Thursday, May 28, 2009

Welcome to Verne-ville, population one billion

The retail planter wormery pictured is about thirty inches high. Sexton's approaching that now, and while he is smaller--twelve inches in diameter as opposed to the Garden Planter's fifteen--it's not so much smaller as I'd thought, which leads me to wonder...Sexton's one of two outdoor tower wormeries, and I'm half-seriously considering adding a third. Just for me. Do I really generate that much more waste than other vermicomposters?

My planter-tower wormeries do get fed bunches of dried leaves, but it's not only that; I'm feeding about a third of my bokashi to the worms, so with no leaves at all (if that were feasible) I'd still be short on tower-space. Not the leaves alone. What else, then?

I think it's the increase in foodstuffs eligible for vermicomposting with bokashi. The meats, aromatics, oils, and grains that are either not appropriate or appropriate only in small measure in their raw state are all apparently quite acceptable to wrigglers once fermented. Whereas, back when I was feeding Verne only the recommended vegetarian chopped-frozen-and-thawed stuff, it seemed like he got a bit less than half my kitchen waste. Which would fit rather more easily.

What can I say? I like citrus! And every member of the allium family I've ever met. -G-

As for the leaves, no doubt the retailers assume that someone with the space for a "garden" wormery also has the space for a traditional compost pile, so dried leaves and other non-food compostables won't end up taking space in the wormery. But that's not always the case, and it's hard enough asking people to house and feed a collection of worms without insisting they keep a compost pile as well.

[Says the person with compost bin, three different wormery designs, bokashi buckets, and a bucket full of black soldier fly larvae. Ah, well.]

Two pounds of worms, they say, can handle up to seven pounds of waste per week. Which is apparently what the "average" family of four is expected to generated, if the Family Size Wormery is any guide. That's comparable to the Jr. Wormery figures I saw some while back, that said half a pound of worms per person's kitchen waste per week.

I generate a gallon of bokashi in an average week. Plus the odd contribution from the coffeehouse, an occasional bucket from a long-suffering friend, etc. How much does a gallon of bokashi weigh? Depends on what's being fermented! But judging by the cocoons(!) and small wrigglers I saw last time I fed Trey, it's more than his current population can eat.

The worm-boom goes on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cleaning House

I've been offline a lot lately, what with one thing and another. Fortunately, bokashi'ing and gardening have been among those things, so I have things to post about! But first a topic I keep forgetting to put up: using EM for cleaning.

If you buy your EM bokashi bran pre-mixed, you may be missing out. I began this ever-growing project with a bottle of liquid EM inoculant (cheaper and available locally, so there was no need to wait for delivery). Having the liquid EM around, of course I had to try some of the beyond-the-garden uses for the stuff!

Folks, you wouldn't believe some of the things people do with their EM. It's mixed into ceramic donuts and balls that are then added to pools and ponds to help clarify and purify the water. Used as a foliar feed for plants, mixed into drinking water for pets and livestock as well as a supplement to chicken feed, added to household cleansers, used as a cleanser itself, and even mixed into toothpastes and mouthwash.

Oh, did I forget the drinks? There are whole teahouse-like establishments devoted to EM products in Asia, and bottled drinks increasingly for sale in the West. As well as several sites where one can find recipes for brewing one's own from that same bottle of EM-1 used to make "magic bran."

While I have, out of curiosity, tasted freshly made AEM, I haven't yet gone so far as to make a beverage out of it. But I have used the spray as a deodorizer for the apartment trash bins, and upon seeing how very successful that was, experimented a bit with some of the other cleaning uses. While I don't find that it's a viable substitute for a proper cleanser on its own (maybe my floors and shower are excessively dirty?), it does seem to discourage the reappearance of mildew--no small feat!--and keep things clean longer than the cleansers alone.

It even works in the laundry. The usual retailer advice is not to use EM on dark fabrics, and judging by what happens to kitchen sponges, I'd say it's unwise to challenge that. But EM works very well to get kitchen towels clean, as well as the kitchen sink; even without hot water, there's no musty smell nor stains. And a strong dilution of AEM is far and away the best fridge-cleaner I have ever found! Safe for use on food, too, which is one less cause for concern when attempting to clean up a minor fridge spill.

One of these days, I really am going to have try an EM-X drink. At this stage in my life, I can't imagine that ingesting a few more soil-borne bacteria could hurt me!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Coolest thing EVER!

Okay, the French Press is up there. Ditto the jacuzzi. And I admit to a fondness for contact lenses, refrigerators, indoor heat and sanitation. But, c'mon, an office greenspace/bokashi bin? Two words:



Though it looks like I may have to do the non-retail thing for this as well--not only as the original would likely cost the earth, but because I can find no US equivalent of the Canadian company introducing this thing.

