Sunday, September 25, 2011

Link Love

While I'm still focused on rebuilding, others are doing more exciting things with bokashi: This industrious blogger collected windfall citrus to add to bokashi. “After” photos here, with a link to the “before” post included. A community garden program that offers classes in vermicomposting and bokashi? Okay, probably a bit of commute, but... In my next life, I am going to be a carpenter! This box is so much prettier than anything I've made. A nice instructional series with clear writing and clear photos from a site worth exploring for more than just bokashi.

And “waiting on the rainy season”perfectly describes my situation, too.


image is linked from Palmer Web Marketing, who would probably appreciate it if you checked them out.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tales from the Bucket: Dirt Nap

Dirt Nap

No, that's not the reason I've been silent (fortunately), but the current bokashi-bucket tweak.

Some disciplined container gardeners "rest" mixes between use in order to prevent pathogen transfer, discourage insects, and limit the spread of pot-weeds. I'm not often that disciplined--typically, if I have a container full of potting mix, there are three plants on hand I could put in it! But this hasn't been a typical year.

There's a depth factor for sun-sterilization, and I haven't bothered with anything like proper procedure, but something like fifty days of 100+ heat and sun, following after yet another season of drought, has left a bunch of pots filled with dry mixes but largely devoid of life. Plant, animal, insect, or, just possibly, microbe.

Obviously, can't have that. Not at the house of buckets. -G- The usual procedure for using bokashi in container mixes is simply to layer mature bokashi between inches of soil-based mix, but that assumes a mix that's damp enough to work with. I'm not planning on watering dirt weeks before planting-time! We're under watering restrictions.

Understand, we're talking dry, dry former soil, some of it baked into rocklike chunks and the rest all dust and flyaway clumps. I did try digging a hole, scooping some bokashi in, and filling it back up; but the dirt was so resistant to absorption that it was still all powdery when the crepuscular scavengers came by for dinner... The only saving grace was that it was easy to clean up; just took a broom.

So now I'm doing the initial bucket-fermentation stage with that dry-as-ashes dirt.

Call this an advanced technique, because I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a beginner! There's a decent chance it will fail according to one of my basic criteria: presence of insects, due to eggs or estivating critters. Or even, if you have a deep enough pot that some moisture remained in the bottom, worms. Verne and company are only really welcome outdoors; I can tolerate a closed wormery indoors in some circumstances, but would rather not. And they don't tolerate the pH in a working bucket, so they have to be carefully repotted once hatched or revived.

There's also a more-than-slight chance of starting a hot-composting reaction in the container, not necessarily a problem but certainly something to watch. (I'm mostly thinking about the paper towels soaked in bacon grease, or the glistening fast-food bags, and wondering just how thick the soil layer has to be to exclude the oxygen a fire would need.)

And if you're fermenting things generally not considered compostable in a home setting--that is to say, meats--there's always the need to ensure a quick and thorough fermentation, and that can be a bit more difficult with changing volumes of organics and inorganics. In practice, that means you may have to more actively manage the planter-bucket than you would a more standard bokashi bucket set-up. Not too much work, mainly a matter of juggling additions to be sure you have a few inches of fermentables all at once, with AEM. Still, one more thing to pay attention to, as opposed to the standard "dump, cover, forget" easier-than-trashing method.

But on the positive side, this entire bucket-to-garden technique uses no water beyond the cup or so to mix up sufficient AEM or bokashi bran for a single bucket/planter. There's no draining required (usually). And at the end, if you've been sufficiently generous with your ratios, you have a bucket full of just-moist-enough, oddly pickle-scented soil-and-fertilizer mix ready to be inoculated with worms or dumped into next season's raised beds or containers on top of a layer of leaves and poor soil, and covered to rest again until planting-time.

Only this resting time, the microbes are all awake and chomping. The fall tomato bed's starting to look really nice, and the first bed I constructed with this stuff is growing nice, bushy basil on only two quarts of greywater per plant per week (olla pots, naturally).

Basic procedure:

If you've got a deep container full of dirt, may as well use that. Bag the base in case of seepage or bugs.

*Partially empty or fill container so it's about half filled with dessicated soil.
*Apply EM as in a standard bucket.
*Add fermentables and EM as usual, at least a few inches worth.
*Add one inch dry soil.
*Repeat until out of soil or space.
*Lest rest until a nice thick acetobacter mat connects the whole.

Note that the top layer of soil should be moist at an inch down after about a day, from absorption. If it is not at least damp, add a small bit of moisture. Very small, and not too soon.

Don't forget to keep this covered! It may not look like a standard bokashi bucket, but it's still fermenting in there. I covered one working soil-bucket simply with a plastic bag, figuring the soil would work to exclude oxygen. Came home to an apartment permeated with Eau de Pickle Factory Explosion.

Really a better idea to do this outside, but 1) the heat outside my door would dry the fermentables before the microbes could do their thing, and 2) I'm too lazy to carry my kitchen waster across the threshhold even once a day. Easier to keep the bucket next to the garbage and recycling. Covered. Lesson learned.

