Sunday, September 28, 2008

It seemed like a good idea...

The great and beneficial Al Pasternak, who posted in the comment section (and through whom I found this post!), is too discreet to go posting company recommendations openly. So I’ve no idea what precisely he told blogger Betty about her in-bucket composting disaster, though I can guess at one line: “uh, no. That’s not EM.”

But I can see why she thought it might work.

Can you?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bucket Triage

If you think the bucket’s going bad, add more EM bokashi bran!

Hey, you know it’s going to happen. Sooner or later, mold or fruitflies or some other undesirable is going to get into the bucket, or something else is going to go wrong. This is not an argument against the process! Vermicomposters get soldier fly larvae when they’re lucky and maggots when they’re not, unless like me they manage to simply kill the worms; trad composters get muck and stench, not to mention they get maggots too, and ’possums; NatureMillers, I have no idea—aside from the noise, about which I’ve read uncomplimentary things, and the cost. For that matter, trash bags tear or spring leaks; raccoons and drunk teens overtun cans; weather or political climate may delay pick-up; and flies can find trash cans all too quickly... Compost or trash, now and then, things are going to go wrong.

What do you do when that “wrong” happens in your bucket?

1) Once-and-Future Trash

Obvious first option: throw it away. Empty the bucket into a trash bag, preferably out of doors. Wash bucket well and let dry before starting again. Examine your technique in an attempt to determine the cause of failure, and start again.

I’m still new enough at this that I can’t yet envision a failure so dire as to make this my first choice. (But then, I haven’t yet attempted to ferment a post-Thanksgiving deep-fried turkey carcass!) A typical anaerobic decomposition I’d probably just bury, assuming I had a decent grave-space. Trash might be the best option for an insect infestation, depending on the sort of insect. But as always, your mileage and all that—if you’re living in a high-rise, burial simply isn’t an option, and bucket o’ bugs is not the goal here. At least, not for that value of the word. Yecch.

2) Dead and Buried

The solution recommended by bokashi retailers: bury it deep. Beneath ten to twelve inches of soil, preferably, and if you have some EM bokashi bran to spare, seed the bottom of the grave and anoint the top of the mess with it before covering with soil. Do not water; do not place near plants; do not add to planters; do not disturb for at least three and ideally six months or longer.

3) Clap your hands!

No, sorry, that’s Tinkerbell; for bokashi, it’s

3) “Add more magic dust.” Vast quantities of EM bokashi bran. This is the one instance in which adding air is not discouraged—if your bucket’s gone bad, there isn’t enough fermentation going on, so why worry about disturbing it? Break up any masses if you can, add inoculant, drain if required, seal up bucket and set aside, outside, to rest undisturbed awhile.

How long is that while? Err on the side of caution! For most failures, I’d recommend that if you have a bucket system with a reservoir deep enough to permit it, you just leave the whole thing alone for at least three weeks. (Yes, the bokashi juice will smell bad. You’re not going to want to use it for anything anyway, not after a bad bucket, so just go ahead and dump some baking soda into the bottom when you can. And, as with the bran, be generous.) For some non-catastrophic failures, though, you might want to toss some more EM bokashi bran in there every couple of days. Again, depends on the kind of failure.

Causes and kinds of failure?

I define failure pretty conservatively. Odor is reason enough for me to fail a bucket—but it can often be corrected with an extra infusion of EM in some form. If I open a bucket to add more kitchen waste and there’s a stench, the waste gets put in the fridge or a new bucket; the failed bucket gets a bunch of EM bokashi bran or AEM and dry matter, at least three doses worth and often more, stirred in, and I set it aside for five days before checking again. So far, that’s resolved the problem, and I move on to curing and post-bucket stages. (I suppose I could resume using the bucket, but so far, have not.) If an extra infusion of microbes does not resolve the problem, then by the time I go back to check it will have become some other failure.

Insects in the bucket are more a problem indoors than out, but I’d as soon not see them anywhere. Ever. Fruitfly larvae will hatch in a slow-working bucket, though a vigorous fermentation will kill them (the eggs, I’m fairly sure about; the larvae, I can only assume). Depending on your personal level of squeamishness, you might try adding more EM bokashi bran, closing up the container, and giving the microbes a few days to work before you dispose of that bucket.

