17. Bottomless bokashi barrel

Another option that works really well is to add a bottomless bokashi barrel to your garden bed.

This is a great way of dealing with bokashi when you have no where to dig in your garden because every square centimeter is filled with fruit, vegetables and flowers.

You can always find space for a bottomless barrel — small, medium or large — where you can empty a few bokashi buckets and let them feed down into the soil without digging.

This can also be a great method in the winter, when it’s hard to dig, or just plain boring to go out with a spade.

It’s also good for people with back problems as it’s a no-dig method.

And an unexpected bonus is that you can even use barrels like this under fruit trees and other bigger bushes or trees that need a bit of feeding up. It’s like a slow drip-feed of nutrients and microbes, and really makes a difference over time.

So how does it work?

You can do this in pretty much any way that’s practical for your setup. Use something you have lying around, or buy something you think will fit in and look nice.

But the basically idea is that you take some kind of barrel or large bucket, with a lid, and cut off the bottom. Screw the open barrel into the ground you want to improve. Put the lid on top if you want to, or use the sawn-off bottom plate as a lid with a rock on top, for example. If you always have a decent layer of soil on top of the bokashi in the barrel, you can skip the lid altogether; the whole thing will be like a raised hole in the ground in that case.

And the process? Simple.

Empty a bucket of bokashi into the barrel, add some soil, mix it up a bit and add a soil lid. If you’re a bit lazy, you can just dump in the bokashi, maybe add a bit of other garden waste that you want to feed down into the soil, and press it together, put on the lid.

You’ll find the bokashi sinks down and has a much smaller volume quite soon. Partly this is because moisture drains off the bokashi and into the soil (great for the soil and any nearby plants), and partly because it will gradually start being absorbed into the soil and becoming less food-like.

Have a look occasionally and you’ll probably be astonished by how many worms have found their way up into your bokashi tower! Sometimes you wonder how they find their way, it’s amazing really. But poke around a bit and you’ll see there’s usually lots of small ones too. Babies!

How long this process takes is a factor of nature. It will depend on the temperature: warmer equals faster. It will depend on how small your food scraps are, and how well coated they are. It will depend on the worm situation; you don’t need worms for this to work, but if they do they will definitely improve the process.

Moisture balance

Keep the moisture level ”about right” in the tower. Too wet and it may smell; top up with some handfuls of dry garden waste, dry soil or even shredded newspaper. Too dry and the process will slow down or, in worst case, stop. Solution: add water.

Every now and then you can move the barrel to a new location. Partly because it’s smart to fertilize different parts of your garden beds, but sometimes it’s just because you need the space to plant something new.

To move the tower, just lift it up, shake out the contents, and move it to it’s new location.

If the contents are not completely ready, you can dig them down into the soil or you can pick out the bits that are not ready and transfer them to the new location. The ready soil, which is probably more like fertilizer, you can spread out across the surface of the bed where it ended up. Or move to a new project. Whatever is practical.

You can have any number of these bokashi towers in a garden. How many, and what they look like, is completely up to you. You may use them differently at different times of year.

One option may be in autumn, after the harvest is ready and the garden is bedded down for the winter, to put them all into position in locations that you want to improve for the coming growing season.

You can then fill them with a bokashi-soil-leaf mix during the winter and early spring. Depending on how cold your winters are, a lot or a little may happen during winter, but come spring you have a ready resource in position.

If the soil in the barrels is ready, great. It’s just to spread it out and enjoy all the free work done by worms and microbes during the winter. If not, dig it down on the spot so you’ve got a headstart on your spring soil improvement.

Autumn leaves are, by the way, a great additive. A free resource that most of us have available in pretty big quantities. Collect them up in sacks to use as you need, or (if you live in a climate without snow) just scrape up a handful or two and add it to your towers as needed.

The thing with autumn leaves is that they add carbon, which is a nice balance to all the nitrogen in a bokashi bucket. But also that, after they’ve been lying on the ground a while, they’ve picked up lots of soil microbes.

This means that when you add them to your bokashi tower / bottomless barrel, or for that matter any kind of soil factory or bokashi arrangement, they will work in much the same way as soil. The soil microbes in soil, or on autumn leaves, interact with the bokashi microbes on the food waste, and it is this interaction that creates the magic soil-producing process that is at the heart of bokashi.

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