So far, I haven't used the resulting white-threaded enriched soil for direct-planting, but I'm planning to; I'll simply stop fermenting with three or four inches of space left in my planter, let the concoction rest, then top with an olla pot and transplant in moistened unfermented potting mix.

This isn't exactly the all-in-one bucket I'm still dreaming of, and seeing as it requires horrible lifeless soil I'd rather not be in a position to ever use this technique again, but...did I mention toil-free basil in August? Hope for the fall garden even when all is dry and sere? And not having to rinse out bokashi buckets when it's 105 is also a plus, I think.

Hey, look: the garden's alive! And so is the blog.

Image from an article titled RIP: Recycle in Peace (Yes, that is an urn-planter!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fly Paper

Sorry, couldn't resist the joke: Repulsive's on Or his kind, anyway. Industrial-scale black soldier fly larvae processing: 20 million steroid-abusing maggots in their articulated armor chomping their way through a literal ton of organics every day.

Repulsive to the nth power. Still, nice to see someone trialing alternatives to burying organics in concrete-lined pits!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

image from Animal Diversity Web

This year's hands-free tomato garden was supposed to be rather more ambitious than last year's, but I got discouraged. Early in the spring, I built three small (4'x2') raised beds, filled them with dried leaves and soil and a little wet organic matter, dosed with AEM, covered, and let rest. Two of the three worked well, so I did get to plant some tomatoes--but the third was invaded by fire ants.

The cover wasn't well secured, and I hadn't bothered with weights, so it was my own fault; next time I'll know better. But that was no help for this time! Couldn't re-cover it, with the ants only too willing to defend their home, not that I was sure it would have helped. I don't do chemicals, flame is too risky for our persistently drought-ridden climes, and I didn't want to pour great quantities of water into the bed to try to chase the ants away, so I decided I'd disturb the ants every chance I got and just build another bed for the next tomato planting.

Stirred some odds and ends of half-decomposed material into the infested bed while I was disturbing the unwelcome resident ants, since I don't yet have a proper compost bin at that location. And a while back, my odds and ends included the last crumbles of cheap bagged soil that had sat around in a dampish corner.

A bag one of these Texas Blind Snakes had adopted for a home.

Scared me silly--but I'd already emptied the bag into the bed, and the worm-colored scaly snake had slithered beneath the leaf-mulch, so that was that. Stirring up the ants did not appeal at all that day, or for the next few weeks; didn't bother to water the bed, either, as that would have meant standing too close to it.

But I'm a gardener with only limited space, and the presence of a raised bed full of largely composted matter eventually proved too great a temptation. So I grabbed the longest-handled shovel to poke around...

And discovered what would not have been news to anyone who'd bothered to look up the Texas Blind Snake instead of just squeaking like a small child and running away. Turns out, this wormy-looking snake eats ant and termite larvae. Not a single fire ant came out to attack the shovel, no matter how vigorously I stirred the bed. The materials are not wholly composted, but it's far enough along for my purposes. With or without a worm-snake, though I hope not to see it when I'm planting.

Wearing gauntlets as well as gardening gloves, I think. -G- Not that the worm-impersonating snake would hurt me, but I'm squeamish.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Introducing Nigel

The vermi-family has grown: I have African Nightcrawlers now. Actually, have had for a couple of months, though not many to speak of at I didn't. But now Nigel's a definite presence.

The image above, from, is nothing at all like the material I started from. Local bokashi-and-beyond purveyor Microbial Earth offers an "African Nightcrawlers & humified compost mix"--according to the label, approximately 200 to 300 cocoons packaged with coir and compost for direct-to-garden application.

My vermigardening's mostly containerized, so I potted some herbs with a little of this mix added in, and set up a planter tower after my usual practice but without any actual worms, just the cocoon-and-compost stuff.

Well, in the interest of accuracy I should mention the two or three thread-thin hatchlings I found in the bag. But no breeding populations, you understand.

So at first, I assumed the worms I saw in the new tower were volunteers from the established colonies. But African Night Crawlers (ANC) are larger than the others. Much larger. When, on lifting the tops off two worm-homes, I saw worms in one that were twice as large as those in the other, I knew Nigel had established.

Still not quite as impressive a tangle as that image, but he's expanding quickly enough that I'm planning to divide him this weekend--probably a little soon for that, but he's just so big. It looks like he's cramped for space.

Haven't yet found any in the olla pots, so he may be brighter than Verne (EF). Or maybe it's the size thing again, or age; it tends to be larger, presumably older, iterations of Verne who move comparative mountains to get into the damp, cool clay containers between waterings.

So far, no vermi-battles have been observed. Verne mostly stays in his containers; Cousin Clem (Indian Blue) wanders a bit, but Repulsive (BSFL) has claimed all the good spots, so he retreats to the undersides of saucers. George the earthworm (no idea, possibly more than one species), sniffs around wherever any excess bokashi juice or Repulsive effluent has been diluted and applied, and sometimes finds his way into a recently wetted planter to become the worm equivalent of the crotchety old man in the corner house. "Hey, kids! Stay out of my burrows!" Or so I assume from the occasional vertical airspace in some of the less-tended and more populated units.

