Turning Fish Waste into Gardening Gold
JOHNS ISLAND, South Carolina -- Fish waste may be messy and smelly, but Dale Snyder and his business partner, George Taylor, have a hunch that it would make great organic compost. And they have just received a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Producer Grant to test their theory.
Last year, the two friends started the Sweetgrass Garden Co-op, Inc. in Johns Island, South Carolina – two acres of land that just until 10 years ago had been farmed since the Civil War. They decided to put the land back into farming by growing vegetables and donating the food to local food banks and ministries for the needy.
“This will be our first year growing vegetables and we wanted to do everything we could to implement sustainable ag practices that not only take good care of the soil, but also produce healthy food,” said Snyder, who left a 30-year television broadcasting career to try his hand at farming.
One sustainable practice the co-op is exploring is composting, and fish parts (heads, bones, tails), readily available at fish markets and seafood co-ops along the East Coast, seemed like the perfect waste material to turn into a sustainable ag resource.
“Our Master Gardener, Helen Moorefield, belongs to a seafood co-op and she noticed that a lot of the fish parts were just going to waste. We felt that fish waste was exactly what we needed on our fields,” said Snyder. “It’s a great source of nitrogen and we felt we could turn it into good compost.”
With little literature available on the effectiveness of fish waste compost on garden crops, Sweetgrass Garden Co-op acquired a $9,848 Southern SARE Producer Grant to compare fish waste compost and organic vegetable waste on crop performance and yields of bush beans and tomatoes.
“Fish compost just may be just as good or superior to “green” compost and if it is, then we have another product available for use in sustainable ag practices rather than it going to waste,” said Snyder.
Sweetgrass Garden Co-op may have even figured out how to get rid of the fishy smell by adding fish waste to layers of straw, leaves and dirt in compost bins -- a process called lasagna layering. The bins are then covered all around with another 4 inches of dirt.
“The dirt does a good job of filtering out the smell,” said Snyder. “And in three days the compost is heated up to about 130 degrees.”
Sweetgrass Garden Co-op plans to publish the results of the study later this year, along with offering a field day on the farm and attending local events to share their efforts.
“With the trend of gardening and producing your own food growing, it’s important to find sustainable solutions to farming,” said Snyder. “We’ve been blessed to have all of these amazing resources come our way, including the SARE grant. It’s put a whole new light on our efforts and given us inspiration. We feel we are on the right track to developing good, sustainable practices while providing for our community.”
Southern SARE Producer Grants, one of the organization’s seven grant opportunities, allow farmers and ranchers to explore sustainable agriculture production research projects. The program not only helps them solve on-farm problems, but also allows them to share their results with fellow farmers and ranchers who face similar issues. Read more about Producer Grants and how to apply.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.