Sunday, September 5, 2010

Backyard porch science: DSF's FAIM-ous Brew?

image from 2funadguyz, who will happily sell you a full-size poster. Probably best to put in your home rather than your wormery--just in case Verne really can read. (Though I'm pretty sure he can't!)

Call this shortcut recipe FAIM, for False--or Faux, if you're in that sort of mood--AIM. There's nothing scientific about it, though I'm hoping others will be a bit more rigorous in their testing [yes, that's a hint]. Short version: kombucha + vermicast + molasses and water as if making AEM, let ferment to completion once, then again to ideal pH, then used.

Longer, rambling version follows. You have been warned.


If anyone wanted to issue me a white coat, it'd be the sort with the extra-long sleeves that fasten in back. I am no sort of scientist—among other things, I never could hack the math—but now and then I do try to dignify the stranger of my behaviors by calling them experiments.

This one isn't finished, but it's nearly as far as I can take it, and I can't be sure my success to date means that this process will work for anyone else. So I thought I'd write it up, see if any other mad fermenters might be interested in giving it a try. (Also, I'm none too confident the folks with the big butterfly nets will let me bring all my buckets along. -G-)

Should probably start with a screen and a half of disclaimers, but I don't feel like it. This is not EM, nor should it be treated the same way. I don't yet know if it's as effective—again, I don't know if it'll work at all for anyone with a different situation than mine—but I am certain it's not shelf-stable, and as I'm not working under lab conditions or anything close, I don't really know what microbes beyond those I'm after might be in here, so it's not recommended where you're really concerned about pathogens. It's just something to play with, okay?

Indigenous Micro-Organisms (IMO), also known as Beneficial Indigenous Microbes (BIM) can be cultured from forest, field, and pond or even your backyard, assuming you have more than just manicured lawn. I have done this, using the process described at AgNet, and re-cultured the result for use in a bucket, too; but this is not that.

This is the easiest recipe I could concoct that might possibly stand in for retail EM-1 in my buckets.

I sometimes run a kombucha jar; other times, I buy a locally made kombucha by the glass or bottle. Kombucha, for those of you who don't know, is a fermented tea drink that tastes rather like someone made soda using cider vinegar and sweetener (better than that sounds, and quite refreshing). But the important part for this post is that kombucha is made by feeding tea and sugar to a SCOBY, a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. For bacteria, read lactobacilli.

As in, two thirds of the triad that makes up EM: yeasts, lactobacilli, and PNSB (rhodobacters).

I have tried using lacto-only or lacto/yeast inoculants in my bokashi bucket, and while other people have reported success with those, it doesn't work for me except in strictly vegan buckets, and my buckets cannot be vegan, since I'm not.

So I needed a source for those PNSB. The rhodobacters I'm after propogate where soil, water, and sunlight meet. Pond mud of certain depths. Rained-on dried leaves left to lie on fertile soil. Bromeliad cups. Some garden soils. Trouble is, it's really hard to tell if you've got them without doing the whole jar thing, unless you luck onto some purple mud.

They are, of course, in retail EM. Perhaps they're in vermicompost made from EM bokashi? Seemed likely enough to be worth a try.

I mixed two tablespoons of fresh kombucha, one tablespoon of molasses, and one tablespoon of finished vermicast (not -compost, but the worms-have-moved-on, absolutely finished stuff). Filled the liter bottle with water, and left it, tightly capped, in direct sunlight.

Bled off the gases when the bottle bulged, but otherwise left it alone for about two weeks. When the smell had gone from molasses to nearly pure alcohol and the bulging stage was done, I did it again, using one tablespoon of the new brew and one of molasses in a fresh bottle of water. There was much less alcohol scent this time, and the final result smelled like EM-1, so I treated it that way, mixing it with molasses and water yet again to use in a bucket (and in my leaf-and-UCG worm food), and to make a baby batch of non-EM bokashi bran.

First bucket test is finished, and successful—but it might almost have been rigged to succeed, since that bucket was fed tea bags (kombucha microbes are used to tea!), pineapple skins and apple cores (yeast and lactobacilli with fruit sugars, nearly guaranteed to ferment), and no meat or dairy (I didn't cook much that week). Second bucket underway, non-vegetarian this time, and it seems to be doing well so far. But 1) it's early yet, and 2) I don't know if vermicast or compost from a region not dosed with retail EM for more than a year would do as well.

So I'm just putting this out there, hoping there are some similarly curious folks who'll give it a try. Bokashi experience not necessarily required, though a bucket or reasonable facsimile would seem to be necessary...



