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!)

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