So I just bought some bagged topsoil and a week in I'm covering my compost with it and I discover what looks like the hide and fur of a possum or racoon. I shoveled it out and there's no wet anything or visible particles of anything in the soil like bones except like two that were still attached to the hide. I mean it looks completely decomposed. Minus the hide I would have no idea that there was anything wrong with the soil.

Get rid of the soil? Keep it? Wait a few months? Safe to compost animals in general? I know people bury fish with some plants but mammals might be another story. Advice would be appreciated.

  • Can you clarify what ypu're doing with the topsoil when you say you're covering your 'compost' with it? is this a home compost heap, on soil, open to the air? If so, what are you intending to do next with the topsoil covered compost? – Bamboo Apr 18 at 11:14
  • It's for a vegetable garden – Citizen Apr 19 at 12:04

My wife is a microbiologist who works at a veterinary laboratory and strongly suggests that you remove the hide and bones from the soil and bury them in a spot never to be used for edibles. She also strongly recommends not using the soil in your compost or anywhere near edible vegetables or herbs because of the possibility of pathogens - this is especially important if you're growing root vegetables because those could be a means of transmission into you for any pathogens left in the soil by the remains.

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  • How long before the soil is safe to use for edibles? – Citizen Apr 19 at 12:07
  • At least two years, IIRC. My wife has left for work (they're making covid tests at the moment), so will post another comment later today after I've asked her. – Jurp Apr 19 at 14:01
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    Hi - I spoke to my wife, and how long you need to wait depends on the pathogens in the soil. I would guess a year for a non-root crop; maybe several years before you'd want to try root crops. – Jurp Apr 20 at 16:02

I personally wouldn’t because dead animals have bacteria and germs that are probably not safe for human consumption if you’re planting veggies fruit and herbs in it.

However according to Cornell university and South Dakota state university it is safe and humane to compost animal carcasses If done properly.

composting road kill by Cornell Waste Management 2007

5 Easy Steps for Composting Dead Livestock (AS1781 Dec. 2015)

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  • The first link is meant for roadway managers while the second is meant for farmers as a means to safely dispose of dead cattle. Neither is meant for a homeowner. – Jurp Apr 18 at 13:53

I would just bury that in a spot where it can decay without being disturbed by normal gardening tasks. 2 feet down is a depth most people won't be digging again too often.

While possums can carry some nasty diseases I would not worry too much after having it buried. The soil community has a lot of competition and creatures that will make any potential nasties have a challenge on their hands. Plus, you just have to know that there are all sorts of other microbes in the soil that can do nasty things too yet it is not common to have problems from them unless you get a puncture wound and don't get it cleaned out properly.

The UV light from the sun and Oxygen both act as pretty good destroyers of many microbes. If you are really, really worried about germs then for sure do not get into reading about microbiology. :) We live in a stew of life - luckily most of it is benign (otherwise we would not be here).

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