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Compost, Unwanted Wildlife, and Convincing Skeptics

 
Starr Brainard
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Hello. I have several family members with land that in theory are supportive of me practicing my permaculture technique on their land, but when I suggest design options are very resistent. The main reason for skepticism is fear of predators. The first question when I mention anything having to do with compost (pile, combined chicken ssytem, sheet mulch, you name it) is "What about bears/wolves?" The follow up question is about skunks and porcupines espeically with concern for our dog. Here are my questions for you all:

1.) In bear and wolf regions, how often do you have trouble with these predators, and what strategies have you used to avoid interaction with them?

2.) In these regions, how to you convince friends and family that your designs are safe even with the presence of predators?

3.) Could you refer me to any related posts? I'm certain this has been discussed before, and would love references to good converstations.

Thanks!
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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I'm not sure what exactly your trying to find out? If they aren't having problems now having a few chickens around isn't going to raise those chances much with Wolves or bears I wouldn't think, mind you I have none of those here. Anything you do that increases what an animal needs to survive will increase all animals to some degree, increasing soil fertility - increases plant life- increases insects- increases birds and mice - and so on and so on. Any system can and will run amuck if left un-managed, so your management will be one of many factors of your system and the interaction with the local wildlife.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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... how to you convince friends and family that compost is safe even with the presence of predators?


Even without predators, you'd have a hard time convincing me that compost is safe... Have you smelled that shit? Have you touched it? Have you looked at all the bugs it harbors? Ever got some in your mouth accidentally? My DNA screams at me that it's a disease waiting to happen... Compost doesn't seem like the kind of thing that primates should be playing around with. ---Shudders---

I visited a nursery the other day and the proprietor was mixing up some compost into potting soil. He was wearing a respirator. I agree with his assessment that compost is a hazard to human health.

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, I don't allow compost onto my property because I can't trust that it was made in a safe manner. I see what my friends and family flush down the toilet. I see the poisons that they spray on their lawns before sending the clippings to "green recycling". I see the poisons that are fed to the animals that make the manure which gets added to the compost. No way in the world that I am going to import compost onto my farm when it's provenance is so uncertain. One of my first rules of healthy living is "Don't poison myself".

I am handicapped by not having a good working understanding of what permaculture is, but hanging around permaculturists I often hear recommendations about using mulch/compost/etc: With no thought given to sourcing or transporting that organic material... If I am importing mulch onto one piece of ground, that means that I am mining a different piece of ground. One field is getting richer while others are getting poorer. On a macro scale I see that happening with the corn and soybean farmers in the mid-west who export their soil fertility to the dairy farmer's in Idaho. And how about all that equipment and labor to be moving mulch from one place to another? Does that fit in with permaculture principles? I can't answer that cause my working definition of permaculture is so vague, but at least I can pose the question. My long-term outlook is that mining the rest of the world to enrich my personal piece of land will not be sustainable. Is sustainability even a part of permaculture?

It seems to me like organic matter grown in situ is the way to sidestep the objections against mulch...

Predators that cause continuous problems are typically relocated or shot, or better fences are built to keep them out. Good fencing is pricey. I would think that keeping chickens would draw lots more predators than using mulch...

Dog gets into a porcupine you pull the barbs out. Sucks to be you. Sucks more to be the dog. Dog continuously gets into porcupine you shoot the dog. Really sucks to be you.

Skunks are no big deal, they're just stinky... Some dogs will get into a skunk once in a lifetime. Other dogs never learn their lesson.

At my place, I collect organic matter from far away by pruning the juniper trees up high enough so that the free range cattle want to use them for shade. They lounge around and drop lots of manure. That's a dual purpose activity, because I am also pruning as an anti-wildfire measure. Laying twigs and limbs on contour traps the organic matter that would otherwise wash away in rain storms. Swales would do the same.

 
Cristo Balete
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Starr, that's the beauty of a hugelkultur trench, everything composts in place, under soil, it's damp and very few critters are interested. If a compost pile is attracting rodents it's not wet enough and it's not being turned enough. Kitchen scraps will attract even large birds, who steal your stuff. So if you don't want to bury kitchen scraps, they should be composted in a tumbler somewhere where rodents and big critters can't get to them until they are broken down. I still think it's better to bury them with manure and weeds as you go, skip the tumbling step. Then there is only one thing to do, plant the shovel, lift it and throw them in, bury them. Takes maybe 15 seconds.

One thing to do is fence in the garden so it keeps the bigger predators out.

I've actually gotten rid of my compost pile, and do hugel pits, because I realized a lot of the great stuff in the pile was going into the soil under the pile and I was never using that ground. One of the best amended soils in my whole garden and I never planted anything there!!

I have shin-deep mowed weed mulch over everything, I don't have trouble with other critters. I use buckets half full of water with a fat hose draped over the top, the mice and voles fall in at night, they get composted, too.

The birds hang around in groups and kick at the mulch looking for bugs. It's as simple as I can make it, critters are not a problem.

Skunks and raccoons come for dog food and water bowls, so it's not just kitchen scraps that create a problem. But they eat snails and tear up ground hornet nests, get on the roof and rip open paper wasp nests, they are quite valuable.
 