Blue or black mold is the result of an undesirable microbe outproducing the critters we want, and it means the environment wasn’t right for our prefered process (too much air, moisture, heat or cold), and that a colony of those undesirables was already established on some item before it was added to the bucket. Pretreating suspect foods often makes this a non-issue, but if it happens... Well, if you catch it early, you might fish out the offending bit and treat it separately, and correct the conditions for your larger bucket: moving to a different location for temerature, adding more bran to absorb moisture, draining the reservoir, etc. If the whole bucket’s gone—

You have begun anaerobic composting, and might as well keep going. Likewise if your bucket-contents are slimy and it smells like the inside of a Dumpster on a Texas summer day. But you wouldn’t let it get to that stage, would you?

Happy bucketing!
p.s. It’s no coincidence that anaerobic composting process looks familiar to veteran bokashiers. That’s why I chose that link! More on that later.

Baby Batches of Bokashi Bran

Making EM bokashi bran a quart at a time

The EM America recipe for EM bokashi bran produces vast heaping quantities of the stuff, and requires fifty pounds of wheat bran!!! Even the smaller retailer-provided instructions begin with eight or ten pounds of bran. Bran takes up a fair amount of space for its weight: At seven plus cups per pound of bran, ten pounds is something like five gallons—which is a larger volume than my trash can, apartment-dweller that I am. And that’s before you consider mixing space or the way bran expands as it absorbs fluid.

It is, however, perfectly possible to make EM bokashi bran without first clearing enough space to raise a barn. (Or even a garden shed. -G-)

My wheat bran, I think I mentioned, came from the bulk section at Sun Harvest. $0.69/lb. list price. That’s a much better deal than the small packages in the cereal aisle, at $2.19/10 oz., and even if you’re only fermenting occasional small buckets, you might as well make at least a pound of EM bokashi bran at a time.

Why? This is why I write about “practical minimum volumes” instead of simply minimums: sometimes, while smaller is possible, it doesn’t make much sense. You could make EM bokashi bran a pint at a time, but why bother? It takes the same amount of time and effort. Cost? Bran is cheap! And bokashi bucket fermentation is far more likely to be successful if you’re generous, even profligate, with your EM bokashi bran.

My current bucket is 3.5 gallons. It’s just about half full, and there’s already more than a cup of EM bokashi bran in there—more than recommended, but not by much. If you only have a pint of EM bokashi bran on hand, you may be reluctant to add a scoop for luck. To toss in some more because those leftovers had cream sauce. To pre-apply in a holding bucket...

By all means, go ahead and ferment EM bokashi bran in smaller containers if you can’t spare a big bucket for the month or haven’t anywhere to put one; but you might as well mix up as large a batch as you’re likely to need. The make-at-home instructions include drying the post-ferment bran for storage; assuming you have the space for that, you could make enough EM bokashi bran for the year, all at once.

Me, I’m not so into the drying, and it’s not actually required if the EM bokashi bran will be used soon. Sources differ about just how long the undried product can be held without spoiling or losing effectiveness, and I’ll post about it if/when I manage to spoil some, but it won’t be a baby batch that happens to! One pound of EM bokashi bran at a time is right for my needs: it’s enough for at least two apartment-sized buckets, can be mixed up in the kitchen in a single container, without fuss or any need for odd utensils, and gets used quickly enough that there’s no need to worry about drying it.

To make one baby batch of EM bokashi bran:

Mix 1 tablespoon molasses into

1 cup warm water. When thoroughly blended, add

1 tablespoon EM-1 inoculant fluid.

Pour into 1 pound wheat bran or other inert carrier and mix well. Seal container and set aside three to four weeks before using; ready when coated with an even layer of white mycelium. DO NOT OPEN TO CHECK ON EM BOKASHI BRAN until at least two weeks have passed (warm season in zone 8b, add time for colder seasons/climes).

