We have been talking about pollution, the environment, climate change and the future of the planet for decades. We talk about the air, about the water, about sound pollution, plastic and deforestation. But when was the last time you ever heard anyone talking about our soil?
About the fact that if we blow it we won’t eat.
Topsoil is that thin, thin layer of soil we can use to grow food in. There’s nowhere near as much of it as you think, and the worst is that it’s disappearing fast. Statistics vary, but a starting point is that we have roughly half as much topsoil now as we had a century ago. And a population that is growing, globally.
Where does it go? We build cities on some of our best fields. Great tracts of soil are washed away or blow away in the aftermath of deforestation and other poor management. We make deserts out of what was once fertile land. We poison good acreage with chemicals. We take out more than we give back.
Basically, we’ve not been thinking for a long, long while. And we’ve been damn quiet about it.
So it’s a blessing that this year our soil gets some limelight. A year, of course, is nothing in the great scheme of things, we need to be thinking about this every day and changing the way things are done. But it is a change to have a chat with your kids, your neighbors, your colleagues and your gardening mates about what is going on. How it could be if all decided to be the change, start doing what we can in our own backyard.
A backyard is not much but it’s still a bequest to the generations that come after us. People will need to grow food locally and to do that, they will need good soil. In their own backyard.
And soil, as we know, takes a hell of a time to build.
So we could make 2015 the year of doing things differently. For our children. And for theirs.
Here in Sweden we’re having a fantastic summer, everything is growing like hell and there is absolutely nowhere left to dig down a bokashi bucket even if you wanted to.
We’ve dealt with this somewhat luxury problem by setting up a bottomless barrel right in the middle of the garden bed. Doesn’t look that glamourous I have to admit, but it works brilliantly.
The barrel itself is one we used to have in the greenhouse as a water tank until it started leaking. We took a handsaw to the base and plonked the bottom bit on top of the barrel as a lid. With a stone for weight. Obviously there are more elegant solutions but I’m a great fan of just taking the first best thing you find around the yard.
Then it’s just to dump the contents of the odd bokashi bucket direct into the barrel. Any excess moisture is quickly taken up by the plants and they just thrive on the nutrition that soaks through. Worms find their way more or less directly and set up shop, so in the summer heat the contents of the barrel just seem to melt away.
It’s not so silly to throw in some scrap paper sometimes, toilet paper rolls and cornflake packets, whatever. Gives the worms something to do and helps keep things nice and damp in the barrel. It also helps prevent flies from landing on your food waste and laying eggs, all that we could do without.
We move the barrel around from year to year, just now it’s landed in a raised bed with corn and zucchini. Probably a bit unfair on the ones further out in the bed as they pretty much miss out but the nearby plants are thriving.
Whatever’s left in the barrel when the harvest is taken care of is easy just to spread out and cover with soil. Or, if you are into mulching, it’s often enough just to cover with hay, leaves, garden clippings or whatever. The bokashi microbes work well in combination with the mulch, and even through the nutrition is going to lay around there over the winter it tends to be pretty stable and won’t all just leak away.
Of course, you can always just leave the barrel there over the winter, or move it to the next place you want to improve. Here, where we have frozen soil and quite a bit of snow, it’s a wonderfully easy way of taking care of a few bokashi buckets during the winter. A small barrel like this can’t fit so much bokashi in the winter, so you may need a couple more if it’s too cold for any action in the barrel.
One idea I’ve heard a few people have tested is to install something similar under fruit trees that could use a bit of a boost. It’s an easy way to feed them up a bit and improve the soil health around their roots, many fruit trees grow year after year without a lot of extra input so chances are they’ll respond well to some attention.
Worth testing, in any case!
Let us know if you’ve done anything similar and how it went, all ideas are welcome!
One of biggest frustrations people have with their Bokashi bin, it seems, is that now and then it smells.
Not just a bit, but really, really off. Not good for goodwill in the family or recruiting friends and neighbors to the cause. Mostly, people try to solve the problem by tossing in more bran. Gradually getting more disillusioned as it fails to make a big difference. Sadly I think a lot of bins have ended up in a corner of the garage because of this. A great idea that just didn’t quite make it.
The reason a Bokashi bin starts to smell is, nearly always, that it’s simply too wet in there. No amount of bran will help, you simply ha
ve to get rid of the excess moisture. The easiest way to do that is to simply put a newspaper inside the bin for a few days, it will absorb the humidity and most of the smell will disappear.
How do you know when it’s too wet in your bin? You’d think the drainage tap would take care of all liquid issues but for whatever reason not all liquid goes down to the bottom. Some goes up and hangs in the air pocket over the food waste. Some forms condensation droplets on the inside of the lid. And this is the point at which your bin starts to stink.
Next time you open your bin, check the underside of the lid. Condensation? Then it’s too wet and it would be worth tossing in a newspaper. If it’s not a big problem it could be enough just to add a toilet roll or two, or an empty egg carton, something along those lines that will take up the moisture.
