In this recipe, fish heads, skin, guts, and (sometimes) meat are broken down by wild microbes in a semi-controlled setting that nurtures positive microbes and turns the fish into a golden liquid fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen and trace minerals. It takes 6 months, so get started now.
Note: This is a Korean Natural Farming preparation, made (mostly) according to the Master Cho PDF, which you can download for free. This isn’t my recipe. I didn’t reinvent the wheel, I’m just documenting my experience.
WTF is This
Without getting into too much detail, Korean Natural Farming is a collection of techniques used by farmers in that region for centuries that proved to be very functional and sustainable for the populations there, and fit well into their food and culture. The “farm inputs” produced tend to be made from inedible waste products like bones and eggshells, but in the case of Fish Amino Acids (FAA), the recipe is just an ingredient off from traditional fish sauce. Bonus: When it’s done you end up with bones, which are used to make a water-soluble calcium-phosphorus fertilizer.
Holy F*Cakes This Must Smell Horrible
That’s what I thought! I mean, surely. Fermented fish? That must be the worst thing ever. Funnily enough, at no point in the 6 months (yeah, 6 whole fucking months) that this was essentially melting on a shelf in my closet, with nothing more than a coffee filter acting as condom, did it produce an offensive odor. Fishy, sure. But no more fishy than the sardines were the very day that I bought them. Take it from someone who doesn’t even eat fish because the smell is too terrible. You can make this in an apartment. Your roommate won’t even know, bro. Foreal.
Doing It Right Or Just Doing It
So, in the spirit of Korean Natural Farming it would be beautiful if we all bought our fishing licenses from Fish & Game, caught our own fish every week or day even, gutted them, and made our liquid gold from the fruit of mother gaia and our own two hands. But since most (I said most, damnit) of us live in terrible places where that isn’t possible, we’re probably walking our fat, happy asses into a grocery store and buying fish. Not guts, whole fish.
Fish Amino Acids made the classic Korean way would just be made from the discarded heads and guts of the fish the farmers were consuming. If you’re someone who eats a lot of fish, and happens to buy them whole, then you can mostly replicate their process, which basically involved a big vat that they layered the fish remains with sugar until the vat got full. This mixture would ferment for months, stirred occasionally, before being strained, diluted, and spread on fields.
Personally, I don’t even eat fish, so I buy and ferment the whole fish with the meat. In my experience, a good fish to use for this is sardines since they’re small and cheap, and the guts-to-meat ratio is fairly heavy on the guts. The downside of sardines is that they’re extremely fatty and you have to stir your ferment often (as in a couple of times per week) to keep it from forming a fat skin and become anaerobic. More on that later.
Why Choose FAA As a Nitrogen Feed
If you’re trying to be organic as fuck (OAF) then wild caught, home fermented nitrogen feeds are pretty much as OAF as it gets. Don’t get me wrong, I’m also a huge fan of urine, but I find that urine grosses people out (like fermented fish doesn’t?) and can skew the pH and salt content unfavorably in just a couple of rotations. FAA also contains a lot of trace minerals so you know that your plants aren’t being deprived of anything, and it’s all pre-inoculated with beneficial microbes that will help your plant uptake the nutrients in a healthy manner. It is also effective as a foliar feed. If you aren’t trying to be OAF and think that petrochemical based fertilizers have merit then you’re on the wrong website. Or the right one. Who knows.
- Whole Fish – preferably black/blue, preferably fresh, must include guts
- Raw Organic Sugar – Costco has a great deal on 10lb bags
- Inoculants (optional) – IMO3/4, EM1, LAB
- Jar – Clay or Glass, at least ½ gallon capacity
If you’re “doing it right” then you’re layering fish guts with equal parts sugar in your vessel over time, until its full, then fermenting it for an additional 3-6 months. Most of us aren’t doing it that way, and we’re making it all at once from whole fish, so those are the directions that I’m giving. Plus, I pretty much just described the other method in full. This shit isn’t complicated.
Weigh your fish, then cut it up into little 1 inch cubes (approximately). The sardines are frozen when I get them, and I find this makes them easier to chunk. When they defrost the guts kinda start to go everywhere. Gross.
Combine the fish with equal weight in raw sugar, mixing them together well. If you have inoculants, add them. Put the mixture in a jar, filling it no more than ¾ full, and cover with a coffee filter or other breathable membrane that can be secured.
Allow the mixture to ferment in a dark space that isn’t too warm or cool, and stir at least once per week. If it at any time attracts maggots, mold, or smells putrid, discard the mixture and start over. If you’re using a very fatty fish and notice that your FAA has a tendency to form a thick skin on top, stir more frequently. That fatty barrier can cause the mixture to become anaerobic and toxic.
After 6 months (sometimes less) the mixture will be pretty fully converted, however it is possible to start using it earlier than that. After just 30 days or so, the mixture will have become around 50% liquid. If you’re hard up for N, you can start straining a little bit at a time and using it, replacing the liquid with inoculated water. It is best to wait the full duration, however, which is why I’m writing this article in January. Start today. Start right now.
Using FAA on Crops
Strain the FAA, dilute it with water, and apply to crops. It’s that simple. If applying as a foliar feed, dilute at a 1:500 ratio. For soil drench and hydroponics, 1:1000. This is a gentle nitrogen feed in my experience, and I have never “burned” a plant with it. With both soil and foliar feeds, if a plant doesn’t need the N in the FAA it just ignores it.