Should I grow berries at my cabin?


Fresh berries make just about every meal better.  Especially up at the cabin where their fresh, juicy flavor is so refreshing after a day of adventure.

But planting berries at the cabin may put you and others around your cabin in some danger if you’re not prepared.  The reason is that berries make of one of the staples of a bear’s diet.  So if your cabin is located anywhere in bear territory, you’ll want to be careful where you plant berries near your cabin and how you approach those berries to harvest them.

Berries Attract Bears

Bears, like most wildlife, will tend to stay away from human-occupied areas.  They can hear you and smell you and for the same reason you don’t want to confront one of them, they’d rather not confront you.  But some things—like readily available food—will attract bears to places they might not otherwise go.

Bears eat a lot of berries, especially in the spring.  When they come out of hibernation, one of the primary foods they look for is last year’s berries.  That’s why I recommend in this article to remove wild berries from the area immediately around your cabin.  You don’t need bears looking for their first spring meal right outside your door.

During the summer, while berries aren’t yet ripe, bears tend to eat a lot more insects.  They dig into ant mounds and forage for food wherever they can.  This is also a time when they can be particularly dangerous as some of their other food sources are also more scarce.  If you’ve planted a nice ever-bearing berry by your cabin that’s producing fruit well before wild berries are ripe, you may find yourself attracting a lot of bears.

Later in the summer when all the wild berries are also ripe, the berries around your cabin may not attract as much wildlife.

In the fall or autumn bears start to look for foods they can take with them into their dens for the long winter.  These tend to be foods like nuts and tubers that won’t spoil during the winter.

You see, bears don’t truly hibernate.  They go into a sort of extended sleep and relaxation mode where their metabolism slows down a little, but not as much as animals that truly hibernate.  So because they still use a lot of energy throughout the winter, they’ll spend the fall gathering food to take inside.

However, some late-ripening berries are still on the menu at this point since bears are also looking to put on a lot of fat in preparation for the winter.

Bears commonly eat natural berries like currants, gooseberries, grouseberries, cranberries, pin cherries, choke cherries, elderberries, honeysuckle, huckleberries, mountain ash, bilberries, blueberries, salmonberries, blackberries, wild raspberries, wild strawberries, and buffaloberries.

So bears have a lot of natural berries to choose from, so they shouldn’t care about your berries right?  Wrong!  What this big list of berries should tell you is that bears aren’t very picky.

But Lots of Other Things Attract Bears Too

So now that I’ve completely scared you away from planting any berries anywhere near your cabin, I want to point out that berries aren’t the only bear attractant.  In fact, many others are just as bad.  The point isn’t that you should not plant berries at your cabin, it’s that you need to be careful.  More on that in a bit.

But first, here are a few other things that often attract bears that you may have right outside your cabin.

Citronella

That’s right.  The stuff that’s in all sorts of bug repelling outdoor candles and Tiki torch oils may be great for keeping the mosquitoes and other pesky bugs away while you’re eating outside, but that smell actually attracts bears.  But remember, bears will do their best to avoid you if they can.  It’s just that if they’re hungry they might be willing to risk confronting you if they think they’ll get a good meal out of it.

Garbage

Every time you go to the cabin, you’re going to generate some garbage.  It’s tough to avoid.  But that rotten smell that leftovers get a day or two after being thrown in the trash bin is really likely to attract bears and other scavenging animals.  While berries might be a nice meal for a bear if they find them, a bear can probably smell your trash from a mile away.  So when it comes to waste bins, make sure you pick on with a lid that closes on nice and tight and keeps the smell in.

Compost

If you’re growing a garden at the cabin, compost might seem like a good addition.  But the smell that compost makes when it’s breaking down is also an attractant for bears.  So if you’re going to make compost at the cabin, make sure you do it a ways away from where people generally are.

Other Plants

Various herbs and grass-like plants can also be really attractive to bears.  Specifically herbs like cow parsnip, horsetail, sorrel, and most vetches as well as grasses like northern brome, sedges, tufted hair grass, and trisetum.

So it’s actually really tough to not have anything that attracts bears anywhere near your cabin.  You can try, and minimizing attractants is good practice if you don’t want bears around, but in the end there will probably be something on your property that could attract bears.

My point isn’t to scare you into staying out of the mountains.  Quite the opposite.  I just want to point out that bears and other wildlife are just a part of nature and if you’re careful, you can enjoy nature in its fullest.

Tips for Keeping the Bears and Other Wildlife Away from Your Berries

Alright, so now what?  How do we still enjoy our berries while avoiding attracting lots of bears.

First, if you are going to have berries—or really fruit of any kind—planted on your property, I highly recommend that in the fall you collect any unharvested berries and dispose of them.  That includes ones that fell to the ground.  Just rake them up, put them in a trash bag, and get them off the property.  If you want to compost them, then put them in your compost area far away from the cabin and other areas where people spend most of their time.

By cleaning up the unharvested fruit in the fall, you’ll be far less likely to attract bears in those spring months when they’re foraging for last year’s berries.

That brings me to my next point.  My recommendation is to keep your berries, just like your compost, a ways away from the cabin.  You may not be able to (or want to) plant them a mile away and I’m not suggesting you have to.  Just don’t put them right outside the back door.  You want to minimize the likelihood of accidentally stumbling on a bear and you can do that by placing those bear-attracting plants and compost in a place where you don’t go all the time.

When it is time to go check out your berries—or your compost for that matter—make sure you make plenty of noise while walking over to the area that might have bears.  Most wildlife is as fearful of you as you can possibly be of it.  So if you make plenty of noise while making your way through the woods, odds are you’ll see a lot less wildlife, but odds are you’ll be a lot safe.  The worst thing you can do is surprise a bear or mountain lion.

Along those lines, I also recommend you carry a high pitched whistle.  Not necessarily an ultrasonic dog whistle.  Just an ordinary whistle that make a loud, piercing sound that carries a ways.  If you just give it a blow every so often on your way to the berries you reduce the odds of sneaking up on a bear.

Lastly, if you’re going to plant a crop that’s literally a staple of a bear’s diet, then you should be thoroughly prepared to run into a bear.  So when you do head over to the berry patch, always carry a can of bear pepper spray.  Again, in most cases a bear isn’t going to want to confront you.  But if over the winter the bear made a home near your berries, you may be encroaching on its safe space.

For more tips on wildlife safety, you can read all about how to stay safe in the wild and what to do if you come across dangerous animals in this article here.

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