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.