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Sepp Holzer's recipe to keep animals off of trees

C Quint

Joined: Apr 04, 2011
Posts: 19
Location: Northeast Tennessee
Sepp mentions that "mineral naphtha" or "blackwood tar" can be used as an alternative to the bone sauce. The only thing I can find about either of these is that mineral naphtha is another name for benzene, which seems like a strange thing for Sepp to recommend, and certainly not something I would like to use! Does anyone know if he means something else?


Joined: Jan 24, 2011
Posts: 42
Location: Central Missouri
I was surfing the Golden Harvest Organics site last night.  On their Critter Trouble page, I found this interesting tidbit about repelling deer:

"Mix bone tar oil at a ratio of 1 part bone tar oil to 50 parts water. Paint on tree trunks. Nah, it won't hurt your trees. Bone tar oil is available as Magic Circle Deer Repellant."

This may merit further investigation.  I don't have the pots or bones to make my own, right now.  But I think I'll look for some Magic Circle and report on its effectiveness.

When the neighbor saw me planting my seedlings, she told me I need to cage all of them to prevent deer herbivory (my word, not her's). Right, all 150 seedlings?  I think I will cage my 'premium' fruit trees, and experiment with Magic Circle on the native nut and fruit seedlings.  I have already noticed browsing on some of them.  I'll report my results.

Hmmm.  To perform a proper experiment, I guess I'll need another color of surveyor's tape.  I could mark the treated plants with one color, and the untreated with another.  Since deer are color blind, this should give valid results.

quintca1: What's the problem?  Benzene is natural.  That is what they use to make 'naturally' decaffeinated coffee.  OTOH, uranium is natural, too.  But I don't put it in my coffee.     I'm hoping something was lost in the translation...

Joined: Jan 24, 2011
Posts: 42
Location: Central Missouri
Magic Circle Deer Repellant - Never mind.  It is no longer marketed.

So, I"m back to looking for pots to make my own.  My dutch ovens are different sizes; I may have to improvise.

Joined: Jan 13, 2010
Posts: 238
Location: swampland virginia
wonder if it works better than bear spray. put a little on you before you go in the woods to keep the bear, wolves, fox and all away. might also work in public places to give you more elbow room (movies, concert, church, in-law's family reunion )

will have to get a batch of this made up and see if it works on mulberry trees against birds and raccoons. it would be great to keep the increasing population of wild animals away, as raccoon population increases, fox have moved in, and bobcats not far behind. deer and bear seem to stay a mile or two away, though that may change too.
Tom Lindsey

Joined: Jun 07, 2011
Posts: 3
paul wheaton wrote:

...somebody else that was there helped me to remember details and she has the book that mentions this (which is all in german, but she speaks german!)

What was the name of the book?  Has Sepp written any books?  I've searched but my local library doesn't have anything by or about him.  I've found lots of stuff online but no books by him.

Joined: Jan 13, 2010
Posts: 238
Location: swampland virginia
tom1994 wrote:
What was the name of the book?  Has Sepp written any books?  I've searched but my local library doesn't have anything by or about him.  I've found lots of stuff online but no books by him.

you can get a list of some books written by him by going to amazon and searching his name.

Paul may be able to put a few links in for his books that help keep the site up.
Dave Bennett

Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
Wow!  Interesting conversation.  My impression is that he has built the most incredible farm I have ever seen in my life.  I was certain from Paul's drawing of the retort that pyrolysis of those bones makes something incredibly smelly that may in fact become a part of the tree somehow, as incredible as that even sounds to me but overall I have been watching video of a "genius" farmer.  Creating multiple micro-climates at altitude.  That just blows me away.  The bio-diversity is mind boggling. 

Over my years of travel, farming all along the way, I have seen much of his style of farming in pieces.  The "old style" farmers when I was a youngster in rural upstate NY used many of the same techniques including "pigs in the woods" was common practice in some areas.  Here in Va. there are areas that have serious problems with feral hog "herds" consuming mass quantities of corn from the farms.  I look forward to seeing the rest of the film.

PS: If I ever have a problem with goats killing my trees I will grab two iron pots and "fire up them bones." 