Michael Bushman
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Starr Brainard wrote:e follow up question is about skunks and porcupines espeically with concern for our dog. Here are my questions for you all:

1.) In bear and wolf regions, how often do you have trouble with these predators, and what strategies have you used to keep them away from your compost?

2.) In these regions, how to you convince friends and family that compost is safe even with the presence of predators?

Thanks!


Your profile lists your location as Egypt, didn't know you had much of a bear and wolf problem?

If you have a bear and wolf problem, compost is the last thing they are after, your crops and your animals will be far more attractive, its like worrying about your coin collection but not your cash...
 
Jami McBride
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Hello Starr ~ Compost can be absolutely safe, and I wouldn't worry about germs or bugs as nature will take care of that as you stay out of the 'raw' piles Just make sure your compost has time, no new additions, and moisture to finish breaking down before you start using it. I kept my first compost bins inside my chicken area. The chickens would turn the top portion for me, it worked out well. They took first pickens and put back their manure as compensation.

Now I have my pallet compost bins just off the backyard, within the dogs 24/7 patrol grounds and have no predator issues at all. Not even rodents as this is the cats domain as well and just a few feet from the back porch. However when the cats and dog were house bound in our city-house - the bins in the backyard behind 4' high chain link fencing I still had no problems as I kept everything food related well buried. I did have raccoon, skunk and opossum troubles at this time - tearing up my lawn for grubs, eating my ducks eggs and fighting with the cats outside, but they did not mess with the compost. A dog on duty is a huge help in so many ways.

I do a lot of sheet mulching, composing in place, and deep litter in the chicken coop that becomes dark rich compost. So I'm not religious about typical composting. We humans have a tendency to micro-manage everything until it's a problem or a pain IMO. If I have food scraps I mix those in well in the middle, and because I add old hay bedding on top and sides no smell ever escapes. I water the compost as I water the plants in the yard so it is easy. And easy things we tend to stay on top of.

Make sure your bins are conveniently located for the people, plus water access in the summer to keep it moist. A nice pitchfork near by to open it up for additions, and grass clippings, chewed up leaves and/or straw in a tote bin make a easy and quick cover up for the top. During the winter I keep mine with a roof - two pallets leaning and covered. This way the nutrients stay in the slightly moist compost and do not leach away in heavy rain. Your weather impact will very and should be taken into consideration.

My only compost bin issue is the occasional rouge chicken or duck using it for their penthouse nesting suite.



 
Cristo Balete
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Maybe if we look at what is in compost and what compost becomes, which is concentrated high levels of bacteria, e. coli, (from manure) and fungi, jut to name a few, those are things that are deadly to human beings if we're not careful because they can cause serious lung problems, low-key and serious digestive problems, low-key and serious intestine problems. Plants need those things, humans do not. Our immune systems can handle some pretty decent amounts of these things. But we must always, like death and taxes, be respectful of bacteria. We shouldn't get it on our hands and eat a sandwich or a piece of fruit. We shouldn't rub our eyes or ears with hands that have handled compost. We shouldn't EVER get it airborne in an enclosed space and breathe it.

We shouldn't track it in the house. Did anybody see that TV series of the cleaning ladies in the UK who would go into houses that were a total mess and clean them up? At the end of the show they would take bacteria level readings and show the owner what they were living in, dangerous levels. One of the shows was a couple who had a farm and had geese and ducks and other farm animals, and were tracking dry mud and manure and wet mud and manure into the house, even though they were trying not to. Their levels of bacteria were off the charts.

I had never personally gotten sick from compost, per se, but one afternoon I spent several hours spreading thick mulch with compost inside a greenhouse, and there was white mold blowing around. I've been around compost and white mold outside for 30 years and never had a problem. I was aware it was there, I was trying not to disturb it. I'd go outside and get fresh air pretty often. That night I had one of the worst attacks of asthma-type struggling to breathe I've ever had. And I was being careful.

So, for anyone with a questionable immune system, small children, and older folks really need to be very careful around compost and moldy mulch. And while everyone else may get away with it for the most part, at some point if you get cocky about it, there is no guarantee what might happen.

Which is another argument for hugel trenches. Bury it, get it under the soil where the plants can take advantage of it, and it's not in risky levels around us,.
 
Julia Winter
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OK, I don't talk about the doctor thing much, but I feel a need here. Folks, I'm a doctor. I've been one for decades. I know a thing or two about what makes people sick. My patients are kids, so they even eat dirt sometimes. The kids who eat some dirt are probably healthier! I'm told when I was a baby, I ate earthworms. I called them 'sghetti. I made it to kindergarten, and beyond.

Compost is not dangerous.

Really.

Human waste, now that can be dangerous, particularly if someone was ill. Toxic gick, not good for you. Compost, the stuff that comes from breaking down moldy food scraps and weeds and wood chips and chicken poop - not dangerous. Kinda messy, but safe to handle. (OK, you might want to wash your hands after cleaning a chicken coop, before you eat a sandwich, but that's primarily salmonella, and it's not all that common in back yard birds.)

