The art of digging

Digging Bokashi

Here in Sweden the ground is frozen half the year. Which doesn’t necessarily make life easy when it comes to gardening. Or much else for that matter.

When it comes to Bokashi, we store ours up in barrels for the spring. Some goes straight into the insulated compost but most we put on stock — it’s just what’s needed when the ground thaws and the birds start to sing.

But pretty much everywhere else you don’t have this problem. In Australia and New Zealand where I have family and friends, it’s just to get out there with a shovel and dig a hole or a trench and in with the lot. Then just sit back and wait for the worms to arrive for the feast and the plants to really live up.

Digging a hole/trench takes like five minutes, you hose out your bucket then you’re done. Not a big deal actually and very soon it becomes part of day to day life. It’s not messy. And it’s not smelly.

But it’s not always so easy to get going the first couple of times, so here’s a couple of things I’ve learnt along the way.

1. You need space to dig. A veggie patch before you plant it is ideal. As is a garden bed that’s being prepared for annuals. It’s not easy to dig in Bokashi in and around perennials unless you have a lot of space spare. It’s the perfect way to start up a new garden bed, spend some time preparing the soil in advance and you’ll have pleasure from it for many years.

2. It’s worth digging deeper rather than shallower. A good few centimetres of soil are needed over your Bokashi, partly so it can do its work anaerobically and partly to keep out nosy animals. We have a dog here who loves to dig for Bokashi, and also a number of passing deer who don’t mind rooting around a bit. Actually it’s quite good for them, probiotic in effect, but all the same I’d rather my plants got it.

3. Trenches are more practical than holes. If you have the space, dig a shallow trench and spread the Bokashi out in it. That way your Bokashi layer is less compact and will become soil faster and you spread out the nutrition in the soil so more plants can get at it. And you don’t have to dig so deep!

4. Give the Bokashi a bit of a hack before you cover it over. The more soil contact it has and the smaller the pieces, the faster it will convert to soil. You’ve got your spade in your hand anyhow, just hack a bit so the Bokashi is mashed in with the soil.

5. Wait a couple of weeks before you plant into it. The pH level in Bokashi is quite low and your plants won’t like it until it neutralises. Too much of a good thing and all that…

6. Bokashi can feed from the side. Dig mini trenches between rows of veggies or between perennials, bushes and the like. That way you keep it out of direct contact with the roots but the goodness will spread into their root zone in due course. Not to mention the worms and the microbes which will set up camp for everyone’s benefit.

So there you have it, the art of digging, part one. Thought I’d do another round later on the art of digging if you don’t have a great big garden — there are some brilliant solutions involving underground compost holes that work perfectly in town houses!

Indoor gardening at its best!

Growing sunflowers in bokashi

We buy sunflower seeds in big sacks to feed the birds in winter, the birds love them and I guess that means they hold a lot of energy.

What I didn’t know was that you could get sunflower seeds to shoot indoors and that they TASTE GREAT!!!

OK, we’re a bit deprived of green stuff here (snow still on the ground in late March, not a chance to grow anything outdoors) but these sunflower shoots are heavenly. Just clip them straight from the kitchen window and in they go into  a plate of pasta, onto a guiltily-imported tomato from Spain, or on a ham and cheese sandwich. Crunchy, fresh, juicy, mmm!

So this is how we did it. Take a handful of sunflower seeds (yep, the same ones the birds get) and soak them in a jar of water overnight. Spread them tight, tight, tight onto the top of the soil in some sort of planting container. Drainage holes are good to have, but if you don’t have holes just put a layer of newspaper in the bottom to soak up excess moisture. Leave the seeds exposed, no extra soil on top. But its good if you’ve watered the rest of the soil first. Then pop the container into a dark cupboard for a couple of days.

Bring it out into a light, warm place and just watch! They grow before your eyes.

You can do the same thing with mung beans and a bunch of other seeds that sprout, I haven’t tested that yet as we have rather a lot of these ones here to eat first!

Out of interest, I did mix Bokashi compost into the soil here. A thin layer of plain potting mix, a good handful of fermented Bokashi compost, then a good layer of potting mix. If you’re going to do this, make sure you prepare the container a couple of weeks before you plant. These sprouts sprout so damn fast they’ll be down into the Bokashi in no time and they won’t like it if it hasn’t had time to sort itself out — the pH of Bokashi needs a couple of weeks in soil before its ready for the roots. And as long as it’s had its couple of weeks it doesn’t matter if the food hasn’t actually “disappeared”, the plants will love it anyway. The fermenting process has prepared it for them by breaking down the carbohydrates into proteins and amino acids and stuff that the plants can access immediately, so for them your old banana skin is like a drive-in McDonalds. Fast as anything. But a damn sight healthier.

Saving Bokashi for the spring

Bokashi in the wood shed

It doesn’t look like much and it isn’t. A plastic storage box from the local department store. It is however airtight. And it is packed full with Bokashi compost.

70 litres in fact. Which is the contents of the last four Bokashi bins we’ve filled in the kitchen (they compact a bit over time).

It will be heavy as hell to lift when spring comes and I have to get it over to the veggie patch. But I’ll worry about that then! Just now I’m so pleased to have so much good stuff on stock, it will be a flying start for the soil when the great day comes to get out there and start up the garden for the spring.

Two key things to keep in mind: moisture and air. Bokashi is really very forgiving but it hates to be damp and it hates air. So your winter storage box has to be truly airtight.

The dampness thing is easily fixed: by the time your Bokashi bucket has finished fermenting indoors most of the liquid has been drained off. Check all the liquid is out first before you put it into storage. Then use newspapers to take up any excess. I usually put a couple of papers on the bottom of the storage box and a newspaper after each bin of Bokashi is emptied in. The paper will ferment too in due course and can also go into the garden.