"When there is no life in the soil it is just dirt."
Jeanine Gurley

Joined: May 23, 2011
Posts: 1393
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
My first thought, like many others, is that possum and racoon will immediately flock to my yard and eat right through the tree trunks.

Second thought - I didn't believe that traditional Chinese Medicine would work, didn't believe that the 'hugel' bed ( basically a pile of trash - not watered) would work, but they both do.  My TCM doctor cured stuff the modern docs said could not be cured and my hugel bed is growing squash and okra out in the blazing hot sun.

My point is that I am going to try to move past my doubts and give this a shot - especially since the deer started jumping my fence a couple of days ago.

1. my projects
Suzy Bean

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
Paul and Toby Hemenway discuss sepp holzer's bone sauce as well as deer and animal control in general in this podcast:

Joined: Feb 11, 2010
Posts: 45
paul wheaton wrote:
I remember when I took my master gardener training ... my exceptionally brilliant  teacher, Helen Atthowe, said "on't trust anybody's word - not even mine!"

So I think your skepticism is wise.  At the same time, I submit that Sepp is way ahead of me on my path.  So I will tend to put a lot more weight in his words.  Just as I put more weight on Helen's words.

I agree with your analysis that predators and carion eaters will be attracted to bones and the like.  I suspect that what ends up in the bottom of this pot doesn't smell like anything edible to predators or carion eaters.

Anaerobic fermentation?
Mac Nova

Joined: Jul 24, 2011
Posts: 24
I'm amaized to see all the negative OPINIONS on the bone repellant. SO many thoughts on why it does not work. Whne I tellmy neighbors I farm without tilling and fertilizing without irrigation and weed and pest control they laugh and say it cannot be done or letting my chickens forage without feed letting ducks loose in the garden they think I'm mad. And yet here we are with a proposed solution for tree protection and most balk at the idea.

Try it on one tree and see if wolves come from miles around to eat the tree then condem.

This is kind of like the post from the fellow stating instant garden does nor work... No thought to maybe I did it wrong and totally messed it up... No the method is wrong because he could not do it.

Me I have not tried it I don't have a problem with it I have a dog solution. And the fellow who lost the trees in the first place sounds like he put too many animals in this area and they had nothing left to eat.

SO does he have an animal problem or a planning problem? Animals will not eat trees unless no other food source is avalable sure they may nibble a bit but not eat it. Here is a food shortage needs addressing not an animal control issue. Try it and post a picture of a pack of predators eating a tree I would sure like to see that.

A temporary solution for pests including ravens, mice rats ect anything with a nose is. Cayane pepper, black pepper and dried mustard powder in equal portions sprinkle around the area you want protected like outdoor garbage trees ect. and problem solved never tested to see how long it lasts but it works like a hot damn.
Kota Dubois

Joined: Oct 13, 2011
Posts: 171
OK this was my experiment, used this spring after deer (or moose) made a snack of my newly planted linden, cherry and saskatoon berry trees. I'm way in the woods and have many critter friends who come to visit.

I got about 5kg of mostly back bones from the Happy Pig place where I buy my pork. It took several days to get everything together and although they were refrigerated until the last day they had started to smell a little.

I couldn't find cast iron kettles so I used galvanized maple sap buckets, one buried in the ground as recommended. I probably used 2 or 3 times the water recommended. I don't have any clay so I just used my poor mineral soil to seal them together. I built a good fire which burnt for about an hour. (could have gone longer since the inner most bones were not turned into charcoal).

Took the pots apart and whoo what a smell -- worms on a barbeque. In the bottom was a watery tea coloured liquid with lighter coloured fat-like stuff floating on top. I let it cool insitu over night.

The next day, trying not to gag, I painted surprisingly little on my fruit trees, ornamentals, and even on the low branches of the forest trees surrounding my meadow. The smell became undetectable after a couple of days.

Results....Neither anymore damage nor even their deer tracks in the meadow all summer long (which is rare). Did I put up an invisible fence?

I also had a groundhog try to move into my main gardens so I painted his burrow entrance with it. It didn't work for him. The porcipine wasn't detered nor were the wild turkeys.

I don't know how long it will last but I'd be tempted to do it every spring, just to be sure.

