Urban gardening. In bread crates!

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A couple of months ago I wrote about a project in Berlin that really inspired me. Right there in the middle of an incredibly grey, incredibly urban jungle, cars rushing by on all sides, these guys have created a community garden.

And the thing is they’re doing it all in bread crates. Stacked on timber pallets.

Nice and easy to move if someone decides they should put up a high-rise there instead. And the only real option when the land beneath their feet is a lovely mix of asphalt and god-knows-what.

So we’ve decided to run some experiments here on the same theme, but using Bokashi to make the soil. Urban gardening in bread crates. Even though it’s mid-winter. Even though we live about as un-urban as you can get with, say, 3 cars passing by per year. Our plan is to set up the crates on the veranda now during the winter and see how they can be used for winter storage. Veranda = asphalt, right?

Then, come spring, we’ll try whatever we can think of to assimilate urban gardening. I’m dead sure we’ll be able to make soil directly in the crates — the idea would be to grow in the top one on the stack and make soil in the lower ones. And if we put out a couple of the trays on the grass for a while I imagine some worms will move in, enough to start a little colony. If they like it, perhaps they’ll stay. Even when the stack gets moved back onto the gravel. With any luck they’ll work their way up and do their worm-thing tray by tray.

You’re right — this is all very theoretical at this stage. Probably a near-case of cabin-fever after several months of snow…

So maybe you could help us? Wherever you live you must surely have an earlier start to your spring than we have and perhaps you’d like to give it a go. Test everything! Let us know what you find out!

It would be really, seriously, cool if we could find a simple way of getting urban gardening and Bokashi working together. Hard to imagine anything more elegant than old food becoming new food right under the nose of the urban planners!


You can see pretty much what we’ve done in the pictures above. The crates have a grid of holes bottom and sides, we’re lining them with newspaper to prevent soil escaping down the track. They stack nice and neat on the veranda, we’ve put various plastic and bio-bags (biodegradable bags) filled with Bokashi into each crate. Seems to work fine for winter storage, the whole lot will just sit there and freeze until spring.

When things start to thaw we plan to cover the bags in each tray with soil and/or autumn leaves. The important thing is that the Bokashi is not exposed to air at any stage. Probably we’ll slit open the bio-bags or at least punch holes in them as they will take forever to break down otherwise. The more soil-contact the better — that’s what gets the soil-making process going. Oh, and a cover on the top crate is probably a good idea so your soil doesn’t get rained away if you’re not under cover.

Of course, you could just use this as a handy winter storage. In the spring you could just carry the trays out into the garden and dig down the bags/empty them or whatever. Same if you had an allotment somewhere, or a community project going. A few trays of ready Bokashi would be a godsend come spring.

That’s the plan so far. I’ll get back to you when spring comes. If it ever comes…

9 thoughts on “Urban gardening. In bread crates!

  1. Interesting experiment!
    Don’t worry, spring will come :). I already spotted the first violet in my garden, even though the ground is still frozen solid.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement mrs jaydot — I’ll take your word for it!! Say hello to your brave little violet…
    And I’ll let you know how the experiment pans out 🙂

  3. I love your blog, Jenny. Thank you so much for being so experimental. I have just started my first bucket of Bokashi. It’s a week old and so far, so good. Although I live in a rural-ish setting and have several acres, I am not a gardener (hate heat, humidity and mosquitoes). But I do care about my landfill. So I’m more in the situation of an urban bokashiist even though I’m rural, and I’m very interested in your experiments.

    Since it is now summer, even in Sweden (I’m in Boston area) and I’m wondering what has happened to your bread crate and other over-winter soil factory experiments. I’d love to read some follow up here.

    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Marcia! And thanks for your encouragement! Hope your bucket is doing everything it’s supposed to do and you’re enjoying it 🙂
      You’re right — it’s about time I got my act together and wrote a follow-up. I’ve taken photos, my only problem is I’d rather be out than in right at the moment. Summer here is just wonderful, although you’ll probably never convince me it’s worth the long winter struggle…
      In short though — the bread crate thing is extremely promising. I ended up lining the crates with plastic rather than newspaper (plastic soil sacks cut open are just the right size, it’s just to poke in a few drainage holes). Mine are quite shallow but you wouldn’t want them any heavier, seems like your average herbs and salad plants don’t need so much more depth. Everything is growing brilliantly and the worms I planted in are doing their worm thing nicely. My current theory is that a small family could deal with all their food waste on a single wooden pallet with 10 bread crates. Wouldn’t that be something?
      The winners of the over-winter competition seem to be plastic-sacks with dry leaves+bokashi, storage in biobags (corn starch) tied up and dumped in a bin by the kitchen door till spring and the good old hot compost. That’s something to work on with at least until we come up with any hot new ideas between us. The soil factory (making soil on the balcony in a plastic storage bin with lid) works but isn’t such a favorite to be honest, it’s hard to get enough sun and heat to kick the process along quick enough.
      But I’ll do a follow up next rainy day. Promise!!

