Midsummer magic


Last weekend we celebrated midsummer here.

It rained. As it should.

But it was magic. Truly, wonderfully, magic. Imagine you’re walking home across fields of lupins at 1 in the morning and the sun is sort of going down on the horizon sort of at the same time it’s coming up on the other. The horizons are not even opposite each other the way they are elsewhere, at this time of year the sun-setting side is far to the right and the sun-up side is far to the left and the sun just sort of bounces down a tad in the gap.

Which has nothing to do with Bokashi. Whatsoever. Except for one soil thing I came to think of as I did the midnight lupin wander — that lupins are apparently great bringers of nitrogen to the soil. They pull it out of the air and plant it in the soil. Extremely handy if you could ever – ever! — dig them all up and plant something food-related I imagine.

But for the time being I’ll just enjoy the lupins the way they are. We’re surrounded by great swathes of them, pink, blue, white, purple. They are a living hell to dig up as their roots go down deep as an arm. We usually mow them after their month long flowering and they pop up again undimished spring after spring. Usually sprouting a good many descendents in every available nook and cranny in the garden.

So we’re enjoying our midsummer magic here! Hope it’s a wonderful time wherever you are too!

Going green, green, greener in San Franscisco

Photo: www.apartmenttherapy.com

Strange that I just read a story about flower power in connection with San Francisco in the sixties. Now there’s a new kind of green peace happening on the streets there. Compost to the people. Or rather, people to the compost.

Breaking news that I picked up on Jonathan’s US food waste site is that once summer is over, San Fran residents will be required to sort their food waste. Bye-bye trash can, hello Bokashi bin.

The San Franscisco Chronicle writes that

Throwing orange peels, coffee grounds and grease-stained pizza boxes in the trash will be against the law in San Francisco, and could even lead to a fine.

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 Tuesday to approve Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal for the most comprehensive mandatory composting and recycling law in the country. It’s an aggressive push to cut greenhouse gas emissions and have the city sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020.

Needless to say some residents are up in arms. Rats. Smell. Too hard.

Let’s hope they find a good way of implementing the scheme so that more people than not come to see the joys of composting. No, composting is not perfect — it creates more greenhouse gases than we’d like to admit (which is why Bokashi is an ideal alternative). But the big breakthrough, the first step in a long journey, is to wake up to the enormous potential that food waste has as a resource. Sort it and SEE IT. If you have to look at how much food you’re throwing out you must surely start to see ways of cutting back on what gets tossed. If you start getting food out of landfill you start seeing how much less we could load the planet if we try. And if you start thinking about where the food waste came from in the first place you might start to understand the connection to our soil. Why what we eat comes from the soil and must ultimately return to the soil. Recycling of food is every bit as important as recycling of paper, glass, metal and all the other things we’re so good at.

And it doesn’t need to be a horrible process. Food recycling can be fun. Just add some imagination, maybe its not necessary to go down the whole council route. Maybe you can get it back into your own garden or at least a garden in a neighbourhood near you. There’s a real and rarely experienced joy waiting for you down the track: soil that’s looked after and fed well with what we can’t eat ourselves will pay us back with fantastic food that we might never have expected to be rewarded with.

Go on, give it a try all you San Fran residents! Show the world what a success it can be — show us the rewards, the joys and how it can really be done well! And good luck.

By the way, it seems like San Fran residents can go bucket in hand and pick up some real live compost made from their own food waste. Check apartmenttherapy.com!

PS Anyone wanting to find out why composting is good but actually not great should check out www.bokashicycle.com. A US site. Yes, they sell Bokashi bins but they also have a lot of excellent research documentation and reasoned argumentation why it is essential we get food waste down into the ground where it will become nature-saving carbon instead of the heady mix of methane and carbon dioxide which untamed compost generates.

Bokashi in the Philippines

Photo: www.reap-canada.com

I’ve picked up a few bits of news recently from the Philippines about the inroads being made by Bokashi and EM. Partly I think they can be put down to someone somewhere being on the ball and getting the information out to the press, but that doesn’t always have to be such a bad thing. So many silly and downright poor things get a lot of airspace, its great to see that something genuinely good like Bokashi also gets some promotion.

Anyway, here the Manilla Bulletin Publishing Corporation is writing about how the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines is promoting organic farming throughout the Philippines — like everywhere else the challenge is to produce enough food — now — without jeopardising the environment. Apparently the project involves a huge investment in solutions for soil inoculation. Thus far, they say, the most effective they’ve found is produced locally using the Bokashi method developed by Dr. Teruo Higa that creates fertilizer out of organic materials, including kitchen waste.

I don’t know the details, but Bokashi in an agricultural setting in Asian countries is sort of the same, same, but different to what we do here in our homes. In Indonesia, I believe they take production leftovers (banana waste) and make huge piles on the ground which they then make into Bokashi compost, in other words ferment it using EM (Effective Microorganisms). Much as we do in our little kitchen bins but on a scale big enough to spread out onto the fields.

