The Daily Dirt

Make Your Own Fish Emulsion

One option for fertilizing your garden organically is to use fish emulsion. However, buying it at the store can run you $20-$25 a gallon. Here’s a way to make it yourself, care of Chris Edwards, farm manager at Fresh Roots Farm in Atlanta. You will need:

  • A bucket WITH A LID—any size
  • Brown material, such as dried oak leaves—enough to fill 1/3 of the bucket
  • Fish scraps—enough to fill 1/3 of the bucket
  • Water

I used a 5 quart bucket, but you could make much more. A 5 gallon bucket would work great. Check your grocery store fish counter for fish trimmings. If they make their own filets on-site, they may be willing to give or sell you pieces of bone, fins, or heads. I got my scraps from the DeKalb Farmers Market in Decatur for $0.60 a pound. (NOTE: If you have a feline companion, fish scraps are also a good alternative to processed cat food.)

Step one: Fish scraps + leaves

Step one: Fish scraps + leaves

1. Layer leaves and fish pieces in three or four layers until the bucket is 2/3 full. End with fish on top to keep the leaves from floating.

2. Cover with water, leaving a couple inches of space at the top.

3. Seal the bucket well and place in an out-of-the way place.

4. Check the bucket every day for a week, and then every few days, to see if gas is building up. If so, release it by opening the lid for a moment. Stir once a week once gases start forming.

5. Let the emulsion sit for about a month. It will break down faster in warmer weather, slower in cold.

Our fish emulsion after three weeks.

Our fish emulsion after three weeks.

To use your emulsion:

1. Strain out the leaves and fish scraps by pouring the whole concoction through a spare colander. Alternatively, use the lid to catch the material while pouring the water into a second bucket. BE CAREFUL to keep the emulsion off your skin and clothes as the smell of fish can follow you for several days.

2. When applying, dilute about 5 oz. of emulsion into one gallon of water. (Use a 15 oz. can filled 1/3 to 1/2 of the way.) For more, dilute two full 15 oz. cans into a 5 gallon bucket of water. Make a weaker solution for younger seedlings.

3. The left-over scraps can be used to make another emulsion. Simply add more water and start the process over again. Material can be used up to 3 times.

NOTE: Once fish emulsion has been used in a watering can, it will always smell like fish, so designate one receptacle for its use.

  1. Sounds like a plan I will give it a try anything for the garden.I have collected more than 20 gallons of compost drippings from the rainy season used about half and gave some away.Another soil boost which I did a 4×10 raised garden.Large bag of dog food half bag rabbit food non perfume kitty litter water in and mix with hard rake.Place corregated cardboard on top of soil and layer hay square sections you take apart from a hay bail over top. a few weeks of churning which mother earth makes.And its planting time save hay discard the cardboard. I have a by the foot news paper clipping on this subject,This is just the idea If you over do something large green leaves you will have. Jeff

  2. Cynthia E. Olen says:

    What about using the whole fish? Anglers by-catch of carp and pikeminnow go to waste—they’re considered trash fish, so are tossed on the bank to die. Could they use the entire fish, muscles, guts and all, to make emulsion, so that no part of the fish is wasted?

    • Trouble with using fish in it’s natural state is that every cat, some dogs, and various other critters (CROWS) will dig it up, or at least try, which can end up in destroyed plants. Dogs can die if they eat bad fish. The emulsion though is something they can’t eat, especially if you water it in a bit after applying.

    • Yes, you can use the whole fish. First thing to do though is get a pile of fish in the garden and go at them with Gallaghers Sledge O’Matic. Instant emulsion and spreads nicely each hit.

    • I saw on youtube where the gardener used fish and covered it with lime to kill the smell and sweeten the earth. Makes sense.

  3. Can ‘old’ fishbowl water be used? Such as the water poured out of a goldfish bowl (that will of course be replaced with fresh water for the fish)..

  4. Terrence Ross says:

    What about coordinating an effort to catch invasive goldfish and other invasive fish for this purpose? Fisherman can go out, catch these, and then they can be processed for useful organic fertilizer for farmers.

  5. Karen Lynn Parra says:

    How will this affect the taste and quality of the plants you are using this on if you use it in a vegetable or herb garden?

  6. Hi,I read your new stuff named “Make Your Own Fish Emulsion – Georgia Organics” on a regular basis.Your story-telling style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing! And you can look our website about proxy list.

  7. Yvonne Forsman says:

    I am not a gardener so I have never heard of fish emulsion b/f, but it sounds like a good idea. I am all for organic gardening, I buy only organic food, locally grown, and trying to avoid all environmental toxins. I no longer eat any sea food b/c all oceans are polluted with Fukushima radiation. Radiation causes cancer. Cancer will kill you.

    I have read that in an indoor aquaponic gardening system, where you grow fish, you can feed the fish with spirulina algae. You can grow your own spirulina at home in an aquarium in a sunny window. So…
    step 1: grow spirulina
    step 2: feed spirulina to fish
    step 3: use the fish to make fish emulsion for organic gardening in soil, if you do both aquaponic and soil gardening.

    Re the radiation in water, do not drink desalinated ocean water b/c it is pumped through Reverse Osmosis filters which do n-o-t remove radiation, only distillation machines do (yes, there are kitchen counter water distillation machines for household use on the market, you can distill water for drinking and cooking but you will still get radiation from desalinated water coming out of your shower). Do not use desalinated water for drinking, cooking, bathing, your pets or gardening.

    How to stay healthy: buy a radiation meter to check your water, food and air. Detox regularly, daily! Spirulina algae in smoothie will protect the body against radiation, cancer, inflammation and help with other health problems (youtube videos show how to grow your own). Fresh and frozen spirulina has 95% bioavailability while powder only has 5%. Other detox remedies: liposomal vitamic C (I buy it on amazon but you can make your own, youtube videos show how to). Another remedy is hydrogen peroxide, foodgrade 35%, described in the book The One Minute Cure by M Cavanaugh. Good luck everybody!

  8. I have a bucket of fish emulsion that I started a week ago , I just noticed curry mold is growing on the top of the water and inside the lid , it is stirred every day, is this ok that mold is growing? I have never had this happened before.

  9. I have a five gal. bucket of fish emulsion that I started a week ago and it gets a white film on top , I stir it daily, and skim this off the top but it comes right back is this ok ?

  10. Lynne Morgan says:

    Yvonne, algae would seem like a great idea, however the amount of algae in ur algae tank is tiny compared to what it looks. You would need a swimming pools worth just to feed a fish tank of fish.

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