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Will dead fish compost in a summer?

 
steve bossie
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Location: Northern Maine (zone 3b-4a)
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hey folks! got something to run by you veteran composers. here in n. maine our summers are short. its hard to get a finished compost by summers end. I'm always forced to buy compost for my projects. was thinking. fish meal is one of the best organic fertilizers there is. but its not cheap. well I'm a fisherman. we have tons of these yellow perch in our waters. they're invasive and are taking over. you can't keep them off your line and they're so stunted for overbreeding they don't grow to a edible size. i also have a firewood mill down the road where i can get tons of sawdust for free. so what if i layer a good amount of these fish in a pile of sawdust and keep it moist? the perch are high in nitrogen. you think this would breakdown to useable compost in a summer? i would think if i kept the fish buried well there shouldn't be a odor. and its all free. i would think this would make for a great compost!
 
Alice Tagloff
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Location: Newfoundland
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With actual fish? I wouldn't recommend it, just for the flies alone.
Sawdust won't keep the smell down, or the flies away, even burying doesn't help because you'd have to turn the pile at some point.
It wouldn't really work as a compost, maybe if you were worm/bug farming, etc, but not as a compost to be moved to plants.
Fish is a technically a meat product, and by way of thinking around here(Newfoundland), meat does not go into compost - it rots and decomposes, but has to much a potential for creating a disease. I'm not saying it's impossible, but your neighbours would likely have you hanged before you'd see it complete(and how you get police investigating you for foul play), it generally takes treatment and a lot of processing to turn fish into fertilizer, which is -entirely- different from compost. And in Maine, you'd just draw various critters to your yard. Cats, dogs, rats, racoons, etc.

What can work, is discarded shells from shellfish, like crab, lobster and shrimp, but it is recommended to boil them first. Something about the calcium and snails. We even put muscle shells on our garden beds the same way eggshells are put down. Rhubarb -loves- this.
What's also possible, is seaweed and adding it to your compost pile, or just placing it directly on top of your garden beds. But in your area, it might be a protected thing, some places don't allow for seaweed harvesting.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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I've always read that corn is such a heavy feeder that native Americans would plant each one with a whole fish. I don't know. I do know that where I love to go flounder fishing, there is a fish cleaning station where the bones and guts are ground up and the slurry is sent back into the water. I'd love to have a bunch of buckets on my boat and sit there at the spout filling my buckets up to put on my garden.
 
steve bossie
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Karen Layne wrote:I've always read that corn is such a heavy feeder that native Americans would plant each one with a whole fish. I don't know. I do know that where I love to go flounder fishing, there is a fish cleaning station where the bones and guts are ground up and the slurry is sent back into the water. I'd love to have a bunch of buckets on my boat and sit there at the spout filling my buckets up to put on my garden.
. That's what I was thinking. If it worked for them it should work for us. Found a couple websites on the subject. One company in Washington state makes fish compost mixing sawdust from mills, some completed compost and fish scraps from a seafood processor. It's called oly compost. I guess they mix all this together on a concrete pad and inject air into it to speed up the process. If they're able to sell the stuff it should be harmless to people right? Fish don't have the greasy fat that animals have so it makes sense it would break down more cleanly. To insure nothing gets into it and to control smell,I'm going to cover it w a tarp. I'll et you guys know how it goes.
 
Sean Banks
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I have composted fish and its turns out just fine. Once the pile gets hot they disappear within a couple of days. I have also done this with roadkill deer, foxes, birds, squirrels, and rabbits. There is no smell whatsoever and i never had a issue with critters. With fish you could also make homemade fish emulsion or just do it the indian way and bury it in holes during planting time.
 
Travis Johnson
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Fish makes excellent compost!!

I live in Maine too and it is so good that down here we can get it by the ton/truckload. They used to have a special disc harrow that injected the fish guts directly into the soil to keep down the smell, but they no longer do that even though it was incredibly great for the soil. I have also received truckloads of "algeafiber" off the FMC Plant from Rockland. They take seaweed and process it into carrigean which is used in food products obviously. It is billed as a lime replacement (albeit though it takes 10 tons to equal 1 ton of the stuff). As for fish compost you can buy directly, the Kinney Maple Sugar farm in Knox produces fish and seaweed compost by the thousands of tons and can be purchased in bulk or by the bag.

The excellent thing about using fish is that there are other minerals in it besides just NPK and lowering the acidic soil that is here. It contains the trace minerals that the commercial products just don't have; not enough to overburden your soil, but enough to replenish it.

The American Indians did indeed plant with fish (and lobsters here in Maine back in the mid 1600's) for very good reason; like you deduce today, they were plentiful, provided good fertilizer and grew crops well.