Sigh. And here I've only just got the office-mates to agree to try natural air freshening plants instead of those headache- and cough-inducing Glade Plug-Ins.

And that took a month-long campaign! I began by scattering leaves of lemon verbena or scented geranium on my desk. Anyone who asked was informed they were from my garden. "Rose geraniums make lovely indoor plants, too." After a while, it became something of a joke, with coworkers asking about the plant of the day. Then I skipped a few days, until someone asked me to start again. And finally I offered to bring in some plants. If no one minded, naturally. The response was uniformly positive, though only truly eager in a few cases, and with definite preferences as to the scents and kind of plants. (Which is why I brought in different sorts, you see.)

So I'm far from a biowall. But, oh, I do want one! Or two. Can I replace my cubicle?

talking trash

I am neither No Impact Man nor Fake Plastic Fish. Garbageland, while interesting, is in no shape or form the experiment for me. And part of the reason I'm not too active on BlogHer is that I feel like I'm sailing under false colors in their Green and Eco-Conscious category--eco-conscious, me? I'm just a gardener here.

Well, maybe.

If you ask, I'll describe myself as "casually green." Aware of the problem and willing to go a few steps out of my way to help mitigate it, so long as those steps aren't too arduous or difficult to remember. Habitually green, in many ways, but not in every one. The journey away from plastic is incredible to read about, a great conversation-starter, and far too difficult for me to even consider embarking upon myself. And so on through the larger changes of lifestyle.

Reducing the amount of trash I throw away was never really the goal when I started bokashi. Not exactly. I wanted to stop throwing away things I could turn into compost. The small benefit to the overloaded trashstream made a nice secondary excuse for carving out some funds from my always-straitened budget to start bokashi-ing, but the primary reason was to make compost, cheaply, instead of buying it expensively.

That's all.

This week, I threw away a grand total of one gallon of trash (not counting the kitty litter). The recycling bin got its fair share, though I didn't measure that. But all that went into the trash bin was a single re-purposed one-gallon bag, filled mainly with the plastic wrappings of grocery-store purchases.

In that same week, I put one and a quarter gallons of soi-disant "waste" into the bokashi bucket.

This, mind, not counting the UCG I took home from the office, nor the scrapings from the cat-food dish that got fed to Repulsive. All by myself, in one week, I generated more than a gallon of fermentable could-be-trash-or-could-be-useful kitchen stuffs: UCG, tea leaves, cantaloupe rind and banana peels and corn-silk and -husk and -cob, the insect-nibbled outer leaves of garden produce, onion-skins and burdock peel...

It's possible that I'm eating more fresh produce because of the bokashi--both because the garden's doing well enough that there's simply more fresh produce within feet of my front door than ever before, and because I'm more inclined to buy whole fruits and vegetables at the market now. These days, I balance the "there's only one of me" calculation that would have led to my buying, say, a package of melon cubes instead of a whole melon with the realization that the leftovers will keep in the fridge a day or two, and Verne might like the rind when I'm through.

And I'm quite sure I recycle more because of the bokashi bucket. In the old days, I might toss an empty cat food can in the trash rather than wash it out for recycling, my issues with the household feline's chosen treat being what they are. Why not, if I was going to have to take the trash out that day anyway? And some bottles are really hard to wash out, and since there's a can going in anyway... But these days, I take the trash out once a week because the bins have to go down to street-level anyway, rather than out of urgent need. (Always excepting the kitty litter.)

It feels fairly revolutionary to me, the idea that trash doesn't have to smell bad nor be taken out every day or two, but landfills were never meant to receive so much organic matter; the wholescale trashing of compostables is a new--and regrettable--practice. My great-grandparents would have fed their kitchen leavings to chickens or goats or pigs, depending, as would their parents and grands back through the years; my grandmother had a vegetarian compost pile for years, until moving to one of those horrible planned communities whose planners didn't plan for them. My mother throws things away, as do all her peers.

Me, I'm not inclined toward livestock, even if I had the space. But I seem to have largely traded in my trash can for a bucket or two. And I have to say, I am more than happy with the exchange! The trashstream is less taxed by my contributions, which is lovely; and my garden is thriving, which I have to admit I find far more satisfying. Still, it is nice to know I'm putting less of a burden on the earth in some small way. You couldn't call it accidentally green, as I knew the benefit was there at least in potential, more serendipitously green, in that I wasn't looking for it, but am happy to have found it anyway.

Bokashi allows me to compost more than I'd ever thought possible, including meats, oils, and dairy. All the organic kitchen waste. Leaving nothing to spoil in the trash, to stink and attract insects and generate methane and all those horrid things.