Nigel has yet to make his way out into the larger world. Which, you understand, is just fine with me! Worms that large disturb me a bit; I'll be just as happy never to encounter one without advance warning.

Though he's certainly welcome in the garden.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

How many buckets would that fill?

From the text on the poster--details and a gallery can be found at GrowNYC--I'm assuming that little if any of this collected material is composted; clean dry and paired suggests reuse, not reclamation. And that's great! But what about filthy, torn, disreputable shreds of former garments?

Let them eat cake couture.

Verne et cie happily munched their way through the post-season potato bags, not quite waiting until the season was over before starting; Repulsive's nearly through the denim I decided was too worn to save for next year's insulation, and it's only been a couple of months; there are still bits of terrycloth in the slow-compost after nearly a year, but only bits, sufficient to add a bit of structure but nothing more. And the fabric bokashi bag (filled with matured ferment and buried at planting time) was only root-tangled threads when I repotted that particular item.

It's hardly news that natural fabrics are compostable in a home setting; the trouble is that so few of us think to do it! So, I'm trying. Dishtowels and cleaning cloths, old clothing and shopping bags, bits of fabric too small to make decent patches...into the mix they shall go.

Cleaned if needed (though I'm not much for chemicals) and tossed in after fermentation, I think. Unless I'm feeling experimental. 'cause, you know, that happens sometimes.

Been reading about the soil industry lately, picked up a new-to-me-term: low value soil-like materials. Paper waste and sand and things. Bulking and structural items, to me, since for nutrients I have bokashi. Seems strange to think of silk or linen as "low value" in any way, but a stained or torn shirt is trash, so, okay.

If we each saved one shirt from the landfill...that'd be a lot of space we didn't use. But I'm selfish, I want a personal benefit. So: if one shirt could replace one gallon of soil in a planter... Yeah, that'd work for me. Soil's expensive, relatively speaking.

Anyone need help cleaning out their closets? -G-

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Got K-Cups?

[sorry for the formatting—I'm having blogger issues again. Image from espressoplanet, no connection though I lost some time browsing their offerings.]

Single-serve = more packaging. I know. And K-cups are ridiculously easy to throw away, all neatly packed even after use, while being nearly impossible to dispose of responsibly.

If only they didn't make such good coffee! -G-

So the workplace now has a Keurig. It also has two Solofill reusable filter-cups, but I'm the only one who'll use those; everyone else uses the packaged cups. Before I started agitating for folks to toss their K's into the compost collector [“my worms are hungry! Please feed them your tea bags, fruit peels, etc.”], I figured I'd better make sure the foil-topped plastic cups with coffee and filter inside were, in fact, bucketable.

Turns out...they're not suitable for a standard bokashi bucket. (As a general note to myself for future experiments: Impermeable additions mess with bucket health. Treat separately if at all.) Nor all that desirable for my bucket-alternatives. Even leaving the chemical concerns out of it, plastic in a slow compost pile is never recommended; it will break down into smaller pieces, but not truly degrade. The worms don't appreciate foil, though it isn't enough to make them flee from an otherwise suitable planter, but it takes a surprisingly long while for any worm to get brave enough to wriggle into a cup, and in the meantime, other critters may decide to colonize. Bad enough having to remove slightly degraded plastic cups from your vermicompost, but a cup full of centipedes? Eek! Repulsive doesn't mind them if the foil's torn a bit, and cohabitation's far less of a concern there, but small cups can hold waer, which could stagnate, and then there's the mucky mostly-intact plastic to fish out of the grubbery. Ick. And Ugh.

If you take the foil off the top, the worms are happier, though the other concerns still apply. Sigh. I scrounged a covered tray that would fit half a dozen or so unlidded used K-cups; spritzed EM/AEM/AIM on the UCG and let it ferment for BSF bait or “breath freshener” or compost boosters—nice fermentation, but in order to use the stuff, you still have to separate the organics from the plastic. Let me just say, it's a pain: the filter's glued into place. I resorted to kitchen shears.

And gave up on trying to salvage the organics from them in any organized sense. Hey, I divert my own UCG, isn't that good enough?

...which argument would sit less uneasily on my tongue if not for the fact that the workplace Keurig is actually my personal property, installed there for office use because I could.


Monday, May 2, 2011

...and the results are in!

Sorry for the lack of posting lately—oddly for me, I haven't had much to say! -G- Since I was low on pot-fillers and plant-foods, I went back to the processes I knew would work and shelved (most of) the experiments awhile, and “Day fourteen: bucket ready for stage two” doesn't make for interesting posts.

But it occurred to me as I was picking lavender for a fruit salad that I had written something about that plant's rooting medium soon after its potting, with no followup. So...

This is one of the plantings where I used bokashi and shredded office paper, with no additional microbial source and an extra-long curing period during cooler weather. I tossed some exhausted dirt in the bottom of the container, filled it most of the way with the paper-bokashi mix, then dug a small nest into the paper and filled that with decent potting soil, into which I planted a typical four-inch nursery start. About an inch of soil to top. No olla pot in this planter, mostly because I didn't have one ready but also because I wasn't sure the paper would hold one stable. (A later test confirmed that assumption, though it is possible to use the side of the planter as a partial support.)

