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.

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