Bokashi in a bag! Perfect for Christmas leftovers

There’s something I’ve been wondering about for a long time: can you ferment Bokashi in a plastic bag?

So I’ve been testing it over the last months. And I have to say I’m quite excited about the result. Because it works every bit as well as a bucket once you get the hang of it. Perfect at Christmas if you get a rush on leftovers.

That means the up-front investment for getting started with Bokashi is zero. OK, you have to buy the bran but you have to buy that anyway, that after all is the magic of Bokashi. The buckets in themselves are very convenient but it’s the microbes that do the work not the plastic.

So how does it work? Take a plastic bag, a good thick one from a shoe store or something. I don’t know how things are where you live but the ones we get from the supermarket here are a bit thin and often have holes in them. You need your bag to be totally airtight. The thicker the better from an odour point of view as well.

You can put the bag in a bucket if you like or just put it in a cupboard or on the floor. You need a good thick newspaper, say half a centimetre thick in the bag. And you need a bag clamp of some sort: here I’ve used bag clamps from Ikea, they cost more or less nothing and everyone has them in their kitchen drawer here in Sweden.

Right. So you put the newspaper in the bag (a tabloid is usually the same width as a bag and slots in nicely with the fold at the bottom of the bag). Sprinkle in some Bokashi bran, tip in your food waste from the day, sprinkle over a little more Bokashi bran. Actually, just as you normally do in a “real” bucket. Clamp the bag.

And go on filling until the bag is full. It’s good to add a lot of serviettes, kitchen paper and the like into the bag as this all helps absorb moisture. If the bag feels too wet you’ll need to add another newspaper. Which isn’t actually a problem as the newspaper is good to have in your compost/soil later — the worms love fermented with EM microbes.

Keep the air in the bag to a minimum. Just give the bag a bit of a squeeze and a squash now and then before you clamp it.

That’s about it. Easy isn’t it? Leave the bag to ferment indoors for the usual two weeks. Then do whatever you usually do with it — into the garden, into the compost, into the woodshed or garage for storage until spring.

Once the bag has done it’s fermenting thing indoors it doesn’t matter if you store it cold outside. Which means you can stack up any number of bags in the shed through a long, cold winter and even if they freeze they’ll come back to life in the spring. For the sake of neatness you can store them up in big garbage sacks or barrel. One thing to think of if you’re going to store your Bokashi bags for some months is that they will go on generating liquid — be generous with the paper.

Another benefit of plastic-bag Bokashi is that you don’t have any bucket to wash. Just empty the bag and toss it, or use it again. It’s a really handy way of dealing with kitchen waste when you’re away from home (caravan? tent? cottage? canoe trip?) or have too much for your regular Bokashi buckets to handle.

It’s actually no harder than regular Bokashi composting with all the expensive gear so it may be a good way of getting sceptical friends and neighbours to test the concept. Give them some of your Bokashi bran (in a glass jar for example) and show them the ropes. Help them through their first cycle so they gain confidence then they’re sure to be converted! And if they’re not gardeners themselves they could fill the bags then hand them over to you for your garden.

Bear in mind that this plastic bag approach is a new concept. And so it’s not tested so much further than in our own kitchen (as far as I know). So it would be great if you’d test it yourself, give it a few rounds to see what you learn, and let us know so we can share it. Pictures welcome of course!

By the way, I wanted to be really sure the process was working so I kept a couple of bags indoors in a warm kitchen close to the radiator for three months. No problems at all with smell (although the bags did get a bit in the way after a while 🙂 ). If you’re worried about rats and mice, don’t be: we have both in the vicinity as we’re close to farms (despite a hardworking cat) and they just aren’t interested in Bokashi bags. The fermented Bokashi is simply too acidic, too low pH. But test for yourself with a small bag in the woodshed or somewhere to be sure.

Good luck! Give it a go! And if you like the idea spread the word!!

ps If you’re really lazy you could put the fermented bags out in garden as they are. Make a couple of slits in the bottom and the worms will soon be in there working hard. In due course you can just shake out the bag and enjoy all your fantastic soil!

Bokashi experiment on the go in Edmonton

Just got a comment on our “about” page from Mike in Edmonton, I wrote about his Bokashi startup a couple of months ago and he’s got right into it since then.

So much so he’s  running a cool experiment in mid-winter Canada. To round up a bunch of people to test Bokashi where they live. In houses, apartments, condos (can someone please tell me what is a condo actually is?) — families, singles, flatmates.

The local Bokashi supplier is backing him and he’ll track the various outcomes. Needless to say I’m dead curious to see how it turns out. Midwinter Canada? Sort of sends the same sort of arctic chills up your spine as this place. So the perfect test in other words. If we can get Bokashi going in these climes (and belive me, we can!), then it’ s got to be a piece of cake down in the tropics. Which is basically everywhere south of the arctic circle…

So, know anyone who lives in Edmonton? Get them to have a chat with Mike!! And let us know how you get on!

More info here>>

On my wish list…

Anyone read this? Can it be handled by enthusiastic amateurs like myself?

Personally, I think it sounds really interesting:

The second edition of this best-selling text features expert contributors investigating relationships between microbial communities, community structures, and function. Using the latest molecular analyses, they integrate principles of soil microbiology with novel insights into the physiology of soil microbiota. The text contains a 16 page color insert, numerous tables, illustrations, and extensive references.

Bokashi in Calcutta

Calcutta. (Kalkota, actually.) A teeming city with over 15 million inhabitants. Hot. Crowded. Intense. You can just imagine the problem with food waste.

