Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vermin Composting

Generally, that post-heading is a typo, “vermicomposting” as rendered by software or Freudian fingers. Not today. I think it’s a great name for my particular use of Black Soldier Fly Larvae as cheap quickie leaf-degraders. Though not for the recommended practice of simply feeding your kitchen waste to the things.

Readers of this blog will have noticed that I seem to have reversed myself almost entirely as regards BSFL. Almost. When I first saw a BioPod listed in a gardening catalogue, my response was a mix of disgust and indignation. The disgust has faded to some degree, though I still think they look like some mad fashion designer’s take on the common maggot, and I’ve grown quite fond of their usefulness if not of them per se. But indignation remains--I growl every time I see them referred to as composters.

A composter, by definition, produces compost. Stable, planting-appropriate, soil-amending humus-y compost. BSFL are waste digesters. Like the retail units sold under the same name, BSFL make waste disappear. If you’re looking for a quick source of fertilizer or ready-to-use soil amendments, look elsewhere; if the point is to make your kitchen waste vanish, grubs will do that quite efficiently.

And if you don’t want to see them, a cover layer of dried leaves works well*. Scrape the leaves back to add food, smooth the leafy layer back in a hurry, and watch it heave as the larvae come to feed. Yikes! Or if, like me, you have a ton of dried leaves you’d like to speed along the path to composting, mix leaves and soft food together and let the BSFL work for their meal. The end result still isn’t compost (despite my post-heading) but will break down very quickly once mixed into soil, added to a compost bin, or however you deal with such things.

Once you get it out of the grub habitat, that is; the most efficient way seems to be to move the vermin: [Excuse me, the grubs, I mean. -G-] Place something yummy in the bucket in some sort of removable net or holey container, wait for them to swarm it, remove food and wriggling mass together. Have a new bucket prepped and waiting, or a temporary holding unit. Two or three bait-settings may be necessary, and there will likely still be the odd recalcitrant larva in the proto-compost. If that bothers you, just set the compost-to-be out in the sun to dry; between light and lack of moisture, any remaining BSFL will wriggle away.

So you might want to do that drying someplace out of doors, out of sight, and out of the way.


*the rate of self-harvesting may be a bit lower, not sure as I haven’t done a side-by-side. Nor do I really plan to. The less I have to see of the things, the happier I shall be. Repulsive lives up to his name, if you ask me.

[image from Court Miniatures]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tales from the Bucket: Perishable plant food

Don’t have the time to read my rambling? Short version: once you’ve exposed bokashi juice to fresh air, it’s time to drain and use. Bokashi juice must be used immediately; do not, under any circumstances, peek into the reservoir and decide there’s “not enough to bother with”—dilute for use as plant food, or just pour it, full strength, down the drain, but get it out of the bucket now, because it will spoil. And stink.

The retailers don’t make a big deal of saying this, because they don’t want to scare you off. And, really, how likely is it that anyone would just take a peek and nest the buckets back together?


On the most recent occasion, it wasn’t curiosity but clumsiness that let air into the reservoir (small apartment+ large nested-bucket system +cat underfoot, and I grabbed the top handle instead of the bottom one). Same result: smelly bokashi juice spreading stink into a perfectly healthy fermenting bucket.

Despite the stench, I think this may be a good thing. My mother always taught me that if it wouldn’t spoil, it wasn’t food; stands to reason the same applies to plant food as food for people. And lucky for me, I know the cause of and cure for that transient off-odor—once the juice is drained and the reservoir rinsed, the rhodobacters will take care of the rest. Pretty quickly, though not (sadly) instantly.

Happy bucketing!


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Do Composters Consume More Produce?

I admit it, I like convenience. Who doesn’t? But to me, a grapefruit’s pretty convenient already--comes packaged in its own compostable carrying case, doesn’t need refrigeration or heating before serving, available in single- or two-serving sizes and a range of colors with several local and organic varieties available in season…

My work lunch today--if I ever get to eat it!--will be a fruit bowl: peeled and diced citrus in several varieties, tossed with lime juice and a bit of sugar to make up for the rather insipid too-cheap-to-pass-up navel orange (now I know why they were so cheap -G-). Normally, I’d simply have tossed a grapefruit in my bag, but I’ve missed lunch the past couple of days, snatching handfuls of nuts or a couple of cookies to nibble on instead. Not good for my health, and really a shame with all the lovely real food I have on hand. So I chopped up my citrus into bite-sized pieces I can nibble on if there’s no time for more.

In theory, anyway.

The prepping left me with a pile of citrus peelings I had neither the time nor the inclination to do anything with at that hour of the morning, so they went into the bokashi bucket. Over time, they’ll be converted into plant food, to nourish more produce for me to eat. (I do grow the odd not-a-crop plant, but mostly I’m a kitchen-oriented gardener.)

Tossing the peels and bits into the bucket, it occured to me to wonder if maybe I buy whole produce, rather than pre-prepped, in part because I actually want the “waste” for my composting.

Did I buy less fresh produce in the pre-bucket days? I cannot now recall, but it seems likely, if only because I cook more now that I have no disposal-guilt. Which, now that I see it all typed out, looks very strange.

