• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Nicole Alderman
stewards:
  • Mike Haasl
  • r ranson
  • paul wheaton
master gardeners:
  • jordan barton
  • John F Dean
  • Rob Lineberger
  • Carla Burke
  • Jay Angler
gardeners:
  • Greg Martin
  • Ash Jackson
  • Jordan Holland

Composting in Black Bear Country

 
Posts: 65
Location: Big Bay, U.P. of Michigan
chicken wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My wife and I are in the process of buying a 20 acre property that we'll be developing into a sustainable homestead. The location is in an area with a significant black bear population.

Does anyone out there have experience with composting in an area that has black bears? Are there any special precautions that can be taken to keep the bears away?

Our compost pile will contain mostly vegetable scraps, but of course there could be a few meat scraps, etc.

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

-Tom
 
Posts: 13
Location: Zone 8: hard clay soil
forest garden foraging woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
i would make sure to put the pile downwind from bears and maybe bury the pile a little so its like an underground compost pile, ive heard not to put meat in there
 
gardener
Posts: 522
Location: Sierra Nevadas, CA 6400'
194
hugelkultur dog trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
When you say black bear country do you mean an area where bears are routinely seen around neighborhoods, or that you live far enough in the woods to be in their native habitat?

In my experience the first type of bears are the hardest to deal with. Once a trash bear, always a trash bear. Bears are incredibly smart and persistent, All standard "make sure it doesn't smell" type of advice has not worked for me. A bear will tear through a compost pile just to see how it feels if they have any hint there might be something yummy inside. My advice for these types of areas is to go one of two routes:

1. An indoor (could be garage / barn) cold-composting method like a worm bin or bokashi.

2. Barrel or similar type totally-enclosed compost container

But if you're not in trash-bear country and just regular bear country, I think you'd be fine with a well-balanced compost pile. I'd get it going with a pile of manure (so you start with a hot pile) and make sure you have plenty of carbon available to bury scraps. And maybe locate it somewhere you aren't liable to be near nighttime, and away from your cars or house.  The more manure / yard scraps and the fewer food scraps, the better off you'll be.
IMG_3448.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_3448.jpg]
My second night composting in trash-bear country
IMG_3449.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_3449.jpg]
Sharp teeth
 
gardener
Posts: 2732
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
449
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Well, I can safely say that composting in bear country is not without it's potential challenges

As has been noted, bears are creatures of habit.  They also have a keen sense of smell.  If a bear gets in the habit of harvesting from your compost... well it's a habit... they get to know where food is, and they return.  A bear will find rotting meat, unless it is composting hot.  If you are concerned about meat, then burn it in your wood stove or fire pit until it is pretty inert, then compost or bio-char the bones, or go the bokashi route.  

The griz that came through my land last year found the lone apple on my only bearing young fruit tree, but did not touch either of my composts.  I've had a black bear go into my compost two years ago, but he or she has thankfully not returned.  They are more interested in the clover in my meadow and the dairy calves down the road.  

There are ways to keep bears away from things, such as electric fences, and spike boards, but... they can be a bit of a nuisance in themselves, and you better set them up right or they are useless.  

I had a nearby friend with an enormous grizzly routinely feeding in her compost (which was not very well managed---just a heap of rot), for most of a summer and she just went about her gardening as if she still was in charge.  She's pretty ballsy, for an old lady.  Her dog had died, and there was the need to tend the garden, so she just figured the bear would go about it's business and she would hers and there would be nothing to worry about.  Thankfully she was right enough, but it didn't have to be that way.  Bears are indeed wild and completely unpredictable.  

One never knows who the last person was that the bear had to deal with.  Did they throw a bear banger?  Did they fire a rifle?  Did they sound a horn?  Did they run at the bear?   Did they pepper spray it?  Did they sick a dog on it?  Or did they just smile and wave as I do, and say, "Hey Cousin, I'm going over here. I hope you have a good day." and then go about my business, keeping a watchful eye on what it's next move is.

The best thing to do, is to have a good, well trained dog.  A dog does not have to be very big to chase and nip at a bear enough to keep it clear.    
 
Tom Gauthier
Posts: 65
Location: Big Bay, U.P. of Michigan
chicken wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for the feedback.