*Note: for my bulk bran, 1 pound = 7.2 cups dry. I’m not that precise, seven to seven and a quarter cups works just fine. Mix it in a container that looks about a third again too large for the dry bran, as it will expand as it absorbs water. (One of those plastic 34.5 oz coffee canisters is pretty much ideal.)

Thanks to Scott I, who, in the comment section of someone else’s blog-post on bokashi, was kind enough to post an apartment-sized recipe conversion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

(A)EM Before the Bucket

Adding AEM to kitchen waste as generated

It’s been chilly here in Austin. Unseasonably cool. Great lazing-around weather; not so great for playing with heat-loving microbes. Not that it’s been cold enough to stop the critters, just slow them down a bit. Of course, that means it’s also cool enough to slow putrescense...

The current test-bucket is outside for reasons of size. (It’s a 3 ½ gallon bucket with holes in the bottom, nesting in a five-gallon bucket not quite half-filled with dry leaves.) As it’s too tall for my kitchen, and not at all attractive, I banished it to the back corner of my outdoor space, figuring I’d do the traditional compost-carrying for which all those cute little “compost buckets” are designed.

Not that I have a cute little compost bucket—but finding a small lidded container to sit by my kitchen sink wasn’t exactly a problem. Nor did I have trouble finding things to put in it, with all my coffee grounds and tea bags, pear middles and celery ends, and so on through the day. But the container I chose was large enough to hold more than one day’s kitchen waste, and it was quite chilly by the time I got around to thinking about the bucket. Why not leave it ’til the morrow? Or the morrow’s morrow, even.

Well, there’s that rot-and-stench-and-disease issue, but a couple of days for compostables in a lidded container? Probably not much of a concern, especially in the cool. My grandmother used to refrigerate her compostable waste if weather kept her from the pile, and honestly, it was nearly that cold in the kitchen at one point!

Okay, not quite, but almost. In the container, at least.

So I added a tablespoon of AEM and stuck the lid back on.

Why did I add AEM? Because I could. -G- Granted, it’s not the perfect environment for the microbes that make up EM, but it was an airtight container with organic matter—what was the worst that could happen? I “wasted” a tablespoon of a cheap, perishable fluid?! Rot could have happened, but it was certainly no more likely with a bit of EM than without. And if it served to retard putrescense, even a little, that would be a very good thing. A thing worth knowing. And writing about.

Did it do any good? Well, it was cool out; perhaps those items wouldn’t have turned regardless. (I didn’t do a side-by-side test, nor am I planning to—but I’d love to hear from someone who has!) When I thought to check, though, there was no sign of spoilage, and a hint of cider-vinegar scent beneath the aroma of old coffee grounds.

So I decided to extend the impromptu test. Had a couple of strawberries turn in their container; retail bokashi bucket instructions exclude these and other molded/spoiled waste, though I read* that they can be added within limits and/or with “pre-treating” suspect foods.

Tossed ’em in and doused the whole with two more tablespoons of AEM.

Rocket science it isn’t.

Effective, it certainly seems to be. Under normal circumstances, those strawberries would have spread their rot to the other compostables within hours (voice of experience there!); the process is a little slower in open air than a container, and in chill than heat, but within twenty-four hours at even cool room temperatures, the rotten-apple effect is...impressive, to say the least.

And it’s no longer so chill as it was. So, surely, that coffee-container-turned-compost-bucket should have become a rot-farm. I was more than a bit apprehensive when I opened it this morning, holding my breath against the anticipated stench and everything. But I needn’t have bothered. The strawberries are still there, grey and furry and slimy-looking and altogether disgusting, but the spoilage seems not to have spread at all, and the odor, while nothing I’d choose for perfume, was not putrescent, strong, or lingering.

Which is incredible. Though new to bokashi, I’m not new to composting; over the years, I’ve tried all the tricks to keep odors down, from expensively packaged sawdust-and-charcoal mixes to baking soda straight from the box, and nothing short of freezing has ever kept turned strawberries under control until they could be added to a proper pile.

