Any savvy survival gardener knows that the key to better products is in the dirt. Vegetable compost is a great addition to most garden soil, and an obvious change that most people are familiar with. But some of the best natural fertilizers come from the parts of fish, and wild anglers and hunters do not eat. If you’re looking to build a better garden, there are a variety of scraps from the fish you catch and critters that you kill to use. Here are eight items you could otherwise throw away to help your yard grow.
1. Find a new use for fur
Fur, hair and skin waste are more valuable than you think. (TIM MACWELCH /)
Nitrogen is necessary for healthy greenery like leaves and stems. Phosphorus is needed for flower and fruit growth. Potassium is one of the keys to a plant’s vigorous root growth. When you buy fertilizer from the garden center, the label will include an NPK number. This shows the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in that order. A common commercial product might be something like a 10-10-10 fertilizer. This provides equal and generous amounts of the three most important plant nutrients. You can also get a large dose of slow-releasing phosphorus from your hair and fur. These animal materials can still be on the skin or they can be loose. You may have loose pet hair from scraping the skins off to tan, or you can soak the skins in a bucket of water for a few days until the hair falls out naturally. When animal hair is mixed and buried in garden soil, it slowly disintegrates over a period of years. This provides a major nutrient for your vegetables for flower growth, which leads to fruit growth. I know you are trying to grow food in a survival garden, not pretty flowers, but the fruit cannot form unless the flower is there for pollen. To be a successful food grower, you need to become both a dirt grower and a flower grower.
2. Pick a bird
Similar to the nutrient profile of hair and fur, feathers can also be buried in the garden or thrown into the compost heap. (TIM MACWELCH /)
Killing a spring eater can be beneficial to your garden. Feathers are very similar in composition to hair. These can be plucked from the bird (a quick immersion in boiling water helps a lot), or you can skin the bird. Bury entire hides in strategic garden areas, such as under new fruit trees. Loose feathers can be moistened and planted in the garden soil (don’t try to drive the tiller over dry feathers as they will all blow away). However you get them into the ground, feathers slowly decompose and enrich the dirt. Like hair, feathers provide phosphorus and some other trace elements (such as magnesium).
3. Sink some mussels
Buried clams can bring sweeter fruit. (TIM MACWELCH /)
Shellfish are an important source of food in coastal areas. In survival situations and in everyday life, mussels, oysters and mussels provide vital protein. These shells can be useful as spoons, oil lamps, scrapers, shovels, and other utensils. They can also be shredded and incorporated into your garden soil. The shell pieces disintegrate into the ground, releasing very important minerals and enriching the dirt. One of the key substances that mussels release is calcium. This is one element that can limit flower end rot in tomatoes, and it also plays an important role in fruit sweetness. Consider digging an extra deep hole for fruit trees and berry bushes and dumping a generous amount of crushed clams in the loose dirt before planting perennials. Mussels provide your hungry vegetables and fruiting wood plants with both calcium and phosphorus.
4. Bury wild wild bones
Animal bones add both calcium and phosphorus to your garden and are another long-lasting soil addition. Over many years, whole bones and pieces of bone slowly release these nutrients (and small amounts of magnesium). These elements can be made available more quickly by breaking the bones into small pieces. Try to crush them with a large hammer, using a large stone as an anvil. This can be done right in your garden beds and rows, so that every piece of bone dust and small pieces of bone end up exactly where you want them in the garden soil. Wear gloves and safety glasses to protect your eyes and skin from sharp bone fragments. You should also wear a dust mask as bone dust is not a healthy substance to breathe.
5. Save animal blood
While you can buy a bag of dried blood powder at most garden centers, this resource is not for everyone. For some people, adding animal blood will go against their beliefs. For other people, it’s just gross. If none of these problems are a problem for you, place a pan under game while you slaughter it to catch the blood. Once collected, this can be watered all over the garden even in the colder months. Although the blood lacks phosphorus and potassium, it is very rich in nitrogen. This dissolves and collapses quickly. So if you can make room in your freezer, put your collected blood in a bucket and do a spring application (ideally just before working your soil). This gives you the maximum benefit from the blood without wasting the nitrogen outside of the growing season.