We are in the woods not a neighborhood so I'm pretty sure these are not trash-bears. I'm not saying we're overrun with bears, but I have seen plenty of sign on the property ... scat, rotten logs ripped open, etc.

I think the combination of bokashi for meat/kitchen scraps along with a hot pile will work fine. We will have humanure compost bins, but since those are just poop and will be hot, I don't think they'll be a problem.

-Tom
 
master steward
Posts: 14547
Location: Pacific Northwest
6578
hugelkultur kids cat duck forest garden foraging fiber arts sheep wood heat homestead
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We've got black bears, and they previously got into our open compost. But, when my husband started drinking crazy amounts of mint tea, and all those leaves went into the compost, everything stopped disturbing the compost.

We now have tumbling composters, and they've never been disturbed, either, even though I do occasionally put small meat or egg scraps in there. The smell of mint, I think, really obscures everything else!
 
Posts: 634
82
duck forest garden fish fungi trees food preservation bee woodworking
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My daughter has a pretty good bear presence around her place near Homer Alaska.  Since they have small children, they make sure there 2 dogs are running around outside for a while before the kids go out.  

At this point their trash bags are undisturbed by bears.  The bears have pretty much ceded the property to the dogs and don't think the interesting smelling trash bags are worth the harassment.  When the family first moved in a year ago, they would find lots of bear sign very near the house.  Now it's rare.  The presence of 2 or 3 active, average sized dogs has persuaded the bears to stay away.  2 dogs are better than 1 because 2 or 3 dogs will work the bear between them.  A single dog may decide it wants help and run back to it's pack leader (you) with the bear in hot pursuit.

I would advise a couple of fairly active dogs on the property.  Once they have pushed the bears back, then your compost pills will be pretty safe.  Feed the meat scraps to puppy le pooch.  Once the bear decides your place is a food source, your problem got a lot bigger.  So start with the dogs.
 
Posts: 318
9
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Compost everything in the humanure pile a la Joe Jenkins. Nothing has bothered mine in 4 years and I add any bones, scraps fat or rodents that the household produces.
 
pollinator
Posts: 314
Location: Yukon Territory, Canada. Zone 1a
75
transportation hugelkultur cat books cooking food preservation bike building writing rocket stoves wood heat
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Composting in the Yukon has its challenges. Black bears and grizzlies are just two of them.
I gather buckets of food waste from a local Deli so I always have lots of delicious smelling greens and broccoli stems going into my compost. Yet, we have never had the bears that do pass through our 1/4 acre lot be attracted to the pile. Here's why:

I use a 3 part system. Leaves, ashes and other carbons go into an old oil burner tank (think a really really large hot water tank shape) made of steel. The cylinder is mounted lenghth-wise on a pipe running through both ends. there is a hatch cut in the curved side and all  nitrogen stuff that still smells like food (deli waste, kitchen waste, trimmings, occasional salmon bones and skin) gets mixed with the carbon by means of rolling the tank. I have a strap wrapped around one side of the cylinder attached to a wooden arm and dowel mechanism... makes spinning even a full tank relatively easy.

After about 4 months (that's full warm season up here) I transfer the usually fairly anaerobic half composted matter from the tank to an open-planked 1 meter x 1 meter pile. I stoop adding fresh green stuff about 2 weeks before transfer time. I usually introduce some well rotted horse manure at this time. No animals seem to recognize this pile as food. Maybe some ants.
After 7 months of frozen weather, In spring, I sift this pile into usable soil and larger chunks. The soil goes to dress the gardens and green house and the chunks go into a solar heated plywood box to cook for 4 more months. I sift this one more time and any remaining chunks go back into the steel tank as an inoculant.

It's a three year rotation, but soil building up here is crazy slow so I keep every crumb of humus I can get. No sharing with bears!

Had a mother and two cubs through last week- the neighbours dogs went crazy and a cub got treed for a good hour. Hearing that little guy cry was heart wrenching! IMHO dogs can just make matters worse with bears.
 