Based on this first experience, I’d recommend keeping a spray-bottle of EM/AEM by the compost bucket almost no matter what composting method you choose! (Not sure how grubs would feel about it, and worms don’t like acid, but aside from them, anyway.) Certainly it’s an extra step, and therefore not ideal for the bokashi bucket retail folks, who are trying to keep the process as dead-simple and guaranteed-successful as possible, but for those of us past that point, what’s the downside?

Keep back a bit of AEM when you make your EM bokashi bran, and use it in your holding bucket to keep odors down. The fact that the extra dose of EM might speed breakdown in a pile or bucket is beside the point.

Though a lovely bonus, wouldn’t you say?



Not In My Bucket—Yecch!


Worms Grubs eat my your garbage

Bokashi bucketing is supposed to cut down on the time it takes to produce finished compost (plus, with planter finishing and bokashi juice, my plants can get some benefit even before I have compost to give them). But I was wondering if there might be faster alternatives yet, and went searching. The NatureMill is pretty quick, all things considered, though I can’t see spending that much money. Some of the tumblers-with-activator have a nice turnaround (pun not intended). There are techniques to speed traditional composting, though I find them too labor-intensive, lazy composter than I am. Worms? Not too slow, but not nearly the quickest biological composters out there! For composters with strong stomachs, anyway.

I have no problem with vermicomposting—it’s not for everyone, and I’ve had one memorable failure at it, but generally I think it’s cool. (Even planning on trying again one of these days, as it’s a viable post-bucket composting method for cured bokashi.) While there are people who get shivers at the thought of wrigglies in their home, or even in boxes in the garage or wherever, I am not one of them.

This is another thing altogether. The BioPod Food Composter “can dispose of your scraps in 24-36 hours.” Which is nice, I guess, except for the mechanism: Soldier Fly grubs. And here’s some mathematics to warm your heart—or chill your blood:

For every 100 lbs of kitchen scraps you put in, 5 lbs of friable compost are
produced, plus a few quarts of compost tea, and approximately 20 lbs of

I admit that there are some intriguing possible benefits here. Non-pesticide insect repellant sounds great! And if I had a pet lizard or six, this might well be a perfect solution, turning kitchen waste into pet food for non-vegetarian pets and all. But I can’t embrace the idea. I don’t think I could even use the compost tea produced via this method on my plants. Don’t talk to me about how it’s natural, they’re not all that different from the sow bugs and worms that chow down on my compost, etc. Worms don’t bother me, nor do sow bugs, but grubs are different. These things look like mud-hued maggots to me, and I’d freak if I saw one of them in my worm bin (which happens sometimes in outdoor wormeries), let alone whole masses of them indoors.

And then there’s that “reassuring” text on the catalogue page...the copywriter did his best, I’m sure, but it still read to me as

Hey, don’t worry if they get loose, they’re natural! And it’s not like they can bite, they don’t have mouths.

Um, yeah. They also do not have an invitation into my home. I don’t care how useful they are. Your mileage, of course, may vary, and if this is what works for you, what keeps you from tossing your food scraps into the trash, I wish you all the luck in the world, and many successful grub-harvests, even.

Just...don’t ever invite me to your place, okay?



Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tales from the Bucket: Weekender Bucket One

WB1 was not exactly a success. Nor quite a failure,’s clear I have more work to do for that particular question set.

I’m still working on minimum volumes, and figured I’d tackle the minimum-contact issue, too. Would it be practical to keep a small bokashi bucket at a weekend place, or in some similar occasional-use situation? Not that I have a weekend place, you understand, but the basic bokashi bucket instructions assume a landowner producing organic wastes on a daily basis. And since this blog was born in part out of my frustrations with that first assumption (what DO the landless do with post-bucket cured bokashi?), I figured I might as well tackle some of the others, too.

The potential problems with an occasional-use bucket are obvious—gas and fluid build-up top the list—but I can see ways around them. If, in fact, they really do have to be worked around. Not that I’m planning on letting buckets explode just to prove it happens -VBG- But that daily addition in a standard bucket also lets gas escape. Without that?