The effects have been reported as impressive in applications where they’ve got the balance right. The microbes are spread across the land where they set up camp and start breeding, gradually improving the microlife in the soil with all the benefits that brings. The carrier (be it food waste, banana stuff, leftovers from wine production (as used in NZ) helps feed the microbes while they do their work.

The US Department of Agriculture has recently done some research into whether this works or not and came up with a positive result — yes, EM improves productivity, provided it is added in conjunction with organic material.

It’s a fantastically positive sign — in times like this where land is being destroyed by chemical mismanagement or unable to produce the required yields through traditional organic farming, it’s a relief to see there are some strong forces propagating for change. Yes, we can do this better! Yes, we can get it right!

Read more here on REAP Canada’s website, REAP stands for Resource Efficient Agricultural Production. It’s an independent, non-profit organisation working to help the world produce more food more efficiently.

What’s Bokashi got to do with lunch?


Today we had fresh homemade pasta. For the first time ever! (Thanks Jamie Oliver…)

Not only was the pasta fabulous, it was astonishingly simple. 400g of flour on the bench, 4 eggs cracked into a well in the flour, mix and stir and knead. Grind through the benchtop machine. Ready!

But the second best thing with the lunch was what we had with it. I had no plan but came back from the garden with a handful of fresh ruccola, marjory, basil and chives. Chop chop and in they went with the only-just-blanched pasta. Then a handful of fresh mangold (which is its Swedish name, I think its called chard or something like that in English) into some olive oil sizzling with fresh garlic and chilli. Just a quick stir to heat it through.

The lunch was delicious. Such a treat to have a garden of stuff just waiting to be picked.

But the real point of my story is this: The whole lot had grown in Bokashi. The seeds were planted in seed soil atop a layer of Bokashi-enriched planting soil. The repotted seedlings were of course planted into a Bokashi soil mix and regularly watered with Bokashi juice and/or EM. The garden beds have had Bokashi dug into them for well over a year now and are jumping with worms. And they get a dose of EM watered onto them now and then for good measure.

It’s all very unscientific I know but the plants look great. They’re growing well, they taste great, and so long as I keep the snails off they are really healthy. I’m no super gardener and no super cook but I think its one of the rare luxuries in this world to go and pick lunch.

All that’s missing now is a few hens chooking around to provide us with all the eggs we’ll be needing for this new-found pasta passion. Watch this space!

Bokashi in Motueka

Photo: Motueka South School

…and where the hell is Motueka, you ask? Ask any kiwi, they’ll tell you. It’s a great little town on the top end of the South Island of New Zealand. A paradise really, with a fantastic coast, laid back lifestyle and nice climate. When I was a kid I had a friend who always went to Moteueka for the Christmas holidays and I remember being so envious of her, I don’t know why — I think it just always sounded like such a fun place to be. And by the look of it, I don’t think these kids are suffering either!

Anyhow the kids at Motueka South School are really keen to try Bokashi. They do their own blog, and in a recent post have written about how a woman from their local council came to talk to them about Bokashi. They write…

This is Kate and she works for the Tasman District Council. She came to talk to our class about composting. She showed us this composting system called BOKASHI. This idea was created in Japan because most houses in Japan do not have big gardens or places to put compost bins.

Hope it goes really well for you there with your Bokashi composting, guys! Good luck! And let us know how you get on!


Can bacteria juice save the world?

konohana family

Not my headline but I wish it was.

A truly excellent blog by Holly Jean Buck from October 2008 — well worth reading if you’re in the least interested in Bokashi, in EM, in the ecological future of our planet. Read it here on “The Walrus”, which bills itself as Canada’s best magazine.

Holly Jean Buck writes that she first tried bacteria juice during an afternoon tea break at Konohana Family, an organic community in Japan near the base of Mt. Fuji. A self-supporting cooperative, they base everything they do on Effective Microorganisms (EM), the fermentation concept developed at a university in Okinawa during the 1970s by agriculture professor Teruo Higa.

As she was shown around the chicken coops, the goat barn, the veggie patch (they have 13 hectares of land), and ate a sumptuous lunch on the farm, Holly became increasingly convinced. This must surely be the way to go, but why haven’t we heard about it before?

Good question. Maybe the right answer is that we also need to embrace things that are working well — extremely well, in fact — for people that are working in closer harmony with nature than we are ourselves. Where nature thrives there’s surely something to learn from the process?

PS Read more about the Konohana ecocommunity here. I have to say I got quite fascinated — I spent some months living in Japan when I was younger and love a lot about the country, the people, the culture but found the commercial rat-race a bit much to be honest. To spend time working on an ecofarm like this would be a dream — all the best of Japan without the stuff that makes it impossible!