We cannot change the waves of expansion and contraction, as their scale is beyond human control, but we can learn to surf. Nicole Foss @ The Automatic Earth
Brian Knight

Joined: Nov 02, 2011
Posts: 554
Location: Asheville NC
So, has anyone tried the bone gunk?

"If you want to save the environment, build a city worth living in." - Wendell Berry
Brian Knight

Joined: Nov 02, 2011
Posts: 554
Location: Asheville NC
Sorry, just found other pages. Any updates would be great though.
Lolly Knowles

Joined: Aug 22, 2011
Posts: 159
Kota, I'd be interested in knowing if the gunk is still a deterrent next year. Hearing that you used galvanized pots and still had some success gives me hope that we can do something similar.

Two years ago I planted 80 trees at the farm, then left them alone for months while I tended an ill family member. None survived. Yes, the area is rich in wildlife and the deer have several highways running through, so I'm sure that was at least part of the problem.

Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
As others have mentioned a cup of water to a potful of bones under high heat for a couple of hours isn't going to give you anything that smells remotely good. It certainly couldn't possibly be similar to any sort of stock eaten by normal humans. The bones would likely be as much interest to a dog or a fox as a piece of cinder from your wood stove. There'd be no food value left in anything in the pot to sustain any sort of creature I can imagine.

I can see it repelling creatures the same way certain plants repel creatures. It may even be that the smell of char is partly what repels creatures, which are instinctively afraid of fire. If they recognise the char as formerly being from some sort of animal I would imagine it would work even more effectively.

The only problem I have with it is the cost of the sacrificial cast iron pots, as you certainly couldn't use them for anything else afterwards.
Kota Dubois

Joined: Oct 13, 2011
Posts: 171
@Lolly...I will. And as an update: rutting season has just ended and I surprised a six pointer and his doe getting busy in the meadow. Probably just that their noses are attuned to different things at this time of year.

@Pam.... The bones are not in the water, they are suspended above it and after pyrolizing they are rendered to pure carbon. They were incredibly light weight and as I poured them out they tinkled like fine crystal. I thought maybe they'd make fine wind chime elements, but I was too busy gagging from the smell of the bone oil to take it that far. Also I might add that this is a very old recipe, and at that time the only pots they would have had were either clay or iron. Iron probably stands up better under the conditions. I used galvanized steel with good results, I probably would not trust aluminum.
Philip Freddolino

Joined: Jun 02, 2010
Posts: 53
If you google bone oil or destructive distillation of bones , there is some more detailed information. The material of the retort is not crucial providing it can withstand the heat needed for the destructive distillation of thebones (800-900 F ).
I'm in the process of making a steel retort from a piece of 8 inch square tube that will be heated on a propane burner. The bone oil will be collected in a water cooled condenser attached to the outside of the retort.
I will update after a couple batches .
Richard Kutscher

Joined: Nov 16, 2011
Posts: 44
Location: Sun seeker - on the road
During Sepp time in Montana, was Sepp able to demonstrate how he makes the bone sauce? Had to leave before the end of his time there.

Remember the subject coming up, him talking about it, and cautioning strongly on have the proper materials for the job as it uses fat and high temps.. That made me think of, instead of boom squish, bone squish.... Big boom possible if not done properly.
Livia Blaszak

Joined: Nov 15, 2011
Posts: 19
Location: North Plains, OR
Richard, yes, and Paul will probably post a video of it. Is that right, Paul?

paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17409
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
And now .... the video:

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Richard Kutscher

Joined: Nov 16, 2011
Posts: 44
Location: Sun seeker - on the road
Awesome!!! Many thanks to the quick turn around on the video Sir Paul!

