Digging In

Little House in the Woods pt.1
by Zachary Brecheisen -- January 10th, 2014

As I’ve mentioned briefly in previous posts, I recently bought a home here in Durham located right on the edge of the Duke Homestead forest and have been doing my best to get settled in whenever my crazy schedule allows me a little spare time. Being a good environmentalist, I like to recycle or compost as much as possible so as to reduce my impact on the world. This necessitated digging a simple compost pit in my backyard, turning it in regularly to maintain oxygen levels for creepy crawlies and microorganisms to break down all the carbon-based materials, and keeping a nice upper layer of pine needles for aesthetics (though not a good idea to stir them in due to their very low C:N). I’d done this before at my house back in Las Cruces, NM with a great degree of success, and figured it would be equally straightforward. There is one major difference here however: FOREST! Forests and trees aren’t really something I’m used to, though I love them with all my heart and see myself happily slipping into forest ecology.

Forests come stocked with forest critters and I shortly began seeing my compost pile strewn all about and was very flustered by it. A postdoc friend of mine in biomedical engineering serendipitously had a camera trap that he had used to spy on his mischievous dogs in days gone by and sold it to me at a great price. I captured what I believed to be the main culprit on film shortly thereafter: coyotes! Check out the video link below the photo 🙂 PRMS0321
Coyote Camera-Trapped(video)
I had some fencing lying around from an ongoing garden renovation project and used a section of it to cover the compost, this time putting the pine needles on top of the fencing and weighing it down with long poles and stones. Again, I set my camera trap to test the efficacy of my plan!
Voila! It worked! I saw videos of frustrated coyotes coming, testing the compost pile and leaving frustrated. As I clicked through the video files however, a new menace was on the scene! Raccoons! A whole fleet of the little bandits! Check out the video link below the photo 🙂 I saw neat little holes dug through the pine needle layer, through the gaps in the fencing where dexterous little raccoon hands had been grasping and reaching for goodies.
Raccoon watchdog
Fleet of Raccoons!(video)
The raccoons don’t cause nearly the mess the coyotes did however and I’m content with my coyote proof setup so long as the little guys in masks don’t make too much of a mess. I’m a sucker for a cute little raccoon family!


  1. Sarah Loftus
    Sarah Loftus
    Jan 10, 2014

    I love the videos, Zach! Good luck with your compost!

    • Zachary Brecheisen
      Zachary Brecheisen
      Jan 21, 2014

      Thanks! A camera trap is certainly one of the funnest outdoor gizmos I’ve ever had 🙂

  2. Anne
    Jan 13, 2014

    Hi Zach,
    I live in Hurdle Mills and I have 6 acres and we have the same troubles w/ coyotes and racoons! They are pretty privilent around here!?! I must say that I witnessed something Saturday night that I found amazing! Our new cat, Marie, was outside on the porch playing with a young baby possum!! The possum wasn’t trying to hurt her and they were playing and rolling around with each other having a great time. I put some toys on the back porch (which doesn’t go the full length of the house but almost-and they actually shared them. I consider possums wild animals but this little critter was very dossile. It was so cute. I wish I could have found my camera earlier but by the time I did, it had scampered back into the woods and Marie was scratching on the door wanting back inside.

    Wanted you to know how much I enjoy your articles! Keep up the good work!! We’re so glad to have you part of our community here at NSOE!!!

    • Zachary Brecheisen
      Zachary Brecheisen
      Jan 21, 2014

      Haha, that’s awesome! I think I’ve heard a similar story about baby possums being sweet like that, though the adult ones are certainly not something I’d want to cuddle with!

      And thanks! I’m really loving being here, I couldn’t imagine a better place.

  3. Emma
    Jan 16, 2014

    Whoa! Great videos and a great post! Good luck with the composting!

    • Zachary Brecheisen
      Zachary Brecheisen
      Jan 21, 2014

      Thanks! The compost is churning along slowly with the moisture and cold weather, but come spring & summer time, I expect it will speed up quite a bit.

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