Bacteria are EVERYWHERE, and they should be. We have more bacterial DNA in our bodies than human DNA, and that's OK! (I think that's just because there are so many different species living all over the place, on and in us.) We have a different group of bacteria on our right hands versus our left hands, and don't get me started on the gut bacteria. There are only a few bacteria which are dangerous, and most of them only in certain situations.

You make compost because you want to develop a community of useful aerobic soil bacteria and other living organisms. Those are helpful to soils, and a terrific amendment to just spread on top of your soil, maybe under mulch. If your goal is to just to convert waste, burying it might be better, because then there will be less CO2 and nitrogen released into the air. In one of his podcasts, Paul points out that composting things greatly reduces their volume, because a fair amount is off-gassed. So, if your number one goal is carbon sequestration and avoiding the waste of compostable things going into the landfill (which is pretty tragic) then you can just dig a hole and bury your waste. I did that when I first moved in to my new place. However, if you have plants that you want to baby, making them some compost may be the thing to do. Maybe their increased growth will make up for the carbon lost in the process.

I think we need more information from the original poster about what his situation is, but I just had to reassure people that bacteria from compost, from soil, from walking around a farm, are not a problem. A strong theory (called the Hygiene Hypothesis) about allergies and autoimmune disorders is that they are increasing because we are not exposed to enough "friendly" bacteria, the sort you would find in good garden soil, or compost. Kids who live on a farm have less asthma than kids who live in the city.
 
Su Ba
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Based upon 39 years in the veterinary field, I have to agree with Julia that normal compost is not dangerous. Of course that assumes that one is not using toxic and inappropriate ingredients. I have been making and handling compost for decades. Simple commonsense says to wash one's hands before eating food, wear a dust mask if the compost is dry and dusty, take a shower when I'm done if I got really filthy.

I've made compost in a number of methods. Via thick mulches. Lasagna style gardening. Trenches between garden rows. Hugel-style trenches. And hot piles. I purposely introduce soil micro-organisms to my compost. I do not see any health issues with it. As for manures, I use common sense. I source animal manures from healthy animals. Simple as that.

If someone already has a compromised immune system, then perhaps gardening may not be a good hobby choice. They may wish to consult some doctors. Of course because of the fear of a malpractice suit, I suspect that the most likely recommendation will be to avoid gardening.
 
Scott Strough
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Starr Brainard wrote:Hello. I have several family members with land that in theory are supportive of me practicing my permaculture technique on their land, but when I suggest design options are very resistent. The main reason for skepticism is fear of predators. The first question when I mention anything having to do with compost (pile, combined chicken ssytem, sheet mulch, you name it) is "What about bears/wolves?" The follow up question is about skunks and porcupines espeically with concern for our dog.
First off your relatives seem to be all over the place. So the questions you asked, in the context they are posed, are really difficult to answer. But I will take a stab at it.



Starr Brainard wrote: Here are my questions for you all:

1.) In bear and wolf regions, how often do you have trouble with these predators, and what strategies have you used to avoid interaction with them?
I am not in a bear wolf area now. But I was years ago. I had no trouble with them at all. In fact the joke was we never saw a bear. Only bear butts (Yes, pun was intended) ......as they ran away as fast as they could run. I considered the moose, especially in rutting season, to be far more dangerous.

Starr Brainard wrote:2.) In these regions, how to you convince friends and family that your designs are safe even with the presence of predators?
I had no need. See above. However, if a bear or wolf has no fear of humans, the best bet is to give it a healthy fear. It's safer for both the humans and the predator. Bear pepper spray, shots fired in the air to scare it, etc... all can work. If they don't, call the local Game warden to have the animal removed. If the danger is extreme and present immediately, and the animal won't be scared away, shoot it. I know that sounds extreme to city folks, but nature isn't always pretty. You are actually doing nature and evolution a favor though, by weeding out the animals unfit for coexistence with humanity. Thus the animals that can learn boundaries will survive and breed, instead of the rogues. That is always the last resort though. Try everything else first. One thing most people don't quite understand is that by far the majority of cases where a predator becomes a problem, it was inadvertently trained to become a problem by naive people. It's the old "Don't feed the bears syndrome". If you feed the bears, they become hungry every time they see humans. A bear that becomes hungry every time it sees humans, may one day decide to eat a human. But if every time a bear sees humans shots are fired, or pepper spray is used, or other loud noises and unpleasant things, then every time a bear even smells humans, they go the other direction. thus the "bear butts" see above.

When it comes to chickens and other stock, the best bet is to remember technology, and especially electricity, is your friend. Proper use of electric fencing will allow you to scare the predators away before they ever learn to associate you, your homestead, or your stock as a food source. (even if you are not there at the time) Portable solar powered electric fencing being the best option for a permaculturalist.

The last thing I want to mention is this. Most permies would welcome predators ... to solve the mice skunk etc... pest problems. We actually want the predators around, just not attacking our domestic animals or us. So it is good to give them a portion of land as habitat where you don't molest them. The smart ones will learn incredibly quickly what the boundaries are. If you are doing your job as a permie correctly, then dangerous rogues should be incredibly rare.