After you’ve laid a newspaper on top it’s worth just giving the whole thing a good squash down. Squeezes out a fair bit of air and the paper means it’s not in the least icky or sticky.

Next time you’re in adding a layer see how things look there in your treasure chest. Add more paper if it seems a bit damp. A couple of handfuls of extra bokashi if there’s any hint that it may need an extra boost (usually doesn’t though). White mould is always ok, a good sign. If you’ve got any other problems (smell, green/black mould) then it’s gone wrong. Too much air or too much humidity. Sorry — it’s just to toss it and start again.

So the only thing that’s really of any concern is how to lift up the 70 litre box onto the wheelbarrow when the time comes. But that’s a luxury problem in the great scheme of things!

Everything else is easy!

Bokashi world: North Yorkshire


Bokashi is big in the UK, and really well supported by local councils throughout the country.

If you do a google search on bokashi +council +site:uk you’ll turn up a huge amount of hits; I got 1,730 references to what councils are doing in terms of Bokashi. And that’s in the UK alone.

North Yorkshire County Council is one of the many councils backing Bokashi. The council is subsidising Bokashi bins along with a couple of selected composters and wormery solutions. There’s also a great environmental challenge running in the area, the idea of course being to get people to really think about what they’re throwing out.

One of the woman taking part in the Challenge is Sue Adsett from North Yorkshire:

As part of the North Yorkshire-wide environmental makeover challenge What Not to Waste, Northallerton resident Sue Adsett has shown that a Bokashi bin, a small food recycling unit, can put her in the lead.

Sue chose the Bokashi bin, which ferments food waste, to recycle her food waste at home. Once fermented the waste is ready for home composting.

She said: “I love the bin, it’s small and neat and easy to use. It just goes to show you don’t need loads of sophisticated systems to handle food waste at home.”

Read about the Bokashi Challenge in North Yorkshire here!

Bokashi world: Gisborne, NZ


Here’s a nice down-to-earth confirmation that Bokashi is A Good Thing.

On one of my random web searches I just turned up a letter-to-the-editor written last month to a local newspaper in Gisborne, which is a lovely town in the North Island of New Zealand. If you enjoy a bottle of NZ chardonnay there’s a  good chance it comes from around that way!

Anyhow, it was a simple letter, written simply to thank the local Gisborne council for a good initiative: introducing the Bokashi system into the area a couple of years ago. In the note, Sandy Carter wrote that:

It entails placing the Bokashi’s contents on the ground, covering and then planting potatoes, sweet corn or any vegetable you choose on top. It gives those plants a head start.

After a period of time the soil becomes friable and dark, an asset to any vegetable or flower garden.

It’s a nice friendly letter, encouraging in these days of crisis. It’s in the online archives if you click here in The Gisborne Herald.

PS It’s a great photo isn’t it? Looks like paradise. Especially sitting here surrounded by snow in the Swedish winter…

Bokashi and the carbon battle

We’re all in it together one way or another. The great carbon battle.

The sources of the problem are of course many. And one of them, inocuous as it may seem, is actually our food waste.

The thing is food rots when your back is turned. Rotting food lets off a lot of carbon dioxide and methane, whether it’s hanging around in your rubbish bin, lying on your compost heap, or has been shuffled out-of-sight out-of-mind onto your local landfill.

We can’t make the decisions that industry, government and the other big guys can. But we can stop throwing our food waste out in a way that can only add to the problem. It might not seem like much, but its one of those classic things like changing a light bulb that, if everyone did it, would actually make a real difference in the end.

Here’s a fresh new study that throws some light on the topic. In London alone, it seems, people produce food waste which emits 6.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year. You can read more about it here on the UK site Recycling & Waste Management News & Information.

If you’ve ever walked the streets of London you’d have some idea of the vast amounts of waste that are put out on footpaths each night to be collected. And it turns out that 25 per cent of it is food waste. That’s the 25 per cent that attracts rats, it’s the 25 per cent that stinks in the summer, and its the 25 per cent that absolutely should be used in a better way — returned to the soil where it belongs.

Bokashi anyone?

PS Bill Bryson has written a great article here in the Daily Mail, “Why are we turning lovely Britain into a giant rubbish tip?” Read it!!

What to do with your Bokashi when you live in a flat


Bokashi works just fine in an apartment, you fill your bucket under the kitchen sink just like anyone else. But every two or three weeks you’ll have a fully fermented bucket on your hands and the question is what to do about it then.

I thought this thread was interesting for just that reason, a woman in Australia who has had her Bokashi going for a while and really likes it, but needs a Bokashi-mate to take over the full buckets from her. She’s used what she can in her balcony planters and now needs someone she can drop off the full buckets to.

Bingo! Seems like she got a response pretty much straight away from someone living in the neighbourhood. And if it worked for her I imagine it would work for thousands like her. And already is I’m sure, people are great at working quietly behind the scenes and finding simple ways of solving what is, after all, a very simple problem.

For a gardener its a godsend to be able to get hold of someone else’s Bokashi buckets. You just can’t produce enough of it yourself. So ask around, maybe you have a colleague at work or a neighbour, in-law or football club parent who’d love to team up with you and your bucket on a regular basis. Who know, maybe you’ll even get a bunch of fresh carrots in return!

And if the handover itself is tricky, you can always transfer the contents to a tightly-knotted plastic bag. Tip it into your neighbour’s compost bin yourself. Or they could keep a biggish plastic box with a tight lid in their garage/carport/back porch that you could tip your Bokashi compost into while they are out. There’s many solutions, I’d love to hear yours!

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