Garden Q&A: Handle deer droppings with care
Question: I have a problem and hope that you can help me. My sizable flower garden has deer droppings all through the beds. There are huge piles in some instances.
I cannot possibly remove them. Can I just hoe them into the soil like fertilizer? Is there any health issue connected with this?
I wear gloves all the time, but I also transplant a lot of perennials and move them around. Any input?
Answer: This is a very good question. The biggest potential problem you face in having so many deer droppings in your garden is the potential for the transmission of E. coli and chronic wasting disease (CWD), a deer and elk disease similar to mad cow disease.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website notes that CWD has been detected in several Pennsylvania locations since it was first found in the state in 2012.
After a bit of investigating, I discovered that the jury is still out on whether and how chronic wasting disease can be transmitted to humans.
That being said, both the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website and the Center for Disease Control’s website note that there’s no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans. But they do not recommend eating meat from a deer that has tested positive for CWD.
From what I found, fecal-to-oral transmission from deer to humans has not been completely ruled out, meaning the disease could possibly be transmitted to a human if she were to touch contaminated deer excrement and then inadvertently introduce it into her mouth, but no cases of this type of transmission have ever been recorded.
So what does that mean for gardeners? In my mind, it means “better safe than sorry.” Handle deer waste as you would any animal waste — with extreme care.
Use gloves when working in the garden and try to remove as much waste as possible, using a shovel to bury it elsewhere, if possible. Scoop it out of the garden very carefully, and certainly do not allow it to come into contact with any edibles. Do not use the contaminated “manure shovel” for any other tasks.
Even if CWD is not transmissible to humans via contact with fecal matter, E.coli is.
Deer carry dangerous strains of E. coli in their guts. Because of this, deer waste should be composted in a “hot” compost pile (165 degrees F) for a minimum of three months to kill any E. coli bacteria that is present in it.
Composting, however, does not kill the disease prions for CWD.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.