Starr Brainard wrote:3.) Could you refer me to any related posts? I'm certain this has been discussed before, and would love references to good converstations.

Thanks!
I suggest you look up Allan Savory's Holistic management for predator friendly stock advise, or Joel Salatin's Poly Face Farm.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Thank you, Julia and Su. If digging around in the dirt were really dangerous , I suppose that would have put a stop to agriculture millennia ago, before it got much traction.

Our sense of smell serves to protect us from substances that harbor dangerous amounts of bad bacteria. The smell of rotting flesh stops people in their tracks. We have a natural revulsion to the smell of human waste and to that of the feces of predator species. We are less revulsed by the manure of herbivores. As these things break down, they become less dangerous and the smell improves. Eventually, it smells like healthy soil, and our noses tell us that all is well.
 
Cristo Balete
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Julia, I understand what you are saying, and I did say that our immune systems can handle a good amount of it. But dirt is not compost. I hope you are not saying eating compost would be like eating dirt.

A lot of organic gardeners and permies are using manure, too. Often raw manure from their own animals. How can we know how people are handling these substances? How can we know how much gets tracked into a house and smeared on clothing? We have no idea about their tropical conditions, their heat conditions, whether the piles are aerobic or anaerobic. Even Su Ba is saying wash carefully and wear a mask.

And what about people who's immune systems just can't handle above-normal levels of those things? People with asthma, children who do pick up dirt could easily pick up compost with manure and rotting kitchen scraps.

I still say we need to be aware of what is actually in compost, what could possible happen (not that it will), and don't assume that bacteria is not going to affect us
 
Julia Winter
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I'm not worried about kids and compost. I trust their senses, to tell them what is edible/touchable. OK, not babies, they must be considered suicidal at all times.

Mold, particularly mold in mulch, can really make you feel bad if you have sensitive lungs or nasal allergies. My husband can't tolerate mold, that's what led me to discover how helpful a HEPA air filter can be. Cristo, I'm pretty sure when you felt bad after working with moldy dusty mulch and compost inside a greenhouse, that it wasn't from bacteria. Greenhouses are a special circumstance, due to (possible) lack of air circulation.

But anyway, the original question was about compost attracting predators. If you pile up yummy food scraps 100 feet from your house, sure, I can imagine bears coming to check it out. Keeping bears away is a multi step process, as Scott explained so nicely. You want systems and redundancies.

Raccoons are more likely, less dangerous (except to chickens) but far more likely. Again, multi layered plans are best. I use 1) perimeter fence on the property line 2) fence within the fence (for the chickens) 3) compost tumbler is inside the chicken pen and up off the ground, also made of metal and latched shut 4) as a redundancy, there is a motion sensing light on the chicken hutch
 
Cristo Balete
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I guess my approach when we have a forum like this that has off-grid people, composting toilet people, people with farm animals who are dealing with fresh manure, people who make very large piles of compost made from rotting kitchen scraps, manure and moldy straw and weeds (turning it when it's wet and unfinished, flipping it onto themselves, sometimes even giant piles for heating water or heating a greenhouse), is to consider the lifestyles of these extraordinary people. These are not your backyard urban gardeners. They are the most likely group to be reading these responses. They live in situations that are much more rustic, much larger in scale than a backyard gardener, and much more often exposed to high levels of bacteria, e. coli in particular, in anearobic situations.

And these people seem to think it's a pretty important issue:

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/05/researchers-find-pathogens-in-compost/

"Analysis of recycled organic matter composts produced a wide range of fecal coliform results for all regions. In Washington, 23 percent of samples exceeded the EPA 503 limit. Only one sample was positive for Salmonella. Although the difference was not significant, composts listing manure were generally lower in fecal coliform count than those not listing manure. Fifty-five percent of samples of bulk compost products exceeded the EPA limit."

------------

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016816051200133X

" Four treatments, Contaminated Compost, surface and sprinkle irrigation with contaminated water and uninoculated pots, were used in this work. Contaminated compost was applied to soil in the pots before lettuce was transplanted"

"Contamination of lettuce plants in the field can occur through both Contaminated Composted Manure and irrigation water and persist for several months."

" Transfer of E. coli O157:H7 from soil and irrigation water occurred during pre-harvest. ► E. coli O157:H7 survived on leaves’ surface after sprinkle irrigation. ► The pathogen survived during 9 WEEKS in soil exposed to environmental conditions."

---------------

https://woodsend.org/store/survival-of-e-coli-and-salmonella-in-compost/

"Survival of E. coli and Salmonella in Compost"

a classic by Drs. Droffner and Brinton

"A scientific report on survival traits of E. coli and Salmonella under differing compost conditions. The wastes which were composted included biosolids from waste water treatment plants and biowastes (food scraps and yardwaste). It was observed that Salmonella and E.coli survived for 59 DAYS at about 60 degree Celsius in Industrial Compost."

published in International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine
 
Scott Strough
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Cristo,
Don't forget, when you said, "And these people seem to think it's a pretty important issue:" please don't forget the context.

