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Composting in Black Bear Country  RSS feed

 
Posts: 64
Location: Big Bay, U.P. of Michigan
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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
 
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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
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Location: Sierra Nevadas, CA 6400'
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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.
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My second night composting in trash-bear country
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Sharp teeth
 
gardener
Posts: 2279
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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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: 64
Location: Big Bay, U.P. of Michigan
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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
 
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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!
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
Posts: 94
Location: Yukon Territory, Canada. Zone 1a
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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.
 
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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
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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. 
 
pollinator
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Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Never had them bother compost. They did destroy 3 beehives though. Electric fence solved that.
 
Tom Gauthier
Posts: 64
Location: Big Bay, U.P. of Michigan
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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
 
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