      1. Hi Jenny, I’m so glad I stumbled on your blog! I just bought my first bokashi cycle set and I DEFINITELY am an urbanite! I live in the middle of Chicago, and there is no grass (that is not city property) to be planting in. There are some community gardens nearby – but driving distance – so this is all very fascinating to me.

        The winter is quickly approaching, and I was wondering if you could tell me more about winter storage thoughts? I read over at eachoneteachonefarms about the rubbermaid container idea, which I thought was fantastic… but you said that didn’t work very well?

        The winters in Chicago are awful. People don’t start planting things til late April because we can get snow even then.

        I’m wondering what to do with my bokashi during the winter. Do you think the rubbermaid idea will work during the winter? I’m worried that I’ll produce too much bokashi and not know what to do with it! And plus, I’m not sure where I’ll store it either. I have a balcony – that’s not very big, so I’m thinking of either stacking rubbermaid bins, or your bread crate idea.

        Anyway, any thoughts are greatly appreciated seeing as how you’re experimenting!

      2. Hi there! And welcome to the Bokashi gang!
        Sounds like your winters are something like ours then. Blah…
        I don’t mean to be negative about making soil in plastic storage boxes, it works just fine. BUT you need some real heat for the process to get going and create soil. So it’s perfect for the guys with a sunny balcony in Hawaii :-). If you can find a place with 20 degrees plus (celsius, I can’t do fahrenheit!), room temperature basically, it will work. Outside in the cold you can just see your plastic box as storage until spring. Buy black ones if possible, they’ll catch the sun better then. Keep it as dry as possible in the boxes and you won’t have any smell at all.
        The nice thing with the bread crate idea is that it’s both storage and garden. Come spring when you fix up the growing trays with potting mix and bokashi you can plant pretty much straight away. You don’t have to wait for the Bokashi to turn to soil, it will do that at the same time your plants are growing in it. And it’s much more fun to have a herb garden on the balcony than a pile of plastic boxes.
        About the microbes, my feeling is that they take a bit of a beating when they’re out in the cold for some months but they always seem to bounce back. No matter how you do it you’ll always get soil in the end, it’s just a matter of heat and time. And if you can grow in the Bokashi at the same time as the soil process is on the time factor doesn’t matter. If you decide to try the bread crate thing you could always plant up a few of the crates and give them to your neighbors for the summer, put the soil to good use before starting again when winter comes round again.
        Which it probably will, whether we like it or not!!
        Good luck! /Jenny

  4. Hi, Jenny! Find your blog as I research the year-long Bokashi process as it relates to creating self-sustaining soil for urban container gardening. Great resource and inspiration.

    Have just “planted” my first 5-gallon bucket in a 15-gallon lidless aluminum container thus:

    1″ layer of top-layer bunny hay (with poops 🙂 on the bottom
    Two handfuls home made Bokashi bran (thanks to my beer-making friend)
    Contents of Bokashi bucket pressed firmly in
    Two more handfuls bran
    3-4″ of commercial “garden soil”
    1″ more bunny hay

    No odor was evident after an hour and none emerges after four days, so I think I can allow this to age indoors (winter warm) as I’d hoped: all year long.

    For the future, I’ve three 12″ x 14″ x 53″ steel containers raised on two-foot legs lined with visqueen bags that will be the recipients of the next Bokashi buckets’ contents since the first phase as above appears successful. These steel containers just fit below the windows that are 54″ wide where grow basket-ed herbs, bush beans and cukes hung from reclaimed clothing racks.

    1. Hi Jan!
      What a great project! Love to see a few pics!!
      I’m a bit at sea with all the inches and gallons (despite being a kid in pre-metric NZ!) but it seems like a great mix you’ve got going there. What would the balance be between Bokashi and soil/hay? We normally say to people to start out with 1:3 or even 1:4 but in those bread crates I did I got pretty carried away and it still worked (I suspect I got quite close to 1:1!). The herbs and salad grew brilliantly but still tasted really good.
      If it’s not smelling now it won’t! Looks like you’ve fixed it! (And if it every does smell it’s usually because the mix is too moist, just toss on a newspaper to soak up the humidity.)
      Look forward to hearing the next installment!

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