That science done by those people are using factory farming manure from the industrial CAFO system, municipal waste, and things along that line. Of course that is dangerous. I don't need fancy scientific studies to tell me all products derived from factory farmed animals (both the food and the manure) are a festering disease source. If anything, they are probably underplaying the danger. The whole business model is disgusting on every level.

Now the question is this, what about a permie making compost on the land he farms? What about that closed loop where nasty contaminants from off farm are limited?

That's completely different. Lets start with E. coli O157:H7. That is 100% unequivocally a disease that didn't even exist before animals were confined in stockyards, fed unnatural diets, and living in their own filth. Anyone who knows anything about biology knows diseases don't just spontaneously become resistant to antibiotics unless antibiotics are used! Subtherapeutic antibiotics put in the animals feed started this. Then of course that strain also developed resistance to higher acidic rumen environments....why? Corn fed beef causes the animals rumens to stay at lower Ph than grassfed. (high acid = low Ph) What permie homesteader raises his animals in CAFOs? This is an alternative! Same goes for the antibiotic resistant Salmonella and other pathogens. They are a result of the industrial model, not the permaculture model.

If a permie wants to compost, go for it! If a permie wants to integrate animal and vegetable production, go for it. But just understand that if you are a backyard gardener, or a pseudo-organic farmer, just playing at permaculture and using outside inputs, be very very very careful where those inputs come from. Otherwise you might accidently import the nasties from the industrial model.
 
Cristo Balete
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Scott, I'd like to quote myself one more time, just to be clear, because I am not saying don't compost. I am saying let's, please, just be aware of what could be in it, what is in it, what the biology is. Be respectful of bacteria.

That's all I'm saying.

Cristo said: Our immune systems can handle some pretty decent amounts of these things. But we must always, like death and taxes, be respectful of bacteria. We shouldn't get it on our hands and eat a sandwich or a piece of fruit. We shouldn't rub our eyes or ears with hands that have handled compost. We shouldn't EVER get it airborne in an enclosed space and breathe it.


Only one of those links was industrial compost. That's why I included it, because -- and I'm not sure of the percentage -- I see people mentioning how they love free compost when their city or county gives it away or sells it cheap. We don't know who is reading this, and there's enough people out there getting it from their community source that it matters that they question/be aware of what they may be getting.

I have access to frmaee nure from a dairy farm, the exact circumstance of that article. I see huge trucks coming to get free loads for nurseries, they bag it under their nursery names, and sell it. They are common names for bagged soil amendments.

Here's another link that everyone, even one's own perfect organic healthy animals, will produce, and that's Legionella infection, Legionnaire's Disease.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2440183/Dangerous-bacteria-present-compost.html

"compost has been linked to human Legionella infection"

A friend of mine got this from unloading raw manure from the back of a pickup truck and got it airborne. It's not going to happen to everyone, but we need to know that we are not exempt from the biology of what we come in contact with.

I'm just saying, Let's Be Aware, and let's be careful
 
Cristo Balete
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This is a good article by Colorado State University on sources of E. coli O157:H7 and other problematic things in compost, and even soil, to be aware of. We are 30+ years away from 1982 when E. coli O157:H7 was first found, and it has spread.

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09369.html

"E. coli O157:H7 is most prevalent in ruminants in general and in cattle in particular (both beef and dairy). Other known carriers include BIRDS, INSECTS and SQUIRRELS. While the bacteria do not appear to make these animals sick, the animals carry and shed the bacteria in their feces. Drinking and recreational water have been carriers in several outbreaks, most likely from fecal contamination by infected animals or people"

"Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium botulinum and Bacillus cereus are naturally present in some soils. Their presence on fresh produce is not uncommon. Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter jejuni, Vibrio cholerae, parasites and viruses can contaminate produce through raw or improperly composted manure, irrigation water containing untreated sewage or manure, and contaminated wash water. Contact with mammals, reptiles, fowl, insects and unpasteurized animal products are other sources of contamination.....Salmonella on apples, lettuce, cantaloupe and sprouts; Listeria monocytogenes on cabbage and cantaloupe; Shigella on parsley and lettuce; and Cyclospora on imported raspberries."

Notice the "imported". Even though we grow a lot of our own food, we still buy food grown elsewhere, and in this globally connected world things have changed.

"Home composting of manure is riskier than commercial composting due to lower temperatures, greater temperature variability in the compost pile, smaller compost volumes, and inadequate temperature monitoring. Home composting plant materials alone (without manure) avoids potential pathogen problems."


Permaculture promotes the use of very thick mulch of mowed grass and weeds, that can put a thick barrier between us and whatever is in or on our soil.
 
Julia Winter
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Cristo Balete wrote:
Permaculture promotes the use of very thick mulch of mowed grass and weeds, that can put a thick barrier between us and whatever is in or on our soil.


I'm sorry, but the impression this gives of fearing what's in the soil just bothers me. I'm sure that wasn't your point, that you just want people to exercise caution with compost, because it might have evil bacteria in it. A fine point; it might. I will still allow my 9 yr old to work with our home compost, without hesitation or fear.

