Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tales from the Bucket: The Full Circle Bucket

Having figured out how to compost, vermicompost, and soil-finish bokashi appropriately for my setting, why am I still playing around with different techniques? Well, I’m curious, but more than that—this may not always be my setting! And there’s never a guarantee any living-space will conform to retailers expectations. So I’m trying to find methods that will work for other non-standard situations.

This particular bucket test is an unqualified success, but I wouldn’t use it unless my situation required it: by my current standards, it's slow. Three to six months depending on materials and conditions, much slower than my preferred techniques. On the positive side, it’s contained enough that it could be done in a garage as well as the balcony I’ve envisioned, or even indoors given some care with material selection.

What is it? A hybrid composting/finishing done in the bokashi bucket. I have, from time to time, a (temporary!) sufficiency of buckets, and in one of my more squeamish moments, decided to dump some dried leaves into a curing bucket instead of decanting the ferment. Turns out, that wasn’t such a bad idea, though not a complete technique—the bokashi fermentation can take over the leaves, which is great if you wanted acidified leaf matter but doesn’t turn the mixed garbage pickle into any sort of soil analogue.

Poking holes into the pickle-mass and tipping in a bit of finished vermicompost improves the chances of harvesting humus. So does mixing the leaves with the bokashi—in which case, you can probably save the vermicompost for something else. Putting a weight on top of that mixed leaf-and-bokashi makes success almost inevitable, and if you use soil as all or part of that weight, the end result is a familiar, no-explanations-needed bucket of potting medium. The reservoir does need to be emptied a few times early on in the process, after which the tap can remain open and the bucket ignored awhile. Stirring will speed time to completion, but so long as sufficient microbes were added, it’s not actually necessary.

Can’t speak to minimums here; my tests have used one part compost or living soil to four parts bokashi and four parts dried leaves/shredded paper.

What if you don’t have dried leaves? Use some other dry material and a microbe source. I’ve been using shredded phone book pages for the second-stage tests, since they degrade faster than newspaper (and besides, what else do you do with them?), and the same one-to-one ratio seems to work, though the end product is a little heavier. For microbes, use finished compost, vermicompost, or good garden soil.

And if you have unfinished vermicompost that still has worms in it, you can add that about a week after the leaves and bokashi get mixed together, which will greatly speed the time to completion, and get you a healthy new crop of worms as well, so long as the bucket’s kept out of direct sunlight and there’s some actual soil in there—preferably an inch-thick layer on top, above and beyond whatever may be in the vermicompost.

I can’t imagine many people having enough bokashi buckets to make this their primary post-ferment technique, but the closed-container process may be helpful for some settings. Like, say, folks who have no outdoor space!

Theoretically (which is to say, I haven't tried this), you could design your SIP in such fashion as to do the ferment, curing, finishing, and planting all in the same container, just by mixing in various items (EM bokashi bran, then leaves and perhaps soil, then a bunch of coir). All in the same bucket. Grow food crops, and after harvest...

Yeah, okay, you get it. Excuse me, I must have some gardening to do!


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