Much simpler than I envisioned it to be. Thankfully I had helped in absentia by chopping some of that wood.
Chad Johnson

Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 46
Incredibly well documented Paul! And very nice to meet you. Wish I could have captured the great hand shake you and Sepp had at the beginning of the course, it was classic!
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 7370
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate

How works

What is a Mother Tree ?
Jim Kerwin

Joined: Apr 24, 2012
Posts: 2
I thought this was a great how to video for people w/ deer problems but I don't have so many deer here so I probably will not be making it for myself. What i was interested in was what was to be done w/ the byproducts that were used. Here we have the "bone sauce" obviously, but we also have the cooked & de-fatted bones and the ashes from the fire. Personally, I'd put the bones back in the ashes, add more hardwood & burn the bones till they're turned to ashes. Now you have potash and bone meal ready to put on your veggies along w/ some of that diluted Beer now donated as urine. I haven't done this before but i think it'll work. As my first post and as a small way of introduction this is the type of recycling / re-purposing i like. I prefer to use the secondary or waste products of one product or project to add to or complete another product.
Dave Bennett

Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
Jim Kerwin wrote:I thought this was a great how to video for people w/ deer problems but I don't have so many deer here so I probably will not be making it for myself. What i was interested in was what was to be done w/ the byproducts that were used. Here we have the "bone sauce" obviously, but we also have the cooked & de-fatted bones and the ashes from the fire. Personally, I'd put the bones back in the ashes, add more hardwood & burn the bones till they're turned to ashes. Now you have potash and bone meal ready to put on your veggies along w/ some of that diluted Beer now donated as urine. I haven't done this before but i think it'll work. As my first post and as a small way of introduction this is the type of recycling / re-purposing i like. I prefer to use the secondary or waste products of one product or project to add to or complete another product.

There is very little left after the pyrolysis is complete. The bones are just carbon ready for the garden. All of the volatiles that are produced are found in the tar in the bottom kettle. There really isn't any need to burn the bones after this process. I found the comments that suggest the "stuff" smells like b b q amuzing since the batch I did way back when I first learned about this process smells like "death." If you have ever been in the vicinity of an animal crematorium then you have smelled it before. Maybe I should have "flavored" them first hahahahahaha. I do know that this stuff works having tested it on some new very young fruit trees that a friend had planted. The deer were literally killing them so I applied some of this stuff and no more deer damage.
Rick Brodersen

Joined: Apr 22, 2011
Posts: 49
Location: Bainbridge Island,WA
I still have problems with all the Negative Nancy's out there...why is there so many Negative people? I personally will try this soon, I have lots of meat bones for my dog and will make my own bone sauce. Thanks for the video. If it works great, if not no big guys act like you just paid $20 for a dvd on how to buy houses at auctions and become a millionaire only to realize you got ripped off...IT"S FREE INFO...I welcome any knowledge specially from someone with the background as Sepp's.

Thanks Paul! If I Can't Fix It, It's Definitely Broken.
david day

Joined: May 27, 2012
Posts: 1
Hi all! I am moving back to the NW after many years in the midwest. Within a month I will be situated at the base of the Selkirk mountains at 2500 ft elevation, with approx 100 acres to work with. Made a trip there in April and was astounded to find the 3 apple trees of my youth still kicking it! These trees are at least 50 years old. Needless to say, bringing up apple trees (among others) is on the long range radar. The bone sauce seems like an excellent deterrent for the deer and elk (which have made themselves at home up there recently). I have 2 questions- 1. Are the cast irons an absolute requirement for the process? Seems like some shitty stainless steel pots would do the trick. Or does the cast somehow add to the process- heat retention, slower cooling, etc. 2. What would be the application rate to a tree? One quick swipe or a good coating to the trunk all around? Seems like a little of this gunk goes a long way but what would be the dilution rate with the oil Sepp mentions? Ok! 3 questions! Thanks
John Kiely

Joined: Mar 09, 2012
Posts: 3
Saw this recipe in a 16 century Cistercian monastic text, also knew of a old monk using it on fruit trees. And in ten years I've never seen a deer touch his trees, that where coated with the "bone oil"
Angie Greene

Joined: Mar 07, 2011
Posts: 17
Leah Sattler wrote:just missed some interesting spam is all from the president of the united states of all people

thats a big question.... is the iron really a neccessary part of the equation or just something that won't fall apart during the process? steamed bones. if sue is right then maybe a bonemeal paste would work too. if my thinking is correct the bones will get steamed and the water will condense and return back to the bottom pot. it seems that could be easily simulated (if the iron isn't crucial) by putting bones in steamer basket in my pressure cooker.

