Tuesday, May 18, 2010

After the Bucket: Brown Bag Bokashi #2

--image from PaperMart.com, in case anyone should need to buy a gross of the things--

This year, some friends have loaned me garden space. Still don't have any holes in the ground, but I do have some lovely raised beds! Experiments therein must be relatively likely to succeed, and absolutely guaranteed not to fail spectacularly: dead plants would be a regrettable but an acceptable outcome; dumpster-stench and insect incursions, on the other hand...

So brown bag bokashi #2 was born. Unlike #1, there's no dirt placed in the bag; also unlike the first, this method uses a moisture-retaining cover. The cover speeds the process a great deal; didn't notice any heating, but I rather suspect that's observational failure (don't have a recording thermometer, what can I say). This is nowhere near sufficiently vetted to risk prized roses or rare herbs, but for basic garden veg, it's being rolled out to bucketville's satellites as fast as I can manage. So far, it looks like each package of lightweight, nourishing rooting medium/plant food/soil amendment can take the place of an equal volume of potting mix, so long as there's at least two inches of soil for the start to root into, plus an inch of something--cheap dirt, fill, shredded newspaper, bark mixed with gravel--at the bottom. And it's a whole lot cheaper than even cheap dirt for me! Friends, freecycle, and my local grocery get me the bags; my dollar-store roll of twine will last a year; and the bokashi I have already.

Ingredients: Eight parts random sweepings (the first one was mostly oak pollen, given my area, with the usual bits of dirt and dried leaves I count on to add all those extra microbes) + one part cured bokashi, in a paper grocery bag.

Preparation: Dump the damp bokashi and dry sweepings into the paper grocery bag, roll the top down, and tie it up with hemp or some other natural-material (compostable/decomposable) twine. Stick the assembled package into a plastic grocery bag, the handles tied to make a moisture-conserving, mostly protective casing that is not wholly airtight.

Rest: about a week. (If you're feeling nervous, run a quick pH test on the wettest part of the bag.)

Use: Dump the paper package, now soggy and faintly scented of vinegar, into a planter prepared with drainage and about an inch of really cheap dirt. Fill in the remaining space with a decent container mix, including at least two inches for the plant to root into, and plant olla pots and starts as desired.

Verdict: success! The squash start I used for my first test didn't curl up and die, drop its leaves, develop spots or off-colors, or show any of the other signs of stress. It's a touch smaller than the optimized control but not at all stunted, and began to blossom a few days before its larger cousin, though not so soon as to cause concern. Altogether a compact, healthy specimen. Repeat tests have not been underway for all that long, but early results are comparable.

As with all my paper and cardboard techniques, this may not be the greenest of all possible options, but it's suitable for some situations. In this case, it allows a scalable, portable, soil-free harnessing of bokashi for those folks who, like me, may have no recourse but to purchase soil, or who simply prefer to garden without it. Assuming the bokashi is thoroughly cured before bagging, there's no reason at all one couldn't use a coir-based potting mix around the bag instead of soil, even in an indoor planting.


Someone please remind me to update this after the growing season, so I can report on long-term results!

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