Bokashi instead of chemicals in El Salvador


Interesting. Inspiring. And a positive boost to the hope account.

After years of hard-hitting chemical usage, local communities in El Salvador are going green. Out with Monsanto and its “free” seeds, in with EM and Bokashi.

This article by Brad Nahill takes us into the world of local farmers who are fed up. The “green revolution” that’s been running in El Salvator over the past half-century has left fields drained of nutrition and farmers drained of their health and resources. The agricultural boom years have been good to the landowners and commercial operators. It has left local farmers dirt poor and wanting to do things differently from now on.

Bascially, they’re going organic. Working with large-scale Bokashi compost using the materials they have on hand: sugar cane waste, rice husks and cow manure. Diversifying the crops that they grow. Building a seed bank. Helping one another.

Have a read. This, I promise, will leave you inspired!


Using silage with Bokashi as mulch

Photo: Jenny Harlen

The other day we managed to get home our annual hay bale, always a good day around here!

We live in the country and on every field you can see a pile of these white silage bales looking much like a pile of UFO eggs. Each one weighs some 500 kilos, inside the tight plastic skin is a tightly-rolled bale of hay. The farmers make them directly on the field during the summer and use them for animal fodder in the winter, during the time they stand there the hay ferments which stops it rotting and makes it a good food source. Here in Sweden they’re white, I assume it’s a way of keeping them a bit cooler but also helps disguise them during the six months of white winter we have here.

The thing is, many of these bales turn bad. The plastic fails, the rain gets in, they start to rot. Which means they have no value whatsover to the farmers as they can’t be used as fodder.

But they are the best thing ever if you’re a gardener and can get hold of one! Just ask for the most rotten bale the farmer has on stock — and if he could give you a hand getting it onto your trailer with his tractor!

Here at home we use a bale a year in our veggie garden and around the house when we’re starting up new garden beds or trying to restore some corner or other. It works just brilliantly in combination with Bokashi and the fermentation that the bale has been through means you don’t get any weed seeds out of the hay.

Yesterday the rhubarb bed got a much-needed topup. We have a 5 meter wooden box with some 5 rhubarb plants. The soil has been sinking lower and lower and they haven’t had any real fertilising for some years. I started by spreading out a couple of buckets of Bokashi (would have used more but that was what I had on hand) and then topped it off with a 10 cm layer of hay from the silage bale.

Embarrassingly quick and easy. No digging at all. On the other hand we’ve had a family of crows giving us a hard time this spring, picking through all our garden beds looking for lunch, so I’ll keep an eye on that. In worst case it’s just to throw over a berry net.

The other problem with mulching, at least for us here, can be snails. I’ve had problems in this bed before so early this spring I removed all the winter mulch and have had the bed bare since then while the snail hunt was on. Think it’s fixed now, but I’ll lay out a handful of snail pellets (organic) to be sure.

One of the reasons why it’s good to use Bokashi in combination with mulch like this is that it balances out the carbon-nitrogen balance. If you just lay out a lot of browns (like this silage) there’s a risk the mulch may steal nitrogen from the plants. But with a layer of Bokashi under the mulch there should be nitrogen enough for everyone. If you don’t have much Bokashi to put under you could always kickstart the nitrogen with Bokashi liquid, nestle water or some good old diluted urine.

We’ve been doing this hay-bale thing for a few years now and I just love it. It’s such an easy way to top up a bed (like this one) or to get a new bed going. We’re too lazy to dig round here so when we’re starting off a new bed (whether for veggies or flowers) we just lay out some newspapers, spread out some Bokashi, dump a few buckets of coffee grinds (that we get from the local café) and cover the lot with silage. Smells like a bit of a farmyard for a few days but turns pretty quickly into the best soil.

And if you have a long winter like ours it’s great to have a pile of old silage on stock to cover all the beds for the winter. Gives your worms a warmer place to be and keeps them working longer, and when you remove the layer in the spring (if you do) you’ll be surprised how little there is left.

I know not everyone is surrounded by lakes and fields like we are, but for what it’s worth this is what we do. Maybe you have some other resource where you live that’s cheap and easy to get hold of and could do some good work on your veggie patch?

Love to hear your ideas!

Quick and easy “soil factory”

Photo: Jenny HarlenThere’s been a lot of interest in Vin’s in-ground composting experiment (look for the blog post just before this). This is my quick and dirty version of the same idea. Simple. Cheap. Quick. What more could you want?

The rather shabby looking barrel above has done service as a water barrel in my greenhouse for a few years. When I went to fill it this spring it leaked shamelessly from a crack in the bottom. I found an (equally shabby) barrel to replace it but as I was heading for the over-and-out pile that’s going to the tip soon I got the idea of giving it an extra life as a soil maker.

Out with the saw (just a plain old household saw) and off with the leaky bottom. That’s the bottom bit you can see there on top of the barrel, it turned out to be just the right size to serve as a lid. With a good-sized rock on top to stop it blowing away.

