Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How eco-friendly fertilizer led to the first Thanksgiving

If you read my post from a few days ago, you probably remember Squanto. Squanto is the Indian that helped teach the Pilgrims how to be successful gardeners here in this New World. One of the things that Squanto taught the Pilgrims was to put a dead fish into every hole in which they were planting seeds. 

Fish as Fertilzer
As far as I know, this is the first recorded mention of what is now a common method in eco-friendly gardening: fish as fertilizer. Here is an excerpt from the book Squanto's Garden, which explains the benefits that the Pilgrim's gardens would have received from the fish:

The reason that the fish worked to help the corn grow goes far beyond simple fertilization. True enough that the plants could feed and grow from the decaying organic material, but the fish also addressed deeper problems with the soil because of the calcium it provided: 

The calcium provided by the flesh and bones of the fish acted to raise the Ph of the soil, neutralizing the acidic soil of the region and allowing the plant to better absorb nutrients.

Calcium also softens or mellows a soil, making it more porous by expanding the clay element of the soil. Calcium builds the strength of a plant at a cellular level, helping make it more resistant to draught and temperature changes. 

Calcium also acts to feed soil bacteria that are essential to plant growth. 

The fish fertilization also provided the soil with high levels of quality nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur that helped the plants to grow. Nitrogen contains protein that encourages the growth of the green part of the plant. Phosphorus stimulates root growth and promotes fruit and seeds as they mature. Potassium promotes plant vitality and resistance to disease. Sulfur contributes to important microbial life in the soil. Without adequate soil bacteria, minerals in the soil don’t get broken down into usable nutrients for the plant. Squanto’s fish fertilizer played a big role in increasing soil bacteria as well as improving the nutritional value of the plants grown with his methods.

Benefits of Organic Fertilizers
There are now many organic fertilizer products on the market that contain fish, in some form. Fish emulsion, fish meal, hydrolyzed fish and fish powder all let you add natural, organic fertilizer to your plants without harming the planet. Since one of the biggest problems with chemical fertilizers is that they can wash into our waterways and pollute the water, it makes sense that fertilizer made out of fish parts would not create the same problem.

Squanto's Garden is a free e-book and you might enjoy reading the whole thing. In the meantime, here are some more eco-tips from Squanto's Garden.

There are many other techniques you can use to help your garden grow. Rather than using chemical pesticides, you can use nature to control the insect population in your garden. Just a single bird will eat hundreds of thousands of insects in a single year. You can bring birds to your garden by bearing in mind that they have four basic needs: food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young. By providing one or all of these needs in your garden, you can attract birds that will effectively control your insect population without any chemicals at all. 

The use of composting is an excellent way to encourage and promote earthworms in your soil. Earthworms mix up the soil and stimulate microbial activity. They also introduce valuable aeration to the soil as they tunnel. Always be careful not to apply chemical fertilizers (any of the common white powders) to your garden. These products kill or drive away earthworms as well as other microbes vital for a fertile, living garden. Composting will also add beneficial soil organisms that will protect the plant from predatory life forms. 

If your companion planting does not provide the level of ground cover that squash does, you may want to consider laying down mulch. Mulch helps to maintain a good level of moisture in the soil.

Information about Organic Fertlizers

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate this article. It reminded me of when I was a kid. I grew up at at a fish camp in Florida. I remember when I was around 5 or so this older gentlemen saw me catching gar fish they were very plentiful and considered trash fish. Anyway he used to give me gum for everyone I would catch I did'nt know why he wanted them at the time but found out later that he was an avid gardener


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