(Still excepting the cat litter, as I've yet to find a compostable sort the HF will use.)

Kermit was wrong: sometimes it is easy.

Being...well, you know. -G-


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Smoke test

I've always loved that phrase, proof that mechanics and engineers can find humor in things other than the bills they charge me. -G- This week, I got to see if a few of my experiments were going to blow up. Or whatever.


Repulsive v.2

Take your basic nested-bucket bokashi set-up, add a mesh layer to keep the SF-nal maggots from falling into the reservoir, drill holes in the lid and upper sides a la the jr. wormery conversion, and then insert two hollow metal poles to provide the required 40-degree-angled ramps for teen grubs to climb.

Though I don't actually recommend doing this, at least not that last step. Turns out this season's bucket-tweak is not pest-proofed yet. I knew those ramps were going to be a problem, but hadn't really thought they might be used as levers. Imagine the raccoons and/or possums waddling away, burping...

Interim solution is to take the ramps back off and weight the lid. New grubs have hatched and are eagerly eating, but I have work to do!


Verne Prime has been retired; traditional vermicomposting is too much work for me. But I've got more worms than ever before (and yes, that is a good thing). So let's bring the smudge pots to my "worm towers," Trey and Sexton. Same basic design for both: spigoted reservoir at the base, nested plastic planters with a bit more drainage than usual for plants, screws with anchors inserted in the sides to keep the layers from compacting, planter with soil and plant on top. Spanish moss wedged into the sides to help secure the layers as needed, and used as mulch for the plant. Sexton uses larger pots and more of them, and the screws are set higher to use more interior volume of each planter.

My midnight freeloaders must not have been too pleased with this design, though I am--the comparatively squat Trey was perfectly unscathed, and Sexton, which is a bit more open, was disturbed but not much discommoded. Not upended, not emptied, they didn't even disturb the soil, far less the plant in it. 'Coon or possum claws did manage to pull out the moss-wedging from one layer, and no doubt the thieves ate whatever worms they could reach through that space, but the bulk of the wriggle (that is the right collective, yeah?) remained safely in the feeding layers.

It does reinforce the caution, however, that the towers must be stable! The weight of soil and plant on top has so far proved sufficient, but I've only got a couple of levels in place right now. I had decided against a center pole for extra anchoring as I thought it might be messy--this way, planters can be easily removed and replaced with no risk of spilling--but may have to rethink that. We shall see.


Bokashi and dried leaves together heat up too much for direct addition, and there's too much heat to put in the relatively small towers even with an empty layer between the uppermost active feeding layer and the new addition. So I think there has to be a separate container or spare planter that can be secured top and bottom against insects and larger pests, and left to rest at least four days.

Can't report on how long it takes the worms to completely devour a batch of bokashi + dried leaves, as they're still working on it, but they're multiplying like their little wormy pants are on fire! So I guess they're happy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beyond the Corral

Wastewater folks call it FOG: fats, oils, and grease. One of the major causes of sewage blockages, which release pollutants, interrupt service, and are incredibly expensive to clean up, FOG is more even of a concern now than ever, between older infrastructure, increasing demand, and, unfortunately, certain water-conservation methods.

Some municipalities have programs to collect household FOG waste for conversion to biodiesel. Mine... does not. Austin and Houston recommend that residents throw their waste grease and oil in the trash.

Need I say that I'm not pleased by this?

Oddly, despite the municipally sanctioned advice to trash all FOG, the City of Austin does, in fact, accept used oil and cooking grease at one location--and, according to the website , "Oil collected will be reprocessed into biodiesal [sic]or other environmentally-friendly products such as soap."

So, no collection service offered, but if you're sufficiently motivated to add some road miles to your conservation efforts, they'll take care of the rest. Does this seem a bit strange to anyone?

Zero Waste is a long, long way away!

What does this have to do with bokashi? Not a thing, directly. But those grease-soaked paper towels can go in the bucket instead of the trash, and bokashi juice--the microbe-rich effluent produced during fermentation--helps keep drains clear. As for the larger quantities of grease and oil, if you're sufficiently mechanical, you might make your own bio-diesel, or candles, bird-feeding bars, etc. Hey, what about bacon soap? know, assuming your kitchen generates sufficient bacon grease for that.

Friday, May 1, 2009

...never mind...

Squeamishness is still an issue. As for the rest... Turns out I really should be putting the bones into the bokashi. Or a wormery or a BSFL bucket with a dose of EM. Or one after another.

How do you speed up the breakdown process of bones? 1. Moisture. 2. Heat 3. Acid. 4. Soil-borne bacteria.

Sounds familiar, no?