Snow Bokashi?

See that black bag there between the doors? That’s my latest Bokashi experiment. Snow Bokashi…

Yep, you can see I’m getting desperate. Not just me but quite a lot of us up here in the frozen north, we have to find ways of making soil even in mid-winter. At the moment I can’t even find my hot composter under the snow. My indoor soil factories are full to bursting. And trekking over to the glasshouse through a metre of snow is beyond me. Hence this idea.

Compost in a bag. It’s a big black rubbish bag, quite thick plastic, with a standard kitchen bag clip to keep it closed. I’ve tossed in a pile of kitchen paper scraps (toilet rolls, cornflake packets, egg cartons, bits of household paper, all the usual) and a bucket of fermented Bokashi. Then another bag of paper scraps as I had a lot on hand. My idea was then to toss in a bucket or two of soil, but right now I can’t get hold of any for obvious reasons. If the snow holds until midsummer (which it certainly feels like at the moment…) I’ll go and buy a bag of potting mix and toss that in. Right now we have temps varying between -10 and -20 C most days so obviously NOTHING is going to happen in that bag other than we get a rock solid bag of Bokashi and paper. But it’s a sunny wall, and my theory is that if I go on filling the sack using the lasagne principle (bit of this bit of that) when the spring sun starts to thaw things out it will get cracking really nicely in there.

And in due course I’ll have a lovely bag of soil waiting for me outside the wood shed. Perfect for some spring planting to brighten things up!

What I’d really like to know is if this theory holds. If any of you living in warmer climes, but not too hot, would like to test it out I’d love to hear what you think. Ideally temps in the bag should be between +20 and +50 degrees C. Any hotter and the microbes will give out. Any colder and they’ll just hang around waiting. In a hot climate I guess you could do it in a shady spot, or leave the top open. As long as you have soil on the top you don’t need the bag closed, basically I’m closing it to keep the snow out and any potential heat in. A white bag could be an alternative if you live in a hot spot.

Another theory would be to put the bag right into the garden bed and build it up there. You could slit holes in the bottom to let in any curious worms. Then when the soil is ready just slit up the whole thing and let the soil flow out where you need it. Fantastic fertiliser! Any biggish bits that didn’t make it in time could always go into the next bag.

This whole idea is triggered by DS at BokashiSlope in Texas, she had a great idea a few weeks ago about doing this in paper sacks direct in the garden. The ultimate on-site soil factory — no digging, no wheelbarrowing, no nothing, it all just breaks down into fantastic soil by itself when it’s good and ready. Even the bags. Have a read of her idea, it’s just excellent: The Add-A-Bag Garden.

So what do you think? Is it worth a try? Love to hear what you think.

BTW, the mouse factor. I’m not the least worried about that although I’ll let you know. We live in the country, and this bag is right outside the woodshed so there couldn’t be a better location for a gourmet feast for post-winter starved mice. But the thing is with Bokashi that it’s so “sour” as we say here, low pH, rats and mice hate it. I did a test last winter just to be sure, put some 50l of fermented kitchen Bokashi in one of these sacks with a clip in the wood shed. Not a nibble.

But if you have bears that might be another story… Our dog Tim certainly thought there might be something interesting going on!

btw again… I took these photos before the weekend’s snow storm. Now there’s another half metre snow on the ground and I can’t see the bag any more. Getting very bored digging out the path to the wood shed…

Bokashi chooks


If there’s one thing I’d love to do when I grow up it would be to have a bunch of chooks running around the yard. We have the space, but right now looking out at all the snow my head just spins with the practicalities of it all. Build a barn? Heat it? HEAT IT??!! Keep the poor guys indoors for months at a time till the snow melts? Not to mention the eggs-are-fine-but-there’s-no-way-I’m-eating-our-pets family discussions. And the what-do-we-do-when-we-want-to-go-away bit. On the other hand there is only one (ONE!) supplier of organic chickens in Sweden. They cost a fortune and have a fair few transport miles on them, but are just delicious. And I think we feel better if the animals have lived well.

But someday, somehow we’ll solve this chicken dilemna and find a way to stock the yard!

Meanwhile, I’m rather curious about the whole Bokashi+Chooks concept. Seems like it’s an interesting combination and is probably more widespread than we realise in Asia and other parts of the world.

One option is to feed the chooks Bokashi bran direct (the same stuff you would use in your bucket). The effective microorganisms (EM) in Bokashi work as probiotics in the digestive system of the animals and help them feel better, stay healthier and lay more eggs. You can also spray liquid EM in their drinking water for a similar effect. In Japan at a farm run by the Konohana family, they mix Bokashi bran into the bedding and create a warmer, healthier environment.

