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?


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