E. coli O157:H7 is a version of e. coli that is resistant to stomach acid and it messes with our immune system (increasing the chance of hemolytic uremic syndrome and hemorrhagic enteritis, to be specific). This makes it dangerous in our bodies. It's not a super bug that will out-compete all the thousands of other species in a compost pile, and you generally need a certain number to be ingested in order to lead to infection.

The chance of picking up an infection from soil, is really, really small. I don't think any sort of e. coli lasts all that long in normal, aerobic soil. [. . . goes to internet to search "e. coli persistence in soil". . . ] Yes, although it can persist, typically it's gone within a week. Soil is not where e.coli lives - it is a gut bacteria. OK, before we start a link war: have scientists found it persisting in soil for long periods of time? Yes, they have, but I would hazard a guess that these are not permaculture soils, or even "backyard" soils, but sad, sad abused agricultural soils where the normal soil food web has been disrupted.

As in most things, the key to success is diversity. If your soil is healthy it will have a diversity of organisms, and this ecosystem will not favor the human gut pathogens. The vast majority of soils are safe to eat. Yes, I said eat. If I had more time (and internet skillz) I would post a video of myself wandering out to a hugelkultur bed and eating a small spoonful of dirt from it.

Gritty, but not dangerous.
 
Alex Veidel
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Another thing to consider is that these bacteria are maybe dangerous in isolation, however they are usually out-competed by other the microorganisms found in compost. IMHO, having children handle compost could be improving their health, rather than risking it, by giving them the access to microorganisms they need for a healthy body microbiome

Your body NEEDS bacteria, so let's make sure we respect that side of it too.
 
Todd Parr
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I think permaculture is absolutely the wrong endeavor for people that are afraid of soil, compost, or getting dirty. This in particular bothers me: "Permaculture promotes the use of very thick mulch of mowed grass and weeds, that can put a thick barrier between us and whatever is in or on our soil." I can assure you that, with all the many great reasons for using mulch, protecting ourselves from the components of soil is one I have never heard anyone advocate. How on earth would you plant anything if you are afraid of soil?

In answer to the OP, I think your life will be much better if you just do your own thing and don't try to convince anyone else
 
Scott Strough
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There are approximately 1700 beneficial micro-organisms in healthy soil for every potential pathogen species. If you restore ecosystem health, particularly soil health, the pathogens don't stand a chance. In fact, the really nasty pathogens that have developed antibiotic resistance or acid resistance do even worse than their less dangerous counterparts. Those resistances come at a cost. They evolved in our industrial factory farming agriculture environment and they are actually less likely to survive in a healthy ecosystem because of that fact.

Since the primary purpose of permaculture is to restore ecosystem health and produce food fiber etc... at the same time, you will generally find significant disdain at anything designed to make factory farming so called "safer". They made their mess, let them make regulations for themselves. They don't apply to us at all. Our model of agriculture is vastly safer than the "safest most scientifically advanced" factory farming model by orders of magnitude. For example, their "pasteurised homogenised" milk is vastly more unsafe than our raw milk. Doesn't mean we should ignore good hygiene practises. You still have to do that. But equal apple vs apple comparisons, permaculture food is far safer and more nutritious across the board.

Where people run into problems is in the transition period. There is a period of time when converting from a conventional model of agriculture to a permaculture model that pathogens from the old conventional models are still present. That's when you need to be extra careful. Some people say you need at least 3 years, some say you need 5 years. I think it varies widely. In my opinion it might even take decades to properly restore ecosystem health in some cases.

In my opinion we are not really safe until we see observable signs our ecosystems are 100% functioning. That means careful observation and testing are needed.
 
elle sagenev
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You could say I compost in place. I throw whatever scraps I have out to the chickens in random places and leave whatever the chickens don't eat in place. I admit, this is because I'm lazy.

I think I'm of the opinion that everything starts with water. I'd skip the compost discussion and begin a water harvesting one.

We have various predators in the area. In fact a few years ago wild fires drove cougars off the mountains and they were eating horses. I've lost ducks to coyotes and lots of birds to great horned owls. I still let mine free roam. I don't know if I'll ever pen them up. I like having them wandering around too much and they reproduce enough to replace the eaten. So I guess the predator concern isn't a huge concern for me. Predators happen. We've had our dogs skunked. We make sure they get rabies shots. Not much else. Or fence the dog. We have ours fenced to an acre. Solves most problems.
 
Cristo Balete
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Julia, I really respect your career. I have a friend who is an emergency room physician, I've been in on the whole school path to that point. Being a doctor is no small feat

But I don't imagine you farm, or have farm animals who give you the raw stuff. A lot of people here do. I do. We are hauling truckloads of *&&^%, we are shoveling it in the wind, the heat, the rain where it runs in streams around us. We are walking in it, we are tracking it everywhere. We get it on our gloves and we rub our eyes, nose and mouths with it unknowingly. I come in contact with brown stuff, green stuff, white stuff, and oddly enough, orange stuff daily. I come in contact with a pond that is a circulating cesspool of animal droppings. Big bird *%^$, bat &^%$, histoplasmosis is here. It's a whole different world where it's rural and producing food in an organic setting -- a permaculture setting. The amounts of stuff a lot of us on this forum come in contact with are huge. We are covering acres in ^%$# and compost.