Nice story here from The Telegraph in Calcutta, a brave new initiative on food waste, Bokashi and community.

The Nangkyrsoi self-help group from Pynthorbah locality highlighted the advantages of Bokashi composting as an alternative to waste management in an interaction at the citizens’ meet on Shillong’s Environment at Raitong building today, organised by the People’s Learning Centre.

At a time when waste management seems a Herculean task, the self-help group has come forth to show that waste can actually be a resource.

Bokashi Zing is the name Bokashi bran goes under in New Zealand, which means there’s a connection somewhere in getting the new scheme off the ground. (If anyone knows more about the backstory we’d love to hear it!)

The people behind the project started up in January this year in Shillong, Calcutta along with other places like Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The goal is that community members will generate much-needed income by producing and selling Bokashi bran.

Which is a great story in itself. Before you even get started on the environmental benefits.

Read more here>>

Bokashi mudballs and Bengal tigers

We’re in Hawaii, at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo (click for film clip!). The kids are doing all sorts of fun stuff — worm petting, anyone? — but one of the odder items was getting the kids involved in making Bokashi mudballs. Really nice slimy, gooey work! The Bokashi mudballs are used to keep algae down in the ponds used by the Bengal tigers. Nice work for microbes as its hardly something you’d get many of us volunteering to go in and do!

So what are these mudballs and how do they work?

Basically, you mix a lot of clay with Bokashi and add some EM solution if you have it. Form it into tennis-ball shaped balls and leave to dry for a couple of weeks or until a white furry mould appears on the ball. Ready! The balls are then dropped into lakes and ponds to improve water quality — ideal if the water is a bit polluted or has an algae problem. Say, one ball per cubic meter water, more if the problem is bad.

The concept is being used widely throughout Asia and is likely to emerge as a growing trend in Europe in due course. An interesting project is the massive effort made in Malaysia last year where a million Bokashi balls were made by the community in and around Penang. And tossed one by one into waterways as part of a massive cleanup process. A similar project on a smaller scale here.

It’ll be exciting to follow the results in due course, but there seems to be every reason to believe this will succeed.

I’m looking into the “recipes” for making Bokashi balls at the moment and will get back with some more specific information on how best to make your own. They are supposed to be ideal in household dams and ponds.

Even if you don’t have the tigers to go with it!

Bokashi composting when its minus 24. Celcius.

I have to admit it resists a bit. It doesn’t come naturally to be running round in the garden with compost buckets when it’s -24 out. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe it’ll be warmer then?

Or maybe not.

So I thought I’d write a bit about how we fix it here in the getting-more-arctic-by-the-minute backwoods of Sweden. Having grown up in it, I’m fully aware of the fact that there is another hemisphere. One that is warm. That has summer now. One that people actually do things like take off their clothes and go swimming.

The thing is, it’s just a bit hard to believe.

So this is how I’m planning to tackle the compost thing this winter:

1. Glasshouse. Great storage space when there’s nothing going on. And come spring a warm place for soil production. I’ve lined up a number of sacks, bags and bins in the glasshouse, some already filled with autumn leaves and/or leftover soil from last summer. I’ll empty the occasional Bokashi bucket into them and leave nature to do it’s work. (They don’t need to be airtight, but if I have a lid or a string to tie the bag I do that.)

2. Indoor soil factory. This is a great way of producing some soil for late winter planting — tomatoes, seedlings that need replanting, potplants that are due for fresh soil. The sort of thing you do as indoors as possible, at least here. Basically it’s a big plastic bin with a lid, layer potting mix and Bokashi as you see fit (maybe 50:50) and put in the warmest spot you have. I jam mine up by a radiator, I have a friend who has hers on the heated floor in her (very nice!) spa-bathroom.

3. The trusty old hot compost. It’s good to get the odd bucket in here to keep things going, to some extent at least. If your compost bin is full from the autumn’s garden clean-up this is a good way to give it a kick start. (OK, I admit you can’t kick start anything at minus-twenty-whatever, but the principle holds.) I usually carry out a bag of paper scrap from the kitchen to tip over the Bokashi, it’s a nice easy way of fixing the carbon-nitrogen thing even in mid-winter when you don’t have anything else to use.

4. I do most of my growing these days in long raised beds. (The picture above shows how they look at the moment, not much to see under the snow.) So if it’s not all too hard I’ll add a bucket or two into the beds now and then, tucked in under the cover of leaves and hay I added in the autumn.

5. Then there’s the experiments: I have a couple of big outdoor clay planters I’m testing with Bokashi. Plonked them down in a garden bed and filled with a couple of buckets of Bokashi. Topped up with leaves. And a sheet of plywood to keep the dog out. It’s one big frozen clump just now, but I would expect it to be a thriving worm farm come spring.

Another experiment is an old metal-grid rubbish bag holder I found in the shed. I plonked that down in the rhubarb patch for the winter. Into that I’m putting paper sacs filled with Bokashi. I’ve also been tossing in some leaves (when they were still accessible). The grid is rat-proof and my idea with the paper sacks is that they would keep the flies off long enough for the Bokashi to turn to soil. Obviously all rather theoretical under the circumstances but worth a try anyhow.

6. Then of course it’s possible just to put the buckets out in the wood shed and let them freeze. I have a lot of buckets so that would be no problem, and if the winter goes on long enough and I get fed up enough I may do just that.

So, that’s my plan. What’s yours? Or are you just lucky enough you don’t need to resort to these desperate measures? Although whichever way you look at it, it’s good to have options. There’s many ways of making soil and the cool thing is I’m pretty sure we can all do it, regardless of which end of the planet we live on.