Posts: 36
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We live in a populated area outside of Denver with Black Bears.  Bears have been known to go after compost bins especially with fats or meats inside.  I placed a bin on a elevated area of my deck that isn't easy to get to and with out any meats, fats, oils, or egg shells and it's been fine.  But I recently put a Vermiculture bin with some fresh rotten fruits and vegetables on my lower deck that was easy to get to and bears got into it.  
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2732
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
449
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

But I recently put a Vermiculture bin with some fresh rotten fruits and vegetables on my lower deck that was easy to get to and bears got into it.  

Rotten fruit is sure to draw them.  They have a keen sense of smell and a keener love for stinky rotten stuff.   Also, they love worms.  
 
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 2005
Location: mountains of Tennessee
792
cattle hugelkultur cat dog trees hunting chicken bee homestead ungarbage
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Never had them bother compost. They did destroy 3 beehives though. Electric fence solved that.
 
Tom Gauthier
Posts: 65
Location: Big Bay, U.P. of Michigan
chicken wood heat homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for all the great feedback. We've been at it for over a year and no problems with bears in the compost. We have found scat up near the back of our 20 acres, but no sign anywhere near the cabin and garden.

I believe there are two things that are working for us. We have a dog that roams the area around our cabin and garden, peeing & pooping and generally making himself known. The other thing is as Wyatt mentioned, we put all our scraps into the humanure compost and make sure to cover the scraps with a layer of straw. The only evidence of any pests in the bins was one time when some moldy bread was thrown in one corner and squirrels when through the straw to get it.

Thanks again.

-Tom
 
Posts: 17
1
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have been wondering about this exact topic, as we are building a small homestead in the Ozarks.... And I learned a lot from this thread! We normally like to feed food scraps to our chickens in an open compost area, but now that we will be technically in bear country I have been wondering if we'd be able to continue that practice.  We do have a dog, and I'm thinking that as long as we place the scraps early in the day to let the chickens have their pick and then rake up whats left to put in a covered compost bin (with lots of mint tea!) maybe we'll be ok! I don't think bears are spotted very often in our neck of the woods but I do want to be conscious and build in good habits!
 
pollinator
Posts: 131
Location: zone 6a, ish
61
forest garden fungi trees food preservation cooking homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think coffee grounds work pretty well, too.  In 30+ years, bears have never gone near our compost (though they've destroyed bird feeders and eaten rabbits, chickens, and ducks).  My mother drinks two pots of coffee a day and the scraps are always layered with the grounds.
 
master gardener
Posts: 1920
680
personal care gear foraging hunting rabbit chicken cooking food preservation fiber arts medical herbs homestead
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We're in black bear country, in the Ozarks. But, most of our food scraps don't get to the compost, because our other critters (dogs, guinea pigs, vermiculture, chickens, chicks, & ducklings) get first shot at them. That really leaves not much more than manure & yard scraps, for the compost.
 
Posts: 31
18
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator


Any advice would be appreciated.

Congrats on the land !

I was raised in Florida but spent quite a few years in Colorado when we went hiking or camping we'd always double bag our garbage that didn't necessarily include any "meat scraps". And then delivered it to a metal receptacle usually impenetrable by bears.
If you're bringing your family out there I would be (extremely) careful to separate any (meat scraps)
From any compost piles. Better to be safe than sorry.
Please be very careful your family after all is worth the attention to detail and making sure no meat goes in your vegetable compost AKA scraps. Bury it if you can keep it far away from the family area. A hungry wild bear is not something you want near your family out there take extra care, and precaution to keep em safe. Bears that attack people are usually put down. Good luck! Happy homesteading!
Martha
 
pollinator
Posts: 200
Location: WNC 6b
46
kids goat hugelkultur personal care foraging trees books chicken food preservation medical herbs wood heat
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi there,
This is a great thread!
We live in an area that is populated. It's so beautiful and very rural. We live next to several national forests. Pisgah national forest near the Tennesse and North Carolina borders.

Bears that cause problems in the city are dropped off just up the road. So are rattle snakes. You see them on neighbor's game cameras with tags in the ear (the bears of course

Dogs, I highly recommend dogs. Good dogs. Our compost pile is right next to house. Like 10ft away. I think that has helped us. There is much activity around our home now. We have a 10year old, 4 dogs, chickens/goats. The chicken and goats are in electric fence. The dogs are Pyrenees. Daughter always has at least one dog when she goes outdoor to play.

