Less Noise, More Green: Local and Sustainable: Maine lobster and crab shell fertilizer, and seaweed mulch

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Local and Sustainable: Maine lobster and crab shell fertilizer, and seaweed mulch

I just got back from a family trip to Maine (I posted some photos of the trip on my Facebook page). My mother-in-law rented a beautiful house right on the coast and we were treated to panoramic ocean views and stunning sunrise and sunsets. To get to the house we drove down a dirt road next to a farm where a variety of crops were growing in the field.

Harvesting seaweed on the coast of Maine

As we were gazing out over the beach one day,  a tractor pulled on to the beach and two men started filling plastic crates with seaweed.

Harvesting seaweed on the coast of Maine

The debate started as to what they were going to use the seaweed for. I thought they were from the farm and were going to use the seaweed as mulch. Others thought it was going to be used for clam bakes. I had to know so I walked down to the beach and asked!

Alewive's Brook Farm, Maine
                                                                          Alewive's Brook Farm                                             Photo by Michael St. Jean

We were all right, sort of. Lincoln and Jodie are the farmers from the near by Alewive's Brook Farm but the kelp was destined to be packing material for lobsters. When I asked about using the seaweed on the farm I found out that they purchase lobster and crab shells from a local fishing company and turn the waste into the soil as fertilizer. Sure enough, that's exactly what we saw them doing on a section of the field a few days later.

Lobster and crab shells contain not only calcium but the protein chitin which is high in nitrogen, making it an excellent soil amendment. Along with the chitin comes chitin eating bacteria which attacks fungus and nematode eggs.

                                                  Lobster Rolls                                   Photo by Michelle Klinke

The Maine fishing industry produces a lot of lobster and crab shells  (lobster roll anyone?) which used to be dumped back in to the ocean. There is now a thriving industry turning this local waste product into fertilizer. In fact, I use compost and potting soil containing lobster meal in my gardens.

If you eat seafood, save the shells to use as fertilizer in your garden. Wash the shells well, break them up or pulse in a food processor (if you make your own broth, use the shells for that  first) and add to your compost pile. If you are concerned about critters, bury the shells deep into the pile. Another method is to dig a deep trench and bury the shells. In a couple of months the shells will have decomposed and will be fertilizing your soil.

This is a great example of using what nature has provided in a sustainable way, for the benefit of all. It is also an example of returning to old wisdom. Placing a fish in the hole before planting is an ancient farming technique used by the local Native American people.

Harvesting seaweed on the coast of Maine

If you have access to it, seaweed also makes an excellent addition to the compost pile and a wonderful natural mulch.

Do you compost seafood shells?



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Only Americans could put a lobster in a sandwich! I'm not saying it's something bad, but, c'mon, it's a lobster! It's literally the tastiest thing in this life. And I think it's quite a waste of product to eat it like this... Like checking reviews on Papersmart using an old Nokia phone. Too silly

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