Taking that a bit further, can steamed bonemeal be used in some way to make an effective treatment? Has anyone tried it?
Anthony Anderson

Joined: Oct 08, 2012
Posts: 42
Location: Central Minnesota USA and Paris France
they all mentioned that it was like char or anyone tried making an oil tincture with bbq scrapings and soot? That mixed with some sunflower oil could be pretty easy for mass protection. Im in central MN and those deer mess my garden up bad...last year there was no snow with lots of acorns so no problems but they have set me back. black locusts all around and the char smell should go a long way I hope...

Growing Paradise on Planet Earth...Why Not?
Xisca Nicolas

Joined: Aug 06, 2012
Posts: 1138
Location: La Palma Canary Zone 11
I have no deer, I have rats.
They do not eat the bark, they climb trees.
All other plants are well protected by the avocado trees... but I want to protect the avocados!!!
And also my oranges...

Did Sepp say anything that could give me hope?
Is the recepe only for preventing eating?

My ironcast pots are for soup and wok...
Is this recepe sacrificing the pots forever?
Is the mess washable?

Xisca - Canary - Look at pics! Dry subtropical Mediterranean - My project
However loud I tell it, this is never a truth, only my experience...
Earl Mardle

Joined: Nov 02, 2012
Posts: 12
Jennifer Smith wrote:I guess as usual I see something else here. 

I am seeing dry picked, clean, sun bleached, old bones.  Nothing tasty there.  I am seeing this gunk being absorbed into the trees and becoming part of them forever.  More a calcium paste than a tasty paste, 

I would not partisipate in this forum if I did not think Paul is worth listening to, and if he believes, I for one will try it.

This makes sense to me. What comes out of this process is nothing like bones. In fact, the screen between the upper and lower pots will retain anything remaining that even looks like a bone. However, lets go with the assumptions that it is an animal product and that it will attract predators. All we have to do is make some and smear it around the dog's dinner bowl. THAT should make an interesting video.

My question is whether it repels ALL mammals, or just those interested in eating the bark. Reason being that I had a macadamia nut tree covered in fruit on my new farm and the rats got every last one of them. I can isolate the canopy so that they can't cross from another tree, but keeping them from climbing the trunk would be a GREAT thing. If I could keep the possums off the citrus and other fruits the same way I would be burning bone till the cows come home.
laura sharpe

Joined: Nov 17, 2012
Posts: 244
Those of your who have used this sauce, do squirrels react to it as well?

To make this sauce, i would have to make a fire which my local fire dept would QQ about and my local HOA will likely tell me is against the rules (oh well the job is done already...i swear i wont do it again until i need more sauce). I only use cast iron pans so i suppose i would have to buy cast iron pots...minimally the top op would absolutely need to be cast iron for the heat.

In other words, to make this would be politically incorrect as well as actually fairly expensive. The deer population is way down in my county this year, I think due to disease although some people say culling...i suspect disease as they were quite over populated a few years back and there was a disease in northern illinois. Since the deer population has declined by more than half, I planted new fruit trees and other tasty deer treats (rhotdendrum) and I live in fear of the more hungry deer descending on my yard and killing everything again....

Ok sauce and deer but I also have squirrel problems, cute little tree if this works on those too i would rush out and break all way too much for an iron pot and....

Also those of you who are experimenting....painting on trees works but how about painting on something near a tree....must it be directly on the tree? I am thinking of blueberry bushes as well as some flowers i hope to protect....maybe some posts hammered in near the center of those
Rebecca Norman

Joined: Aug 28, 2012
Posts: 689
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5 or 6
We've cooked up a batch, using two of the large tin you see in the photo. The tins were not damaged by the fire.

The problem here is dzos (yak-cattle cross) from the nearby village, which are kept for ploughing and are turned out to fend for themselves the rest of the year. There's not much to eat in this desert so lately they've been barging through our barbed wire and wreaking havoc. The picture is a freshly pollarded willow tree, no longer protected by the tangle of small branches it had until recently. We've also painted a lot of newly transplanted apples and apricots. I hope it works -- these dzos are seriously hungry, so even if they find it disgusting they may still have to eat these trees, I don't know.