We had so many critters living with us when we moved in as the house was vacant for years. Skunks lived in our basement?? The skunks moved out, but still stop by to say hello.

When you move into your new home. Get a feel of the land. See how the animal move through. We have lots of game trails in our woods. We are mindful when hiking them.
Best of luck.
 
master gardener
Posts: 2106
Location: southern Illinois.
508
goat cat dog chicken composting toilet food preservation bee solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have had 4 years of experience in Black Bear country in MN. I had only 2 run ins with them where there was anything potentially serious .....I dont count the one where a bear politely suggested I might be picking his berries.  I was clearly in the wrong and well off my property. I also dont count the time when one pissed on my tent .. I was in it.  I figured that it was the answer to the age old question, "Where does a 500 pound bear pee?" ......anywhere it wants to.

Anyway, a good livestock guardian dog is an excellent idea.  Concrete reinforcing mesh to make a cage for the compost is also a good idea.
 
Posts: 43
Location: Seattle burbs
20
hugelkultur forest garden foraging food preservation cooking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We're in black bear country in the foothills of the Cascades, backed onto two state parks, and even though our 3 acres is basically suburban, we still have plenty of bears. So far our solution of having three separate composting setups is working.

The first is the main outdoor compost heap. Only yard waste, garden waste, and non-tasty kitchen waste (like old leafy greens or stalks) go on here. We don't want to attract raccoons either!

The second is an enclosed double-tumbler composter, which is then further enclosed in our ten-foot-tall wooden trash-can corral. We put regular kitchen waste in this one, though I prefer to keep meat scraps out.

The third is the vermicomposting setup, which I have in our completely enclosed garage. I have one of those tower systems, plus a modified plastic tote setup. I put questionable stuff into these, though I still try to avoid meat scraps. I've never had much of a problem with smell, though we do get fruit flies! I feed them to my mantises so at least there's one small upside. :-) In fact, I've considered setting up a vivarium down there with frogs and a wide-mesh top, though I'm sure that the fruit flies would learn to avoid the frogs and then I'd have one more set of "pets" to feed. In fact, the pet mantises were originally hatched as biological insect control, but I kept some in an old aquarium and now we're attached to them and have to feed them.

Sometimes it's like the old lady who swallowed the fly around here....





 
gardener
Posts: 1288
Location: Okanogan Highlands, Washington
303
hugelkultur cat dog books food preservation
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
On our mountain in the Okanogan Highlands, where we lived for 7 years, there would often be black bears hibernating under trees out back on our property, and times of year when you'd potentially see scat or tracks of bears coming down to the pond for water.  They were pretty discreet; many locals liked to hunt bear in season.

We composted using steel tumblers (the larger kind, about 2-3 feet diameter, that can get a little hotter than one-barrel tumblers for our shorter, alpine warm seasons).  They were generally located at least 20-30 feet from the door of the house, to provide some maneuvering room in case we surprised a bear investigating them.
The only time I ever personally saw a bear at the bin was a triple error day: I had dumped a big bag of freeze-damaged apples (basically applesauce still in the skins), a month or so after harvest season, and left the lid open.  I didn't know that Ernie had also previously dumped some stale pork chops from the fridge.  You can't really blame a scent-sensitive scavenger for showing up for pork chops and applesauce.  The encounter was after dark - I had to use a flashlight to see what it was.  And I was able to scare it away without leaving the doorway.  I think it had eaten what it wanted already, when I came out and started making spluttering upset-ape noises at it.  It was just curious about my grunting and banging, but when I started scolding it in real words it seemed to realize I was serious, and backed off into the woods.  (Maybe its mama warned it about humans when they heard people talking growing up ...)

I generally didn't compost meat scraps, though Ernie apparently did (from what I found while processing the compost).  We both preferred to give the dogs and chickens first crack at things, to keep the attractive smells down.  Our dogs were not unusually big, but we always had two at a time. Just regular sized breeds such as border collie mix, labrador, black-mouthed cur, and pit bull.  Great Pyrenees are awesome guardian dogs, but a hefty feed bill if you don't need them for precious critters like kids, lambs, or children.  A mid-sized dog that suits your lifestyle (good for playing with kids, hiking, or whatever) can be effective.  A pair or pack of them can make enough noise to deter most predators, especially backed up by full sized adult humans who are prepared to listen for "three alarm" predator alerts.  And all of these options are more effective deterrents when combined with a low return on effort (not enough food to justify repeated risks).

