15. Tricks to making a good soil factory

Follows on from: Using charcoal in your soil factory

About the soil.

Use whatever you have on hand.

And a 50:50 mix is often best, although you can do this however you want.

The smaller pieces you have in your bokashi bucket the faster they will transform to soil, as the microbes have more surface area to work with.

By the same logic, it’s worth mixing the soil and bokashi really well when you prepare your soil factory, the more you coat the food scraps with soil, so everything looks more or less brown, the faster the process will go.

But you don’t have to. It’s also ok to have big chunks in your bokashi bucket, and to not mix it at all well. But the process will take longer, so it’s completely up to you and what your timeframe is.

When bokashi turns to soil it is more accurately absorbed up into the surrounding soil. So the type of soil you use in your soil factory will be the type of soil you end up with — only better.

If you use peat-based compost (the type you usually buy in bags from the garden shop) in your soil factory, this is the type of structure you will end up with.

Likewise, if you take clay, or sandy, soil from your garden, this will still be the base in your soil factory. It will be richer, and more alive, obviously, and contain a lot more humus. But it will still feel like peat, or clay, or sand or whatever you started with.

An option here is to mix the types of soils you’re adding to your soil factory to get a structure you would like to have. It’s not necessary, but may be worth thinking about.

Common sense, really, but so is much of what we do in the bokashi world.

A common question is whether it’s ok to use really ”worn-out” soil from potplants, tomatoes that have been grown in pots and buckets, or from a greenhouse.

Sure.
Everything works.
Even if the soil is full of old roots (typical for ex tomato soil), it’s no problem.

The old roots and plant leftovers will be taken care of by the process, they will eventually become rich, living soil like everything else in the soil factory, and nothing will be wasted.

One thing though that I’m not completely sure about is using soil that has come from tomatoes for growing potatoes in later. Or vice versa. Informal reports seem to indicate this is fine, but until we’re more sure, you might want to be careful.

When is the soil ready?

Well, you can just poke around and have a look — it will be obvious when it’s ready. What you may find is a few straggling bits of food waste, avocado stones are a classic, as are coffee filters, bones and egg shells.

You can just transfer these over to your next soil factory, add them to the garden, or do whatever makes sense for you.

In general, though, it’s better not to poke around in your soil factory any more than necessary. The first couple of times you do a soil factory it’s inevitable — we’ve all done it. You’re really curious about what’s going on and can’t quite believe it’s true. But sure enough, it is. Bokashi is amazing!

But if you can, let the process have its way in peace.

The reason for this is that bokashi is essentially an anaerobic (or non-aerobic) process. Bokashi becomes soil without generating heat, in this way it’s completely unlike traditional composting. Sure, the soil can ”breathe”, that’s why we don’t cover it up, but there’s no oxygen actively introduced to the contents.

Should you stir up the contents of the soil factory, a lot of new oxygen will come in. That starts an oxidation process, which means air is added, and this triggers energy in the bokashi to be converted to heat.

The heat itself may help speed up the process, but it’s done at the cost of energy in the soil; that energy, if it was left where it was, would actually be available to your plants later. So it’s kind of a waste to just let it go like this.

A traditional compost, or even dung heap, works in this way. You have to keep turning the pile to introduce oxygen; that oxygen causes the organic material to oxidize and generate heat; the heat-loving microbes in that type of compost do their work to decompose the organic material and knock out pathogenic bacteria.

Bokashi on the other hand works at low temperatures, there are no heat-loving bacteria, pathogenic bacteria are knocked out by the low pH of the initial process and generating heat is a waste of valuable energy that could otherwise be preserved for future benefit.

So, stir around by all means to satisfy your curiosity, it’s hardly the end of the world, but don’t do it with the idea you’re helping the process along.

Just let your soil factory do it’s thing in peace and quiet, it will all become great soil in due course. Our bokashi and soil microbes know exactly what they’re doing, and left to their own devices will fix it perfectly.

A couple of things that may surprise you.

Sometimes a soil factory with a lot of peat-based compost in does absolutely nothing. The process never gets going, and the bokashi just remains as it was on day one.

We’ve had this a few times in our discussion group and were pretty surprised when it first happened. But the conclusion we reached was that sometimes this type of peat (which comes from a peat moss and is then sterilised) is so totally lacking in soil microbes that it gets fermented along with the bokashi. So instead of doing the work of soil in the soil factory, it actually just becomes an extension of the bokashi itself.

The only solution is to start again, and add some real living soil.

Another thing is that sometimes you’ll get some white mould on the surface of your soil factory. This is completely ok. It’s not ”mould” as such, rather it’s part of the process and related to the yeast microorganisms that are in EM and bokashi.

You can scrape it off using your hands or a trowel, if you wish. Or just leave it as it is.

If you have other colored moulds the reasons are generally different. Check for moisture levels; too wet and you run the risk of getting green, blue and even black moulds developing.

These are not good, and the best thing is to remove any of that type of growth and dispose of it in a safe place away from the garden.

Next up: sends

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