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The Power of Fish Fertilizer in the Garden

The Power of Fish Fertilizer in the Garden

By Casey Schoenberger, Dramm Corporation
Images courtesy of Dramm Corporation

Over 20 years ago, Kurt Dramm (son of Dramm Corporation’s creator, John G. Dramm) began using fish hydrolysate fertilizers, created from the fishing industry’s waste, in his own greenhouse and was amazed by the results. He was compelled by the opportunity to offer high-quality, easy-to-use fertilizers to his customers while also helping to solve an environmental problem. Dramm decided to begin manufacturing organic fertilizers and called them “Drammatic Liquid Fish Fertilizers.”

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How is Fish Fertilizer Made?

Dramm’s fish fertilizers are derived from fresh fish scraps from the Great Lakes, which would otherwise fill landfills and overwhelm local wastewater treatment plants. After the filet of the fish is removed for human consumption, Dramm collects the remaining scrap. The scrap is ground up and enzymatically digested at low temperatures for months to break down solids into a liquid filtered through a 200-mesh screen before leaving the factory. The end product is pH stabilized for shelf stability and lasts for years undiluted. Not unlike canned vinegar-based pickles in your pantry.

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Drammatic Liquid Fish Fertilizers contain the natural oils, amino acids, nutrients, and minerals found in the fish and contain high levels of plant-available phosphorus and calcium. Though most fertilizers are purchased with the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in mind, many growers use Drammatic more as a biological food source. Fish hydrolysate fertilizers have an incredible ability to feed beneficial fungus and bacteria both in the soil and on the plant surfaces.

Fish hydrolysate fertilizers have been used in several different ways in the home garden, depending on what the grower is trying to accomplish. Though ground applications of diluted fertilizer to boost nutrient levels are common, the use of fish hydrolysates as probiotic foliar sprays is gaining in popularity. These applications are often made throughout the year as the liquid fish fertilizers are tank-mixed with other amendments.

Why You Should Use Fish Fertilizer in Your Garden

In his book The Holistic Orchard (Chelsea Green, 2011), the late orchardist Michael Phillips touts the many benefits of using fish fertilizers. These include stimulating beneficial microbes to speed up decomposition and replenishing the soil nutrient bank. In addition to fish fertilizers, Phillips’ spray program includes pure neem oil and effective microorganisms or compost tea.

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Home gardeners will often use a 4-gallon backpack sprayer to apply their foliar sprays, but just about any sprayer will do the trick. Ground applications are usually made by simply diluting your desired amount of fertilizer in a five-gallon bucket and applying as necessary. It is crucial to thoroughly clean all equipment after use as the same probiotic aspects that make fish fertilizer so effective in the garden work against you inside equipment and drip lines. Good flushing with water of all lines and equipment is needed, though some growers prefer to follow up with a safe cleaner.

By encouraging the growth of the “good guys,” you are enlisting your own army to fight off the pathogens that often thrive in sterile or unhealthy environments.

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