The not-to-be-repeated Weekender Bucket #1 procedure:

*Add a small quantity of compostable waste
*Add AEM and dry matter at the usual levels (my EM bokashi bran not being ready)
*Expel air
*Leave undisturbed a week to ten days—unless bucket rocks to touch or failure evident

About five cups of matter, coffee grounds and melon detritus, mostly. (Meat, dairy, and oils all require a more vigorous fermentation, and since I wasn’t really sure this would work, I decided to leave them out. Once I get the basics down, I’ll revisit their inclusion.) The time is on the brief side, but with this so-small quantity, I expected a fairly quick fermentation. And, okay, I was a little worried that fluid might build up, and wanted to stop the test before the bucket flooded.

For any of my bokashi tests, I define failure as

*insect presence around the area (or in the bucket!)
*blue, blue-green, or black molds
*lack of characteristic bokashi aroma

None of that applies to WB1, though that last is rather questionable—there was more alcohol in the scent than vinegar. (Perhaps I should have left it to ferment longer. Next time.) I call this less-than-successful because, beneath that strange stale coffee-vodka aroma, there was a hint of incipient rot. The smell of fruit about to turn from overripe to disgusting. I’m impressed it hadn’t gone all the way to spoiled, but it was not an attractive alternative to simply trashing wastes or tossing them to the local scavengers.

Visibly, the waste was not so bleached-looking as in my successful buckets (I’m told that doesn’t always happen). White mycelium was visible in one section of the bucket, though not evenly distributed.

Which might have been half the problem, that lack of an even distribution. In which case, the same procedure using EM bokashi bran might work, as it’s easier to see any sections that might not have received their due share of microbe-carrier.

A weight might have helped, too, as the contents of this bucket were still fairly wet, and little bokashi juice had separated. In fact, I’m starting to think that weights may be necessary for all smaller buckets/smaller waste volumes—in a filled multi-gallon bucket, the weight of the organic matter itself serves to compress the mass so that air and water are expelled.

Also, the next WB test is going to include a much greater infusion of microbe carrier! Some of the bucket-kit instructions recommend adding EM bokashi bran every day, whether or not adding waste, and pretty much everyone says more EM bokashi bran is the first thing to try when fermenting is less than wholly successful.

It’s not like it really failed, after all; I figure it’s worth trying again, with adjustments. In order of expected improvement, that be:

  1. adding more EM (any form)
  2. adding a weight
  3. increased bucket time.

Watch this space bucket blog!

Final verdict: WB#1 not successful; process tweaking required, further tests planned. NOT PRESENTLY RECOMMENDED.

Oddly, writing that last paragraph made me feel like I’m working a government-funded study. You know, except for the funding. -G- And the first-person reporting. Let’s see, In order to evaluate the feasibility... Nah.

Off to play with my buckets,


Saturday, September 6, 2008

"a hole in the ground your money goes in?", wait, that’s inground pools, not compost trenches. Sorry. Long post coming up, broken into sections, but it’s a topic that comes up a lot in the forums:

The Cost of Doing Business Bokashi

Buckets weren’t a problem. Food waste I had—that’s what got me started on this!—but in order to start bokashi fermentation, I first had to have a supply of EM. A one-liter bottle cost me $20 at Whole Foods Market.

It might have been cheaper to purchase a small bottle online, but not by much after shipping, and besides, I didn’t want to wait. Whole Foods is just up the road from me, and since I shop there now and then, it didn’t even take an extra trip.

So I had the bottle in hand. What now? Directions for using bokashi buckets all begin with EM bokashi bran, not the liquid inoculant. But liquid EM is sometimes applied for large-scale composting... While it might not be cost-effective as a general practice, I saw no reason not to start my first bucket with EM inoculant straight from the bottle, plus a little dry matter to absorb the moisture.

It worked. (1) So the total cost of getting started was a bit of time to set up an airtight container with proper drainage (from materials I had around) plus that bottle. $20.

Much less than I’d expected to spend. A lot of the non-retail, consumer-generated text I’d read about bokashi mentioned the expense—repeated expense, lifetime expense, relatively high expense. That now-and-later expenditure seems to be the second greatest hurdle to acceptance in this country. Also, really contrary to the ideal of composting, all that consumism! A single $20 bottle is one thing, an initial investment as it were. But how often would it have to be repeated, or additional items purchased?