Oh, well. At least I can take comfort in the fact that I shall no longer be tempted, if ever I was, to buy this. My buckets need feeding!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Clean Out the Fridge Bokashi

image from Plenty

I’ve done this more than a few times now, so it’s probably time to post the results. Short version:

EM bokashi is not the composting equivalent of Febreeze*.

Okay, seriously. The usual advice is not to put spoiled (esp. moldy) waste into a bokashi bucket. And it’s reasonable advice--bucket fermentation works on a dominance principle, so you don’t want to introduce a bunch of competing microbes.

But sometimes, you have some spoiled food. And if you have a bucket set up anyway…


If you have a vigorous fermentation running, you can successfully treat a bit of spoiled matter along with a larger quantity of fresh. But if you add something so spoiled that it smells bad, there will be an odor in your bokashi bucket. Trust me. And take my word for it, that odor will linger in the bucket for days, rising to greet you every time you remove the lid, gradually transforming from stench to stench-laced vinegar before finally dissipating.

Better to deal with the spoiled stuff separately. I don’t seem to have posted the results of my practical minimum volume tests yet--shame on me--but it’s quite possible to ferment a single berry, if you care to; any quantity of matter can be fermented, assuming you have sufficient quantities of EM.

Which brings me to my post-title: cleaning out the fridge. (It’s a new year, surely someone out there resolved to get rid of the old condiments and back-of-the-drawer stuff. Maybe?) All the out-of-date items, the forgotten rinds of cheese and dubious jellies, the half-frozen wilted celery, the whiffy tomato paste and overlooked half a package of deli meat… You get the idea. It can all be fermented, assuming you’re willing to use ridiculous quantities of microbes.

Use fresh EM bokashi bran, AEM, EM+molasses, or a healthily fermenting in-progress bucket plus dried EM bokashi bran to ensure vigorous microbial activity. Add kitchen discards in layers, with generous quantities of EM between. Mash each layer. End with a heavy layer of EM bokashi bran, or if using liquid EM sources then top with an inch of shredded newspaper for moisture correction.

At this point, it’s a good idea to check the reservoir; if your fridge-purging included a lot of soft or any liquid items, you’ll need to empty and rinse the bucket’s catchment.

Then put the top on the bucket and walk away. This bucket should be stored outside, out of the sun and out of the way, and a weight on top is a very good idea. After a week, drain the bucket (warning: bokashi juice will be stinky! Theoretically still usable, but I haven’t tried), add more EM bokashi bran or AEM if available, then reseal. Four weeks should be sufficient in warm weather, six in cool, after which the contents of the bucket can be treated as any cured bokashi.

Though if you’ve included bones and meat in any form other than stir-fry-sized slivers, you may not want to use that particular batch of cured bokashi in planters without first composting. As always, YMMV.


*It does not deodorize instantly.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

January Greens

I had cleavers with my black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

Black-eyed peas are a traditional item on that day—I’m told they represent luck, and sometimes money, at least if someone cooked them with a penny in the pot. The cleavers came out of my (well, the apartment’s) flowerbed. And I don’t know what they’re supposed to symbolize in this case, except that the weather’s being a tad bit odd even for here. Cleavers are a spring weed! Among the earliest of edible greenstuffs, they were widely appreciated for that reason in the days before all food came from the grocery store*. Old European herbals list “spring tonics” for health and beauty consisting largely of eating all the cleavers (Galium aparine) you could find for a week, and the modern urban forager/wildcrafter folks still list it as a cleansing/tonic herb.

While the attribute from which they take their common name makes cleavers no one’s favorite raw vegetable, a brief blanching subdues their clinging hairs while maintaining most of their nutrients, so that’s what I did with my first-of-the-year trove. Stir-frying works fairly well, too, especially with black sesame oil added after cooking. One of these days I may try some a la wilted lettuce salad, if it’s going to keep popping up for the next few months. Typically its season lasts about five weeks from first appearance, but typically, that first appearance is sometime after Valentine’s and before St. Patrick’s Day.

Why clutter up my (mostly) bokashi blog with a post about a foodstuff I didn’t even plant? Because it’s not time for cleavers yet. I’m a gardener, though a landless one; weather matters to me. Not, granted, as much as to a farmer, but still. Some plants want to be sowed only after all danger of frost has passed. Other seeds, I may need to stick in the freezer for a few weeks. Pyracantha should only be harvested after a sustained hard freeze—have the few dips below 32 we’ve had been enough, or too much? Should I give up on plans for firethorn sauce this year?

And what about the curing and composting bokashi? I have a batch of compost-amended soil that should be ready at the end of this month, and a minimal-soil experiment that looks like it will be, though I’d intended it to be just-in-time for this year’s first planting. When is that in a clime where an afternoon in the mid-seventies can be followed by snow, Christmas is shirtsleeve-weather, and the first heralds of spring show up for New Years Day?

I’d planned on hydroponic lettuce and herbs so I could have greens in February, but right now, I’m tempted to direct-sow those seeds into soil. There’s no way this glorious springlike temperature will remain, though. there?

All the weather changes lately are making me queasy. Does that make my skin a January green?


*Yes, I know it doesn’t. But too many of my fellow citizens don’t seem to. Which is a subject for another post [read: rant] or three.