Bokashi is hot in Edmonton!

Here’s one of the cutest little Bokashi guys I’ve seen for a while!! His name’s Dexter and you can read about him and his family’s Bokashi project here. They’ve just started up their bin as part of a cool project going on in Edmonton just now. Wrote about it a while ago here and here. Mike Thomas, the guy behind the project, mailed me an update yesterday. Great to hear it’s up and running! Mike wrote:

…I will have a post up about it at www.adhdcanuck.ca very shortly but shall outline the basics here…also I posted about my own experience at the link below, which covers the experience of a single person fairly well.

I placed a bokashi system from www.ecolivingorganics.com in each of four urban environments. An office, a busy family of 5, a young couple in an apartment, and a busy professional power couple in a home starting a family. They have all been operating for weeks, except one which just started due to a family vacation.

I got some great high profile participants including the Deputy Mayor of Edmonton (city of 1 Million) where I live, and an NGO office called the Alberta Council for Global Co-Operation. (www.acgc.ca).

I have tracking mechanisms in place, and am going to demonstrate how it is now easy and cheap to reduce your garbage output by 50% or more, even in a dense urban environment. They will be reviewing all aspects of the system, ease of use, cleaning, smell, how it integrates with their lives over time, and generate a LOT of tips about how this composter works in different environments. They behave differently when you fill them quickly, slowly, the type of material added, and the experiences of new people who have never done it before is very important.

There’s also another family on the go in Edmonton who are blogging about their Bokashi project, more about them in a separate post! So far so good it seems for them, it seems to be turning out easier and better than they thought. Which is handy when you’re flat out with everything else life throws your way.

What’s especially interesting about this project is that life in Edmonton is about as cold and white and icy and snowy as it is here. Don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining all the time, but it really forces you to be creative about your composting strategy! (Along with a fair few other things…)

Winter storage is the big one. If you can find a way of storing your Bokashi over the winter you’ve got it made, because when spring comes you’ll be really, really glad you did. Even a small garden can take any amount of Bokashi, the soil just goes on getting better and better. Insulated compost, biobags stacked until spring, sacks with leaf mulch and Bokashi — it will be interesting to see what these guys do in the months when you can’t get a spade near the soil.

And for the experiment gang there in Canada — please keep us posted! It’s really interesting to see what you’re doing. This community experiment is a really great initiative, not just for your local community but for all the rest of us out here in Bokashi-world who can pick up some inspiration from your efforts. Thanks!

DIY Bokashi buckets — Swedish “green buckets”

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Been meaning to post these pictures for ages! This is how we do DIY buckets in Sweden. It just doesn’t get much simpler than this! Plastic buckets with a neat lid and newspaper to take up the liquid.

The buckets are standard off-the-shelf buckets — local manufacture and you’d probably find one in every home here. The lids for this particular brand (Nordic Plast if you’re a Swede) fit well, nice and tight and are easy to peel on and off. You’ll need some Bokashi bran and some newspaper. That’s it.

The pictures pretty much give you the idea. Tear a newspaper in half and put the two bits in the bottom of the bucket. Aim for a thickness of a centimetre or so first time round, you’ll get to learn how much you need pretty quickly. Sprinkle in some Bokashi bran, layer your food waste as usual with a sprinkle of bran on each layer. This system is based on absorbing all liquid so use your common sense — wet food = more paper. Serviettes and kitchen paper are great, just toss them in when you scrape the dinner plates. Midway up the bucket you can add a bit of newspaper if you wish, it’s a good chance to give the whole bucket a good push down with your hand when you have a clean surface. A section of newspaper on top is a good idea too, takes up the condensation.

Yeah, I know, you’re probably a bit sceptical at this stage. We were and so have a lot of others been. But give it a go and find out for yourself! You may have to give it a couple of goes to get it right, but after all you haven’t got so much to lose. If you’re curious about how much newspaper would be needed you can do a simple test in a baking pan or something. Put in a section of newspaper and pour in a litre of water. Then another litre. Then another… I was really surprised how much liquid the paper takes up. But of course, how much you need in your bucket depends on what you’re throwing out. A lot of fruit and salad and you’ll get a “juicy” bucket, a lot of bread and pasta and you’ll get quite a dry one.

The process from then on is the same as in a shop-bought bucket with tap. Fill the bucket. Let it stand nice and warm for a couple of weeks to ferment. Take it out into the garden and do something good with it!

