Monday, December 15, 2008

Is compost the answer?

That depends. What’s the question again?

CAPCOG is the state designated planning agency for solid waste management issues in this region, and since I’d really like to know what’s planned, I’ve been exploring their website.

Household compostables are still the forgotten stepchild, but there are some (too limited) facilities in place for composting presorted grocery wastes and food scraps from cafeterias through at least one public/private partnership. And it turns out that TxDot—the Texas Department of Transportation—uses compost in its roadside landscaping. In great quantities, even.

There’s a PowerPoint presentation about it—those folks do seem to like their slides—which is where the title of this post came from.

I find it hard to fathom that this really is a question, but a look at that presentation serves to remind me that not everyone is as much a fan of compost as I. Good or bad PR? Yikes! How could using compost possibly be perceived as a bad thing? But then there’s the boldface on these captions

Compost IS NOT:
raw sewage sludge or manure

Compost IS:
a pasteurized, pathogen free, organic soil amendment

(Note that “pasteurized” only applies to hot compost, though it is wholly correct to use here, and that the word “organic” is technically true though not, perhaps, in the same sense as it will be read.)

Which I guess answers the question—compost could be perceived as “unclean” by those who do not understand the process, who think that all trash is filthy, and all those things consigned to the bin or heap are dirty.

In the bad sense of the word. –G–

Are the pro-compost people unintentionally undermining my small efforts, and those of my larger-scale peers, with their compost=pasteurized material equation? Possibly, though not necessarily; bokashi can be thermophilically treated, it simply need not be.

But I wonder if that equation might be part of the reason that Austin, unlike other green cities, does not subsidize residential compost bins (traditional, anaerobic, vermicompost, and/or bokashi).

Hmm. An answer leading to new questions; somehow, that fits.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bokashi tip of the day: rough pH test

May seem like an odd time to post this, but 1) I just thought of it, and 2) Planting season is never too far off. Thankfully.

Most of the bokashi retailers recommend that you let planter-finishing units rest for two weeks before planting. This is because fresh or newly cured bokashi is still acidic enough that it may burn plant roots. This same acid concern lies behind the recommended distance between trenches and gardens or trees. And some vermicomposters prefer to let their bokashi cure awhile longer than the standard ten days to two weeks before feeding it to the worms, also for fear of acids.

How acid is too?

Well, if a pinch of baking soda added to a tablespoon of moist bokashi (or compost) fizzes, then it’s definitely too acidic for garden safety—less than 5 pH. I can’t recall offhand what the ideal pH for redworms, though I seem to remember it being at least slightly dependent on the species of worm, but certainly you shouldn’t add any fizzy bokashi to a wormery.

BTW, that test works for soil, too, and it’s possible to test for alkalinity almost as easily: Dig up a scant cup of garden soil. Pick out any bits of inert or living matter, comb for consistency, and let air-dry. Add several drops of vinegar to dried soil to test for alkalinity—fizzing means pH over 7.5. Moisten some of the dried soil with distilled water until it’s very damp but not sopping and add a pinch of baking soda to a tablespoon of soil to test for acidity.

For more precise measurements, litmus paper’s probably the cheapest option.

Happy bucketing!


It is winter, right?

Feeling very much the gardener this December weekend as I carefully push the fallen leaves away from the stems of my young greens, harvest the next-to-last (I’ve said that before!) bit of arugula, set up the insulating globe for my tenderest potted herb, and decide to let the radishes keep going awhile longer. Venturing beyond my bucket garden, I’m planning on a collecting jaunt tomorrow, for spanish moss, holly, and mistletoe—the latter two for seasonal decoration, the first for a small venturing into hydroponics with EM, so I can have fresh lettuce and basil in February without going bankrupt. The last bucket of cured bokashi has been transferred to its planter, this time with barely-qualifies-as-dirt clay soil above and below and a measure of mature compost mixed into the bokashi middle layer. The apartment composter is open for contributions, complete with a sign in the laundry room explaining what not to add. And my place smells of rosemary, fresh as can be had and wonderfully fragrant and savory.

It’s hard to remember that we’ve had below-freezing temperatures and even a bit of snow, when the afternoon high nears seventy and the roses are going strong. Repulsive’s aggregate numbers are much reduced, but the curing bokashi started right back up again after the temperature rebounded, not even requiring a fresh infusion of microbes.

Winter’s traditionally down-time for composters, but I’m planning on bokashi’ing straight through the cold season. If and when it comes to stay. -G- Yet another benefits of the bucket: not only is it accessible in inclement weather, it’s apparently resilient enough to weather a brief freeze unhindered. And it’s easy to restart should it stall. Unlike, say, an outdoor wormery.

Imagine greeting spring with quantities of fresh-but-matured compost ready to nourish the garden!

Not too chilled, but still dreaming of spring...


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Recent bokashi sightings

Bokashi's spreading slowly here in the US, or so it seems. But Google, at least, finds more occurrences of the word now than it did a few months ago (and not all from this blog!).'s Organic Gardening section has a post as of Dec 01. The Bokashi in Australia livejournal community has a poll. Don't know how long Appropedia's had an entry on bokashi, but it's just been updated. And The Recycle Works has a podcast all about EM.

Which I guess is less a sighting than a hearing. Oh, well. Back to my buckets I go--I'm going to insulate a curing one, I think, see what happens.


Friday, December 5, 2008


The Three Six Rs

Ever heard of CAPCOG?

Neither had I, but I’m glad they exist—the Capitol Area Council of Governments handles issues that cross local county lines, from maintaining mapping systems for 9-1-1 to providing direct access to services for the elderly and beyond. From Homeland Security for a ten-county area to Waste Reduction Planning, all coordinated and cooperating.

Invisibly, to great degree.

Particularly in Texas, county of residence can be more important than city (and cities often span several counties). And there are areas of general concern for, say, the residents of Central Texas that don’t much affect those in the panhandle, or vice versa; I find it reassuring to learn that the obvious need for some mid-level association is being addressed by so-appropriately-named COGs.

But mostly, I’m happy to learn about my local COG’s efforts regarding waste reduction. I had been distressed by how little has been done to remove organics from the waste stream, and dissatisfied with airy promises of “Zero Waste”* achievements at some far-future date. CAPCOG has specific information, plans and past agendas, all accessible online should you know where to look.

And now, I do. This site is perhaps most useful for its new and frequently updated area map of recycling facilities—frugal eco-conscious Austinites should especially appreciate the dollar signs showing locations where recyclable materials may be sold!—but that’s certainly not all it has to offer.

Among other interesting materials on the website is a simple, not-too-new PowerPoint document. You’ve heard of The Three Rs—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—but at least as far back as 2005, CAPCOG was discussing six:

*Reduce (source reduction)
*Repair (fix)
*Reuse (durable vs. disposable, as for example cameras and napkins)
*Recycle (everything else)

That final R may be beyond my reach. But isn’t it nice to know it’s on somebody’s radar?

There are several other interesting slides in that presentation, including the twelve master categories of material found in landfills and their percentages. And from their example plan, courtesy of the ever-forward Palo Alto, CA, comes my new rallying cry, conveniently for my post-title also composed largely of initial Rs:

Regional Resource Recovery Parks. Municipality-provided locations for the creation or expansion of privately or publicly run reuse, recycling, and composting businesses.

My neighborhood really, really, rrreally needs a bokashi farm…