Where has all the food waste gone?

Photo: www.sr.se

I was thinking about this song the other day, you know the one: Where have all the flowers gone, Long time passing. Shows my age? No, honest, I think it was before my time.

Thinking how our concerns have changed focus but are infinitely more serious in a way. It feels like you couldn’t even try to write a song any more to express the worries we have for our future, for our planet, for our children and their future. But maybe that’s how they felt in the sixties too. So much good has come out of those worries, so much change and yet we now face concerns of such a dimension most are just doing an ostrich.

Today on national radio here there was a programme on food waste from supermarkets, and the big question is where on earth does it all go. The many charity organisations that could put any amount of close-to-use-by-date meat and vegetables to good use are not getting it. Nor are farmers, gardeners or others who could put it to use.

Most is simply wasted. Or used for energy recycling as they so euphemistically call it here. Which means burning it up in a huge modern mill and shipping out the energy onto the local district heating grid. Good in that at least some of the energy value in the food is put to good use. Bad in that none of it makes its way back to the soil where it belongs. And roughly a quarter of it ends up as a form of indescribable slag that even the rubbish tips can’t deal with.

Another hot use is biogas. Also an industrial, my-factory-is-bigger-than-yours solution. Generating much in demand biogas for running cars, buses and trucks. But also generating a sort of compost that has a quality often best suited to landfill. Unfortunately. Let’s hope the soil component turns out to be done well at some stage so at least some of it has the chance to become new food in the future.

The homeless generally don’t get much of a look in. The reason apparently is the stores are scared of generating a black market which would undermine their brands and possibly even cause a health scare. I’ve heard of stores that have all their food waste picked up by farmers, who then give it to their pigs. Which must be a good thing! But I’ve also heard that one of the big things stopping this sort of thing is all the plastic, a million small packages that have to be picked apart each day to separate the food from the packaging. Blah.

I been trying myself for a while to find a good second-hand food supplier. I’d like to start a small soil factory here, nothing extravagant, but a sort of demonstration setup to show how food waste can be simply and efficiently be recycled on quite a small piece of land using Bokashi and imagination. But so far I haven’t got hold of a supplier (which doesn’t mean I’ve given up, far from!). The local supermarkets won’t give me anything (but won’t say where their waste goes), a corner shop in town already has a deal with a guy who’s feeding wildlife (right or wrong I can’t say), and more institutional operators such as homes for old people require collection logistics on a scale I can’t handle. But there’s also fear and tradition to take into account; people are quite simply not good at doing new things.

But a bright spot! A Bokashi-colleague and friend is running a worm-farm in her garage (yep, you read right). She’s been collecting food waste from friends and cafes to feed to her worms. Time-consuming and delightful, but talk about putting food waste to a good cause!

Bokashi on an apartment balcony

Photo: www.stockholmsmassan.se

Here on the blog we get a lot of visits from people looking for ideas for balcony gardens — and how they can use Bokashi in an urban environment where there’s not always a garden handy.

How about starting a “soil factory” on your balcony? Hardly needs any space and you can keep your fermented Bokashi food waste cycling through it year round if you live in a halfway decent climate. (Which ours is not unfortunately, but thank god for cellars!)

You’ll end up with a steady supply of fantastically rich soil. If you’re growing anything at all on your balcony it will be a godsend, you’ll notice the difference in the vitality of your plants immediately if you start growing them in Bokashi-soil.

Your friends and neighbours are sure to want some too, and it’s not hard to fill a plastic bag with fresh, healthy “supersoil” and drop it in to a neighbour. Or bring to a work colleague, to your allotment garden, or topdress the plants in the gardens around your apartment buildings. Guerilla gardening anyone?

Check the following post for instructions how to do it, it’s dead easy I promise, and if you experiment a bit you’ll come up with something that works really well for you.

And if you don’t have a balcony? Then try the cellar! Maybe you can get together with some of your neighbours and start a soil factory in the basement, perhaps even alongside the other recycling stations for paper and glass and stuff. You can reassure them there won’t be any smell or mess, after all you’re just dealing with a bunch of plastic boxes and good old natural soil. And there won’t be any problems with rats, they don’t actually like the stuff as it is too acidic for them. And anyhow, the boxes are sealed.

And the real bonus of all this is less rubbish to cart around. You don’t have to drag so many rubbish bags down to the big bin, and there’s less stuff for the council to cart away. And if everyone did it in your building you’d have a much nicer smelling basement. Guaranteed!

And who knows, maybe even a nice-looking flower garden instead!

