This is the way things look at our place sometimes. Actually, we usually have a lot more snow than this so that’s something to be thankful for. (Also that, relatively speaking, we’ve had a warm winter compared to many other Europeans)
Under all the snow is our veggie patch, actually a bunch of raised beds with timber frames which work perfectly for us as they warm up a lot faster in the spring and drain really well. Rain, in the summer, is something we have more than enough of!
So we’ve been testing how much Bokashi our garden can swallow during the winter. During the summer we also bring home a lot from different places and then we dig it all into our “soil factory”, actually just another big raised bed where we don’t grow anything other than soil.
At the moment we’re picking up Bokashi from a few different places: a preschool in town (town is 10 minutes away!), some 50-60 liters a week, an office building in town with some 40 employees (40-50 liters a week, a lot of coffee), a local cafe (20-30 liters of coffee grounds per week). Then we have the buckets we produce ourselves, say 10-15 liters a week.
All in all it’s a bit to deal with. But what has surprised us is actually how little work it involves once you get some routines going. The benefit for us is that we plan to build another 2 or 3 planting boxes in the spring and you have to fill them with something, right? But mainly we’re interested to see what’s involved in a community effort like this.
It seems to me that the only way our local communities are going to work in the future is if we help one another out. In this case, that people who want to grow stuff work together with people who produce food waste and can’t use it themselves. Win-win in its simplest possible form.
The preschool we’re picking up from have been doing Bokashi for some time and do a great job in the summer half year of digging it down and growing stuff with the kids. But they just can’t use a whole years supply themselves so need a winter partner. The office guys have been sorting their food waste for a year now and it’s working perfectly but they can’t use it themselves. Hence the collection. Actually they have a bit of land out the back so the idea is to gradually get some kind of urban garden going there, but one step at a time. And the café, well — they’re really pleased that someone is doing something good with their coffee.
This is no flash project, just something that anyone with a bit of a backyard could do if they wanted. We’re doing it like this:
We do a bit of a pickup trip in town once every week or two when it suits us. (The good thing with Bokashi is it won’t go off if you’re a bit slack on the timetable). The preschool and the office guys both do their Bokashi direct in bio-bags, nice thick cornstarch bags that can store Bokashi for many weeks, even months. The bags are tied up and stored in a garbage sack in the cellar for a couple of weeks for curing.
We bring the black sacks home, dump them in the wheelbarrow, and as you can see here drop them into a couple of big compost bins. We’re not planning to do any actual composting in the bins, just use them as practical storage. Just now they’re standing on the spot where we plan to build our next box so when the box is in place we’ll just lift up the bins and let the Bokashi bags slide out in the new space. Then cover with soil and get the show on the road. Our plan is then to shift the bins to the spot where our next box will go.
All in the name of laziness. If there’s one thing I hate it’s emptying a compost bin the hard way. So it seems to me an easy way to go in total to plan ahead a bit and do the operation on the spot.
The coffee works a little bit differently. We pick it up in 12 liter plastic buckets which we return (or give away, they actually make good DIY Bokashi buckets!). We have quite a big place with a lot of bushes so during the winter I just dump the buckets one at a time under various bushes, filters and all. Looks quite ridiculous you have to admit but the snow covers it up pretty quickly.
When spring comes I’ll just spread the coffee piles a little more neatly around the base of the bushes and rake up a few leaves over them. There’s no Bokashi in the coffee, we’ve skipped that step in the name of simplicity, but now and then during the summer I just go round and sprinkle a handful of Bokashi bran under each bush. So it all works out in the end. You could also use the diluted liquid from your Bokashi bucket or brew your own EM, whatever works best.
Our conclusion: that it’s far easier than you’d expect to do this sort of thing. That if you have the chance to work together with a preschool, an office, a café, you name it, DO IT! Everyone feels good about it and the garden will love you for it!
By the way… the bio-bags break down in the soil and are completely organic. They take a while though, so it’s worth chopping them up a bit with a spade when you “plant them”. You can also use plastic bags obviously, it’s just that you have to pick out the plastic when you set up the garden bed.
And the freezing thing: All these bags just sit around in the cold for months here in the winter. The microbes will bounce back into action again in the spring I promise! This is just nature at it’s best.
Oh, and another thing. If you start working with an office you’ll probably find some people sort plastic knives and forks as food waste. It’s astonishing but true. I’ve even seen candy wrappers and heard the explanation that they must be food waste too, surely? It’s not the end of the world. People learn in the end and meanwhile you pick out the strange bits from the soil as you work through your bed!