Anonymous said...

seems i've found your blog again - from sauerkraut crocks to sourdough

i noticed in a post of yours May 25, 2010, 10:05:12 AM from

you mention a high school science project? Winogradsky column? i'm just new to this bokashi thing but my brain is continually trying to figure things - i feel cheated out of not getting to make 'swamp in a jar' and will be growing one this summer

didn't you mention something about a blog post? forgive me if i missed it - i only stopped here to blab a bit about whey and sourdough starter and swamp in a jar


i'll snoop around a bi tmore and see if i can find that post about collecting purple rhodos and leaf litter - sounds a lot easier than trying to harvest it from a jar...though that's going to stop me from trying


Anonymous said...

forgive my reading comprehension - a lot of this is over my head

i missed the date of this post and a few other little things went right over my head the first time

i'll go back to being anonymous, at least for time being

D. S. Foxx said...

Anon or not, welcome back!

Winogradsky columns are, I'm told, "too unsophisticated" for today's high school students. Sigh. maybe if they all called it by your name, swamp in a jar, it'd appeal to the younger kids? -G-

Don't worry at all about dates--if it's on here, it's fair game. And if my experiences or opinions have changed...well, now, there'd be a lovely topic for a new post.


Anonymous said...

sometimes i feel people are a bit to sophisticated for their own good

your link for the Enrichment and Isolation of Purple Non-Sulfur Photosynthetic Bacteria is something i would have loved to study in high school or college for that matter

you mention keeping leaves in the bottom of a bakashi bucket somewhere iirc - this is to encourage purple rhodos?

D. S. Foxx said...

When I've put dried leaves in the bottom of buckets, it's usually for absorbency--sometimes in a nested bucket's reservoir, to produce a nutritive solid without having to wait through a full fermentation and curing; sometimes instead of a reservoir, in an outdoor fermentation; and very often as a dry carbon after fermentation, as equal volumes of dried leaves and cured bokashi compost quickly and thoroughly in my usual set-ups.

But none of those requires the specific PNSB that do so well as odor-eaters, Which is not the same as saying it wouldn't it work. Assuming your leaves have been de-bugged, or your set-up tolerates such things.

And before you ask, yes, I have tried dried leaves as a carrier for a lactobacillus inoculant; it didn't work well enough to bother refining the technique, but neither did it fail. Someone with a mulching mower and several trash cans to spare might manage it.


Anonymous said...

thanks for your help D!

lots to think about - lots to read


Jeff said...

Thank you for this blog entry. I need to go back and start reading your other posts. It's interesting, I am much like you, doing experiments without the science degree, and I have a profound interest in soil amending, closing the loop on waste, and microorganisms for human health and biodiversity.

I have been a home fermenter. Sourkraut, yogurt, kefir, wild cultivation of lacto strains, and finally kombucha. I have read about EM-1 and would like to have it but the cost has always held me back.

I have just recently begun to notice that the kombucha culture seems to be one of the most active, at least in comparison to the wild lacto that I have cultivated. It is also easy to keep going for the home novice. I like your idea of using vermicompost cultivated from your EM-1 bokashi. It would seem to make perfect sense. I wonder if the worms themselves cary the PNSB as part of their microbiome outside of coming from an EM-1 bokashi bucket? It would seem likely.

I have also been experimenting with bokashi, or perhaps I would just call it kitchen scrapes fermentation. My process is to put a couple of inches of soil pep at the bottom of a five gallon bucket. Add some table sugar and spray my homemade wild lacto or now kombucha, add scraps, repeat. I let it ferment for about 3 weeks with weight on top then add to an outside static aerobic compost bin.

I know this is an older thread and I'm not sure if it is OK to ask a couple of questions. Anyway, I will try.
1) I have never had true bokashi, don't know what the final product should look or smell like. After 3 weeks my buckets smell citrusy, slightly vinegary, slightly sweet, fairly strong smell, but not putrid or unpleasant. I don't use a spigot to remove excess liquid. Does that sound about right?
2)You mentioned something in your post that made me think that you are vermicomposting the finished bokashi. Does that work? I thought worms were sensitive to higher acid levels. I would like to try vermicomposting and would rather integrate into the bokashi setup if it would work.

It's amazing to me that there are other people doing the same kind of stuff I do. There is no one around me, I feel like a mad scientist quietly hammering away. It would be nice if we could crack the code and make this stuff accessible to more people. Some kind of crowd-think going on. Thank you for your work, I will be busy reading whatever else you have posted.