When we think of garden pests, we typically envision smaller animals, something between insect size and raccoon size.
Deer may wander into the situation as well. But, when a huge bear ambles into the garden, the stakes get notably higher.
Bears, especially black bears, can be garden pests.
They love to orchards and berry patches, and they are known to enjoy sweet root vegetables like carrots and beets.
Corn is another favorite. And, once they find a good food source, they are apt to return for multiple visits.
Of course, a 400-pound bear can decimate a crop quickly, so it’s best to play the preventative game with bears in the garden.
That said, there are a few things we can do if they do show up. It’s a lot about understanding what bears do and don’t like.
1. Be Careful with the Garbage
Garbage cans are often the first thing that’ll attract a bear into a garden area. They can smell rotting food, especially fatty foods like meat. In addition to being big and strong, they are very dexterous and lift lids or rip gates open.
If bears are a known risk, it might be worth double-bagging garbage before putting it in the outdoor can. Ideally, minimizing trash production to rarely needing to take the trash out very often will help to keep bears out of the garden and help the planet.
2. Clean up Outdoor Cookers
Another outside item that commonly attracts bears is the barbecue pit. We get excited because the cooking is done and it’s time to eat. We forget to clean it up, and the next thing we know a bear is making a mess of that sweet new cooker. The same can be said for any outdoor cooking implement, such as pizza ovens or fryers.
If bears are in the general area, it’s important to clean those cookers and get them put away. While bears have similar eyesight and hearing to humans, their sniffers are multiple times more powerful than a dog’s nose.
3. Be Aware of Fertilizers & Feeders
While most vegans aren’t apt to use fertilizers made of dead animals such as bone meal, blood meal, and fish emulsion, others need to realize that these fertilizers can put out aromas that are attractive to bears. While black bears subsist largely on plant food, they are omnivores and are into easy meals. The smell of these fertilizers can attract them to the garden.
Furthermore, they love fatty seeds and will not hesitate to climb a tree or onto a balcony to access a birdfeeder. It might be worth not feeding the birds if it means attracting bears to the garden.
4. Keep Orchards Clean
Serious gardens that get into food forests, fruit and nut orchards, and/or berry patches put bears right in their element. These behemoths love sweets and fats, and wild fruits, berries, and nuts are where they find them naturally. While bears are clever enough to steer clear of people, they don’t differentiate between fruit grown for them versus fruit grown for people.
This is why it’s really important to keep orchards cleaned up by taking all of the fallen fruit out of the space before the odors attract hungry bears.
5. Use Loud Noises
If black bears are coming around, and especially if they are being bold and showing up at times when you see them, creating really loud noises can make them skedaddle. It’s probably worth getting an air horn or something similar, but in a pinch, a pot and a spoon can make a mighty impressive racket.
Note: This is an effective way to deal with black bears, but it’s worth thinking twice about the more aggressive grizzlies and brown bears. They are much more dangerous to encounter.
6. Try Motion Sensor Sprinklers
Black bears are considered primarily crepuscular feeders, preferring to find food are twilight, but they are also opportunistic eaters that’ll dine whenever possible. Because they fear humans, this means they are likely to visit the garden at night when loud noises might disturb neighbors, and the bear themselves will probably go undetected until morning.
Motion sensor sprinklers can help chase them off. The sudden, somewhat noisy kickstart of a sprinkler and blast of water will often send a bear running.
7. Put up Electric Fencing (Avoid This Option if Possible)
In all honesty, electric fencing can be an effective deterrent to bears, but it’s menacing. It’s a tad scary to have around as a human susceptible to shocks, and while it isn’t a massive pain for the bear, the shocks do hurt them, just as they do us. A proper bear-proofing electric fence needs to have 5,000 volts. Ouch!
However, if a bear is a persistent visitor and is stalking around a neighbor creating a potential hazard, it might be the most humane option. No one wants a bear to be euthanized, but it does happen regularly. Hence, if an electric fence might save their life…
The other option for a bear who insists on returning to your garden and hanging too close to be safe is to contact authorities that can help to capture and relocate the animal. It’s not a great option, but it might keep both people and the bear out of dangerous situations.
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This article by Jonathon Engels was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 15 August 2023.