Thursday, February 26, 2009

How much time does it take to do bokashi?

When people ask me how long it takes to bokashi, I tend to assume they mean the time from kitchen waste to compost, but that’s a gardener’s query; the non-gardening green citizen might well be more interested in how much time it takes per day. How much time it takes to ferment instead of tossing the kitchen waste.

In my case, these days, practically none. Some number that, while larger than zero, is more properly reported in seconds-per-day than hours.


To begin with, I don’t chop up my kitchen trash (unless I’m feeding it to Verne). The bokashi bucket gets whatever bits and ends I happen to have, and if that’s eight-inch long pieces of pineapple rind, so be it. While I probably would chop up large pieces of meat, the situation hasn’t come up.

Then there’s the fact that I keep my bokashi bucket next to the trash and recycling containers in my kitchen; there’s no difference in time or effort to toss something into one versus another. Given a sufficiently healthy ferment, the odd tea bag or fruit rind needn’t be followed by another dose of EM; if I’ve only got a small bit of whatever, I just toss it into the bin.

When I add large volumes of organic matter, or any meat or dairy, I add a scoop of EM bokashi bran and use the masher--call it a minute total, once a day or every other day depending on how much cooking I’m doing, plus one utensil to wash*. And twice a week at least, I drain the active bucket, which might take as much as another minute and results in a cup to clean only when I don’t drain directly into the sink. Call it ten minutes a week for the active bucket. About as much time as I’d spend hauling multiple trash bags out of the apartment to the outdoor trash bins, back when I had multiple trash bags in a given week.

The curing buckets get drained when I think about it, but ought to be tapped at least twice a week. In the retailers’ usual model, there are two buckets, one curing while the other fills; in that scenario, a bucket must be emptied and cleaned twice a month. And how long that takes depends on what you’re doing with your cured bokashi.

The quickest option is to toss it into your compost bin. How long does it take to upend a bucket and scrape down the sides? Probably less than it would to locate a stopwatch, so let’s just go with “minimal.” Of course, that assumes you have a compost bin, and that it contains dry matter sufficient to balance the contents of the bucket.

If you choose to use cured bokashi as a slow-release fertilizer without first composting it, then you’ll have to layer it into planters at least two weeks before plants can be added--but as for how long it takes, that’s completely dependent upon how speedy a pot-prep you do. If you trench compost, add digging a trench into your calculations.

I still haven’t found a wholly satisfactory soil-less method of composting small batches of bokashi, though the tests are ongoing. My usual procedure (for now) is to transfer cured bokashi into one or two large planters first prepped with an inch of poor soil. After every two inches of bokashi, I add a handful of good garden soil or mature compost, something with a wealth of beneficial soil-borne microbes, and I top the planter with three inches of soil or two each of soil and dried leaves. Then the whole thing gets set out of the way for a month, ideally in contact with soil Time? Call it fifteen minutes per bucket, plus a bit of soaking time for the empty one before I start the whole thing again.

Making EM bokashi bran takes some time (I figure about an hour’s active time all told, including remembering to add the necessary supplies to the shopping list –G-), but you can always go the retail route for that--and if you choose a company that offers free shipping, the price isn’t too bad; the five-pound bag at Bokashi Center will set you back $15, which comes out to five to seven dollars a bucket, depending on how generous you are with the scoop. And no more time than it takes to authorize a PayPal charge.

Making the buckets, again, takes me some time, but there are retailers practically frothing at the mouth to help you there.

So how long does it take, per day, to do bokashi? As with any new practice, there’s a learning curve, but once you’ve adjusted to separating food remains from landfill-destined trash, it takes no time at all.

It’s just another bin. Or bucket, whatever. And the procedure’s all too familiar for urbanites these days: lift the lid, add your waste, shove down, close lid, and walk away. It’s just the end result that’s so much more welcome this way!


*I sometimes set up a small lidded container for tag ends on days when I’m playing in the kitchen. This keeps me from opening the bucket a dozen times in a day, which would slow the ferment. It does, however, result in another dish to clean. How many seconds does it take to wash one extra dish?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tales from the Bucket: Verne

There’s a new bucket in the bucket garden. I’ve decided to call it Verne.

Hey, it was that or George. -G-

While I don’t find worms in any way repellent, I’m also unlikely to spend much time gazing fondly at any specific resident of this new bucket, so I’ll be referring to the colony, colony-plus-container, and to each resident in the same singular-pronoun fashion I use with Repulsive (who is only temporarily dead). Verne arrived Friday, by priority mail from a Texas worm farm.

There are a number of retail wormeries on the market, but in keeping with my cheap frugal approach to this whole experiment in bokashi, composting, and waste disposal, I chose a less expensive option: a nested bokashi bucket with spigot and mesh layer. Not quite so polished-looking as the image above, but the same idea.

Urbanite that I am, I actually bought this first pound of worms. Though I do in fact know a few people with horses, and presumably then with access to horse manure and the wrigglers it attracts in nature, I don’t know them well enough to ask if they have worms and if so, can I get some. There are a few vermicomposters among my acquaintance, but most of them are busily building new bins to increase their operations. So while I didn’t go the retail route for the container, I did for the “active ingredient,” so to speak.