And for the most part I do fine, we all do fine. Except sometimes we get cocky, we think because it hasn't happened to us so far, it won't happen in the future. "My place is special, it won't happen to me." Well, that's dangerous thinking. Mother Nature has taken me out a few times.

This is not your regular gardening forum. That is a big part of the permaculture puzzle, animals/plants/soil...observe nature and do it that way.

As I've said before, this is not about fear, this is about understanding the process of raw stuff to usable stuff -- because plants need it -- and humans don't. Plants need what humans can't survive in. And we are giving it to them in amounts that are dense so the plants have every advantage.

Honestly, there is nothing to fear if you know what's in that stuff in that pile, and you stay downwind from it, you wash your hands, you keep it outside as much as possible. That's all I'm saying


 
Julia Winter
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No cows, no pigs, but we do have chickens. They help us with our composting.

I choose to work with the natural micro-organisms without fearing them. Everybody needs to do what makes them happy and what works for them.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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We are hauling truckloads of *&&^%, we are shoveling it in the wind, the heat, the rain where it runs in streams around us. We are walking in it, we are tracking it everywhere. We get it on our gloves and we rub our eyes, nose and mouths with it unknowingly. I come in contact with brown stuff, green stuff, white stuff, and oddly enough, orange stuff daily. I come in contact with a pond that is a circulating cesspool of animal droppings. Big bird *%^$, bat &^%$, histoplasmosis is here. It's a whole different world where it's rural and producing food in an organic setting -- a permaculture setting. The amounts of stuff a lot of us on this forum come in contact with are huge. We are covering acres in ^%$# and compost.


hau Cristo,

I am just wondering why you are doing so much moving of *%^$ on a permaculture setting. I though the whole idea set of permaculture was to imitate nature, not imitate an industrial agriculture system, perhaps I am wrong.
I have some friends that are following our methodology and they/ we do not spend any time shoveling poo, we don't go walking through a whole pasture, paddock, or field, we use paths that we know well and we look in front of where we are walking, so we tend to avoid stepping in poo.

It is always good to have a bit of a dose of paranoia, but this should fit the circumstances at hand. IE: If you are on a motorcycle, you should think everyone is out to get you, because they are, but if you don't go ahead and ride because of the fear, you miss the whole point of motorcycling.
While it is good to be aware of things that could be a problem, it is not always a good thing to spread fear, in many circles that might be thought of as terrorism. In Vietnam, I had one set of orders "INSTILL FEAR IN THE ENEMY", I did this very well, it was my job as a member of Naval Special Warfare Command.
Now that I am in civilian life, that method, of course is unacceptable, though sometimes it appears to be appropriate, it is always unacceptable for peaceful living in home country.

On my permaculture homestead farm, we holistic pasture our animals, their feces stays where it falls until they step on it and push it into the ground, or it melts into the pasture via rain.
Our Lasagna method composts in place not in a heap. we do have some heaps but they get so hot (180 degrees f) that not many pathogens can survive if any.
The finished compost is sweet, not stinky and it crumbles with out creating much dust at all. The commercial products are not something that a follower of permaculture would willingly purchase more than once (at initial start up).

While I can agree with your concerns, they are not all encompassing nor are they that prevalent in the real world of permaculture. Just like Tilling soil for a mono culture planting, it is just not normal for permaculture practicing people.
Of course we are not trying to earn monies from our farm, just feed ourselves and that is a different situation than someone trying to make a living at farming, to a point. But then the USDA has a standard for Organic, and not for Permaculture.

All I'm trying to point out is that while it is good to bring up points of concern, it might not be a good idea to state them in a manner that could put off newcomers to the methods of permaculture by instilling fears that may not be warranted.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I love this thread, and the diversity of opinions expressed in it... I still haven't been convinced that compost is safe... I've been negatively impacted too many times by compost piles (respiratory problems or skin infections), or tossed my cookies when working with compost. I'm not convinced that composting fully neutralizes the components of the original plants that cause allergic reactions. I follow Ella's strategy of throwing organic matter on the ground, and letting nature deal with it. I'm a primate. Therefore I think that compost and manure are offensive to my biology.

Around here, manure gets concentrated into truckload sized piles by milking in barns, and by feeding/sheltering animals during the winter, or giving them water during the summer... If those piles of manure were not removed and spread out over the rest of the farm then the barns and fences near the feeding/sheltering areas would eventually be buried. I know that there are people that tromp out into a field, and milk the cow wherever she happens to be, but I think of them as fair-weather milkers... Not people that live in areas where snow can get many feet deep and stay for 6 months.

