Fermented Fish Extract

FAA, which stands for Fish Amino Acid is one of the tools of Korean Natural Farming which uses microbes to do most of its work. It produces a super strong tonic for plant growth and microbial activity. You can make it fairly easily at home for use in your own garden. The hardest bit is catching the fish!

I’m not sure about the ‘amino acid’ content of the results, so I’ll just call it ‘Fermented Fish Extract (FFE)’ (though ‘Fish Amino Acids’ makes me sound a bit smarter).

I’m fascinated by using microbes to do the work in our garde and use FFE liquid a couple of times a year as it takes at least months to make a batch (plus another month of forgetting I’d started a batch). As I make this new batch, I’m writing this little guide for you to give it a go yourself.

Basically, it’s equal amounts of fish scraps mixed with an equal amount (by weight) of raw or brown sugar or molasses.

Molasses is one of the leftovers from the processing of sugar cane and contains all of the goodies left behind after white sugar is extracted. In many cases, brown sugar is just white sugar that has had watered down molasses sprayed over it to add the brown colour back.

Here’s how to make your own FFE

This looks like a pretty easy and forgiving process. You will need –

  • A bucket with a tight fitting lid.
  • Raw seafood scraps.
  • Brown sugar or molasses.
  • (optional) A little Bokashi liquid or leachate.

It all starts with leftover fish.
It all starts with leftover fish.
and a bucket with a tight fitting lid.
and a bucket with a tight fitting lid.
Gloves are absolutely essential.
Gloves are absolutely essential.
Add the brown sugar
Add the brown sugar
Mix it thoroughly with the fish scraps
Mix it thoroughly with the fish scraps
Don't forget to clean your work area.
Don’t forget to clean your work area thoroughly.

  • Collect your fish and seafood waste and weigh it.
  • Measure out an equal amount of sugar or molasses (it’s a liquid, but by weight is OK).
  • Don’t forget to snap on the latex or rubber (whichever is your particular kink). Gloves, that is.
  • Cut or break the seafood into chunks that are as small as you like
  • Mix in brown sugar or molasses.
  • Make sure all of the surfaces of the fish are rubbed with sugar. This is particularly true of the insides.
  • Rub it all again to make sure.
  • Optional – This time, I’ve added a splash of Bokashi leachate. It’s an anaerobic process so I reckon this will help kick things off.
  • Seal up the bucket.
  • Hose it all down well to prevent possible flies and smells from stuff you’ve spilled.
  • Wash your hands and apologise to the rest of your family.

That’s all. It seems a pretty forgiving process. Now you put it aside for 3 – 6 months. In that time everything except for a few bones and shell should turn into an odourless liquid.

The key seems to be in the balance between raw material and sugar or molasses. They should be equal by weight. Molasses is a liquid but I find that measuring it by weight is fine.

The anaerobic bacteria will digest the seafood scraps and feed off of the sugar as well. With all that energy, they’ll make short work of the source material.

You don’t need to add any additional water at all.There’s more than enough in the scraps to allow the bacteria to thrive. I’ve added an optional splash of Bokashi leachate which maybe will kick things along faster because it already contains anaerobic microbes and nutrients leached from the kitchen scraps in the Bokashi bin.

FAA after 3 months. Most has liquefied.
After 3 months. Most has liquefied.
Thick, oily FAA
Thick, oily FFE

After you’re satisfied that everything that is going to liquify had liquified, you will have to strain out the remaining solids. These will be things like the bigger bones and shell fragments that are too big for the combined might of a trillion bacteria to digest.

Straining will be a slow process as the liquid is thick and oily. There will be a lot of fine sediment too so you might have to filter twice through different strainers. The fine sediment is OK if you’re going to mix your FFE with water and apply via a watering can. If you want to use it as a foliar spray, filter it as much as you can or let the liquid stand for a couple of days and scoop off the top layer of clear stuff.

When you’re happy with the liquid, bottle it in an airtight container and keep it away from heat and direct sunlight. Carefully stored, a batch will last for a long time. I usually store it in several bottles so that I only need to open one at a time.

Using the end product

You will need to water down the FFE liquid at least 100 : 1. Test this ratio on a couple of the soil or potting mix around a couple of plants before you splash it around the whole garden. It’s pretty potent stuff and I like to be cautious with it because it takes so long to make!

To use it as a foliar spray I would water the 100 : 1 with another 50% water. For foliar spraying, I usually keep one sprayer just for FFE because the oils in it can clog the fine filter and the nozzle easily. You will also need to clean the sprayer after use as the odour can build up. That’s why I prefer to use a watering can for direct application at root level.

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