Friday, June 26, 2009

Tales from the Bucket: the Hundred Degree Bucket

Actually, it’s a bit hotter than that here, and while the active indoor bucket is comparatively cool, the garden-waste bucket test has been postponed indefinitely. Called on account of heat. Have I mentioned that it’s ***hot***?

Between the temperature and the webworms, I declared the end of my variant-broccoli season last week. Normally, garden waste goes in the apartment compost now that we have a bin, but it’s full right now; no way I could fit a small pile of roots, too-tough stalks, and skeletonized leaves in there.

Farmers don’t typically bother with buckets, choosing to sheet compost or pile-ferment or otherwise handle their large-scale waste in place instead. But I am not a farmer. No farm, no land = no place for sheet-composting or whatever. I could, I suppose, have tossed all that fresh chemical-free vegetable matter into a leaf and lawn bag, but I have pangs enough handing over fallen leaves, no way the city’s getting something I worked to grow! Those bits might not be edible to me, but my microherd should be allowed to enjoy the harvest, too.

So I blinked at that small pile a few moments, mentally translating it from yard/gardenstuffs into bucket-volumes of kitchen waste that just hadn’t made it into the kitchen, and then went and fetched the largest bokashi bucket I own.

I did everything right at the start: added EM bokashi bran to the bucket first, chopped up all the remains, layered EM bokashi bran generously, mashed the materials down, used the silly tool to hammer the lid down and check the seal. What I didn’t do was open the bucket the next day to add more bran. I don’t tend to; I’m generous with the EM at the start, and most of my buckets are now equipped with spigots, so it’s no trouble to tap the things frequently. The only reason I can see for that “open daily” bit is to check on the progress of the bokashi, and quite frankly, I do enough of that! Every two or three days is fine. really wasn’t, this time.

I didn’t have to open the bucket to learn there was a problem; the bucket had opened. Gas pressure defeated the lid I had deemed unopenable without mechanical aid! The smell of overripe brassica was perceptible some feet away, and the sight when I rounded the corner was startling: Black Soldier Flies don’t swarm, but there were more of them buzzing around that bucket than I have ever seen at one time before.

So the bucket failed according to my definitions (insects, odor), but that’s not to say the fermentation failed; in fact, it was too successful! Yeast + food + heat = carbon dioxide. The pressure popped the bucket’s lid off, which allowed sunlight to cook the top layer of leaves where they weren’t completely covered in EM bokashi bran, but I was curious enough to stir the bucket, and the scent beneath the top was characteristic of early bokashi.

What, I wondered, would happen if I put the lid back on? The bucket was already failed...

The lid popped off again in less than a day. Which, I figured, was more than enough of that. I am curious to know how long it would take a filled-all-at-once bucket to ferment at one hundred degrees as opposed to the cooler indoor temperatures, but that test would require a gas-release valve, and I’m not headed back to the homebrew shop any time soon, so it’ll have to wait. Because I may be a personal chef to the worm towers, but I am not willing to become a nanny to buckets. Twice-daily burpings is just too much work for me!


The image above is from allposters; no affiliation, I just liked the shot.


Peggy said...

Sorry the bucket failed. Would this also happen if you put a full bucket from inside on your porch to "cure"?


D. S. Foxx said...

Bless you for asking! I meant to go back and insert a paragraph about that, but forgot.

(And thanks for the sympathy. Old broccoli, yecch.)

No, a curing bucket likely wouldn't have popped its top. Certainly not so soon or repeatedly. The usual bokashi model (indoor bucket, bran, spigot, etc.) assumes daily(ish) additions for two weeks give or take; the oldest stuff should be completely fermented by the time an "average" bucket is filled, with only the newest items and any particularly dense/large/heavy bits still at the early, more vigorous stage. At that point, a bit of extra heat can help--EM likes it warm--though I do try to tap the bucket at least once in the first couple of days, mostly to be sure it isn't wobbling.

But what I did this time, filling the bucket all at once, gave the microbes a great big feast all at once. In bread dough, that's a good thing. In a full bucket, not so much.

It should be possible to ferment a bucket after the usual fashion even in this heat, and certainly the outdoor curing buckets aren't tossing their lids into the air and declaring indpendence or anything, it was simply over-enthusiastic yeasts and their compatriots getting drunk and gassy.

