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Smells of the garden

By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere

June 24, 2010
Marshall Independent

It happens often at our home: Our gardens stink. Yes, they do and they do not "stink" like perfume either.

This occurrence does not happen every day, however, and sometimes my house may smell the same when my house plants are given a good dose of - fish emulsion.

This is one of my personal secrets for a healthy and happy garden. It doesn't matter vegetable or flower bed be, fish emulsion is what keeps my garden moving along at a good pace each and every summer. I suggest this to folks who see the very tall strawberry plants that I have (and the bumper crop of berries too); the lilies that are taller then myself or the plants that have a much faster start up time then plants that I have not given any of the good stuff too.

So what is fish emulsion? By its name, we can only guess that it is ground up fish. And, basically this is true. Fish emulsion comes basically from the domestic fish meal industry. There are many different companies that make fish emulsion and they basically make it similar to each other. Certain types of fish are caught for their protein then anything else. They go through a cooking process, and then are squished until the liquids come out.

These liquids are made into fish meal and animal feeds, generally. The liquid generally has two parts, the oil and a more dense liquid. The dense liquid is what is made into fish emulsion. The pH of the liquid is closely monitored so that the product doesn't basically spoil and blow up the plastic bottles that the product tends to come in.

There are three types of fish emulsion or fertilizer that we can basically find on the market. Organic, amended and enzymatic. Organic is basically made as is-as described above. Amended, like so many other fertilizers, with urea. Enzymatic fish fertilizer has a rating that is usually around 2-5-3 (NPK) while fish emulsion which is what we gardeners generally have access to purchase is 5-1-1 or 5-2-2 (NPK).

Generally speaking, this type of fertilizer seems to be easier for plants to take up. I don't know this for a fact but watching what it does to my plants, even though the ratings for NPK are lower then say the typical 10-10-10 that you would normally purchase; it would seem this is the case.

It also is lower in cost then some traditional granular fertilizers, it doesn't add any more weed burden to your gardens and it can be used frequently on all types of plants without having to watch for fertilizer burn. The only one draw back-and it is a biggy for those who have a great sense of smell-it really, really stinks! I am often met with 'Oh, mom did you have to fish the garden now? We were playing up here." And I don't think that using it on plants right before you plan to pick them is wise either. You generally have to wait a day or two before you can do that.

I guess when it comes to using fish fertilizers (or emulsions) the American Natives had it right! For more information on your garden, you can email me at



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