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Building a Bin System at an Elementary School in East Mountains. Bears are a Problem.


November 8, 2017

Hello!  I am a teacher at ___ Elementary school.  We are a STEM school and as a part of our ongoing environmental focus we are looking to add a compost to our school area.  We would love to find someone who could help build or sell compost bins to us.  After some research, we are looking at something like the New Zealand Box Three-Bin System on the Bernalillo County Extension Master Composters site.  Are there plans available for them?  Do you have any input that would be helpful to us as we start this endeavor?  Although we would love to take building the compost bins as a STEM project, as educators we are stretched thin already.  Any resources you could share with us would be wonderful.  We look forward to using this as an ongoing, realistic, and relevant educational project for our students.

If there is a chance we could talk in person, that would be great, or connecting us with appropriate resources would work, too.  Do you know of anyone that might be willing to help us get set up with bins?

I look forward to hearing from someone.


Answer by JZ: I will try to respond to your question.  Other colleagues may also respond.  You have a fine project in mind ! The New Zealand Box is a fine choice for composting in the high desert.  However, you could start with an inexpensive setup, then gather forces for a Box in the future.   See the wire fencing bin setup here - you could have more than one of these, to meet your needs. There are many options for you.  You could start with something easy and simple, then go from there.

So, this begins our conversation.  Let’s keep talking about this project.  Let me know your thoughts on the above suggestion.

I have attached a school site evaluation form that may be useful.

All the best.  Keep up. Be talking to you.

Response by Questioner: I did read about the straw bins and the wire bins.  One of our pressing issues is bears.  We are in the East Mountains just off the Sandia Mountain.  Until the first hard frost they don't let our kids take food outside due to potential problems with attracting bears.  So, compost seems like a big bear attraction to me.  The better we can "hide" it, the safer and more long lasting our action will be.  Of course, right now we could use straw or wire, no problem, but come spring it will be.We are actually thinking of fencing in the compost area in order to have an area that we can maintain.  Hopefully a wooden box fenced in would keep bears out.  We did have one before in a small wire area and between the crows and the roaming dogs... Well, you can imagine.Being a STEM school, we actually have some money to put toward building a box system, but lack the time.  I wanted to find prebuilt ones and thought I had seen a guy in Sante Fe that had them for sale a while ago, but now I can't find him.We have a garden and a large water collection system, along with a very supportive community.

Answer by JZ: Issues with bears:

1. Avoid any food scraps, meat, cheese, fish, bread or any food that has a desirable scent that bears can smell. OK are -  leaves, paper products, raw fruit & veg. scraps, coffee, weeds without seeds, garden clippings.

2. Yes, fence the area.

3. A snugly built box bin (s) with a locking flip top.

Other composting choices:

1. Deep burial of organics in pits or trenches 18 - 24 inches deep, in your garden area (less scent for bears).

2. Indoor worm bins - the harvested casting may be used to amend garden soil.

3. Large scale Bokashi bucket fermentation indoors,  then burial in garden soil.

4. Perhaps a trial with large homemade trash can bin(s) composter that have a twist lock top, then a brick on top.  See Plastic Container Bin.

If you would like to build a snug / tight  / locking bin system, then you’d have to survey your resources  - Do you have a PTA, service clubs in the community, boy scouts, Rotary, etc.?  Sometimes these groups do volunteer service projects. A  "handy man" could probably do the job easily.   I would search the web for prebuilt kits. I would encourage you, interested staff and students to attend one of our free composting basics classes.

Answer by RR: As you might expect, bears are also a problem for beekeepers, and since beekeeping is an industry, there has been a lot more research and practical applications associated with keeping bears away from bee hives than there has been with keeping them away from compost piles. However, the concept is the same.  Here is a link to get you thinking about how to effectively fence in your compost site.     Click on the “Bear Fence” tag at the bottom of the webpage for an excellent .pdf presentation.

Response by JH: A friend of mine constructed the bear fence that Rod describes around his chicken coop after a bear got into it. He hasn’t had bear trouble for the few years since he erected the fence.

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