Prepare, Sustain, Thrive and Survive Simply

Bear Visits Off-Grid Camp

Arugula in a planter at off-grid campOne of the first things I do when arriving at a primitive off-grid camp during growing season is to sow some seeds in planters. This serves two purposes beyond producing fresh greens to eat.

Where water is scarce, I pour gray water into the planters rather than dump it onto the ground. If you want to try this, I recommend you first read the pros and cons at You should also understand how cleaning agents in dishwater affect soil PH and mineral content.

What To Do With Kitchen Scraps in Off-Grid Camp?

But this is about the second purpose. I also use the planters to collect (non-animal) kitchen scraps. I put the scraps in the planters because I don’t want to waste them, but I don’t want to start a compost pile that will invite unwanted critters into camp. This is an experiment and it has worked out so far. However, as I bury the scraps in the dirt, I often wonder if and when an animal will discover them.

I am careful about what I put into the containers, going largely by intuition and bits and pieces of gardening wisdom I have gleaned. For example, I don’t worry much about adding onion and garlic scraps because I read that onion and garlic sprays are used to deter garden insects. After making tea from fresh herbs, I bury the leaves. I’ve added orange peels, but only before cutting them into tiny pieces. Same with the tough part of broccoli stalks.

I cover the food scraps with a layer of dirt. The organic matter is beneficial for building humus. It also provides time release moisture to the roots of the plants I will grow. I also have a little pile of composted steer manure I got at the store, and put a few scoops of that in the planters.

Might a Bear Get Into the Planters?

When camped in bear territory, a question goes through my mind while doing all this: Does anything I’m doing help deter a bear, for example, from getting into my planters? Does the steer manure or dish water have any effect? Does a few inches of soil on top of the scraps block odors to any appreciable degree? How about when I sprinkle in some ashes from the fire? Does the blanket of seedlings make a difference? I really doubt it. But so far, my primitive waste collection/ growing operation has not been molested by anything. Why not?

This Camper Attracts Wild Animals

A fellow sojourner retreats to the camp on occasion. I have observed, though not scientifically, that she attracts wildlife. During her last brief visit, deer strolled by regularly, and one day a doe chased a coyote through camp at breakneck speed. She also tends to draw bears in.

Shortly after arriving at camp she asked what to do with her fruit and vegetable scraps. I gave her a planter with a few inches of soil at the bottom and suggested she cut the scraps up and keep them covered with dirt. Well, it was working for me. I noticed her technique varied from mine. Instead of burying the scraps, she had mixed them into the soil so they were coated with dirt, but some were on or near the surface. It looked like there were some carrot and celery pieces in there. There were also cut up banana peels. I’ve never added banana peels because I always had a feeling they’d be critter bait, and it looks maybe I was right.

The day she departed, she mentioned the planter and told me to keep it going. She’d left it near some trees about 50 yards from my camp. I briefly thought about dealing with her planter, like bringing it to my camp to ensure everything was buried to my satisfaction. But I was also curious what would happen if I just left it there. I didn’t have to wait long.

Bear Visits Camp

The first thing I noticed the following morning was that a 55-gallon drum we’d set up to capture rainwater was knocked over and lying in the road. Big wind while I was asleep?  Then I glanced over to where the planter had been. It was gone. I Bear digs hole in off-grid campwandered over there, just a few bear bounds away from my own camp, to see if the planter was lying behind a bush. All I found was a little pile of dirt with food scraps on the ground and a pretty big hole next to where the planter had stood.

I deduced this was the work of a bear, as there is one known to live nearby. He pretty much minds his own business, except when this woman is around. She had mentioned several times that she’d heard bear grunting and snorting at night. I suspected it was her imagination, since I’d never seen any sign or tracks in camp. Here was some evidence.

I found it interesting that the bear, who had been grunting around at night, waited until she had broken camp to rummage through her planter. In the past, I’ve broken my own camp and left the planters with the scraps there, but nothing touched them. Now that the bear knows my little trick, will he be back to investigate my growing operation? Will he do it while I’m here or wait until I’m gone?

The Rest of the Story

I wondered why the bear dug that hole. The next time I spoke with the woman, she confessed she had buried some leftover bean soup, about a foot down, next to the food scrap collection planter.  The bear was probably drawn in by the smell of the soup, and decided to check out the planter while he was at it. His next moves remain to be seen.

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