Go for it, and if there is not enough that you can catch fishing, here in Maine we are blessed with tons of commercial varieties; many free for the taking (algeafiber).

 
steve bossie
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Location: Northern Maine (zone 3b-4a)
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Problem for me is I'm at least 5 hrs. North of you. I wish we had those suppliers up here. We have to either buy or compost by the bag or make our own. Soil amendments are expensive up here. I would love a truckload of compost but it would cost me $70 in gas just to drive there. What do they get for a truck load in Knox? Do you know how aged the compost is?
 
steve bossie
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Sean Banks wrote:I have composted fish and its turns out just fine. Once the pile gets hot they disappear within a couple of days. I have also done this with roadkill deer, foxes, birds, squirrels, and rabbits. There is no smell whatsoever and i never had a issue with critters. With fish you could also make homemade fish emulsion or just do it the indian way and bury it in holes during planting time.
would rather compost them instead of making emulsion. emulsion stinks! compost is easier to handle and store than raw fish also. it may take some tweaking to get right but I'm betting it will make a great compost! do you turn your pile or just let it do its thing?
 
Sean Banks
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with fish and smaller animals I usually let the pile "cook" for a month then turn it every other day after that until its cold and the materials are unrecognizable. Make sure your pile is large enough....mine are about 5 feet high and 5 feet wide.
 
Travis Johnson
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I don't know what they get for a truckload but I do know it is a year old.

I would think if you talked to the local potato farmers you could get their rotted potatoes by the truck full. That would make for some really good compost as well!
 
Roberta Wilkinson
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I agree that this should work fine, with a little tweaking to get your technique down. I would try to find wood that's closer to dust than chips if you want it to break down fast, or maybe try something else like old straw or hay.

When we lose a chicken to disease we just shove it in the middle of a compost pile and pretty much never see it again. Sometimes a single bone will turn up, but fish bones are so soft and fine that I think they'll disappear without a trace.
 
steve bossie
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i agree roberta! I'm going to give it a few months then hit it w/ the rototiller. should break down fast once the air hits it!
 
steve bossie
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Travis Johnson wrote:I don't know what they get for a truckload but I do know it is a year old.

I would think if you talked to the local potato farmers you could get their rotted potatoes by the truck full. That would make for some really good compost as well!
I'm going to have to look into that. they do dump a lot of spoiled potatoes.
 
steve bossie
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farmers up here use aged sewage sludge in their fields . very nitrogen rich. they use it sparingly tho. but i don't feel comfortable using that around food crops even tho. its mostly dead protozoa.
 
Dan Boone
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In another thread (http://www.permies.com/t/49147/composting/Fish-Emulsion-ve-share-experience) I wrote:

My mother's habit was to fill a 55-gallon drum with salmon heads and guts, and then top it up with water. She'd leave it in the sun for a couple of weeks and then make her children scoop it out in buckets and carry it into garden, while she sat upwind in a cloud of cigarette smoke "supervising". Needless to say I was not a fan of the stuff.

But we grew about 600 pounds of potatoes every year in a 90-day growing season along the Yukon river. So I can't say it didn't work.


We also toted the heads and guts from king salmon down to the garden in five gallon buckets and twenty gallon wash tubs, with instructions to dig holes in the garden rows and bury all the offal. That was disgusting; we never managed to bury them deep enough and they would float back to the surface in a state of terrible decay. Then we'd be yelled at and told to carry buckets of sawdust to go and cover the mess. Come spring the whole garden would be rototilled and shaped back into new rows, with fish vertebrae flying in all directions behind the rototiller. But by then the smell would be gone and the new crop of potatoes always thrived.
 
steve bossie
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sounds like me and my brothers . hated to pick rocks out of the garden but we did what we were told. kept us fed.
 
Rebecca Norman
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I think it sounds like a great idea, especially since both the fish and sawdust are free.

You might want to check out the wonderful book the Humanure Handbook for tips on how to make sure that your sawdust will indeed cover the fish, not allowing flies and smell to escape. Thousands of people who follow the composting toilet system in that book (including lots right here on Permies) use sawdust as the only cover material in their bucket toilets, and it DOES contain the smell and keep flies off. That book has many tips such as:
-- Fine sawdust works much better than woodshavings for sealing smell and flies.
-- Half-rotted sawdust does better than bone-dry fresh sawdust. The author gets a truckload of sawdust once in a while and leaves it out to absorb moisture and break down a little, and he says that covers the toilet materials much, much better.
-- You don't have to turn your compost pile, if you layer bulky things in here and there to let air in, and have enough time and space to leave the pile for a year or two.
-- You can probably make a big enough pile with your free materials that it will be thermophilic, which means it generates its own heat and can keep composting throughout your Zone 4 Down East winters. Again, the Humanure Handbook will give you lots of data and details about that, and also the confidence to go ahead and do it.

My own two cents I'd add:
-- Supposedly humus (the essential thing we want in compost) is formed much better when there is clay in it, so it might be good to sprinkle of clay or clayey soil in your pile here and there.
-- If compost worms turn out to like it, you might have an alternate way of quickly producing fabulous soil amendments. But they're warmth-loving critters and don't generate heat, so that might not work for you.
-- Dogs, cats, raccoons, etc may turn out to be a problem digging up your neat piles.

Go for it! You might be so successful that you'll selling excellent fine compost a couple of years from now!
 
mick dipiano
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If a pile smells cover it in brown
 
steve bossie
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mick dipiano wrote:If a pile smells cover it in brown
got plenty of sawdust.
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