I just finished watching Mark's latest video


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In the video he showed how burying a small animal that has passed away in your garden bed will help fill the bed, fertilise the soil, and most importantly break down to nothing but a few bones. I can confirm that burying a small animal carcass such as a chicken or duck in rich well drained soil like in Mark's raised beds will indeed break down to bones within a few months, especially in a warm climate with regular watering.

Why would people bury an animal carcass in their veggie garden? Well Mark gives some good reasons in his video, and I'll add another one here: when one of our pets dies, we have to do something with it, and a lot of people want to bury their pets in their yard, often in their gardens, so why not in the veggie garden? There's nothing wrong with putting your beloved pet in the veggie garden, you could even name the garden bed after the pet, put a sign or special stone or statue on it or whatever, and turn it into a living memorial. Just remember that in a veggie garden, you're eventually going to need to do some digging, so I'm here now writing this to save people from uncovering any unexpected horrors if they go burying something larger than a chicken in their veggie patch.

First of all, in the video Mark dug up the remains of a duck which had turned to nothing but bones, and he only found a few of the larger ones, and that is most of what anyone other than a forensic scientist, archaeologist, or strange person like myself would find. But it's fairly safe to say that many of the smaller bones are still there, they're just so small and being a bird also quite fragile that Mark wouldn't have found them without knowing exactly what he was looking for and he would have needed to use a sieve and water bath to find them. It's a bit like panning for gold. And the part that he thought looked like a foot, not a foot, I didn't get a great look at it but I suspect it's part what is more commonly known as the hip bones, or pelvis, of the bird. But seeing him have a go, I was impressed. Most people aren't willing to get in and dig up things like that to see what is there, least of all show the rest of the world. Good on you Mark, it's not an easy thing to do and you did well. I'm proud of you.

How do I know these things? The answer is that taxidermy is one of my stranger hobbies. Before anyone jumps to conclusions here, let me say that there's different branches of taxidermy. Most people are familiar with the preserving and stuffing of animal skins to recreate what the animal looked like in life. Another branch of it is wet specimens, preserving animals and organs in jars of preserving fluid. Then there's skeletal articulation, which involves retrieving the bones of the animal, cleaning them and putting them back together to form a skeleton, and skull collecting. Skull, bone, and skeleton collecting is a hobby and interest for more people than most of the population is aware of, and I'm one of them. Very scientifically oriented, we usually keep quiet about it because we can get some rather negative reactions from people about it, given that it involves dead things and all. But I digress, this interest comes with knowledge that people will want to know - even through they aren't aware of it yet - if they're going to be disposing of animal carcasses in their vegetable garden beds, or any other garden bed that they may one day have to dig in.

First of all, what depth to bury them. The larger the animal, the deeper it needs to be, otherwise the smell will leech out of the soil, it'll stink, and even if we can't smell it, it will attract living animals that feed on dead bodies that can. This will attract dogs, foxes, cats, and other large predators depending on what you have living in your area, that will want to dig up your garden bed, and in Mark's video, his dog gave a good example of this. It will also attract flies, ants, and beetles in droves, and you'll end up with a garden bed full of creepy crawlies that you wouldn't normally find. The insects won't do the garden any harm, if anything it'll do it good, but you probably don't want to be inadvertently planting your seedlings into a pile of wriggly maggots or dermestid beetle larvae, as most people find that sort of thing really creepy. Not to mention, the smell is not nice at all.

So how deep exactly? Well that all depends on the type of soil. If you're burying it in the ground, you need to know what type of ground you've got. If it's solid clay, you can get away with having a slightly more shallow grave. If it's sandy, it needs to be deeper. If it's rich and fertile like in Mark's raised garden beds, it'll decay quite well and the depths that I will recommend here are best. Generally speaking, in the sort of rich living soil that should be found in a good veggie garden, you need to dig down to a minimum of around 1 foot, or 30cms, for small light weight animals like small chickens, small rabbits, guinea pigs, etc. For animals around the size and weight of a large chicken or duck, small dog, cat, large rabbit, or goose, you want to go about 2.5 feet, or 75cms, deep. For a medium to large dog, lamb, goat kid, or the like, about 4 feet deep should be enough. For very large dogs, adult sheep, goats, or your mother in law; you're looking at a depth of around 5-6 feet, or 1.5 to 1.8m. So sorry folks, burying your mother in law in the raised garden bed is ill advised unless your bed is huge and as tall as you are. With a raised bed, if it was long and wide enough, you could get away with burying a larger animal in the ground more shallow and make up for the lack of depth by putting a raised garden bed or a large enough mound of soil on top of it. It's all about how much soil is around and on top of the animal to stop the smell of the decay from rising out to haunt you, so if you can't dig down, consider building up.