I don't yet have a good working definition of 'permaculture', and don't know if milking cows or storing hay for the winter, or overwintering chickens in snow country could be included in a working definition of permaculture. People in my village have been growing the same crops and animals in the same fields since we arrived here 154 years ago. Does that qualify us for permaculture status? Some of the fields around here have been planted into alfalfa or grass for as long as I can remember. Does that qualify for permaculture status?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I totally get your point Joseph, I grew up coming back for summers on my grandparents dairy farm. The things I really took notice of (besides learning quickly that when the cow's tail goes up move sideways quickly) was that the big hose was our friend. We washed down the milking stalls four times a day and all that mess went into a giant septic tank (I think) then it was pumped out once a week by a huge truck. I didn't know where that stuff went from there. Our pastures however, were never touched except to open the gate for the cows to come into the barn or leave the barn for the pasture. That soil was simply awesome. I remembered those lessons when I went into soil biology in college. While at university I was indoctrinated into the "Modern Methodology" but I always questioned the soundness of the thinking. It just seemed to me that if Mother Nature didn't need to turn over the dirt, add chemicals to replace what that turning had killed just to plant a crop, then why didn't we do it the way mother nature did it. My ways of thinking of building soil so it could grow what we needed just by planting seeds without the need to turn the soil eventually costs me my last agriculture job which was with the USDA.

The way I see it, if you pose one question to 100 people you will most likely get 100, different, though possibly related, answers. Each one will be correct to the person that did the answering.

To me, permaculture is imitation of mother nature, doing things the same way she does them, just putting different seeds into the soil than she would. I do not disturb my soil anymore than is absolutely necessary, I don't make compost in heaps for putting into soil, I make it for chickens to scratch through for bugs and other tidbits that they like to eat. It just happens that those particular bugs and tidbits love to live in composting materials.

Our pasture(currently being eaten and fed by Guinea Hogs) gets many seeds added to it when the hogs are moved elsewhere to eat and feed another part of pasture, this helps with diversity of plants and those take from the soil and also give back to the soil when they are eaten and the hogs leave their droppings.
Buzzard's Roost is trying to follow the great circle of life that has been going on since the beginning time and will go on till the end time. That to me is what permaculture is, Us being the good stewards of the land and helping mother nature along with her own methods. Not using artificial means to the end.

When man invented the plow, he started down the path of artificial farming, prior to that he gathered the seeds that he ate and they were good for him and nourished his body and soul. Now we grow things that might be killing us or at the least making us obese and sickly all under the guise of the idea that it is necessary so the whole world can be fed. What was wrong with each group of people working with the land so they could continue feeding themselves?

Companies like Monsanto seem to me to be the Wal-Mart's of the agriculture world, how many little stores has Wal-Mart put out of business, stores that sold "made in America" products. Now all we seem to buy says "Made in China, or Mexico, or Japan, or Taiwan or some other country other than the USA. These products don't last as long or they contain poisonous things like lead, all done in the name of profits.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Starr Brainard wrote, as the OP
Hello. I have several family members with land that in theory are supportive of me practicing my permaculture technique on their land, but when I suggest design options are very resistent. The main reason for skepticism is fear of predators. The first question when I mention anything having to do with compost (pile, combined chicken ssytem, sheet mulch, you name it) is "What about bears/wolves?" The follow up question is about skunks and porcupines espeically with concern for our dog. Here are my questions for you all:

1.) In bear and wolf regions, how often do you have trouble with these predators, and what strategies have you used to avoid interaction with them?

2.) In these regions, how to you convince friends and family that your designs are safe even with the presence of predators?

3.) Could you refer me to any related posts? I'm certain this has been discussed before, and would love references to good converstations.

Thanks!



In Bear and Wolf regions, you will have trouble with these predators if you do the things that attract them.
Large predators are very interested in the most calories for the least amount of effort possible, this is what allows them to survive.

Bears also have taste buds, our garbage is like a diner heaven to them, they will seek it out because of this one reason, not because it is particularly nutritious to them.
Keeping your garbage locked up is a key to not having roaming bears.
In composting this would be putting that sort of additive deep within the compost heap where those smells will not go wafting over the air.

Wolves are not garbage eaters, they will however go after small pets usually because that pet tried to tell the wolf that it was not welcome (barking their fool heads off).
One does not annoy a creature than can kill you with one good bite. (I like to think of it as the Bad, Bad Leroy Brown syndrome)
Wolves will usually go for bigger prey than something the size of a chicken, foxes love chicken, wolves love goats or pigs or other large animal
Fencing that is at least 7 feet tall, with hot wires at top and bottom will discourage their trying to get at your animals.
Wolves are not well known for digging for garbage.

People that say they support your movement into permaculture but then resist all your ideas are most likely not as they say they are.
Skunks will come and go with out your ever knowing they have been there, unless you have a dog, usually these little critters are not after chickens as much as they are after that easy meal like all wild animals.
Of all the "chicken predators" it is the weasel, fox, lynx and Raccoon that are the most troublesome. Electric fencing is your friend and their foe, use it in large doses to teach them to stay away.

OF all of these animals, only the skunk would find your compost heap a desirable treat to dig in.
 
Cristo Balete
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Hi, Bryant. I'm shoveling the stuff because my neighbors love animals and don't know what to do with it all. I think free (*&^ haul your own, is a pretty common commodity on these forums.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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