Call this a very slightly qualified success I cannot currently replicate. It's a little messier than I prefer my container gardening, especially without crockery in the bottom of the planter—a step I gave up on for good when I realized that it might prevent worms from colonizing my plantings. But the muddy deposits around the base of the planter are attractive to wandering worms, many of whom then find their way into the planter, and a larger-than-normal drip tray will retain that nutrient-rich material until it can be tossed back on top or harvested for another planting.

As well as the mess, this method looks like it might require a mid-season addition of potting mix. This isn't an insurmountable problem, but I prefer to avoid mucking about with roots between repottings. The bokashi and paper seem to be decomposing both faster and more completely than I'd anticipated, and there isn't enough soil in the planter to support the plant alone. Next time, I'll add a bit of sand or some other non-nutritive material. Natural fabrics, maybe; they decompose more slowly than paper, and plants root well in them.

Now for the good parts:

No root-burn! Most of the bokashi mixes have to be cured after mixing with potting media, which is fine for more organized gardeners but a trial for me; this material was close enough to neutral pH to be safe for immediate use, and while there was likely a bit of heating, it wasn't enough to register on my low-tech tests, no more an issue than Texas sunlight if the planter was watered adequately for the plant. (A second test suggests that you really don't want to let it dry out even halfway within the first week, though I found no troubles thereafter. I'd try it again, but I'm out of “hoarded” bokashi. For now.)

No long-term odor. There was a faint but present unpleasantness upon emptying the hoarded bokashi, as there often is when emptying a bokashi bucket left to sit awhile—which is why I always do that outside—but it wasn't noticeable an hour after the planting was finished. A soil cover or some other barrier is definitely necessary lest the material attract pests, but with that one small remediation, this seems like it could be used in any outdoor setting.

No additional fertilizer needed. Bokashi's a nice sub-surface slow-release plant food; 'nuff said.

No trash. Convert kitchen waste and junk mail into produce? Sounds great to me. And this method used only “trash” and an EM source, plus a small quantity of soil for the potting, most of that re-used. Cheap and responsible, my favorite kind of technique.

The lavender was one of two plants I potted in this mix, the other being a blood-veined sorrel that's quite stunted in appearance just now. A casual observer might decide it was was overnourished and therefore feels no need to grow—look closely and you'd see signs of my too-frequent harvesting. What can I say? I grow things so I can eat them.

The garden plan having been scuttled by last fall's too-dramatic events, I joined a CSA this year to augment my produce production. Vegetables are packed in shredded paper for transport, so I thought I'd try the same slow-cure method...but it turns out that doesn't work in warmer weather here. No bokashi hoarding in Texas heat!

Maybe in an air-conditioned office?

Definitely worth further trials.

--Until the next,


[image source:]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tales from the Bucket: The Stone Soup Bucket

[image from the Florida invasive plants site]

I could work up a serious dislike of chinaberry trees. Actually, it wouldn't take too much work--the fruits are poisonous, the trees sprout like weeds from seed or sucker, and they're nearly as discouraging as walnuts when it comes to plant biodiversity in their immediate vicinity. Granted, their flowers smell nice, but that's not enough to earn their keep.

Before moving to Texas, I had never encountered the term “trash tree.” Until chinaberries and scrub elm, I'd never thought to use it. But chinaberries...well, I suppose they have their place, but there are far too many of them in my limited growing space.

Porch sweepings in this season are mainly those sticky chinaberry fruits with their hard centers, plus a few dried leaves, oak pollen, unripe mulberries, and assorted other detritus. It's not a great mix, and without serious hot-composting or some intervention, the result will have so many chinaberries-in-waiting as to be more trouble than it's worth.

Unless, of course, you're short on composts, funds, and resources altogether. Or are trying to be wholly self-sufficient in anticipation of TEOTWAWKI. Or have hungry grubs to feed...

Repulsive's active laying period has begun, but I don't have all that much to give him just now. He will not eat chinaberry fruits left to decompose where they fall, but put them in a container with a seasoning of bokashi and he'll chow down! And while the fruits are toxic to mammals, they don't seem to bug him one bit. So I swept the porch-fall into a series of flat, stackable containers--shallow dishpans--and added a cup of bokashi'd kitchen waste to each one. Bokashi plus sweepings will self-compost to some degree, though not significantly in this scenario, with so little moisture or pressure. But there is enough moisture for mama layers to consider the mix a decent foodsource, and it turns out the small volume of bokashi I used as a start, plus the occasional addition of a small bit of bokashi juice or anything else in the vinegar range*, is sufficient to keep the grubs happily chomping their way through those fruits and churning the leaves toward their natural end, with the help of EM and other IMOs.

There are already saplings appearing in this mix, so apparently chinaberries don't object to dilute acids and disturbance. But they're easy to uproot now, can be tossed right back in to provide more food for microbes and macros, and if they sprout and die now then the eventual soil amendment will not have tons of saplings. It will have a whole bunch of seeds, but after sprouting they're not nearly so pebble-hard as when they're still encased. Cooked stones are a bit softer, maybe? -G-

Being rather squeamish about Repulsive, I'm still planning on aging the grub mix and/or letting the worms have it, but it looks like it should be usable to a less grub-averse gardener in about two months from sweeping, finished enough to use as container fill for an outside planting without further intervention.