Total cost for Verne:

1 nested bokashi bucket with spigot–N/A
1 piece fine-sieve hardware cloth—N/A (purchased to refit a nested bucket set-up for Repulsive)
corrogated cardboard—N/A, as I liberated it from the recycling bin and shredded it myself
shredded paper—N/A
1 lb. composting worms: $25. including shipping

Which makes my start-up cost for vermicomposting about the same as my start-up cost for doing EM bokashi.*

Now that I have experienced the convenience of being able to compost everything, I wouldn’t want to go back to worrying about dairies and meats, far less citrus and onion skins. But while worms might not be the one perfect answer to my particular kitchen waste disposal needs, they might well be the other half of the answer to my container composting/container gardening issues:

EM bokashi and vermicompost, in different forms, should serve for all my fertilizing, hydroponic plant food and soil amendment needs! And if, as some sources say, worms can thrive on a diet made up of wastepaper, waste cardboard, and cured bokashi including materials they wouldn’t eat otherwise, I’ll have a completely indoor solution, too.

So you can imagine I’m doing everything I can to make Verne feel welcome.

I’ll post progress as it occurs!


*The techniques I call “silage composting,” that use primarily lactic acid without the specific mix of microbes that make up EM, can be much cheaper, of course, or even free.

Tales from the bucket: RIP (?) Repulsive - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

The bucket is empty. Of grubs, I mean; there is a fair quantity of halfway-to-humus matter left in there, but no designer-maggots remain. Not ONE so far as I could see.

This emptiness is not a permanent condition--I do have a couple of overwintering dormant grubs left in another mini-bucket, and BSF are common in the area; I could always set out bait to attract them once laying season returns. For that matter, there may still be some grubs in one test-container not yet checked. But Repulsive’s primary colony is no more. After I went to the effort of protecting it against the occasional winter freeze, and fed (and fed, and fed!) the thing, sadly or not, Repulsive is dead.

Of undeniably natural causes: My grandmother always told me “raccoons wear bandits’ masks for a reason.”

It’s my own fault, really; I glanced out at the bucket collection after the windstorm, but didn’t actually check to see that all the lids were secure. Apparently they weren’t. Teethmarks and clawed furrows tell the tale...

So the next colony home should have some sort of latch or lock for the lid. And I’m going to have to revisit my self-harvester design, I think, to see what I can do about coon-proofing it.

Granted, this isn’t exactly the typical urbanite problem, or at least not one the folks on televised dramas ever face -G-, but raccoons are among my pushier environmental conditions, and must be considered in any composting/waste disposal scenario. As must possums and squirrels and the neighborhood dogs.

And the human neighbors, who aren’t any more tolerant than I of the infamous “off odors.” Repulsive’s bucket never produced any cause for complaint (though I imagine that would not have been the case had anyone actually seen the BSLF). So I think I’m calling that particular experiment-set an only slightly qualified success--

BSFL for waste disposal: recommended, though unaesthetic
BSFL as leaf-degraders: recommended for some situations, though removal of matter can be messy
BSFL as true composters: not feasible
BSFL as chicken feed: recommended up to 25% of total
BSFL as fish food: recommended by literature, not personally tested
BSFL waste as worm food: not yet tested
BSFL as coon treats: recommended--by the raccoons

RIP (for now) Repulsive, 2008-2009.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The redworms are coming!

I must confess: I am a mass vermicide.

The Great Parboiling some years ago ended my one and only experiment in vermicomposting, but it hadn't been going all that well even before the not-quite-seasonable heat wave. At that point in my life I wasn't doing enough gardening to need large quantities of vermicast, so the worms were primarily supposed to be disposing of my vegetarian food wastes. But while the idea of an indoor composting solution appealed, no allium and no citrus made them a less than satisfactory choice for me.

Years later, I'm still looking for a completely indoor composting solution; bokashi is wonderful, and in many ways absolutely perfect for me, but composting it does still require an outdoor stage*. Or processing through a wormery? The Great Al of bokashi fame and Bentley the worm guy have reported success with feeding cured bokashi to worms...

So I've ordered some red wigglers. One set shall be fed only approved foods, others on those same foods after fermentation and curing, and still others on whatever happens to be in my standard cured buckets come worm-feeding time (likely to include citrus, allium, meat and dairy).

I'm sure that tiny high-pitched scream of vermy horror is purely my imagination. -G-


image: Paul Revere's ride from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Re--

Re Bokashicycle

Another retailer has entered the fray, this one with a different approach to the "what do you do after the bucket" question: he or they consider(s) cured bokashi to be finished. Which it is, technically, at least for one use: cured bokashi can be used as is, without additional treatment, as a slow-release fertilizer. No composting necessary.

(Though some would say that the plant roots and soil organisms macro and micro complete the composting process, that's really a quibble; what the Cyclettes object to on their site are particular potential outcomes with some composting processes, but breakdowns via plant growth wouldn't result in those anyway. Nor, it should be noted, would properly managed hot compost, but that’s a matter for another post.)

Burying cured bokashi and then planting over it--after an interim to allow pH corrections in the soil--has always been one of the more common retailer-suggested post-bucket uses. Slow-release fertilizers introduced before sowing can keep plants happy throughout the growing season and improve soil at the same time. Sounds great! And relatively easy.

Unfortunately for us landless and soil-poor folks, there's a limit to the volume container-gardeners can treat this way. "Get it back into the ground" doesn't apply if you have no ground to get it into.

So I'm probably not their target audience even discounting the approach of the site's writer or writers. Which is not exactly an odd experience for me, and if it gets anyone to divert organic matter from the trashstream, it's worth cheering.

I think.