Make your own “soil factory”!

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…and as you can see, it’s not in the least complicated!

This is a great way of putting your fermented Bokashi to use without having to dig holes or mess around with compost. Best of all, it’s really quick and easy and you won’t get your hands, clothes or shoes dirty.

You’ll need a plastic storage box of some kind with a well-fitting lid (doesn’t have to be completely airtight). A plastic boat scoop like I’ve got here is also good to have.

Put a couple of scoops of plain old garden soil in the bottom of the box. Tip in a bucket of fermented Bokashi food from your kitchen. Add a bit more soil and mix and stir a bit so the food gets reasonably coated with soil. Put the lid back on. That’s it!

When you have a look in a couple of weeks you’ll see there’s more soil and less food. Your soil factory is doing its work! The nutrition and carbon in the Bokashi-treated food is being absorbed by the “start-soil” and what you end up with is “super soil”, an excellent soil improver to spread around your flower beds, use in planter boxes or outdoor pots, or sprinkle around plants that need a vitamin boost.

You can run your soil factory more or less forever. Just scoop out the soil you need for the garden and leave some in the box to mix with your next Bokashi bucket. If you have too much soil, you can start another box or scoop over some of the ready soil into black garbage sacks to use later — or give to your friends!

Some tips and ideas (and a couple of things to watch out for):

– You can “renovate” the soil from potplants that have had their day. Just add it to the box! This is also a good way of diluting the soil in your box and adding structure.

– Soil fresh from your soil factory may have a low pH for a week or two, depending on how long it’s been in the box. Experiment until you get used to it. It’s also extremely nutritious, so you might want to mix it with potting mix before planting in it.

– Chances are you’ll get some white mould forming on the top of the soil. GOOD! Just as it is in your Bokashi bucket, that’s a sign that the microbes are doing their work and colonising the soil. Mix it around if it bothers you, otherwise just leave it.

– Leaves are great! Toss a few handfuls of autumn leaves into your box and watch them disappear. They’re a good resource and good for the soil structure, handy if you don’t have enough garden soil to use in your box.

– Soil like this is nature’s own product. It will last forever! The sooner you get it onto your plants the sooner they can benefit from the nutrition and microlife in it, but otherwise it’s easily stored until spring or whenever you need it.

– Temperature. Warm is good! Not so hot you kill the microbes (keep it under 40 degrees C), and not so cold nothing happens (less than +6 degrees C). In a sunny spot by the kitchen door is good, on the balcony if you live in an apartment, in the cellar by the boiler if you have one. In the wood shed, the laundry, the garage. It will all work, just test and see what suits you best. And it doesn’t matter if your soil factory freezes, the microbes will come back to life again in the spring and carry on their work.

So good luck! And let us know how you get on with your soil factory!

Summer in Bokashiworld

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It’s been a busy summer in Bokashiworld!

Offline at least. Very quiet on the blog posting front, but that’s probably as it should be when it’s summer, the garden is in full swing and there are tomatoes and fresh herbs to pick, grass to mow, flowers to smell…

Last weekend we took part in the local harvest festival –with a Bokashi stand no less! The festival is no small event in these parts, given that we have a local population of 10-15,000 and quite a few thousand of them were out and about visiting the 30 or 40 farms, gardens and local businesses that were open around the district. (It’s one of those sort of districts the tourist folks usually label with tags such as the “corn basket of wherever…”, actually quite a neat place when you think the whole district is a huge peninsula that sticks out into Sweden’s biggest lake. Which happens to be the second biggest lake in Europe. Beautiful fresh water and some 10,000 islands scattered throughout. And a bit of a sun trap in this cold hard climate.)

Our Bokashi stand was a great success, we had a steady flow of people stopping by to check out what it’s all about, find out how they could get started and learn more about the whole process. It was inspiring to meet so many curious, motivated and genuine people — you can’t help but be struck by how strongly people want to “do the right thing”, get the chemicals out of their gardens, stop the waste, do something good for the environment. However small the change may appear in the great scheme of things.

But we small individuals add up to many, and there’s real power in that. Even better than changing a light bulb each would be to get hold of a Bokashi bucket and start stopping the waste. Do something good for the soil, show our kids how to take care of precious resources here and now. And work, for once, with nature instead of against it!

Even a handful of freshly-picked tomatoes in an urban garden is still a harvest and counts for a lot. You don’t need a harvest festival full of farmers and tractors to be reminded how precious it is to eat food you’ve grown yourself, that is as pure as nature intended and that is in all ways good for us, body and soul!