What about digging them up later if you need to move the garden bed or whatever? I can tell you now, you don't want to do that until the animal is decayed down to bare bones, I'll explain why in a few more paragraphs. Again, the larger the animal, the longer it will take to break down, and depending on the soil type and other conditions, the faster or slower it will break down. In a full on solid clay that receives little water, it can take decades or more. A good rich alive veggie garden soil is what will break it down the fastest, but something like a goat or very large dog will still take at least a year or two, possibly more depending on the weather and water. Warmth, like in a tropical or subtropical area, or during a hot summer, will speed up the process, as will regular watering. In a cold climate, throughout winter, or in dry area, it will take longer.

One big thing that you do not want to do is wrap the animal in a synthetic material, such as polyester or any kind of plastic, before burial. If you want to wrap the animal up before burial, use a 100% natural fibre cloth such as cotton, hessian/burlap, wool, or silk. Synthetics will not break down well and will greatly slow the process of decay, but natural fibres will break down with the animal carcass.

If you want to make sure that you don't accidently uncover an animal too soon whilst digging around in search of potatoes or the like, you can mark exactly where the animal is by placing some hardwood planks over the top of it. The wood will decay and the plants will still get their nutrients from the animal, and it won't stop the animal from decaying, but it will take longer for the wood to break down than it will for the animal. So by the time you can dig through the wood, the animal will well and truly be nothing but bones.

Once an animal has decayed to the point where only bones are left, it will still have a bit of a smell to it, but it will be easily ignorable. Before then, whist there are still fleshy bits - unless you're used to working with the smell of death and decay - digging up an animal too soon will likely result in you heaving the last things you ate and drank into the hole on top of the animal's remains. This is because of two chemicals, putrescine and cadaverine, are formed by the decaying process, and we're biologically programmed to be strongly deterred by them via our sense of smell. They will eventually pass away into the soil and join with other things to form other compounds and chemicals if given enough time, hence why by the time the carcass is just bones, the smell is pretty much gone. Cadaverine is toxic to us, but not to plants, so just make sure you wash all the soil off your root veggies properly before eating them if you're going to plant them in the garden with animal carcasses or other meat products before those things are fully decayed. Also, if you're going to be digging around in there with your hands, wear gloves or make sure you wash your hands properly with soap afterwards.

On a related topic, if you want to turn an animal carcass or meat products into garden fertilizer much faster, you can use a method call maceration. It'll still take a few months depending on the temperature and the size of the animal, and it will take a little bit of work on your part, but it's a lot faster than burial and it gives you a fertiliser you can use in almost any part of the garden. You'll need a water tight container with a clampable lid, preferably one that you can drain via a tap at the bottom, but you will need a small air hole in the top to stop it from expanding and bursting. The container needs to be about twice the size of the animal or larger. The warmer the water is, the faster the decay process will occur, 28 degrees C is ideal if you have some heat cord and a power supply laying around and really want to get this project going at full speed. Put the animal/meat into the container, fill with water, and leave it outside in the sun away from animals that would want to get into it, away from your house and away from your neighbours, as this is a stinky process - though it's not too bad with the lid on, it's not so great with the lid off. The flesh will gradually dissolve into a stinky liquid that can be poured out and used as a liquid fertiliser. Leave it for at least a few days before taking any liquid from it, and then drain and use about half of the liquid in the container every few days. If you ignore it and leave it to rot for a few weeks or more, when you pour the liquid out it will be black and the smell will strong and bad enough be vomit inducing, so keep up with the draining and water refreshing if you can. I wouldn't recommend using it on root veggies, or spraying it directly onto plants, but you can pour it directly into the soil and your plants will love you for it. After pouring it into the soil, water it down to get it deeper into the soil and that will greatly reduce the smell. As you empty liquid out of the container, top it up with fresh water. Eventually the death soup as we call it in the hobby will be clear and no longer particularly smelly. Once it's in that state, drain it all out and you should find nothing but a pile of relatively clean bones in the bottom of your container, and maybe also some residual fur or feathers. What to do with the bones? Well, if you leave them out in the sun to dry for a while in a container where the little pieces won't go missing, you can potentially sell them to people that are into collecting bones and skeletons - so long as it's not a native animal or CITES listed.

So, now you have the ins and outs of using deceased animals to fertilise your veggie gardens - or any other garden for that matter - hopefully without accidently uncovering any horrors in the process now that you know what to expect.