But it's a case of locking the barn door after the horses have run away:

[Bone tar too late smfile.jpg]

Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas . "Back home" is Cape Cod.
Jay C. White Cloud

Joined: Nov 05, 2012
Posts: 2413
Hello All,

I have been catching up on back reading and this little thread caught my eye. I can't speak to Paul or Sepp's credential, I haven't met them, but I do love the things I read and I can share this about "bone sauce."

It exists, it works, and it has different forms around the globe in traditional cultures. I won't validate my credentials (you can seek that out online, if curious) but most of the "nay sayers" of this do not have a biology background, from what I glean from their writing. I don't mean to be rude, but to the point of credential and validation. Sepp has a working knowledge and oral history lineage that is well beyond what many PhD have. Just because an "alchemy" doesn't seem to make since to the layperson does not mean it's not effective as claimed.

As said earlier, I have not met either Paul or Sepp, so I will only describe the "bone sauce" I grew up with. It is different, probably harder to make, but, YES it last decades, and with touch up applications, probably generations. I will first try to explain the basic biology, and base line ethology of the animals we are trying to repel, herbivores. Humans, (particularly modern folk) want to anthropomorphise everything in there lives for the most part. It is really simple to understand why it would last decades, if you think about it from the Herbivores perspective and senses. The "bone sauce" has chemicals in it that bind to the surrounding soils and create a barrier around the area. It even soaks into the bark layer of trees, the rocks and any other porous surface of the applied environment. You may not smell it, but with most animals sense of smell they very easily can. Not to mention their collective memory comes into play. If something is unpleasant, they avoid it, simple.

The "bone sauce" I learn to make from my grandmother and other elders (mix heritage circa date 1870's to 1890's) was made as described. Here are some differences of note from different formulations as I learned them.

1. Iron pots are fine but clay pots are better.

2. hand full of iron oxide (rust) to each 2 liters of strong tannin water (oak, hemlock, etc.)

3. Lower container is fill to 1/2 it's capacity.

4. The screen can be modern. Traditional screens/filters are made of small twigs, grass, then another layer of small twigs. The grass layer may have the following added to it. Nettle, poison ivy/oak/sumac, nightshade, foxglove, water hemlock, and I would guess any other noxious or poisonous plants, seemed to be the liking of some elders.

5. Now the biggest difference, only carnivore bones could be used. That is to say, dog, cat, fox, raccoon, coyote etc. Hair, teeth and bones can be added depending on batch size.

6. "Cook" for 2 to 3 hours.

7. Let sit for one week minimum, the older the better.

8. Variations on application. Brushed on with find bruch of carnivor hair, (easy to make) or liquid can be air dried to a powder and mixed in a solute of different oils to lengthy to get into.

Not sure if anyone will even get to read this, but here it is anyway....


Monte Cook

Joined: Mar 26, 2013
Posts: 36
Location: South Central MONTANA - Zone 4
Bone Sauce - SOS!

Followed the set-up directions from Holzer's book and Paul's youtube - cooked for two+ hours and this is what I got! Is this what it is supposed to look like? Looks more like rendered fat than nasty deer repelling goo! Should I seal it back up and cook it some more?

[Thumbnail for IMG_20130525_141437_093.jpg]

Jay C. White Cloud

Joined: Nov 05, 2012
Posts: 2413
Hi Monte,

I can't speak to their (Paul and Holzer's) receipt, but no it should be dark in color not light. Second, you uncovered it. I believe all " bone sauce" recipes require oxidising and aging in the ground covered. It is not to be disturbed, longer is better in most recipes.


Monte Cook

Joined: Mar 26, 2013
Posts: 36
Location: South Central MONTANA - Zone 4

Thank you very much for your analysis of my situation! I found a post in another thread here at where an individual witnessed Holzer's Montana bone sauce demonstration and said the bones were fired for 6 hours. So back into the fire they go! And as to oxidation, perhaps some experienced bone saucers could chime in too! Thanks again.


[Thumbnail for IMG_20130525_175733_768.jpg]

I agree. Here's the link:
subject: Sepp Holzer's recipe to keep animals off of trees