We have tested these buckets with bio-bags inside as a liner. Some people like the idea, others not. It depends quite a bit on what kind of biobags you get, the thin ones tend to be a bit flimsy but should theoretically break down faster. If you can get hold of slightly thicker ones they can make great winter storage, just tie up the bag carefully when it’s full and store in a barrel, box, crate or whatever till spring. (Be on the generous side with the newspaper and stuff if you’re planning to store your bags for some months.)

The bags themselves take longer than you’d think to break down in the compost or garden, whatever the manufacturers say. But on the plus side you can tie up the bag and drop it into a trench in the ground (or the compost, or a big planter…) and not have to see the food again, so the ick-factor is definitely lower. Bokashi buckets are not hard to spray out, but bio-bags do keep them cleaner. To speed things up a bit (a lot!) it’s worth slitting up the bag when you bury it. That way the process gets going immediately and you’ll have soil before you know it.

How about all this newspaper in the garden or compost or whatever? If you’re running a compost it’s actually a good thing. The trick to a getting a happy compost is a nice balance of carbon and nitrogen. Often referred to as brown and green. Your kitchen stuff is “green” — a nitrogen bomb. The paper is “brown”, pure carbon. The two things together will do great things for your compost.

If you’re digging down the buckets directly the newspaper can be a bit of a pain. The worms like it ok, but it does take time to break down. You’ll probably find yourself picking blocks of compact newspaper out of the garden now and then and tossing them in the compost. You can always lay them in a bed under some leaves or grass clippings as mulch, keeps weeds at bay and the worms love working away under the paper. The paper is also drenched in microbes, so it’s a good way to get a little colony going in a new spot.

Of course, you don’t have to have special green buckets to do this. Any bucket with a tight-fitting lid will work fine. Pizzerias tend to toss big white catering buckets out by the dozen. Free to a good home and no cost. They sometimes have lids that are a bit annoying, but what the hell — you can have as many buckets as you like and just stack them up until spring.

The only big minus with this system is that you don’t have a tap. Therefore you don’t get the marvellous Bokashi liquid. So if you’re a gardener you’d probably only want to use these newspaper buckets as a secondary system. Or a winter system. Or a system to collect in organics from your friends and family (this is a great solution for the office).

On the other hand, if you’re not a gardener it’s quite nice not having the tap. No buckets to drain, no juice to dilute and run around with. Much easier bucket washing. Much cheaper.

So this is just an idea. Tried and tested and ready to use. Anytime you’d like!

Save the bees!

Some of our best friends are bees. (And worms!) But we’re losing them, faster than many of us realised.

So I signed a petition in the weekend, along with a half million others. Let’s save the bees!

It’s all about chemicals. Getting them out of our food chain and getting the bees back in. If enough voices are raised our governments will hopefully act to ban the chemicals that are doing the damage. Here’s the message from Avaaz, the guys trying to get the movement off the ground. (Read on to the end and there’s a list of links to articles and other info on the situation).

 

Bees are dying off worldwide and our entire food chain is in peril. Scientists blame toxic pesticides and four European governments have already banned them.

 

Silently, billions of bees are dying off and our entire food chain is in danger. Bees don’t just make honey, they are a giant, humble workforce, pollinating 90% of the plants we grow.

Multiple scientific studies blame one group of toxic pesticides for their rapid demise, and some bee populations are recovering in countries where these products have been banned. But powerful chemical companies are lobbying hard to keep selling these poisons. Our best chance to save bees now is to push the US and EU to join the ban — their action is critical and will have a ripple effect on the rest of the world.

We have no time to lose — the debate is raging about what to do. This is not just about saving bees, this is about survival. Let’s build a giant global buzz calling for the EU and US to outlaw these killer chemicals and save our bees and our food. Sign the emergency petition now, and send it on to everyone and we’ll deliver it to key decision makers:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/save_the_bees/?vl

MORE INFORMATION

Bee decline could be down to chemical cocktail interfering with brains
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/22/chemicals-bees-decline-major-study?INTCMP=SRCH

Bee briefing
http://www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=RXLEm9WXrHk%3D&tabid=439

$15 Billion Bee Murder Mystery Deepens
http://www.businessinsider.com/colony-collapse-disorder-still-unsolved-lead-researcher-had-connections-to-bayer-2010-10

“Nicotine Bees” Population Restored With Neonicotinoids Ban
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/05/nicotine-bees-population-restored-with-neonicotinoids-ban.php

EPA memo reveals concern that pesticide causes bee deaths
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/green/detail?entry_id=79910

Beekeepers want government to pull pesticide
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/money/beekeepers-want-government-to-pull-pesticide-1107701.html

Bees in freefall as study shows sharp US decline
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jan/03/bumblebees-study-us-decline?INTCMP=SRCH

Pesticide industry involvement in EU risk assessment puts survival of bees at stake
http://www.corporateeurope.org/agribusiness/news/2010/11/16/pesticide-industry-future-bees

Biogas — fuel from food waste

I don’t know how things are in your corner of the world, but here in Sweden there’s a lot happening on the biogas front. Making fuel out of food and animal waste would seem to be — on the surface — a cool way of making something good out of something bad.