And if you weren't doing retail bokashi, this would still be perfectly feasible; a purely lacto fermentation will attract BSF layers. The current favorite among non-bokashi-ing BSFL “wranglers” seems to be fermented corn. Come to think of it, chinaberries in water might well ferment...

There is one major disadvantage to my stack-of-dishpans set-up--I do not believe Repulsive should be allowed to free-range--but now that I know the chinaberries can be useful, I'll build a case or something. The minor disadvantage, that the relatively open stacks require additional moisture, I consider a trade-off, as the relatively high rate of evaporation means I don't have to drain reservoirs of grub muck. Also, the neighbor's AC unit drips more than sufficient water onto my porch, and unless you're using clay or filters, AC water is not recommended for watering plants, so what else am I going to do with it?

Goes well with the whole something from perceived-nothing idea, too.

Are your grubs awake yet? What are you feeding them?

*vinegar, kombucha, bokashi bran mixed with water, even sauerkraut brine, if it's real kraut.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Project Restart: Hoarding Bokashi

[image from]

No, wait, I mean storing. Holding at a particular point until ready to use. Really. I may be something of a miser when it comes to finished vermicast, but all the other composts, plant foods, and rooting media are there to be used--I'll just make more. (Verne et cie would finish more vermicast, too, but only if I refrained from stealing their vermicompost at earlier stages. Which is unlikely.)

This winter past was unusual even for me, and there came a point when I had a bucket of mature bokashi and no post-bucket plans. No planter towers or Repulsive-and-Verne double-decker to feed; no soil conversion units; not even a bag of dried leaves.

It was not, at that point, cold enough to freeze, or I would have appropriated a filled leaf-and-lawn bag from the curbside pick-up, scooped out enough dry matter to make room for the bokashi, and then set the assembly under the porch until spring. If it had been reliably warmer, I might have stolen some worms back from one of the foster-folks and set up a new tower o'Verne. But winter in Austin being what it is, neither seemed likely to succeed.

Bokashi isn't stable at the point we consider finished. Really, it isn't even finished, though the microbes have (we hope!) wholly colonized the bucketed materials, eaten most of the available sugars, broken down some of the cellulose, and so on. My usual practice is to add different microbes at that point--thermophilic or otherwise--but if you left the bokashi alone in its closed container, it would continue to ferment awhile. After some time, the EM would die off, starved or poisoned depending, and other microbes would emerge.

Remember, bokashi works on a principle of dominance; those other microbes have always been in there, just dormant or incredibly slowed. In the absence of thriving EM, other available microbes suited to the environment take over. Those newly productive microbes might be molds, if the bokashi is on the dry side and has any air coming in, or fungi, but in a standard wettish closed bucket, what you get are the dreaded stink-producing anaerobes. I've done that, and there was no way I was going to risk it again!

But...what if you could balance the environment enough to slow everything down without adding any new elements? The dominant set would still be dominant, right?

I know from past experiments that newspaper works as a carbon source, but does not carry any of the necessary soil-borne microbes to start my usual second-stage composting. As I strongly prefer wholly composted bokashi--using the gardener's definition of the term: a product homogenous in appearance and safe to use as a primary element in potting media, as top-dressing, etc.--I hadn't bothered to do much with paper since determining that. It's useful to balance moisture in a bucket if you've got the volume to spare, won't impede the fermentation unless there's not much moisture to begin with, breaks down well enough once the composting starts but will slow the composting if allowed to clump or used in whole sheets, and there's no real difference between adding it during or after the fermentation. Overall, far inferior to dried leaves as a future-garden item, but since it's free and widely available, I expect it gets used far more in other people's buckets, and since it doesn't carry insect eggs, it's a better choice for indoor tests. (Assuming you've used all your shredded phone books, anyway.)

It might, I thought, serve to wick away just enough moisture to slow fermentation. So I split that one bucket of otherwise homeless mature bokashi between two buckets of hand-shredded paper, sandwiching each non-homogenous glob of ferment in a thick black-and-white nest, weighted one and wrapped both in plastic to ensure no additional airflow.

And then I waited. For months. I would have ended this test at the first sign of failure, of course, but when no such sign came...well, I'm lazy, and I was curious, so I let it keep going rather longer than I had planned. Almost three months in all.

The result is still a non-homogenous glob in a black-and-white nest, the weight creating a damper and more compact upper layer than the other but generally the same. It has a faintly disagreeable odor beneath a still-perceptible vinegar tang, and the pH is so nearly neutral that my standard low-tech tests don't register the difference. The literature isn't as clear on this point as I'd like, but generally tends to imply that this material would be safe to use as a subsurface fertilizer even in contact with roots at this point. To date, I have found exactly nothing about its suitability as a primary component of rooting medium for short-season crops--assuming your chosen additions addressed the stability and airflow concerns--but I figured I'd risk a few Verne-bits and a transplant or two on a real-world trial. So I scattered some vermicompost and dried leaves in the bottom of two planters, dumped my stored bokashi-and-paper atop that, then added a basic potting soil and blood-veined sorrel in one and a worm-seeded mix in the other, with a lavender.