Or...something. I think I've been breathing too much AEM!


dra said...

I'm a newbie. I haven't even started a bucket yet -- I've just started reading up on the subject. (I did get some buckets from a neighborhood bakery though.)

this post has me worried. I don't think my family would be very happy about this kind of situation and my dh would more than likely tell me to scrap the whole project.

If I understand you correctly, the "mistake" was that the bucket method is for incrementally adding small amount of scraps. We shouldn't take a whole bucket of fresh scraps and ferment it at one time. Is this correct?

btw, where can I get pre-mixed bokashi bran? Or should I just try to make it myself?

One other question, have you or anyone else actually listed the benefits of having a bokashi bucket at home: the environmental, horticultural, economical advantages?

thanks for taking the time to share your progress with us.

D. S. Foxx said...

Welcome to the club! And don’t worry—bokashi’s very easy to do well. Periodic additions of EM bokashi bran, a potato masher or some other means of squashing down the matter, a tight lid, and frequent drainage. You’ll be fine.

This bucket failure was actually two mistakes at once: too much stuff and too much heat. There’s yeast in EM, and yeast growth = carbon dioxide. (Think bread dough rising or champagne bubbling.) I stuffed that bucket full of greens and EM bokashi bran, leaving no room for the gas. Not a likely problem in a normal household bucket, as when you open it to add new stuff, you relieve the pressure. Which is, I think, part of why the retailers advise daily additions of EM even if you’re not adding fermentables, though in most cases you can skip opening it awhile without risk—so long as it isn’t sitting under the heating vent or something. In this case, full afternoon sun in a Texas summer heat-wave! Heat encourages microbial action, and gasses expand with heat. And since there wasn’t any room inside the bucket, the pressure built up until the lid came off.

I have fermented fill-at-once buckets before, in cooler weather and with mixed materials, but don’t recommend it as beginner practice, or at all indoors. [Among other concerns, without some intervention the pH may not be low enough at the end of the usual retailer-recommended period, which is a real problem!] You can toss a couple of inches of stuff into a bucket at once without worry, so long as there’s at least one scoop of EM bokashi bran for every inch of matter, and you don’t forget to drain the bucket every couple of days.

Pre-mixed EM bokashi bran isn’t available in my area but can be ordered online, or you might see about getting your local feed store or nursery to order some for you. Making EM bokashi bran costs less, assuming you’ll use more than one bag’s worth; Whole Foods carries EM-1 liquid inoculant in its floral department, and other stores may as well, or, again, it’s available online. If you have the liquid, bran, and molasses, it’s easy to make EM bokashi bran, but then you have to wait for it to mature, almost a month in many cases. Which is right for you depends on your needs—if I were starting over, I might order one bag of EM bokashi bran and a bottle of EM-1 liquid together.

The process is new enough that there’s not a whole lot of unbiased English-language text out there just yet, but Dr. Higa, who formulated EM, has a two-volume book about bokashi. He covers benefits in the larger sense; on a personal level, it kind of depends on your situation, so my perceived benefits may not apply to others...but, yeah, I think all of us bloggers and most of the retail sites have lists or paeans of some sort. I probably ought to do a quote-list one of these days... -G-

Again, welcome. And happy bokashi’ing!


Anonymous said...

Sorry the bucket failed. Would this also happen if you put a full bucket from inside on your porch to "cure"?


Anonymous said...


D. S. Foxx said...

The retailers would simply say “No,” and assuming you chop everything and refrain from adding a whole pineapple plus juice immediately before sticking the bucket in direct sun on your porch, they’re probably right.

I’ll go with “not likely.” There is a chance it might, depending on how long it took me to fill the bucket, the general character of fermentables I added (size, sugar content, etc.), what I put in last, and the outside temperature—oh, and the bucket—but it’s not worth worrying about with the usual household bokashi model; the bulk of the bucket volume will be past the point of concern by the time it’s filled, and all the heat will do is encourage the curing. [Assuming a standard two-week bucket, that is.] I do check curing buckets more frequently in the heat, but that’s partly caution and mostly that the ferment releases more juice with higher temperatures, so there’s a greater chance the reservoir will fill and back up into the bokashi. Which is...aesthetically undesirable.