microbes eat my garbage! Or something like that...
Friday, August 21, 2009
Can you smell that?
It’s time, I think, to talk about not sailing ships and sealing wax but scents. Aromas, smells, stenches, whatever. Time to talk about odor.
The bokashi retailers persist in saying that bokashi doesn’t smell. What they mean is that it doesn’t stink, and/or that odor does not escape the container. Dried EM bokashi bran has a very faint odor, not at all unpleasant unless you find vinegar, molasses, and bran disagreeable. Fresh, it smells like uncooked bran muffins with a hint of kombucha or cider vinegar. Again, not unpleasant unless you’re one of those people who don’t like the smell of vinegar. Other carriers will have different smells, but dried, they’re all discreet enough, and fresh, the smell can be a bit strange, but generally clean and non-clinging, nothing to bother anyone.
A healthy bokashi bucket smells more strongly of vinegar, often with undertones of the foods in the bucket--that scent is not perceptible outside the bucket, assuming the bucket is airtight and drained often, and it should not be overpowering when the bucket is open if you’ve drained the reservoir frequently and refrained from adding spoiled (slimy, moldy) foods to the mix.
If you’re adding something strongly scented, like smoked meats or shellfish, expect to smell that each time you open the bucket for the next three or four days. If that’s a real problem, you can ferment that item separately, or store any newly generated compostables for a couple of days to let the bucket fermentation progress. Adding much more EM bokashi bran than the retailers recommend helps, too; I often completely cover odorous additions with bran.
Bokashi juice, that microbe-rich leachate, smells like vinegar, but not at all the sort you’d be willing to put on a salad. The character depends on what you’ve put in the bucket and how long ago, as well as how long ago you last drained the reservoir; I aim for twice a week (though I don’t often manage it), as I find that at that interval the scent is more cider vinegar and less old-gym-sock pickle. Diluted as recommended, the scent is not perceptible even when using in an enclosed space, but every care should be taken to avoid spilling the full-strength juice.
An undrained bucket smells like a dumpster after a week in the Texas summer sun. Adding absorbent materials to the bottom of a bucket may help in the short-term, but once the bottom’s too wet for EM, the bucket will quickly begin to stink.
Cured bokashi smells fermented. There should be no competing scent once the bucket is finished. Turning out a cured bucket for finishing is best done outside, or at least in a well-ventilated space, as the odor does linger awhile. The soil-based finishing methods suppress odor quite well so long as they aren’t too wet, and an enclosed composter will largely contain smells; other methods may allow some odor to escape, so are best done outdoors and away from doors and windows.
Like bokashi retailers, composter retailers persist in saying that compost doesn’t smell. Like the bokashi retailers, what they mean is that, properly done, it doesn’t stink. Or, depending on the containment unit, that no smell escapes. Ditto the vermicomposter retailers. None of them are scentless. To me, a healthy wormery smells like a forest in autumn after rain, not at all an unpleasant scent, but a bucket wormery too small to handle all my household-generated organics (barring those not eligible for standard-practice residential vermicomposting) made my whole small apartment smell like that damp forest. Thanks, but no. An enclosed wormery, like an airtight bucket, emits no odor save when open, so were the opening done in a well-ventilated area, that would be a possibility, but keeping a standard-model in my kitchen is not something I’d be willing to try again.
Compost or vermicompost in progress smells like its components. Around here, that’s usually dried leaves and cured bokashi. Not unpleasant, but not something you’d wear for perfume or use for an indoor air freshener. Covers or enclosures keep that odor from becoming a problem, though if you were to get right next to a unit and breathe deeply, you might be able to perceive it. And in an unventilated space, it would eventually become strong enough to notice. Of course, aerobic composting and vermicomposting both work better with proper ventilation anyway. Wormeries especially need airflow lest they go anaerobic, in which case they stop smelling like loam-and-leaves and start to stink like unemptied trash cans.
Finished bokashi compost smells like compost. There is no food or vinegar odor still present. The same for vermicompost. Bokashi used as sub-surface fertilizer will be quickly used except for the more durable materials (bone, eggshell, etc.), and have no individual scent by the end of a growing season.
(A)EM smells like molasses and vinegar, sweeter or sharper depending on its pH or age. Sprayed full-strength or in strong dilution onto surfaces, the smell remains perceptible for some time after drying. Which can make for an odd mix with other household cleansers!
Failed bokashi smells like unemptied garbage. Drowned compost often the same, or like backed-up sewers. [Yecch!] Dead vermicompost, too, is an assault to the nose, often including some element of eau du corpse. In other words, failure stinks!