Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Bear Invasion, Round 2

When I saw a bear lumber across our small private lane two weeks ago--in broad daylight and just a couple hundred yards from our house--I didn’t think much of it. Only to remind myself not to take walks by myself at dusk!

It certainly wasn’t news that we have bears in the neighborhood—there’s enough bear scat dotting our little road to prove they’re close by. But yesterday, John and I had a big wake-up call.

At breakfast, I gazed into the yard, and noticed the rotting cedar stump next to our Tsugaru apple tree. (It’s been in our yard since the beginning, because it was way too big to remove by hand—the only way we can get rid of stumps around here.) I actually used the stump as a stool, to climb on for picking and pruning.)

But today, the stump looked different—chunks of wood were strewn around it. “I guess that stump is finally falling apart,” I said to John. Once again, I didn’t think much of it.

I was weeding the asparagus bed—sadly pulling out loads of pretty little violas that had completely taken over the whole patch—when John called from our south orchard. “We had a visitor last night.” He sounded a little…odd.

“A deer?” I called back. In our fourteen years on Berryridge Farm, we’d had deer worm their way into the yard, but only a handful of times. 

“Not a deer,” said John, exasperation in his voice.

I clambered to my feet, climbed over our rabbit fencing, and joined him. “Look at this!” John showed me his French prune plum, which had been dripping with fruit just the day before. “They stripped the entire tree!”

“A bear,” I said, resigned.

“A bear,” said John. “It’s a good thing I picked a few plums the other day.” The bear hadn’t permanently damaged the tree, but one of the main boughs was bent way over. Interestingly, the plum tree was right next to a weak spot in the deer fence where the bear had obviously gotten in.

Bear crashes down fence
Inspecting the rest of the orchard, we saw the bear had really made the rounds. The Italian prune plum, right next to the French plum, had been hit too. Although the fruit was not quite ripe, it was mostly gone, a few half-eaten purple plums littering the ground. Half a dozen Williams Pride apples had bites in them, and bits of crabapple were scattered beneath that tree as well.

Bear vs Stump, Stump Loses
 As for the stump, upon closer inspection, it was clear the stump was definitely not falling apart on its own. The center was full of little holes, indicating grubs and ants lived there, and the bear had torn away chunks of stump to get at the goodies inside.
Bear's way of saying "Hi, just dropped by for a visit!"

“Come see this,” said John, a short distance away. The bear had left a very large, and unmistakable calling card. If you needed hard proof a bear had done all this damage, here it was.

I harvested the rest of the Williams Pride crop, though it probably could have used a few more days of ripening, and tossed the damaged apples into the compost. John started a repair of the weak spot in the fence, and spent the evening putting in some reinforcing posts and re-wiring any gaps together. We went inside for the night, figuring we’d solved the problem.

Bear rustles crabapple into submission

This morning, a new sight greeted our eyes. Our flourishing, bushy crabapple tree, near the William’s Pride apple, was a shadow of its former self. Boughs lay all over the ground, the crop decimated. John went outside immediately, and saw the bear had found a second way into our yard, through another weak place in the fencing. The weak spot was right next to the crabapple.

A bear had gotten into our north orchard 3 years ago, and had eaten every last apple off the Florina apple tree. And had nearly broken the tree apart. Then, as now, the animal had gotten in through some wobbly fencing. In the north orchard, instead of simply repairing that portion of the fence, John replaced the entire side with new posts and steer wire. Since then, we had no problems.

That is, until now, in an area with—yep, you guessed it—a stretch of jerry-rigged fencing.

Moral of the story: we’d protected our place very effectively from the deer—which are lazier critters. They’ve already got plenty of browsing available to nibble on, and if a food source is easy to get, they’ll go for it. If not, they’ll simply move on.

Bears, we are learning with this second invasion, are definitely not nibblers. They’ll eat an entire treeful of fruit in one sitting. Also, they’ll work a little harder to at what they want, especially if there’s a quantity of food as a reward: like this portion of our orchard in harvest season, with 6 trees full of fruit. All they need to do is find a weak fence, using their vast bulk to push under it, over it or through it, and voila! A feast!

John will be spending this afternoon not shoring up this second spot in the fence, but installing brand new steer wire, and I’ll be picking up damaged crabapples and broken boughs. With 7 more apples trees currently laden with fruit around our place—hundreds of apples that need a couple more weeks of ripening—you can bet we’ll be checking our fence often.

As for our dinner plans tonight…we were going to grill hamburgers outdoors. Now, the last thing we want is to attract the bear with the aroma of roasting meat in the yard, so we’ll be cooking inside! 

Photos and captions by John Browne... Find more of our adventures with bears in my Little Farm books!