How much $$$ does it cost to bokashi?

That depends. Are you buying EM bokashi bran, or making your own from liquid EM inoculant?

If a two lb. bag of EM bokashi bran is sufficient to handle two to four five-gallon buckets worth of mixed kitchen waste and costs $25, (2) then the cost per five-gallon bucket is @ $6 - $12. (Of course, the end product of a bokashi bucket still requires handling in some form before it can be used, so those figures may yet increase depending on your post-bucket solution.) If you fill one bucket per month, which seems to be the average bokashi experience, and you’re generous enough with the EM bokashi bran to be certain even the leftover fast food will ferment successfully, it’d be $12/month.

Buying a bottle of EM inoculant and making EM bokashi bran is cheaper than purchasing it, but there are additional costs beyond the EM itself:

Organic blackstrap molasses or feed-grade molasses
Wheat bran or other inert carrier
(optional other ingredients)

[Pause for a necessary definition: AEM] AEM—Activated EM—is made by “feeding” EM inoculant with molasses and water, and optionally a few other things depending on the recipe and intended use. It should be used within a month, and can be used to make EM bokashi bran, possibly even with a shorter overall time-to-readiness than beginning with EM straight from the bottle. [We now return you to your regularly scheduled...]

Being an impatient sort, I started a gallon of AEM on the same day I started my first bucket of bokashi, using molasses I would have bought anyway, simply to have on hand—but for purposes of accounting, I paid $3.50 for that bottle, so $23.50 total. This AEM was intended to be the base for my home-made EM bokashi bran, as well as to give me some extra for various tests.

Since that first straight-EM bucket worked, I started the next with AEM, using about a tablespoon of liquid instead of the 15 mL bran recommended per inch or instance of waste added to a bucket, and tossing in the odd handful of shredded newspaper and dry leaves by way of moisture correction. So far, it’s been working fine, though it’s not something I’d really recommend in lieu of EM bokashi bran, which is simpler and can be dried for long-term storage.

Having said that, I suppose it could be done, if you had access to large quantities of cross-shredded newspaper or something similar, or you didn’t mind draining food wastes prior to bucketing. You’d need to buy a new bottle of EM-1 when it lost effectiveness, six months or so down the road, but until then: Total cost = recycled airtight containers, dry matter, water, and > $25.

Me, I’d be happier with EM bokashi bran; the simpler the process is, the more likely it is that I’ll keep up with it, make it a habit, and maybe even get other people started on it. “Toss a handful of magic dust on top” is simple. Easy. And easy’s worth at least a few cents to me. Not retail kit-prices, mind, nor even repeated bag o’ bran purchases, but a few cents beyond that bottle of EM inoculant.

EM Bokashi Bran
The basic choices are:
a) buy commercial EM bokashi bran for immediate and continued use
In which case there’s no need for those liquid ingredients, but you’ll be placing orders from now until you decide to stop doing bokashi

b) buy commercial EM bokashi bran for immediate use, plus EM incolant and additional ingredients to make EM bokashi bran for continued use

Initially the most expensive option but perhaps the most reasonable, especially for the beginning bokashier. EM bokashi bran was designed for the purpose, and is the most reliably successful means of producing fermentation rather than putrefaction within the bucket.

c) buy EM inoculant fluid and additional ingredients to make EM bokashi bran. And use liquid in the interim: Begin by making AEM; use EM + dry matter only until AEM is ready, then make EM bokashi bran; and use AEM + dry matter while waiting for EM bokashi bran to ripen.

The cheapest bran option, and therefore my chosen solution. At least for now. -G-


What does it cost to make EM bokashi bran at home?

Again, prices are dependent upon distributors, volumes, etc., and you might be able to acquire some materials for free. Sawdust is sometimes referenced as a substitute for wheat or rice bran, and though I have no ready source for that [curses!], the city does periodically give away free wood chips as mulch—perhaps they might be persuaded to toss in a few buckets of sawdust at the same time?

