WHY FISH? CONNECTING LAND AND SEA
It turns out that the sea is rich in essential micro-nutrients that are important ingredients in soil and plant health, as well as human health. Sea nutrients fuel the microbiome of healthy living soil by encouraging the growth and diversity of the soil food web. A biodiverse and healthy soil food web is a critical foundation for plant health and growth. Plants rely on the soil microbiome to access nutrients and fight infection, similar to how our own micro-biome is integral to our health and nutrition.
The cycle of nutrients from the sea to land has historically been connected to the migrations of anadromous fishes and the consumption of marine foods by birds and terrestrial mammals, which once supplied the soils with substantial amounts of phosphorus, iodine, selenium, fats, amino acids and other micronutrients required for a biodiverse soil ecosystem.
The dense human settlement along coasts and the damming of our river systems has left our land lacking in these important nutrients that plants, fungi, and we need for good health. Coupled with harmful run-off from synthetic fertilizers which causes algal blooms and other imbalances in our oceans, the ecological cycle connecting land to sea has been disrupted.
Our local, sustainable fish-based garden booster introduces these critical sea minerals back into the soil, restoring this nutrient cycle from land to sea. Additionally, it is essential to acknowledge that fish fertilizer is hardly a new concept. Using fish as fertilizer is historically an indigenous practice used for centuries by the original stewards of these lands. As Get Hooked resides on Chumash land, we hope to learn from these ancient techniques to help our coastal community flourish.
HOW DID FISH FOLKS GET SO EXCITED ABOUT SOIL HEALTH?
We got a tip from our friends at White Buffalo Land Trust that it's actually not that hard or technically challenging to turn fish scraps into fertilizer. They showed us how to ferment our fish waste with molasses and lactobacillus to create fish hydrolysate, a liquid soil amendment that is rich in micronutrients. The process was fun and rewarding, and turned us on to learning more about the importance of living soil and the role of ocean-derived nutrients in terrestrial ecosystems and food production.
Our “fertilizer project” got the boost it needed nearly a year later, when we connected with the amazing team at Ganna Walska’s Lotusland, Santa Barbara’s premier horticulture botanic garden. In partnership with Lotusland, Get Hooked received grant funding from the Office of Wendy Schmidt to produce, refine, and test our seafood hydrolysate for Lotusland , moving to replace imported products with our local, “home-grown” option.
To read more about our work with Lotusland, see this article.
As fish people entering the world of soil and horticulture, we have learned so much from our friends at Lotusland and White Buffalo Land Trust, namely the importance of feeding the soil itself rather than the plants.
What is Living Soil and Why Does it Matter?
"Living soil" refers to a soil ecosystem that is rich in organic matter and teeming with microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and other soil fauna. These beneficial microorganisms play crucial roles in nutrient cycling. This concept is central to organic and regenerative agriculture.
The industrial agriculture industry has ravaged our soils for decades with the heavy use of conventional fertilizers. These chemically derived products are produced with the intention of producing the highest crop yield, without regard for the long-term health of the soil and the important connections between plants and the soil microbiome rich in biodiversity essential to maintaining a healthy ecosystem and sequestering carbon. Conventional fertilizers, along with tilling practices and pesticides kill off soil biodiversity and carry numerous environmental consequences including soil nutrient depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, reduced nutrient density in crops, water pollution, reduced water holding capacity in soil and biodiversity loss, among others.
Healthy soils contribute to resilient and regenerative farming systems by reducing the reliance on synthetic chemicals, minimizing environmental impact, and fostering long-term soil fertility, ensuring the well-being of both ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.
We start by grinding the leftover fish, which is then mixed with water, un-sulfured molasses, and the key ingredient: lactobacillus. Lacto is the same bacteria culture that is present in kombucha or kimchi, and this is what we use to help the fish break down into the key nutrients we need to feed the soil. The solution is left to ferment for about 8 weeks, followed by straining the product through a 400 micron mesh strainer to make it easy for use as a foliar spray, or a soil drench. After 8 weeks, approximately 90% of the fish has been digested, resulting in an amendment rich in micronutrients unique to marine-derived biological sources.
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Interested in making some yourself?
If you’re interested in making this yourself at home, complete the form above and we’ll share our recipe with you. If you’re a fish processor and you’d like to turn your fish waste into fertilizer like we did, connect with us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can offer assistance.
Does it smell?
We’ re sure you’re wondering, does it smell? The simple answer is yes, but not as bad as one would think.. Because the fish is fresh when we begin the digestion, it smells more like a briny fish sauce than anything rotten or sour. We use our product liberally at our own home gardens and there has been no lingering smell after application. Because there are fats in the product, it can be hard to wash off of clothes or utensils, so we recommend using a dedicated watering can and scooper that stay outdoors.