Which is is. But there’s a few things I wonder about all the same.

The reason for taking it up here is I picked up a New York Times article recently on biogas, and they’re holding up Sweden as an example of how the whole biogas thing can be done and done well. I’m not sure what this means: are we actually out there doing new stuff in this arena, or was it just a fluke that they picked a Swedish town as an example? It would be interesting with some viewpoints from the real world! What’s happening where you are?

First, I can say that the article pretty much represents reality here. Biogas is nothing new, a lot of cities are collecting food waste and manure and pumping it into biogas factories. The pump stations are gradually emerging along with the cars and buses. District heating is common — and makes a lot of sense in a country with many energy-consuming industries (pulp and paper in particular) that can supply the local community with their surplus heat. (But don’t worry — we pay for it! Even with our taxes there’s no such thing as a free lunch!!)

District heating is for the townies, country bumpkins such as ourselves have the standard options.All-time favourite is wood, a tried and tested biological resource in a country such as this. Despite all the pulp and paper and wood-heated homes, we manage to end up each year with some five per cent more trees growing than the year before. A net increase in a country that’s basically covered in spruce from top to toe.

Other options in the home if you don’t have district heating are direct electricity (your standard radiators), but this is something people are trying to replace or make more efficient for cost reasons. Oil boilers are a thing of the past (cost again, let alone the environment). Pellets (wood-based) are big, a convenient form of bio-fuel for boilers and central-heating fireplaces. Rooftop solar heating isn’t really making a mark, although some brave souls are trying. Our winters are so damn cold and we have so little light that it just doesn’t seem that appropriate to try and heat your shower from an arctic sunrise…

On a national supply basis we have a bit of everything much the same as everyone else. Some green. Some not. Some downright shameful (Vattenfall, our more or less monopoly electricity supplier, is deeply into brown coal in Germany…)

But back to biogas. Personally I think it’s great with innovation, it’s great to see a new form of green energy, it’s great to see local biogas production units popping up all over the country, and it’s great to see waste that would otherwise go to waste or up into the atmosphere being put to good use.

My concerns are largely around the issue of biomass. Have we really thought this thing through? By pumping food waste, animal waste, whatever into biogas plants and pumping out gas, aren’t we just making fuel out of soil? Food waste IS soil after all, it comes from the soil, it belongs to the soil, it should go back to the soil. We have it on loan and we should pay it back. Are we really entitled to divert it into another ecoloop, an ecoloop such as fuel in which it will definitely not find it’s way back to being biomass?

Biomass in the world is decreasing as we speak. Every year we have less good land for growing. We have less good soil. We have less possibility to grow food. At the same time as we have a growing population and a changing climate. Not the best of combinations, obviously.

It seems to me that in an equation like that everything that comes from the soil should go back to the soil. Anything else is like living off capital. Taking and taking and forgetting to put back.

Admittedly, there’s two things come out of a biogas factory. One is the gas, well and good, but it’s not soil. The other, a by-product of the gas production, is a soil-like product. THAT at least is sent to farms as some sort of input to the process there. I’ve heard varying reports on the quality of this material though — some say it’s ok, but others say the nature of the gas production destroys much of the value of the soil-like product, it becomes a sort of landfill. Something that would be good to find out more about.

But however you look at it there are pluses and minuses. Big plus: we get a bio-fuel out of something that may well have gone to landfill in many parts of the world otherwise. Big minus: we give away soil from the food production ecocycle. With fat chance of every getting it back.

That’s my two-cents worth anyhow! What’s yours??

Read the New York Times articles here>>

A truckload of food waste (in this case imported to Sweden from Norway!!!)

Oh, and by the way — can’t have a whole post with no comment on Bokashi :-). In case you were wondering what the effect would be of pre-processing food waste with Bokashi or EM before it goes into a biogas process, the answer is GOOD. I don’t think it’s done on a commercial scale anywhere so far but pilot tests show the efficiency of the biogas process to be improved by up to 10 per cent when treated with Bokashi or EM. So a synergy effect would be possible, should anyone care to take it on! The convenience for householders would certainly be improved, when you think of collection times, smell, flies and the rest of it.