Fish fertilizer, green thumb make garden bloom big-time


ELAINE SHAW DISPLAYS her huge strawberries – a testament to her green thumb and Ralph's fishing skills.

ELAINE SHAW DISPLAYS her huge strawberries – a testament to her green thumb and Ralph's fishing skills.




This is a fishing column with a difference. I know it is not usual to show a picture of a lady with a bowl of huge strawberries and suggest it has something to do with fishing, but bear with me and I will try to convince you that it has much to do with fishing. Elaine is holding the bowl of tomato-sized strawberries she picked in our garden a couple of weeks ago, and therein is our fish story.

We have quite a large vegetable and flower garden in our backyard. It consists of eight raised beds and two small greenhouses. Some of the beds are over 20 years old, and others are more recent, like about 10 years. Most of them are framed with old planks or small logs.

Over the years, with composting and adding enriched soil, they have been built up to a depth of about 18 inches on average. These beds are now full of soft, nutrient-enhanced soil. Each year two or three will be left to fallow.

During the year when I come home with fish, prawns or crabs, all of the entrails (bones, heads or other inedible parts) will be buried in the appropriate raised beds to enrich the soil. I also put them in beds where we have taken a crop early in the season and the beds are no longer growing anything.

The process is quite simple. I have a cleaning bench in a small shed at the back of the yard where I deal with any fish I bring home. After the fish have been filleted, gutted or whatever to get them ready for the kitchen I put the refuse in a large, five-gallon plastic pail and over this I put a heavy lid to keep critters out of it until I can deal with it the next morning before any odours fill the neighbourhood.

To put it out of reach of stray animals I will put the pail on top of the cleaning bench. So far with good luck, a deer-proof fence and gated backyard we have not had a problem with the bucket being disturbed during the night.

Early the next morning I dig a trench for the amount of entrails I am dealing with. The trench will be about 18 inches deep and up to four feet long. I put the heads, bones etc. along the bottom of the trench and then carefully cover all of it with three or four layers of newspaper. By covering the material with newspaper I am convinced we are making a suitable scent block while the material rots in the soil.

The next step is to cover the trench with the soil and mark the location in the bed so that I will know where to start the next trench. You learn this little detail early in the game because ripe fish waste has an unpleasant perfume that can disturb your immediate neighbours and attract all manner of scavenging wildlife. After a year in the soil, the paper has disappeared and all that may remain of the bones would be a bone from the head of a large lingcod or chinook, and the occasional crab claw.

There is no unpleasant odour and your soil has been enriched by your fishing ventures with no waste in the process. What we are doing is making our own sea soil in our garden. Our practice of burying fish parts is nothing new or original; farmers and gardeners have been doing it for centuries. What we may be doing that is different is that we are doing it in an urban area.

If you have followed the thrust to develop sustainable living habits in various media sources you will be aware that there is a growing trend to encourage people to begin to grow some of their own food through various green initiatives.

If you happen to be a fisher person you might consider the idea of fertilizing your garden in a very old tradition– burying parts of fish. It works – Elaine’s peas are at least eight feet tall (we will use a stepladder to harvest them) and this year’s zucchini has all the features of a palm tree.

There is more to a day’s fishing than fresh fish.


Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.



Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Comox Valley residents with ties to India held a rally at Lewis Park and a convoy through Courtenay and Comox, to show support for farmers in India. Photo by Terry Farrell
VIDEO: Comox Valley residents hold rally and convoy in support of the plight of farmers in India

New legislation in India calls for for the deregulation of crop pricing

Cumberland council decided on debt terms to finance its new fire hall. Record file photo
Cumberland chooses shorter debt period for fire hall borrowing

Council also wants to push province into support for small communities’ fire protection

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
Boundary Mountie and suspect airlifted from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

The process of integrating Union Bay services into the regional district can now begin. Record file photo
Union Bay transfer to region targeted for July 2021

Three services will be rolled into Comox Valley Regional District

Mike Aldersey, the Port McNeill base manager for West Coast Helicopters has been awarded the prestigious Agar/Stringer Award by the Helicopter Association of Canada. (Submitted photo)
Vancouver Island pilot receives coveted helicopter industry award

Port McNeill based Mike Aldersey is the recipient of the 2o2o Agar/Stringer Award given out to select few Canadians

Letter to the editor.
LETTER – Horgan’s election promise of COVID relief cash is money foolishly spent

Dear editor, Would you dip into your child’s registered education fund to… Continue reading

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Refusal to wear a mask in public spaces in B.C. could land you a fine. One man on Vancouver Island found that out the hard way - twice. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are inviting audiences into their home for ‘A Celtic Family Christmas’. (Submitted)
Natalie MacMaster coming to you through Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Here’s your chance to enjoy the famed fiddler in an online show with her husband Donnell Leahy.

Most Read