The Hard Lessons

This is one of those posts I’m loathe to publish because it highlights a failure on our part. Although it is embarrassing, it is part of “our journey” and the never-ending learning curve, so hopefully someone else out there reading about our experience will not make the same mistake we did.

One of the permaculturists we admire is an Austrian by the name of Sepp Holzer. He is rather outspoken and quite knowledgeable – a self-taught” permaculturalist. We have one of his books in our library, Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture,  in which he discusses a home-brewed deer repellent he calls “bone sauce”. We brewed up a batch and blogged about it here last year as our fruit trees were being heavily munched by deer. The book describes it rather vaguely but it gets discussed ALOT on so we read through countless discussions to make sure we had the recipe and procedures down before we proceeded to whip up a batch.

I’m sad to report that the trees have not been doing so well. At first we didn’t attribute it to the bone sauce, but then read someone else’s later account on that if you applied it too late during the dormant season you could end up burning the emerging buds and so we thought maybe we had cut it too close on the timing.  When later in the year several of the apple trees had mushrooms growing out of their trunks, we knew something had gone very, very wrong.

Out of fourteen fruit trees we applied the bone sauce to at least five or six are dead and several others have a lot of dead branches. There is a glimmer of hope though as they appear to have new growth. Only time (and pruning) will tell if they are going to come out of it okay.


While recently listening to a Permaculture Voices podcast interview with Zach Weiss, (a permaculture consultant in Montana who works closely with Sepp Holzer) we learned that you definitely DO NOT paint it all over the trees or you will kill them. He advised that you “get your Jackson Pollock on” and just splatter a bit with a paint brush.

WHOA! What? We never read anywhere that a little dab will do ya.  We are not blaming anyone but ourselves for wondering how to apply it and just assuming you paint the whole trunk with it. Talk about a hard lesson, a bitter pill, sour grapes…. Blerg! Not only are we out a lot of trees, but now we have lost three years of growing time. Ouch!

If it wasn’t so painful for me, you’d see a picture of one of the poor, mushroom-encased dead trees in this space. The caption would read “Another example of why more is not always better”.

Another new piece of information [to us] was shared by Weiss in the podcast – use raw bones as it is the marrow that makes the sauce work. When we wrote our previous post we were under the impression cooked bones were better… Apparently more thorough  research needs to be done before attempting bone sauce in the future. I read today that someone else did share this information on, but noted it was posted several months after we had concocted our bone sauce.

Just goes to show you that you don’t know what you don’t know. The curse of the newbie…






About La Femme Farmer

Starting up a small farm is the goal for the second half of my life. It's a late start I know, but better late than NEVER! Growing food, cooking and eating are my passions and now I get to do it full-time (and then some). and yes, that's a tomato from my garden!
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7 Responses to The Hard Lessons

  1. farmerkhaiti says:

    I too love the Sepp! His enthusiasm is contagious and his spirit of just DO IT speaks to my heart. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but I thank you for sharing your experience- this is very valueable for permaculture. Everything with permaculture is new and innovative, but it’s ancient knowledge in the works and it’ll take lots of failures to learn. And every region is so different which complicates matters, there is no simple formula. Also, I believe that attempting to work with and mimick nature, being a human, we are the odd one in the mix, and so this too will add much time to the learning curve. It’s sucks that you lost so many of your trees in the process though, I am so sorry. Just curious, do you think it would feel better to have had the deer kill them instead of the bone sauce? Anyways keep on rockin’ it!

  2. Thanks for that farmerkhaiti! You are so right – we need to share information- the good, the bad and the ugly. Your question made me laugh out aloud and my knee jerk reaction was that the answer would be an emphatic YES! But truth be told, if the deer had killed them I’d be kicking myself for not getting fencing up…
    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. As the guy who carefully brushed it on… it makes me feel less competent. I don’t mind failing as long as we learn from it. The scale of failing however is the issue. When in doubt try something at a small scale test it as a model and then proceed. I still blush and feel a little sick when I see those trees though.

  4. Bill says:

    Ouch. Sorry this happened to y’all. It doesn’t seem like you did anything wrong here. You got advice from a respected source and you followed it. I would’ve done the same thing (and believe me I’ve done much much worse than that). It’s just one of those things… May it be the worst thing that happens on your place this year.

    Maybe those trees will bounce back. I hope so.

    It’s hard to keep deer from killing young fruit trees. They not only eat them, but bucks like to scrape their horns on them, and that kills them too. We put wire around ours–sections of woven wire fence as a cage around the young tree. Left them around them until the trees were established (about 7 years). But there isn’t any foolproof method in my experience.

    • Thanks Bill. Yep, it could always be worse. 😌 Fencing the new trees is a top priority especially because we just dropped a chunk of change to buy replacements. Since the trees are planted out on a pretty steep berm about 280′ long above a swale, we are going to run hot wire around the whole thing and use a solar charger.

  5. I read this one a month ago, and just got back to it now – blogging has just been low on the list the last little while. Wow that was a hard lesson learned. I hate when they’re big and expensive like that. But I guess, when it hits where it hurts, that when we learn the most quickly. I’ve had these kinds of lessons too, and often because someone very experienced has glossed over the small but important details that are so obvious to them through long practice, but to which I am oblivious through my inexperience.And at least it was trees and not livestock. I remember in a post-natal gathering of the pre-natal class we attended for our first baby, one of the new moms asked how long we had to keep cleaning out the baby’s eyes with rubbing alchohol, because her baby didn’t seem to like it too much!!!! She’d misinterpreted some instructions about washing the baby’s eyes in her earnestness to do it exactly right. Poor baby! No harm fortunately, but it must have been so painful.

  6. OMG! That poor baby! And the poor mom – how terrible she must have felt when she found out her mistake!
    I probably overdo it when I share information on how to do something. It probably drives most people crazy because I also try to plan for every contingency – just in case!

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