Usually the newspaper will be
quite soggy after a couple of days, then it’s done its work. You can leave it in there if you like, but if you think it’s just taking up a lot of valuable space you could remove it — just add another paper if and when needed. When you’ve got a newspaper in there it’s also a good chance to push down the contents of your bin, at least your hands won’t get icky in the process. And the more compact it is in your bin the better the Bokashi process will work. I suspect this also helps squeeze down moisture towards the drainage tap too, and that’s always a good thing.
So then you’re standing there with a soggy newspaper in your hand, wondering what to do next. Don’t just toss it! By this time the paper is soaked with nutrients and good microbes, just the thing to use in your garden. If you’re into mulching, these newspapers are g
reat to lay out under bushes (especially berry bushes if you have them), in garden beds or veggie patches. Admittedly, they look a bit silly and will blow away as soon as they dry out, but you can always cover them with some bark, leaves or soil so they look a bit better. Have a peek under the paper after a few days, most likely it will be a full-scale worm party right there under your nose.
Another option is to toss the nutrient/microbe newspaper in the garden compost and cover so it doesn’t blow away. The carbon in the paper is nea
rly always needed in a standard outdoor compost to compensate all the leaves and other green stuff. And the microbes and nutrients just help it all along.
Or you can tear it into shreds and simply dig it down into your soil. The worms will love it, and after all it’s the worms that feed the plants so why not?
Just realized I’d posted a picture here before starting to write and completely lost my thread. The little white gadget is something I brought home from Ikea the other day and plan to have on the kitchen bench (or maybe in the cupboard under the sink) to store my
food scraps in during the day. That means they can run off for a few hours before landing in the bin. Especially useful if you’re fighting with a bin that is always too wet, or a family that is hard to train. Kids can always find their way to the little white box and put in their apple core. Once or twice a day, probably when you’re cleaning up after a meal, it’s just to take the drained-off bits in the white box and add them to the Bokashi bin.
Here in Sweden people drink enormous amounts of coffee for some reason, and it’s nearly always brewed at home (or in the office) in filter brewers. That means that after each brew you have a dripping wet filter of coffee to deal with. It’s really worth letting it run off first, coffee dries up quite quickly (and is a brilliant nutrient!), and it’s much better to add it your Bokashi bin after it’
s stopped dripping. Especially if you brew a lot of coffee at home! So a neat and tidy drainage solution is not so silly. Previously I’ve used a terra-cotta plant pot with an extra drainage tray as a lid. Works well, and the lid is not so silly if you have banana flies in the summer.
And, if you’ve got a Bokashi bin in the corner of your garage somewhere, would some of this be the reason you lost interest? May be time to have another go — your garden will thank you for it!
Just another thought: if you have a lot of loose tea leaves to deal with or make coffee in a french press you’re probably tearing your hair out with all the wet mess. At home we have one of these nylon coffee filters lying around in the sink, it gets in the way a bit, but as there’s always some tea or coffee slops to deal with we put up with it. They dry out really fast then you can dump them in the Bokashi bin. Also works well if you end up with a lot of wet, slimy rice in the sink. Just scoop it up and drain if off in the filter for a while.
Just stumbled across this great guide to using Bokashi and EM in schools. A 37-page manual aimed at teachers to help start up a Bokashi-based composting project in the classroom. Maybe not everything is relevant to where you live, but it’s something I haven’t seen before and gives you a lot of ideas for practical implementation along with the background information to make the process credible. Some of the environmental facts would need updating, and obviously made relevant to whatever part of the world you’re in.
A great start though, don’t you think? If you’ve seen anything else along these lines, please post a comment. The more we can share this type of information the better.
Have you been involved in running a school project using Bokashi and EM? What worked well? What would you have differently? What did the kids think about it all? Love to hear!
Download the manual here>>
Interesting. Inspiring. And a positive boost to the hope account.
After years of hard-hitting chemical usage, local communities in El Salvador are going green. Out with Monsanto and its “free” seeds, in with EM and Bokashi.
This article by Brad Nahill takes us into the world of local farmers who are fed up. The “green revolution” that’s been running in El Salvator over the past half-century has left fields drained of nutrition and farmers drained of their health and resources. The agricultural boom years have been good to the landowners and commercial operators. It has left local farmers dirt poor and wanting to do things differently from now on.
Bascially, they’re going organic. Working with large-scale Bokashi compost using the materials they have on hand: sugar cane waste, rice husks and cow manure. Diversifying the crops that they grow. Building a seed bank. Helping one another.
Have a read. This, I promise, will leave you inspired!
The other day we managed to get home our annual hay bale, always a good day around here!
We live in the country and on every field you can see a pile of these white silage bales looking much like a pile of UFO eggs. Each one weighs some 500 kilos, inside the tight plastic skin is a tightly-rolled bale of hay. The farmers make them directly on the field during the summer and use them for animal fodder in the winter, during the time they stand there the hay ferments which stops it rotting and makes it a good food source. Here in Sweden they’re white, I assume it’s a way of keeping them a bit cooler but also helps disguise them during the six months of white winter we have here.
