In my previous post, I spoke about composting, a very popular topic among gardeners who wish to recycle, save and be good stewards of resources. Its also a great way to fertilize organically.
Besides the common stuff, we also compost fresh caught fish scraps when we have them (we do a little fishing) and the odd dead bird, snake, toad or squirrel. There is much debate on whether animal materials should be composted, or even of they can be composted. But state highway departments across the nation are experimenting with composting the many thousands of deer carcasses they remove from the roads each year. Some, as seen in a video I link below, have systematized it and process hundreds of deer very efficiently. And if you paid attention in history class, you know the natives showed the Pilgrim settlers how to fertilize with fish and animal scrap. Animals make rich, fertile compost. In fact, fish emulsion that I wrote about recently is little more than liquid compost.
The problem with animal composting is that it stinks, and it is slow. You will likely have bones left over. If you can bury an animal deep enough in a standard compost pile, you can mitigate the smell problem, but don’t turn that pile for a few weeks! If you live where there are racoons, opossums, coyotes, skunks, stray cats and dogs or other roaming vermin, animal composting will attract them and they will make a mess of your pile. It is best to compost animals in a place inaccessible to such critters. Some people dig composting pits for such materials and bury the smelly organics, leaving it until the following year to exhume. Some folks compost in place, burying carcasses and animal scraps under gardens that are fallow or in areas where future gardens are planned. The goal is to keep the smell from attracting other critters and to give the carcass ample time to break down.
I am currently experimenting with composting a half dozen squirrels that were culled from the local population. These raiders were fond of my bean seeds and dug up some of them, so as pests I had no problem culling them, cute as they may be. These animals are about the largest I would compost in a suburban environment (“love thy neighbor” means not stinking up the neighborhood!) The squirrel carcasses were placed in the center of a small wire lawn clipping bin, buried under 12 inches or so of grass with a bit of peat pot remains. After a couple of days, there is a slight odor when passing by the compost, but its localized. After a week, the carcases are about halfway decomposed. Given three weeks in a hot, active pile and there would only be large bones left.
Steve Solomon, in his book Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, speaks of the value of road kill and animal carcasses, so I’m putting that to the test. No need to waste free fertilizer when you find it. Dead birds, rodents, fish, frogs and toads are the ideal size for the backyard gardener.
Composting whole animals is different than attempting to compost meaty, fatty food scraps, cooked meats and the like. These are really not a good idea to put into your compost. It is far better to use a whole animal or the non-meat remains after processing the animal for food because the diversity of bacteria will help break down the whole mass. Chicken offal and farm animal waste would be ideal for a compost pit on the local small family farm, but for the suburban backyard gardener, there should be little concern for tossing occasional small animal carcasses in a working compost pile.
I will continue to update on the progress of my composting efforts as time goes by. Remember, I’m not after speedy turnaround, this is a slow-paced garden. In the mean time, here are some links with pertinent information on the subject.