We did see more persistent visits from all wildlife when local creeks dried up or froze, and our pond was the biggest water source for a mile or two.  Deer, elk, moose, coyotes, coy-dogs, the occasional wolf or bear.  But our bears were some of the most discreet of the bunch.

We had neighbors in that area who put out more food, like using a cooler in the creek for a "fridge," and got robbed repeatedly.  They also got some great game-cam footage of a repeat-visitor bear settling down to his "picnic lunch" out of that cooler.  When they stopped putting food out in easy-access containers, the bear stopped coming by.

Bears are pretty similar in tastes and calorie needs to people, though they love to enjoy food that is a lot more rotten than we can tolerate.  If you wish you had eaten it before it spoiled (ice cream, lasagna, chicken soup carcasses, eggs, etc), putting it out in easy-access piles or containers seems like a great way to develop trash bear problems.  Letting the dogs and chickens have first crack at these things seems to solve multiple problems, not just bears but rats, raccoons, coyotes, etc. plus slightly reducing your feed bills.

On a visit in the Lake Tahoe area, we had much more aggressive/persistent bear encounters - a smaller bear, possibly one whose mother had been taken out of the picture recently, and/or was raised by a trash bear mother.  I'm ashamed to say we contributed to its delinquency by leaving snacks in our car, not something I was super conscious about at that point on a long journey. It got into multiple cars, some due to windows rolled down, and once through an open hatchback while someone was packing for a trip.  It did a fair amount of damage trying to get out of the hatchback car before the owner got brave and opened the door for it.  It ran away pretty fast once it was free.  
Leaving snacks/groceries in an unattended car definitely not recommended.  

In places like that, where trash bears are common, they make thicker steel bins for trash, with specially designed lids - sometimes using "bear resistant" catches designed to be hard to operate with claws, since a bear is perfectly capable of learning to open an ordinary lid.  I've seen folks in areas with dog pack or rat problems create steel mesh ventilated doors for the catchment areas for their composting toilets, however these seemed to be a persistent mess to deal with.  And I've heard of some of the larger bears clawing right through thin sheet metal if they are motivated enough.  Concrete walled structures do seem to keep most anything out, however, in case someone is super determined to turn around a trash-bear situation such as an ill-guarded local midden or dump.

If you have a trash bear problem, there is probably also a community-feeding-the-bears problem.  
Vigilante attacks /shooting of bears, especially by people who don't have the knowledge or patience to ensure they are removing the correct bear and not leaving unattended cubs to turn juvenile delinquent, are not that helpful.  Irresponsible human aggression can escalate the problem, as injured, irritated, or bereaved bears may become more aggressive as they persist in trash-bear lifestyle.  
Problem bears can be removed by various wildlife authorities, though I sympathize with the folks living near where tagged bears may be released.  Presumably the tag lets them identify repeat offenders, but I'm not sure what the politics may be as far as when/whether to kill a repeat problem animal.
In some areas, hunters can get bear tags/licenses, and bear meat makes good sausage (especially if they've been feeding on relatively clean sources, like farm waste).  If you like the idea of turning problems into ultimate solutions, you can drop a hint through local networks, and try to find a hunter skilled and responsible enough to be worth inviting onto the property.

Ernie and his dad both find black bears easier to "shoo" away than your typical stray dog.  They are not that much bigger than a dog, and typically smaller than an adult person, so we're scarier to them than they are to us.  Top predators usually have better things to do with their day than get in a lose-lose fight with another top predator. So you can generally bluff them into wandering off, especially with a Plan B like being able to get inside and shut the door if it turns out your particular bear is a weirdo.  Be wary and report any bear that approaches or seems aggressive, as this is not normal behavior for bears.

 
Politics is a circus designed to distract you from what is really going on. So is this tiny ad:
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/45/pmag
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic