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Sepp Holzer's recipe to keep animals off of trees

 
paul wheaton
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This thread is to discuss a bit of the Sepp Holzer's Permaculture article.

On the first full day class we toured a farm where the animals had wiped out nearly all growth. The land owner's intent was to get a fresh start. So, first run too many animals in there to eliminate all of the weeds and ... well .... everything. Then come in and plant the stuff you want to keep. Sepp was very direct and did not mince words: He did not approve.

Sepp pointed out how only the trees were left, but since animals had nibbled at the bark so much, he called these trees "standing dead."

Sepp then told us about how he makes a sort of bone sauce that he puts on trees and will keep the animals from nibbling the trees forever. ("What? Forever?" "decades." "It can't possibly last that long" "What can I say, it lasts that long." - and this same discussion was rehashed a few times and Sepp stuck to his guns. Decades.)

I first wrote this section from memory and it turns out I made lots of mistakes. Fortunately, 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!)

First you start with a cast iron kettle and bury it a bit and put a cup of water in the bottom. The fill another kettle with bones, put a screen over it and then plop the bone kettle upside down on the other kettle. Then pack clay around the edges to make a good seal. Then Pile up some dirt and build a big fire over the whole thing.

Here is my lame attempt at drawing sepp holzer's bone sauce contraption


Keep the fire going for an hour or two and then let it sit for a day. Then collect the nasty gunk from the bottom. Apparently this smells awful. Smear a little of this around the trunk of any tree and animals won't ever touch that tree.


 
Leah Sattler
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boiling bones makes stock. hmmm. then carnivores would probably eat the trees!!! I suppose herbivores might find it detestable. interesting.
 
Gwen Lynn
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I can't help but question "lasts for decades". Even if there was a lot of grease in it, I would think exposure would wash it away in less than 20 years.

Just IMO.
 
paul wheaton
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Gwen Lynn wrote:
I can't help but question "lasts for decades". Even if there was a lot of grease in it, I would think exposure would wash it away in less than 20 years.



Exactly the concern brought up when he made the claim.  Yet he insisted.  Decades.  "But, but, but ...."  "decades"


 
Nicholas Covey
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Could he have meant perhaps, that the stuff doesn't have to be fresh to be applied? Properly stored wheat stays viable for centuries but planted and left to its own devices, the wheat wouldn't last for centuries.

Could this be one of those "lost in translation" type of situations?
 
Leah Sattler
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now that makes a bit more sense. although boiling for only an hour wouldn't produce it, you can boil down bones until there is virtually nothing but gelatin left and that will last for a long time. maybe he meant that. not that it will continue to deter animals for decades...just that the 'brew' will last for decades. still...i wonder about the whole thing. every coon in the county would be on my trees and after they licked the homemade boullion (which is basically what that would be) off they would eat the fruit! maybe something a bit more was lost in translation.
 
Nicholas Covey
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Do they have raccoons in Austria? Any counterparts?
 
paul wheaton
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Okay, I updated the article and blip at the top to be far more accurate.

 
Gwen Lynn
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I'm imagining that I live rurally (in Europe, USA, etc) where natural predator include foxes, weasels, wild cats, or even coyotes, wolves & bears.

My free range chickens & goats roam on land where I'm also trying to keep animals from nibbling the bark off trees. Do I really want to spread smelly bone juice that lasts forever on those trees? Surely it would attract predators to areas where my livestock are.

Rats eat just about anything and need to gnaw on things to wear their teeth down. Bone juice flavored tree bark sounds like a perfect treat for rats.

No matter how hard I try, I just don't see how it would be beneficial.
 
paul wheaton
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I think the idea is that it does not smell yummy.  It smell terrible.  To everybody.
 
Gwen Lynn
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Paul, many opportunistic animals are attracted by the smell of and eat carrion, which isn't exactly fresh, good smelling meat. What smells terrible to humans, smells yummy to hungry animals. Canines seek out and roll around on stinky dead creatures, parading the scent around for all to smell, the stinkier, the better!

The smell of trash attracts all sorts of animals. Especially trash with meat or meat products in it. I would bet everything I own that if I followed Sepp's instructions to the letter, every dog I know would love to eat the bone juice gunk. Canines love bones.

I'm just using a very basic logic here. If you take the renderings of boiled bones and put them outside, you will attract carnivores. I don't care how bad humans think it smells. I can see where herbivores would probably avoid it, but not predators. No way.
 
paul wheaton
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Gwen,

I strongly recommend that you not make Sepp's bone sauce.  It sounds like it will cause you no end of worry.

I, on the other hand, think that it will work just the way Sepp says.

For one thing, I think that the smell of smoke drives off animals pretty universally.  I'm not saying that this stuff smells anything like smoke.  I'm just saying that just because one group of animals doesn't like it doesn't mean that another group will come running. 

And I don't think the smell is of bones.  I think the smell is just something nasty. 

When I try it, I'll let you know how it went.

 
paul wheaton
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We asked Sepp what it smelled like.  We didn't need an interpreter because his response was conveyed entirely through interpretive dance.  He made a hideous face and pinched his nose and then waved his arms. 

Gwen,

I know that Sepp has smelled it and neither of us have.  I know that Sepp has used it, and neither of us has.  I know that I was there when Sepp told us about it and you were not.  I suspect that if you were there when Sepp talked about it, you would consider using this if you had animals nibbling on your trees.

I respect your gut feeling that this is a bunch of hooey.  At the same time, I suspect that very few people would hold Sepp in as high regard as I do.  So, to me, if Sepp says it will work, I trust that it will work until I have proof to the contrary.

 
Gwen Lynn
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You are making an assumption about what my gut feeling is. I never said anything about "hooey". 

I am merely using logic regarding the fact that hungry, opportunistic critters like coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, rats, stray dogs & cats would be attracted to that smell because it's derived from animal bones. All the animals I've listed are attracted to rancid, spoiled food smells coming from trash cans. They may not be looking for spoiled food, but the smell attracts them.

I apologize for questioning Sepp's authority & experience, but I grew up questioning everything and still do!
 
Susan Monroe
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On the face of it, it sounds iffy.

But then, there may be other things at work here.

He specifies iron pots, and I am assuming non-sealed iron pots.

He uses only a small amount of water, one cup.

He says to put one pot on top of the other, which is probably going to seal out most of the air.

I believe all of these instructions are actually counter to the way most meats and bone are usually processed.  Commercial bone meal is usually steamed (lots of moisture passing through).

The use of just a small amount of water reminds me of the methods used to make charcoal (for terra preta and other stuff).

The iron possibly given off by the pot under those conditions may add another element of processing that isn't usually used.

I think it would be an interesting experiment, and I'm looking forward to the results of Paul's experiment.

There are a lot of answers I don't have (imagine that!).  Unfortunately, many times I don't even know what the QUESTIONS are!

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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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.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Paul:

I'm with Susan on this one.  Any resemblance to soup would be limited to that pot I allowed to boil dry over the course of one workday, and similar experiments...

You had some quesitons on how to make charcoal, and more-volatile pyrolysis products.  This is one way.  Having water in the bottom allows the heavier pyrolysis liquids (i.e., tars) to condense in exchange for the evaporating water, and using bones adds so much N and S and P (vs. wood) that I'd expect nasty functional groups in this particular tar.  Fe will be many, many times more available from the marrow vs. the pot walls.  It's not very volatile, so I expect any role for it in this process would be more as a catalyst than a reactant.

The bone char from the top half of this contraption strikes me as some of the best stuff imaginable for making terra preta: pre-charged with minerals, pre-structured at several length scales, and pyrolyzed at moderate temperature.

On the negative side:  I'd be more nervous around this stuff than around some of the consumer-grade pesticides.  It might be a clever way of overloading the vertebrate olfactory system, or maybe it and similar substances are found in nature often enough that animals have adapted to avoid it long-term.  The bulk of it might be benign, but who knows what sorts of chemicals are present in trace amounts?  I'd want to keep it well away from food, and compost any waste (including the char...) thoroughly, so any bad consequences happen to organisms much smaller than me.

Natural doesn't always mean safe... 
 
                    
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Sepp would not say it works if it did not . This stuff is not his invention. It is a very old recipe. Did he say anything about hurting his arm in a motorcycle accident as a young man?  He almost lost his arm. It became useless and he was granted the equivalent of Social Security as he could not work anymore.  Then he found this old man way up in the mountains, who made a plaster of certain resins and what not, I wish I knew the recipe. To make a long story short,  what modern medicine did not accomplish, this old farmer did.  He is using that arm as if nothing had happened. 
 
Jennifer Smith
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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.
 
Gwen Lynn
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Ok, well...I'm ever the skeptic. Let's just talk about stray dogs. I've seen dogs chew up (and sometimes consume) everything from plastic bags to plastic containers to carpet to wooden rungs on the bottom of kitchen chairs.

If I scattered "dry, picked clean, sun bleached old bones" around my front yard at the base of trees, it would attract stray dogs. I'd bet money on it. A canine's sense of smell is at least 100 times more sensitive than a humans.

If I gave those same bones to my friend's dogs, they would chew on them. At least until they got bored. Whether or not the bone method works to repel deer, etc. is moot to me. I wouldn't use a method that would likely attract stray dogs to my property. Even if the dogs just came to investigate the bones but didn't hang around for more than 5 minutes, it would not be worth it to me.
Just MHO.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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listenstohorses wrote:
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, 


The part you use is the tar that collects in the bottom cauldron.  Calcium and iron are not volatile enough to collect in this in any great quantity.
 
Gwen Lynn
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Ok, still makes me wonder though. 
 
Jennifer Smith
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In this article it would be nice if you put some page breaks in so it fits on a page...too hard to read and I didn't finish...no time today for such work.  Love the thoughts though!
 
                                
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I noticed there was some back and forth on whether the rendered bones might attract animals. Just a thought on the possible mechanism. Maybe that is how this method works?..attracts animals.

Perhaps animals which like to nibble on plants might not like to associate with animals which are attracted by carrion. You spread an "attractant" on the tree and then along come dogs/rats/cats etc sniff around ...maybe pee in the area...this attracts more of them.....before you know it, you have turned your tree into the local carrion social gathering spot. I don't think this would be a social circle that the likes of deer would move in, no?

Anyway....anyone going to try this out?

Put it to the test?

All the best,

Thomas
 
Gwen Lynn
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That's a logical assumption...but...if you are keeping chickens, baby goats or perhaps have young children, etc. The question remains...do you really want to attract foxes, stray dogs, etc. to your property? Granted, they may already be attracted by the livestock.

 
Jennifer Smith
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I would give it a try, have plenty of bones around but not 2 iron kettles..anyone want to make some and share?  My dutch oven is even gone at this point, need to replace so much...
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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listenstohorses wrote:
I would give it a try, have plenty of bones around but not 2 iron kettles..anyone want to make some and share?  My dutch oven is even gone at this point, need to replace so much...


In that case, I bet two coffee cans would work, or two of whatever container can be found for free.

One note: the zinc or tin or polycarbonate on steel will generally evaporate when it is used like this.  Dry goods like coffee usually don't have plastic coatings in their cans, and most cans have a tin plating, which isn't toxic.  Plants can handle much more zinc than we can, so as long as you stay upwind of the fire, a galvanized container would work OK.
 
Leah Sattler
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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.


 
rose macaskie
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      If someone who seems to know a lot tells me something i try it. whether it seems logical or not. When i have tried it, then i can really back him up if it works .
  Sometimes, on something like this  I pass on th information anyway in case its usefull and people imagine i am sure of it. There is lots of information i pick up and hold in my memory waiting to see whether events will back it up or not. When i talk of it i forget to say i don't know sure fire if it works.
  My grandmother had thirty Frisian cows, a dairy farm and a really impressive garden, all her money went into hivign a garden and nice house her car was cheep and i only remember her going on holiday once and though she looke dsmart it was with few clothes. The cows walked past the garden on the way to the milking parlour twice a day, she said they used to get upset if she put dried blood, a fertiliser on the garden.
  I was out riding with her sister my great aunt and we rode past a spot were a heap of cows had been buried there had been a out break of what in england is called foot and mouth and they had had to be sacrificed. MY great aunt said the horses didnot like passing that way. This all backs up sepps statement.
    Maybe it would not provide enough real and renewed source of food for rats and dogs to make them really come . I often smell a fox in my garde, i like to have it if it wants to be there . I don't have hens though.

    Another bit of data, that maybe backs up Sepps statements. There was an animal behaviorist in germany who is disapproved of as having something to do with Nazis in the end  Conrad Lorenz,who says that if you have a rookery don't let them see you walk around with a black cloth, if  rook sees you with something black in your hands they decide you are a rook killer and they give warning cries everytime they see you from then on cries, that are learnt by the next generation and the next . Maybe if you put butchers potage round your tees the message that this is a butchers spot gets carried from generation to generation.
      If you have rooks and magpies and such, they may eat your tent worms, thought they  will also eat some of your baby song birds. It seems with animals you can't have everything, as happens wwith song birds they eat a lot of insects in spring but in summer they take some of grain crops and spoil fruit.
 
    I like all the people on the forum or i feel as if i do but if i have this much information stached away from having farming in the family, then i should think the others could come up with some positive bit of information to back up Sepps story too. Is everyone so in love with Paul Wheaton that they can't bare him to admire anyone else. This is sometimes nearly an anti permaculture sight. It is a bit mad to be crazy wild with admiration for others though if this admiration is for a harmless person like Sepp you obviously have good judgement but  it is also a bit mad to be crazy anti others with new ideas. Is new information an aggression against everyones cultural heritage, your heritage will get lost Sepp is an evil person evil who will strip you of your cultural heritage, ha,ha, or does everyone just like stirring up Paul Wheaton.

  An alternative method to saying i am a bloody butcher, though it probably depends on animals having received that message before.
      I saw a film in which a young woman, the protagonist, who was in a car with a young man, a friend, suddenly stopped the car, they were traveñling through a wood and ran into the wood and started to pee on different spots surprisingly gracefully and called on her companion to do the same, to his suprise. It turned out she had seen a deer trap and wanted to save the deer and she said that they don't like the smell of human pee and so she was peeing to warn off the deer. Sorry about the childish pee pee, ca ca, references, its just in farming, manure and such comes in so much that it is not really possible to talk about farming without endless reference to what Lady Muck, the writer of the book magic muck calls, "the proverbial". This reference is a bit different, still animals catching messages from marking territory is also a big bit of animal behavior. 
      Really it was nice she did not look too stupid doing it and it broke some of my inhibitions. Though some inhibitions are usefull others aren't, particularly and it is nice to shed them. agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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  Also i saw a documentary about how the cadaver of a bison changed and broke down in a year . foxes and such came to eat it untill the flies came and laid eggs in it, the  flies larvae make such a horrible smell that they reserve all the meat for themselves foxes and rats and such stop coming to eat it. I thought taht was interesting, so that horrible smell in dustbins is not so much meat rotting but maggots making a smell. agi rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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  It does seem when you think of the recipe that it must smell of burnt bones rather than of meat stock.
 
                                
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Just some comments on testing this idea out.

I think if someone is going to try this out, you need to stick as close to the original method as you can.

If Sep calls for cast iron cauldrons. Use cast iron. If the method half buries the bottom one you gotta measure it up and make very sure its exactly half buried...etc...etc... If you try making improvements on the process (a few come to mind immediately on the reflux/extraction setup) at the start, if it does not work, how will you know if its your improvements to blame or the original concept at fault?

Now....if your test works....the bone extract/gunk works, you can now have fun altering the process and make improvements (eg, get rid of the double cauldron and replace with a 50 gal steel drum with chicken wire screen, heat from the bottom, not the top). Test, modify, refine and retest.

Now...remember we are talking about experiments lasting years. Gotta keep written notes and compare notes with others working on this. What would help immensely with this sort of work, would be if someone knows of a local land owner who is putting in a new plantation. Ask if you could test out your formula on a patch of a few hundred loblollies. Mark of with tape, then set up your control plot nearby. Follow progress of the two plots, noting deer rub damage and over winter rodent damage...comparing control to Sep Formula treatment. I reckon even if you get good results in a single year it would be well worth setting up some additional experiments using a modified process.

If this really does work over multiple years, this would be a very useful technique in setting up plantations.

All the best,

Thomas
 
rose macaskie
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  How does he stop the boines from faslling into the lower pot?
 
Leah Sattler
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I think its a metal screen that keeps the bones in the top.

for my mind it is important to understand the nature of a solution. rather like wanting to know how a medication works in the body not just that it does work. if someone can't tell me how it works then a certain reservation is held about it. without knowledge of how it works it is difficult to foresee side affects and negative impacts. knowlege of how thing work is how whole new doors are opened up and things are made more effective, less expensive, or made with less effort and fewer negative aspects. if you understand that something for instance is a blood thinner and that is how its action helps some illness, you can then go out and find many other things that perform the same function only maybe better. 

so I disagree that if you try it the only way to try it is the exact method described only. certainly in addition to. trying it with differnent methods can help you extrapolate how it works not just that it works.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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tc20852 wrote:
few come to mind immediately on the reflux/extraction setup


I took this to be straightforward destructive distillation, precisely because it's upside-down from a reflux setup.

It would be very interesting to see if a reflux setup produces a similar result.

I agree in principle that optimum information would come from perfect replication and then modification, but someone here is willing to try it and doesn't have the right sort of cast iron.  Also, I would put the chances at about 10% that Sepp said "half" and meant "0.50" rather than saying something to convey a sense of "partway."
 
                                
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I suggest repeating the process exactly because if you do not and the product does not work as suggested you will not know if it is your changes to the process that caused the failure or whether the original process simply does not work.

Demonstrate the process works *then* modify to improve the process.

Believe me...it is the best strategy.

Yeah, the heat from the top is intriguing. Its not a simple reflux driven extraction, like a soxlet. Presumably by heating the top you are pyrolysing the bones plus doing it under low oxygen conditions. These are pretty unique conditions (...well....there was that duck soup I made once, and forgot to turn off...but thats another story...).

I would love to try it....I was even caught by the wife deep in thought looking at her prized stainless steel saucepans. She suspects something. Haha...imagine what would happen if I buried two of her pans under a raging bonfire!

Thomas
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