Neither has died yet as of this posting, nor has there been a mass exodus of wrigglers, but at not quite a week from planting it's maybe still too early to say whether or not this is a success*. At least it wasn't a failure as far as the storage goes; and it might be worth trialing a bucket or two of fermentables cut into the retailer-recommended tiny pieces, fermented as usual and then mixed with cross-cut paper and sealed up again, to see how long it takes the pH to normalize that way. The resulting product still won't be as versatile as compost, but smaller bits mean less of an ick factor, and if paper and bokashi alone, in the absence of air, can be used to create a slow-release fertilizer suitable for use with food crops, just imagine how much cheaper start-up gardens might be!

--to be continued in another post, as there are a whole lot of words here and I'm not yet finished babbling. -G-



*First sighting of Repulsive's winged form this weekend. Not, I am happy to report, in or around either of those test planters. But one never knows what he (she, in this instance, but Repulsive is always male to me)gets up to when I'm not watching.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time to wake--oh, hai!

Warning: Repulsive image ahead.





...Still here? Well, at least you've been warned. Me, I had no clue. Took the lid off the rescue-attempt unit, and:

The fire and subsequent clearing destroyed my winterized double-decker BSFL-wormery; these relatively few grubs were all I could salvage, and they were sluggish with chill when I stuck them in their temporary home. Tossed in some food and some leaves so they could choose whether to eat or sleep, and pretty much forgot about them after the week of uninterrupted winter we suffered through this year; there wasn't much insulation in the improvised planter-and-weight assemblage, nor sufficient grub-mass to generate any heat worth considering, and I figured they were all either dormant or dead.

I should know better. Repulsive is as difficult to discourage as any movie-screen monster. (Not that I'm saying he's out for brains--though he would eat them if you offered! It's just that uncounted masses of quickly squirming things like King Ludwig's take on maggots rather irrestibly call cinema horrors to mind. Or is that just me? -G-)

Grub season is still officially two months away, but apparently Repulsive doesn't like naptime.

The Grub That Will Not Sleep. Does Gary Larsen write horror scripts, do you think?


Monday, February 28, 2011

Not a bright idea

Bokashi buckets are pretty much always wetter than the ideal--unless you're using a commercial juicer, maybe, or don't generate any waste beyond citrus peels. For the rest of us, the standard-model bucket with a false floor is a good idea. But it isn't always practical, so now and then I play with assorted moisture-regulation techniques.

Someone who shall remain nameless wondered if perhaps condensation of pure water could be encouraged and drained. What can I say, it seemed reasonable at the time; there was talk of a self-watering planter, you see...

Yes, bokashi buckets do generate condensation. Yes, that condensate is [much!] closer to neutral pH than bokashi juice. No, I will not be continuing this experiment.

Because, you see, something in the collection upset the microbial balance inside my test bucket. Instead of the usual this-volume-claimed-by-EM mass, I found pockets of proper bokashi interspersed with pockets where mold was the clear victor in the struggle for dominance. The overall character was of bokashi, so I tossed in a heroic dose of EM bokashi bran and crossed my fingers, but that licheny pale blue-green is not a color that belongs in the bucket. I'm not sure whether it was lack of moisture in those areas or perhaps a bit of intruding air that gave the mold spores their chance, but whatever it was, it has now been stopped, and I will not risk it again.

There are easier ways to water plants. And to keep the bokashi bucket's bottom from stagnating, too.

I do wonder about bio-char...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Greener Bokashi

...that's “green” as in eco-, not mold, folks!

As such things go, bokashi's already pretty green. At-home bucket fermentation followed by composting, trenching, or use as animal feed diverts organics from landfill and reclaims nutrients that might otherwise be lost. The process uses no electricity and very little people-power, creates no waste beyond a bit of carbon dioxide if properly managed, and requires only a minimal investment in resources.

Minimal here being a relative term, of course. EM bokashi bran is a retail product, which must be manufactured (sort of), packaged (in packaging that must be manufactured), shipped, stored, and purchased. EM-1 and EM-Plus liquid inoculants likewise, though they require less packaging, shipping, etc. Some retailers use reclaimed bottles, others offer compostable plastic packaging for the EM bokashi bran, and my latest mail-order purchase came with cornstarch packing peanuts, so they're working on lessening the total environmental cost.

But every bokashi bucket I have ever seen for sale is plastic.

Some of them have EM mixed in, and those I'd really like to try some day, but for the most part, bokashi buckets are plastic because that's what cheapest, and there's just not that much money to spare in bokashi yet. Even so, the retail bokashi buckets aren't what I'd call cheap, just less expensive than hand-made porcelain with EM in the material.

(Which would be incredible. Any potters out there willing to give it a try?)

Among my circle of acquaintance are none of the uber-dedicated no-plastics folks, but several us of are trying to reduce the amount of plastic in our lives. We're giving up Tupperware for canning jars; have more fabric shopping bags than shirts (almost -G-), are dipping our toes into mesh bags for produce and have learned how to label tare weights on our reusable bulk-ingredient containers.