Are there other locally available alternatives I might use? Bran, rice hulls, all the options I’ve seen so far are dry, inert, consistently sized (naturally or after processing) and small enough not to hold air pockets in the bucket. High in carbon. Other requirements? Because right now, I’m thinking dry leaves run through a shredder! Or a food processor, seeing as I actually have one of those...and it’s not as if I’d need great quantities of the stuff. Hmm. Might check into that.

But for now, I’m using wheat bran, ordered through a local grocery store, since it seemed more efficient than scooping out pounds and pounds of the stuff from the bulk section. The listed price was $0.69/lb, and ten pounds of wheat bran, depending on particle size, will make something in the neighborhood of five large bags of EM bokashi bran—which is almost twice enough to get an average bokashi-ing household to the six month mark.

Why six months? Because that’s when the bottle of EM-1 would begin to lose efficiency, so no matter what option I chose, I’d be looking at a possible additional outlay at that point.

Ten pounds of bran brings my total EM investment just above $30. (Spigots, sieves, and stopcocks are all optional, hence a different category and a different post!) So call it $5.00/month –for enough supplies to ferment the kitchen waste of a four-person household, plus two starter-packs to give as-yet-unsuspecting victims friends and neighbors.

And landlords! Maybe I can get mine to underwrite my bucket costs—since the city’s about to raise its trash fees, this might be a good time to make the pitch. -G-

If I were making absurd-in-context quantities of EM bokashi bran, the per-unit price would, of course, be even lower. My numbers don’t take economies of scale into account because I’m focused on my own needs. I’m looking for the lowest-cost, highest-reward options suitable for my particular circumstances: urban Texas apartment-dweller, container gardener, limited access to living soil and limited space. Unlimited curiosity!


(1) Turns out that success was less assured than I’d assumed—where EM has been improperly treated during storage/shipping, it may not activate quickly enough to outrun putrefaction if used straight. Also, even properly handled liquid EM inoculant may be initially slower in its effects than desired. I now make AEM first, for all applications.

(2) Non-random figures, though not universally applicable. Price varies by distributor and location, but this is what a 2.2 lb. bag would have cost me, with tax and shipping. Averages from retail and customer-generated text. In-bucket usage depends on environment and type of matter bucketed among other variables.

(3) Yes, I’ll be testing smaller batches for practical minimum volumes again. The giant economy size isn’t a good option if you have to rent it a storage locker!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What makes some microbes “Effective” anyway?

...and what is it they’re doing so effectively?

Since the EM technology we use for EM bokashi was created by Professor Teruo Higa, I’ll just quote him on the subject. (The full text of the presentation is available at FutureTech, if you’re interested.)

...EM is developed using three principal organisms, namely Phototrophic
bacteria, Lactic acid bacteria and Yeasts. These three types are indispensable
for EM and even if other species were not included, these would develop
coexisting forms with other beneficial organisms in the environment. This
happens, as EM is not made under sterile conditions, but using simple technology
in many difficult environments. Thus, the EM of today consists of these three
principal types, which is subsequently enriched naturally by other species such
as filamentous fungi and Actinomycetes. The fundamental principle is that the
three principal species must be abundant in EM and the pH of the solution must
be below 3.5. This is the technology and if this combination is found, that
solution, made anywhere will develop the beneficial effects of EM.

...The technology of EM is based on holding the three principal species together at
a very low pH, when most species of microbes die.

...EM is now made in all continents from the three species I mentioned earlier,
which are isolated from the respective environments.

...This microbial solution can convert all wastes into very good fertilizers in a
short time.

There’s a lot more, of course, in various presentations, interviews, articles, and his An Earth Saving Revolution I & II, but the short answer is: EM is a combination of Phototrophic bacteria, Lactic acid bacteria and Yeasts grown in a low pH solution, used to speed the breakdown of organic matter.

EM is the core of the bokashi process, but not all EM is destined for a bucket. It’s used as a cleanser, in animal feed*, to reclaim radiation- and chemical-contaminated land...generally speaking, to correct imbalance in the natural environment on a microbial level. Or to create a desired one. As in a bucket full of kitchen waste.

Which is likely more than you needed to know. EM is the stuff you need to make bokashi bucket fermenation work—without it, you just get rot.


*And in non-US countries, as people-feed, too.