900 lbs and it went up from there. I believe the Ed Hume seed was in the range of about 900 lbs.

If this turns into a contest I can provide more detailed information, but for now I will leave it at an experiment using fish guts to produce pumpkins which has been my way of growing some really nice pumpkins. Jack-O-Lantern seems to work best for me in our short, cool season and I still intend to grow a few of these at the opposite end of the garden this next year.

I have a feeling this thread on fish guts may continue on for a while and who knows how far it can branch out. I would like to include some of what I have on fish gut tea if any are interested. I haven't tried it but now I have a good excuse to.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

i think I saw a sketch of how the vine grows straight out, with leaves on either side, and maybe the side shoots then directed perpendicular...all in the interest of making sure each and every leaf has max sunshine.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> what I have on fish gut tea if any are interested.

I'm curious to know if it's like compost tea, best when aerated. Fresh or aged?

Helena, MT

I haven't seen anything on aerated fish fertilizer or emulsion. The process I have used mainly is just to bury the remains in a hole about four feet square and two feet deep in the garden. Then cover with a board and a brick to keep out the cats and dogs. Vermicomposting recommends that you do not use meat scraps which I adhere to as well for outdoor composts.

The process for making an emulsion is typically done using a dedicated 5-gallon bucket with lid. Ingredients can include a number of things besides the fish guts. Some form of water is necessary and I would use gravel siphoned fish tank water. There are all types of alternatives here from rain water; some tuna can water as well; and so forth. You can be creative here.

There are a list of other ingredients which can be helpful like dried kelp (from an Asian food store); wood ash; aged wood chip fines; vermicompost or compost; ground up dried tree leaves; coffee grounds; and the sort of things you would generally add to a compost pile like banana peels.

For fish fertilizer you leave out the water and layer these different materials like lasagna. Cover the bucket with a lid but not too tight since you will be building up methane gas in the anaerobic process. You will need to stir the contents every third day just like you would when making the emulsion. Finished product should take about four weeks.

For the emulsion you won't require as much in the way of additives as in fish fertilizer and the contents will need to be stirred every few days as well. Most of what I have read says the extract or emulsion would be ready in two weeks; however a month might be better. Strain off the liquor into several glass gallon jugs with tight fitting lids and store in a cool dark place. When feeding the emulsion a cup in one gallon of water is sufficient. The diluted emulsion can be used as a foliar spray as well. The residual solids may then be added to your outdoor compost pile or my choice is to burry them in the garden.

Keep in mind the bucket, lid, stirrer and foliar sprayer should be dedicated to this process and WILL smell, so keep everything in a remote location and expect visitors of the four legged variety to be attracted.

This information is taken mostly from abstracts here in DG and elsewhere so I expect there will be others who have had experience wanting to share their ideas. At least I hope so.

Dallas, TX

Liquor? Must be happy hour somewhere in the world.

I don't know much about any of this b/c I buy readymade fish emulsion/liquid seaweed at local nurseries. But (there's always a 'but', right?) if you go the liquid route, I would add a wee bit of orange oil and also some liquid molasses. I mostly use it as a foliar spray. The smell doesn't last all that long. Just rinse out the sprayer really really good and so what if a little residual is left. Couldn't hurt. Might help.

If you go the other route, than I would add dry molasses to your mix.

All of this brings to mind some years ago when I was living in Austin, TX. The circus came to town and every gardener in Austin and surrounding area was out there following the elephants around. Now that's some strong smelling (and good) stuff. And yes, the 4 legged critters at home got the thrill of their lives.

Back to the tetanus thing, those 2 legged barefoot critters prob. ought get vaccinated if they never have been.

And back to the initial issue, I hope to post a link. to be continued . . .

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

As I grew up barefoot in the South, I always had to have tetanus shots and I still keep them up to date. I find that with old age, my skin breaks open when I hit something hard and I am always doing other careless damage to myself.

I had a problem getting my Dr. to schedule me for a new shot - probably because Medicare won't pay for it more often than whatever CDC says. I had a barb wire cut in 2009 and went to "urgent care" to get it cleaned out and stitched up and that apparently qualified for a TD (Tetnaus/diptheria) shot. After several more outdoor and dirty cuts and scratches this Spring I asked my Doc. for a booster and she said no. I pointed out that I had not had a pertussis booster ever so she relented and will give me a TDAP at my next visit. I sure am glad Medicare hires Big Brothers too!

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

After I read about fish gut tea, I realized why I never drink tea - only coffee. :

Baytown, TX(Zone 9b)

We don't do much fishing but have always wanted to ask neighbors for their fish parts. Now that I know I don't have to do anything but dig a whole I will be asking. I have a very weak stomach (I don't like it) and was thinking I needed to puree it in a blender to add it. Now I know I don't have to I may try it. I better make sure and eat vegetables and no meat right before as I may not make it through the burial without being sick. :(

Dallas, TX

I don't have a weak stomach like I did when I was a kid. Now I just have a weak mind. Or perhaps I should say a vivid imagination. The thought of cleaning a blender used for fish parts really is disgusting. But even fish parts sound pretty disgusting. Think I'd rather by the readymade stuff.

Baytown, TX(Zone 9b)

I understand. That is why I never did it. I do alot of composting and figured if the stuff is available why not use it. But now my fiance would have to handle it :) So if he can't I will stick with the stuff in the bottle also :)

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I don't have a weak stomach and deer season is coming up - so hopefully I'll be field-dressing a whitetail deer before long. That's a funny thing though - I would never, ever consider composting the leftover parts from any mammal. In my mind, somehow, that would be disgusting and a whole lot different from making compost from fish parts.

Fish compost very well though, and that practice doesn't bother me a bit. Just dig a hole in the compost pile, bury the fish parts, and you'll never see them again - only good-smelling black soil will be left where they were. I suspect that's because fish have a higher water content than land animals - that would make sense, wouldn't it?

Virginia Beach, VA

Fish parts also go to my compost.

My daughter use fish emulsion.


Baytown, TX(Zone 9b)

I sure wish I didn't have a weak stomach...When I was growing up I would hold the rabbit or squirrel while my daddy skinned it but after I turned 17 it was all down hill. I wish it was something I could change.

Ozark I hope you get blessed with a deer also. Mammal is not something you can compost but fish work out great. I was only going to blend it (just thought I would if I could) as I didn't know the bones would compost. I am on a mission now as my fiance can bury the parts for me. He is building me a huge composter so it will be easier to turn it. I have a pile that is ready and the worms are huge. I told a lady who was asking on freecycle for composting worms to build her pile and the worms will come.

I have to keep my son out of my compost or my worms will be history....

Dallas, TX

Agree that one should never compost anything mammal. Not even dinner table scraps containing meat.

Anybody know if you can compost chicken bones or skin?

Baytown, TX(Zone 9b)

Chicken is also a no no

Dallas, TX

That's what I thought. Just checking.

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