6. Fertilize with fish scraps
Save fish heads and guts for your garden. (TIM MACWELCH /)
If you’re not against terrible smells, take full advantage of the fishy leftovers from a lavish ice fishing excursion or a spring excursion. You can turn those unwanted fish parts into fish emulsion. Add thin layers of fish intestines and sawdust in equal amounts to a 5 gallon bucket. Stop when you’re about two-thirds of the way up the bucket. Some people drizzle in unsulphurized molasses or layer a little seaweed in the bucket. However, the fish and the organic “brown” material are the main actors. If it is many months before your growing season begins, put a lid on the bucket and toss it in the freezer.
When you are a month or less away from the growing season, start the brewing process. Leave the fish and sawdust layers in place and fill the bucket to the brim with water and cap with a tight fitting lid. Every few days, open and stir the bucket and store in a shady place. Have another bucket handy in case you vomit because of the bad smell (I’m not kidding). Keep the lid on your fish bucket and stir twice a week for a month. After a month, pour the water out of that smelly bucket. This is your concentrated fish emulsion. Add a cup of this putrid liquid to a gallon of water and use it to pour it over your plants (preferably not directly on leaves or vegetables you plan to eat raw) This smelly stew provides a healthy shot of nitrogen and substantial amounts of phosphorus, potassium, and calcium.
Read On: How To Start Your Own Survival Garden
7. Bury fish heads
You may remember your primary school class about Native American people teaching pilgrims corn and using fish heads and entrails as fertilizer. It’s a living memory to me as I believe it was the first “rough” lesson I learned in school. This strange practice wasn’t just reserved for Native Americans (and some historians totally contradict history). We know that the Romans, along with other ancient cultures, used the technique of fish as fertilizer.
You can skip the hassle of making fish emulsion simply by burying your fish heads, guts, and bones in the garden (if they are fenced so that nothing can dig them up). You can do this at the time of seed planting or just before it. Again, defense is key to your success. You don’t need foxes, coyotes, or even the family dog digging up your garden beds and hurling your tender seedlings out of the ground.
8. Make a compost heap
When you make your own compost, you become a dirt farmer. This “black gold” is some decomposed organic plant and animal material. It is not completely broken down, but it is a powerful source of beneficial microorganisms, enzymes and fungi. Compost can be broken down quickly (in less than a month) with the right proportions of materials, plenty of heat and just the right amount of water. Or it can take a year or more to become nutrient-rich. Compost essentially creates itself, but benefits from our careful guidance. There’s a little more to it than just stacking a few sheets of paper.
For the best response, you should balance the carbon-rich materials with the nitrogen-rich materials in a ratio of at least 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. The carbon-rich objects are dead, dry parts of plants. Straw, wood chips, certain types of mulch, and chopped dead leaves are good choices. The nitrogen-rich part (or “green” materials) are things like fresh lawn scraps and kitchen scraps. These nitrogen sources can also be animal substances such as blood, animal feces, and urine. Whatever you use, the compost materials should be mixed well and watered until damp.
Form a pile, ideally in a fenced area (to keep animals out). Every few days, stir the pile with a pitchfork to keep the oxygen levels high. The stack should be pretty warm when built correctly. This is due to the activity of the composting microorganisms. But even if you mess up your compost terribly, it will still turn into dirt (eventually). Just skip the meat and fat when adding animal material to your compost heap. These pull little more than scavengers and can multiply dangerous bacteria. Fats, in particular, only degrade very slowly. Well-made compost can improve your soil structure. It also provides your vegetable crops with the nutrients they need, corrects certain pH issues, and increases the population of beneficial insects in the garden soil.