Tiny pulverized sea creatures might not be the first thing that you think of when you picture high-quality soil amendments for your garden, but the truth is that organic fertilizers can be found in a wide variety of forms. And, some of the very best come from deep in the ocean. Crustacean meal is full of healthy soil benefits that make it a smart choice to use for your plants, regardless of how close you are to the ocean.
The Science Behind Crustacean Meal
The primary reason it is so valued for soil health is the high levels of chitin it contains. Chitin is a nitrogen-containing compound found in the shells of crustaceans. It provides plenty of benefits for the soil when it’s crushed up and tilled in.
Most forms of crab meal are kiln dried in and then ground into a fine dust. When added to the soil it slowly releases nitrogen into the soil. This helps plants to grow strong structures and produce deep green coloring.
Besides its high nitrogen content, it also contains plenty of calcium (12% by volume) and magnesium (1.33%). Thus making it a favorite snack food of soil-producing earthworms.
What is Crustacean Meal?
Crustacean meal, also called crab or shrimp meal, is a form of organic fertilizer. It is made from crustaceans like crabs or lobsters. The shells of these creatures are rich in nutrients, which when added to the soil helps create an ideal growing environment for flowers and vegetables. You can find crustacean meal at most fertilizer centers. For the extra ambitious, you can even make their own.
How does Crustacean Meal Benefit the Soil and Crops?
There’s no denying that crustacean meal is a true superfood for your soil. Not only will it increase the overall fertility of your garden beds, you can also use it to protect your plants against pests and disease. The slow release properties of crustacean meal make it ideal for fending off ringworm. Even more so, the high mineral content allows your plants to grow robustly. When it’s tilled in, chitin helps plants to fight off root rot, blight, and powdery mildew. Also, it provides the perfect habitat space for the soil microorganisms that produce enzymes to destroy root-damaging nematodes.
Crustacean meal can also help get rid of ants and grubs from around your plants. Plus, putting some in your planting hole will help to keep slugs and snails off your plants. Even weeds and rodents will stay away when a sufficient amount of crustacean meal is applied to your soil. Although, hungry enough rodents might try to eat it!
Crustacean meal is a favorite with tomato growers due to its high calcium and nitrogen content. The nitrogen in chitin is slow release thus, your plants don’t get burned by it. Other fertilizers actually become more effective when used in combination with crustacean meal.
Best of all, crustacean meal is good for the environment. Chitin also is safe to use near water systems. This is because the nutrient content won’t leach out of the soil and into the water runoff.
When you apply it to beds several weeks before planting in your garden, crustacean meal works as a fantastic organic fertilizer. The slow release of nutrients ensures that your plants won’t become over fertilized. Instead, it will have what they need to become vibrant and robust.
Where is Crustacean Meal Sourced From?
In its simplest form, crustacean meal is simply dried and pulverized shellfish. You can buy crustacean meal from any reputable gardening store or make your own by gathering shellfish remains from either the ocean shore or your favorite seafood restaurant. Most fun of all, you can even host a big seafood night for your friends and family and simply collect the shellfish remnants after the meal to dry out and turn into fertilizer.
General Application Rates
Though you can add crustacean meal to the soil right before planting, the best results come when you add the meal a month or more before planting. This gives it time to mellow in the soil and begin to work its fertility magic. If you follow this advice, just be sure to thoroughly bury the crustacean meal in the soil, as it can attract tons of seabirds otherwise.
To add crustacean meal to your soil, you can follow one of these two methods, depending on whether you are planting right away or leaving the soil to activate for a few weeks. Either mix two tablespoons into each transplant hole or till in five to ten pounds of meal per 100 square feet of garden space. For best results, mix the crustacean meal in with compost before spreading it, as this really gets the soil microorganisms moving around. You can even mix crustacean meal into your compost pile in order to rev things up and add a significant boost in compost nutrition.
Mix the meal within the top four inches of soil and cover it enough to keep hungry predators away.
Crustacean meal tends to be the most effective for gardens when it is mixed with other forms of fertilizer like biochar or diatomaceous earth. You can also mulch the garden bed immediately after setting down your crustacean meal. This will help to prevent it from washing away or getting eaten by hungry seagulls.
Additional Tips for Using Crustacean Meal
Using crustacean meal in the garden is a relatively simple process, but here are some tips to help you have your best success.
- When making your own crustacean meal, it is important to thoroughly dry out the shells before pulverizing them. This is commercially done in a kiln, but in a pinch, you can use your oven on a low setting, a dehydrator, or even several days in the sun. (Just be sure to keep the shells safe from shorebirds)
- There’s little concern with adding too much crustacean meal to your soil but in order to save money, it’s better to stick with less than a pound per ten feet.
- Some companies that sell crustacean meal mix it with less valuable materials like concrete, so be sure to read the packaging carefully to ensure you are getting 100% crab and shrimp meal.