Bringing more plastic into our homes doesn't feel right any more. Personally, I make an exception for gardening since plastic containers are cheap or free and I really couldn't afford to grow as much of my food as I do without them. And bokashi is an integral part of my gardening these days, so it gets the same pass. But not all my friends are yet converted to the joys of bokashi—

—does that sound as cult-leaderish to everyone else as it does to me? Yikes!—

Anyway, I can't possibly ask my plastic-aware friends to give plastic buckets pride of place in their increasingly plastic-free homes. It's one thing to ask the gardeners if they'd be willing to foster a plastic bucket wearing a pillowcase hood out behind their garage, entirely another to insist they keep a cat litter bucket on their kitchen counter. With or without an industrial-sized spigot at the bottom.

So I've been playing with ceramic kitchen canisters. The white ones in the photo came from a local thrift store, and the set of three cost me $6.48. No spigots, so this isn't ideal for someone who wants a regular supply of liquid plant food/drain maintainer. But if you're not into bokashi juice... The clear plastic one was my trial, $1.08 from the dollar store, purchased so that I could make an informed recommendation about absorbent materials. (More than went in this batch!) Canisters can be purchased to match pretty much any d├ęcor, and they're much more discreet than even the commercial bokashi buckets, much less my home-cobbled versions. The gaskets prevent odor escape and insect entry, and as long as you're able to open them once a week during the two-week curing stage, don't seem to present any risk of re-enacting the Great Canning Disaster of '06 ™ . These don't offer much total capacity, but should be more than sufficient for the particular household; larger crocks are correspondingly more expensive, but a quick online search turned up several with prices comparable to the retail bokashi kits.

I have once or twice seen ceramic kombucha jars/vinegar jars/wide-mouthed ceramic beverage dispensers with non-metal spigots, and if I could afford a custom piece, I'd order one of those with a non-metal grate an inch above the bottom, plus an airtight lid in place of the filter-ring and cork. Though, actually, cork would work if the fit were sufficiently tight, you'd just have to be a little more careful about keeping the mouth clean.

Longer post than I intended. Takeaway message: bokashi doesn't have to be fermented in plastic containers. Ceramics work just fine. Strong glass can be used, with caution—I've taken to using a bubbler for AEM, and don't see any reason you couldn't use one for the bokashi as well. Metal won't work in the long run, since the acid will cause it to rust, but can be used for a few fermentations if that's what you've got. (I used a coffee can for a fermentation unit once, and have used metal sieves for false floors continuously for months before they rusted away. Presumably, metal sealed against oxidation would work even longer.) If you want to add bokashi to your life, it can be done even if you're avoiding plastics.

Ask your friendly neighborhood Cult of the Microbes representative today!

...who's obviously been drinking the Kool Aid EM-X water...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Better than shredding

Pages from phone books end up in my post-bokashi scernarios a lot, but that's because they're here. I'd much rather not receive the plastic-wrapped doorstops at all.

Do. Not. Want.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What's the thread count on that stuff?

It's edging on toward spring (despite Friday's snow!), and I'm making plans and preparations for the season's gardening. Just realized I haven't posted all that much about one of my favorite supplies here in the land of buckets, so here you go.

Spanish moss is pretty easy to find around here. It's at craft stores and floral shops, if you're in a retail mood--and online, naturally; today's image is from you can simply go pull it down from oak trees, free but for the labor. Fluffy, clean, and moisture-retaining, it's used as a mulch for potted plants and as a compostable rooting medium in some hydroponic systems.

Last year, I decided to see how it would do 1) as worm bedding; 2) in an ultra-low-tech vermiponics system; 3) in a traditional compost bin; 4) in post-bokashi quick composting; 5) as a carrier for microbes aka bokashi “bran”

Lost the specifics in the fire (the computer melted!), but here's what I found:

1) Worms love Spanish moss once it gets wet. They tangle themselves up in it and chow down. As bedding, sprinkled with soil and eggshell, it works as well as dried leaves, though the soil is necessary both for grit and microbes (I think; never tried a gritless wormery). Spanish moss is less prone to compaction than paper/cardboard bedding, and decomposes quickly except for a wiry residual structure. It also seems to encourage reproduction; that or fewer worms out-migrate from a unit with Spanish moss than one with other bedding materials. Or maybe both. Lots of worms of all sizes.

2) Spanish moss plus worms probably won't last through a long growing season, though it's fine for a short one. It is not wholly sufficient to nourish worms and plants without some additional food source, but both liquid (diluted bokashi juice) and solid (compost*) foods can be used with this system.

3) Spanish moss will break down in a bin, but provides no additional benefit over other dry materials so far as I can tell.

4) Spanish moss works to normalize moisture levels for quick, thorough composting, not as well as dried leaves (with their added freight of microbes) but far better than shredded phone book pages.

5) Spanish moss is not a reasonable substitute for bran, as it's too much work to resize and has a greater tendency to self-compost rather than simply fermenting.

