James Bond’s Lessons in Fertilizer 

How can a bit of dated detective fiction aid a farmer? In Dr. No printed in 1958 Ian Fleming gives a brief history of the trade in fertilizer. Beginning in the guano trade in 1850 and ending with the advent of petro chemical fertilizers.


“Now then, guano.’ Pleydell-Smith tilted his chair back. Bond prepared to be bored. ‘As you know, it’s bird dung. Comes from the rear end of two birds, the masked booby and the guanay. So far as Crab Key is concerned, it’s only the guanay, otherwise known as the green cormorant, same bird as you find in England. The guanay is a machine for converting fish into guano. They mostly eat anchovies. Just to show you how much fish they eat, they’ve found up to seventy anchovies inside one bird! “Pleydell-Smith took out his pipe and pointed it impressively at Bond. ‘The whole population of Peru eats four thousand tons of fish a year. The sea birds of the country eat five hundred thousand tons!

Bond pursed his lips to show he was impressed. ‘Really.” 

“Then, around 1850 someone discovered it was the greatest natural fertilizer in the world – stuffed with nitrates and phosphates and what have you. And the ships and the men came to the guaneras and simply ravaged them for twenty years or more.”

…“but the whole industry went bust, with Crab Key and the other poor-quality deposits in the van, when the Germans invented artificial chemical manure.”

…“Then people found that there were snags about the German stuff, it impoverishes the soil,”…

Excerpt From: Fleming, Ian. “James Bond Collection I.” iBooks. 

Fast forward to today and we know that even though chemical fertilizers have been “fine tuned” it still kills soil biology and our national topsoils have been thinned and sterilized in part by their use.

Geoff Lawton, permaculture instructor, points out that every little hill and fence post becomes a perch for birds. In several videos, he even refers to a bird’s instinct to lighten the load as a “creative event”.  He blows a juicy raspberry then says, “Another creative event”, as birds alight, drop a load, then fly off again and again.


A stake on our silt pond


A stake on one of our empress trees

Like most land that has been hayed and endured our nutrient leaching deluges ours could use a little extra help. Fields are especially vulnerable and without grazing animals (yet) to add their creative events we mow and slowly build up organic material in place.  

But there are lots of birds and bats. So while hiking back up the main field with tools to work on our water lines I hammered in a handful of stakes in places I want birds to perch. 

This got me thinking about designing a simple and easy to set perch where birds would be compelled to rest on a horizontal bit allowing their guano to hit the grass more easily. I’ll also start making some bat houses this fall.

For now some stakes in the field and some cardboard under our barn swallows nest collect the goodness. The cardboard goes into our compost or directly in beds as part of our mulching system.

Converting bugs into fertility and enjoying the acrobatics and song makes this a creative event for all of us at the farm.


About M. Agriculteur

Designer, motorcycle junkie, traveler, wanna-be iron butter (more butt than iron), builder, foodie, farmer wanna-be.
This entry was posted in Farming, Gardening, Permaculture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to James Bond’s Lessons in Fertilizer 

  1. Funnily enough, I was thinking about Dr No the other day – I was in at the feed store getting some bone meal and was overwhelmed by the plethora of “alternative” substances to add to soil – one of which was a small baggie of bat guano – maybe a cup’s worth – for $14. I read Dr No decades ago, and everything I know about guano comes from that book.

  2. Bill says:

    This is brilliant. I haven’t heard of it before. Love it.
    By the way, you brought back a memory. When I was a boy old timers here (like my Grandpa) still called fertilizer “guano” (even when it wasn’t anymore). But in our Southern accent long O sounds are converted to soft A’s, so it was pronounced “guana.”

    • While I can’t in good conscience recommend reading it, xenophobic puts it mildly, I can say my little stakes in the field already have “Guana” spattered around them. Every drop helps. Literally.

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