The thing is, many of these bales turn bad. The plastic fails, the rain gets in, they start to rot. Which means they have no value whatsover to the farmers as they can’t be used as fodder.
But they are the best thing ever if you’re a gardener and can get hold of one! Just ask for the most rotten bale the farmer has on stock — and if he could give you a hand getting it onto your trailer with his tractor!
Here at home we use a bale a year in our veggie garden and around the house when we’re starting up new garden beds or trying to restore some corner or other. It works just brilliantly in combination with Bokashi and the fermentation that the bale has been through means you don’t get any weed seeds out of the hay.
Yesterday the rhubarb bed got a much-needed topup. We have a 5 meter wooden box with some 5 rhubarb plants. The soil has been sinking lower and lower and they haven’t had any real fertilising for some years. I started by spreading out a couple of buckets of Bokashi (would have used more but that was what I had on hand) and then topped it off with a 10 cm layer of hay from the silage bale.
Embarrassingly quick and easy. No digging at all. On the other hand we’ve had a family of crows giving us a hard time this spring, picking through all our garden beds looking for lunch, so I’ll keep an eye on that. In worst case it’s just to throw over a berry net.
The other problem with mulching, at least for us here, can be snails. I’ve had problems in this bed before so early this spring I removed all the winter mulch and have had the bed bare since then while the snail hunt was on. Think it’s fixed now, but I’ll lay out a handful of snail pellets (organic) to be sure.
One of the reasons why it’s good to use Bokashi in combination with mulch like this is that it balances out the carbon-nitrogen balance. If you just lay out a lot of browns (like this silage) there’s a risk the mulch may steal nitrogen from the plants. But with a layer of Bokashi under the mulch there should be nitrogen enough for everyone. If you don’t have much Bokashi to put under you could always kickstart the nitrogen with Bokashi liquid, nestle water or some good old diluted urine.
We’ve been doing this hay-bale thing for a few years now and I just love it. It’s such an easy way to top up a bed (like this one) or to get a new bed going. We’re too lazy to dig round here so when we’re starting off a new bed (whether for veggies or flowers) we just lay out some newspapers, spread out some Bokashi, dump a few buckets of coffee grinds (that we get from the local café) and cover the lot with silage. Smells like a bit of a farmyard for a few days but turns pretty quickly into the best soil.
And if you have a long winter like ours it’s great to have a pile of old silage on stock to cover all the beds for the winter. Gives your worms a warmer place to be and keeps them working longer, and when you remove the layer in the spring (if you do) you’ll be surprised how little there is left.
I know not everyone is surrounded by lakes and fields like we are, but for what it’s worth this is what we do. Maybe you have some other resource where you live that’s cheap and easy to get hold of and could do some good work on your veggie patch?
Love to hear your ideas!
There’s been a lot of interest in Vin’s in-ground composting experiment (look for the blog post just before this). This is my quick and dirty version of the same idea. Simple. Cheap. Quick. What more could you want?
The rather shabby looking barrel above has done service as a water barrel in my greenhouse for a few years. When I went to fill it this spring it leaked shamelessly from a crack in the bottom. I found an (equally shabby) barrel to replace it but as I was heading for the over-and-out pile that’s going to the tip soon I got the idea of giving it an extra life as a soil maker.
Out with the saw (just a plain old household saw) and off with the leaky bottom. That’s the bottom bit you can see there on top of the barrel, it turned out to be just the right size to serve as a lid. With a good-sized rock on top to stop it blowing away.
Having lopped off the bottom it was then easy to sort of screw the barrel down into the garden bed. Under all the garden scrap you can see in this bed there’s actually a bit of soil: I’d like to build up the level somewhat and also to improve the nutrient level there. So my idea is to dump the occasional Bokashi bucket into the barrel, top it with some paper scraps or a handful or two of the garden scrap. Let the worms do their work and come up and get it!
In a couple of weeks it’s pumpkin planting time here, the frost risk is over for us 2nd week of June. I have a few pumpkins and squash coming along in the greenhouse so I thought I’d plant them right alongside the barrel and see if they can’t take up some of the nutrients coming through that channel. Hopefully they’d like to sprawl out over all the compost scrap in the bed.
Transplanting a rhubarb here was another option but to be honest I can’t be bothered — they’re so happy where they are.
So, yes, it’s an experiment, but having fiddled and fixed with all manner of strange Bokashi experiments over the last years I haven’t got the least doubt this will work just fine. The nice thing is that when it gets boring with the barrel in that spot it’s easy to move elsewhere. A sort of mobile composting unit, quieter than a chicken tractor but the same idea. Perfect if you have clay soil that you can’t get a spade into and so need to go up instead.
Love to see your versions of this sort of thing. Has anyone got something going that’s even shabbier than mine??!!