I tried using it as a barrier against insects, but it's no help at all there; can't have everything, I suppose. Nor is it an odor-blocker. Out of curiosity, I put a thick layer of dried Spanish moss in the bottom of one planter, a few inches below root-level, and mixed a cup or so into the potting mix in another, to see if it would cause any nutrient sequestration—but then I forgot and fed those plants bokashi juice, so I can't say. (The nutrients in bokashi juice are so very bioavailable that I'm planning on testing it as a solitary nutrient source this year, with no soil or worms or anything.) I can say, however, that the moss was wholly decomposed by the time I repotted the plants, and the soil in both held water very well without bogging down.

In a spigot-alternative bucket, Spanish moss is less likely to heat up than fresh coir. It makes a really nice mid-ferment addition, too, in any bucket wet enough to have condensation on the lid. And what brought this post into being today was the mixing of equal volumes of Spanish moss and cured bokashi, that shall after a rest period be used to start this spring's first vermiponics unit. Soil-free gardening being one of my many fascinations, not entirely in anticipation of what some of my favorite bloggers have taken to calling TEOTWAWKI [The end of the world as we know it].

I'll be testing the pH of the mossy-bokashi mix before use, of course; verniponics -G- tolerances lie somewhere between soil and hydroponics, and I'd really rather not melt any worms or burn any roots. We shall see...

Dreaming of spring,


*Standard gardener's definition of compost; haven't yet tried bokashi without that additional step. This season, though...

A Repulsive new blog

Raise Soldier

As backyard industries go, this one...seems to be doing pretty well. I admit to a serious case of NIMBY--both for the ick factor and because I know from experience that BSFL will eat my compost-in-progress, and I need my compost--but this is a great new resource for people interested in cultivating waste digesters on a large home-based scale.

(Cracks me up how many of the BSF folks go out and buy cracked corn to "sour" to use as bait for the things. Apparently, that's the standard local technique.)

Warning for the squeamish: photo- and video-heavy blog, necessarily including close-up images of larvae.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Project Restart: Resupply

Bought myself a new bottle of EM-1. Though it doesn't say that on the label...

Back when I started playing with bokashi, I did the math and determined that buying the liquid inoculant plus molasses and bran was much cheaper than purchasing dried EM bokashi bran. It's even cheaper if you activate the EM-1, which can be used as is, skipping the bran altogether, or used to inoculate a dry carrier if that's the preference*.

That math is still correct, but there was no way this bottle was going to be as cheap as my first. My local bokashi product retailer doesn't currently offer it, and Whole Foods no longer carries EM-1 (grr!). I didn't feel up to even the minor hassle of having it ordered through Sun Harvest or trying to talk my local feed store into shelving a case, so I went ahead and ordered it online, painful shipping charges and all.

Before the fire, I'd been planning to buy one of the line extension products, and I was nearly finished with my second round of a test for posting, so I went ahead and purchased what I'd need to pick up where I'd left off: one bottle of EM-1, a bag of EM bokashi bran from the same source as the liquid inoculant, and the item I'd been planning to buy, “EM Plus,” which is a recipe variant--same ingredients as EM-1, but with more rhodobacters.

I'm very fond of those, and have been wondering what effect extras might have in a bucket and as a cleanser. (Think trash bins.) But my garden budget is pretty much always in the negative, and I try not to let the blog-project cost me more than I save in produce costs, so I'd been putting it off, hoping I'd see it locally--shipping liquids is expensive.

That was before the fire. After, I needed to replace my EM. Immediately. While I have had some success with a few of the homebrew recipes, I'm not confident enough in any of those to give up on my brand-name EM--added to which, all the homebrew recipes take a while to make. I needed a source of EM to keep my buckets going and to use for non-bucket applications (chiefly cleaning right now), so time for a little spending.

There are two retailers on the trial list just now, but only one of them offered EM Plus. Except that they've changed the label. Mighty Microbes now sells it as SCD ProBio Balance Plus (Previously Sold as SCD EM Plus). It's not the only change; my EM-1 is ProBio Balance Original (Previously Sold as SCD EM Original), and the EM bokashi bran is All Seasons Bokashi(TM) – Compost Starter, Soil Inoculant – with SCD Probiotics Inside.

With the new packaging, you have to search to find any reference to EM! There's no "EM" at all on the bokashi packaging--which refers to “ancient Japanese farmers” but doesn't mention Dr. Higa, who is pretty much universally credited as the creator of the EM formula; there's nothing at all EM or bokashi-related on the Plus package, which focuses on probiotics; and the Original, formerly known as EM-1, has only this small reference:

SCD Probiotics Mother Culture ™ is made using the principles of effective microorganism (EM) applied science.

I wondered, but all become clear with the last line on the label:

SCD Probiotics is not affiliated with, sponsored by or endorsed by EM Research Organization, Inc. or their affiliates.

Hmm. Part of me wonders at the backstory. Part of me worries if the next step after label-changes might not be product withdrawals. (I need my EM!) Most of me, however, is just happy to have my microbes back.

At least for now.


*I typically do a bit of each, buying retail EM bokashi bran only for experimental purposes, as gifts, or to keep in my hiking kit, as I find it drying it myself not worth the hassle.