And then we have Pelle and his chickens in the ex Czechoslovakia — he does the usual kitchen compost thing with Bokashi (taking care not to include anything like ice-cream sticks or potplants) and feeds the fermented leftovers to the family chooks straight off. They love it apparently and have been laying more eggs than they used to. Which is surely a good thing — although his mother-in-law has some sympathy with the chickens having to work so hard laying eggs all the time. Female to female empathy as it were…

If you’re interested, there’s a Bokashi thread starting here on a Guinea Fowl forum (who would ever know such things existed? The forum I mean, not the guinea fowl…). There’s also quite a bit of info on the EM sites in the US and New Zealand (links to the right). The Latin America EM site is also excellent.

These guys in the UK are selling Bokashi bran to people with hens, so the concept is far from new. What’s particularly interesting is how EM/Bokashi also starts the process of soil improvement right there in the chicken stage. Chicken poo is great for the garden but too strong to use directly, too acidic. The EM helps balance this out so the fertiliser is more “useable”, so on top of happy chickens we get the added bonus of happy soil. More here too from the guys at Wiggly Wigglers in the UK.

Wish I had some chooks so I could test myself. But maybe you have? It would be great to hear what you think!

10 tips for reducing food waste in 2010


I know Bokashi is about making soil out of what you can’t eat in the kitchen. But it’s just as much about tossing less stuff. Carrot peelings are one thing but you can’t help feeling a bit embarassed when you tip what should really have been dinner into the bin. Happens to the best of us. But I suspect a couple of months watching what goes in the Bokashi bin makes a lot of difference to a lot of people, suddenly you just can’t do it any more. And find yourself cringing when you’re at someone else’s place and they go around happily tossing out perfectly good leftovers. (Even worse is when you start wondering if they’d let you take them home with you…:-))

Anyhow, here’s an excellent blog with lots of good ideas for reducing food waste. From one sinner to another, as it were….

Read it here!

Yet another snowstorm… spring seems far off

Low level activity here on this blog. Which is not to say I haven’t been thinking about bokashi, about compost, about soil, seeds, plants and… SPRING! Not many minutes pass in a straight line without green-coloured thoughts passing through my mind. We’ve seen nothing but white now since early December. It’s like a Christmas card the whole thing, but we’ve had a lot of temps below -20 and it gets to you a bit. In the end.

On the plus side: I work at home (as a freelance translator). Fire going, cat n dog snoozing, customers out of reach at the other end of an internet connection. Quite idyllic actually. And still just a few minutes into town to fix the civilised stuff. Most of my workload is in the autumn and winter which is just perfect from a “microfarming” perspective. No way do I want to be stuck at my desk all day when the sun is shining and the world is green.

On the Bokashi front: As you can imagine it’s a bit of a challenge finding ways to deal with all the ready-fermented Bokashi buckets under these conditions. Just now I’m running a series of little soil factories in a heated workshop. Big plastic storage boxes (75l I think) with layers of cheap potting mix and Bokashi. Jammed up against the heater… They’re stacked under a longggg trestle table (5m) where I’ve set up planting trays and grow lights. I collect plastic sweet boxes (3l) from the local supermarket and these are ideal as seedling boxes, just drill a few holes in the bottom. With the plastic lids on an angle they make great mini glasshouses, the lids can then be used under as drip trays.

I usually start up the “season” on Valentines Day, it feels good to do something useful with such a silly day. Tomatoes and some of the extra slow stuff. This year I’m trying to plant a lot of herbs, the seeds are all on their way and I thought I’d give it a try to start them up now, the perennials at least.

The challenge is that things get incredibly crowded inside if you don’t watch out. It’s all too easy to overdo it and end up with stuff coming out your ears and nowhere to put it. I should be able to open the greenhouse mid-April for some of the hardy stuff and in May some of the non-frost things can go into the ground. But we’re not over our frost limit until school breakup, first week of June. Hence the logistics dilemnas!

But believe me, things grow as hell anyhow with round-the-clock sun. And that’s where all the Bokashi efforts come into play as well, the better the soil the better it all goes. When you get a turbo start to the planting season like we do, soil is all the more important. In my humble opinion.

So that’s why I’m working hard with buckets and boxes and heaters and lamps. To be honest I think it’s a lot of fun and a great contrast to sitting behind a computer, soil therapy if you will.

An important part of it is also testing out how we can do stuff here in these cold places. I get a bit of mail from places like Alaska and Canada, they share our dilemna and understand all the reasons why you have to be resourceful. In NZ where I grew up its easy: you just stick the stuff in the soil and there’s no need to innovate. (Luxury!?)

Part of my test mission here is also to see how we can do mini-recycling projects on a local basis. I’ve decided to put embarassment behind me and now have some regular suppliers of “stuff I need” in town. The pizzeria (mayonnaise buckets for Bokashi), the supermarket (for sweets boxes), the coffee shop (for buckets filled with the week’s coffee grounds) and a couple of offices (for their lunchroom food scraps). So I tootle around and fill the car and you know what — I get a smile and welcome in each and every place. Noone thinks its a bit silly. Surprising, isn’t it?

Best of all is that the plants are going to just love the soil we’re brewing up there in the shed. Can’t wait to open the first seed packets and get it all going.

Snow storm or no snow storm.