Having lopped off the bottom it was then easy to sort of screw the barrel down into the garden bed. Under all the garden scrap you can see in this bed there’s actually a bit of soil: I’d like to build up the level somewhat and also to improve the nutrient level there. So my idea is to dump the occasional Bokashi bucket into the barrel, top it with some paper scraps or a handful or two of the garden scrap. Let the worms do their work and come up and get it!

In a couple of weeks it’s pumpkin planting time here, the frost risk is over for us 2nd week of June. I have a few pumpkins and squash coming along in the greenhouse so I thought I’d plant them right alongside the barrel and see if they can’t take up some of the nutrients coming through that channel. Hopefully they’d like to sprawl out over all the compost scrap in the bed.

Transplanting a rhubarb here was another option but to be honest I can’t be bothered — they’re so happy where they are.

So, yes, it’s an experiment, but having fiddled and fixed with all manner of strange Bokashi experiments over the last years I haven’t got the least doubt this will work just fine. The nice thing is that when it gets boring with the barrel in that spot it’s easy to move elsewhere. A sort of mobile composting unit, quieter than a chicken tractor but the same idea. Perfect if you have clay soil that you can’t get a spade into and so need to go up instead.

Love to see your versions of this sort of thing. Has anyone got something going that’s even shabbier than mine??!!


Vin’s Bokashi experiment in Florida. Perfectly. Simple.

Got a great mail the other day from Vin in Florida, “a Florida backyard gardener who loves feeding her garden soil”. She included a bunch of pictures showing the Bokashi experiment she’s been running the last few months. (Can’t help but envy all that green while we’ve just been looking out at nothing but white for months!) The really fun thing with this experiment (apart from the healthy worms and plants of course) is the simplicity of it all. Why make it complicated when you can make it easy? Way to go, Vin!! /Jenny

My Bokashi Experiment began in Oct 2012. Pics here taken Nov 8/12:

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This bucket is buried in a bed created by a concrete retaining wall.& I combine kitchen waste & garden leaf clippings in layers. Each time I put in kitchen waste (including paper napkins) I sprinkle bokashi bran. I call this my Garden Bucket. I use a potato masher as my push down tool. Notice (in the pic) above the bucket is a tomato plant and on the left bottom is a small onion shoot. On March 1, 2013:


This the same bucket in the earlier pic of Nov 8th. I have not emptied it since starting as the level goes down very fast & of course no need to drain, etc. The plants around seem happy – tomato has borne nice big fruits (1 on lower stem right next to the bucket) and the onion has grown tremendously (I cut onion greens often to use in salads & soups).

Even the marigold, which I use as pest deterrent, seems to like the “food” here. So, since I have found this concept working for me, I have put more ‘bokashi buckets’ in my backyard. This is on a bed I am re-doing, incorporating some wood branches like hagelkultur, which will be for a combination of tomatoes, beans and vines… maybe squash.


4” of topsoil & composted manure will be put over the branches but leaving the bin top accessible, so I can continue to add kitchen waste. I’ve also put 1 in a ground-patch, between 2 path pavers.


Plants around have survived the Florida winter and seem healthy.  There is also a 10” papaya seedling about 4ft away from this path & I’m hoping (if it survives & grow to late spring) the roots will reach close enough to get some nutrient from this bucket.


I’ve prepared a “spare” bin in another bed & I have put some earthworms around it. When this weekend’s chill front is over (hopefully the last 1 for 2013) I may plant some peppers and jicama around it.

How to make a soil factory!

Just had a query from someone in our facebook group looking for a blog I did ages ago about our “soil factory”. I couldn’t find it either (how do you just lose a blog entry??!!) so I posted up a few pictures in the facebook group with a quick description. For the sake of posterity here are the pics:

Just like any other raised bed, but reserved only for producing soil! Saves you thinking about where to dig down your next Bokashi bucket, just keep digging them down here and fill the wheelbarrow with good healthy soil when you need it. Add whatever else you have at hand, wood chips, straw, harvest leftovers. Not weeds! I generally cover mine with a big black tarp to keep seeds blowing in and preserve moisture. Breathes enough and helps warm the soil. You can do this in any shape or size, it doesn’t have to be this big!

btw we found out it’s easier to build these big boxes on a flat surface (driveway?) upside down then tip them right side up and carry them into place. It’s really hard to get them straight and nice if you build them on site.

















Allotment trials with EM in the UK

EM…what on earth?

Healthier plants, bigger yields and all by harnessing natural bacteria. That’s the claim, but will it work? Andrew Seall intends to find out in this new series.

It is a tad cold on my allotment at the moment, and probably is on yours as well, but at least I can comfort myself in the knowledge that many summer pests are being killed off. I am up here to start to plan where to feed my soil with EM without promoting too many pests and weeds along the way.

‘EM…what’s that?’ I hear you say. It stands for effective micro- organisms and is used all over the rest of the world, with claims of great beneficial effects upon plants and vegetable growth and cropping. All over the world, that is, except in the UK, and so this treatment of the soil with EM – and the results – are what I am going to be writing about for the next 12 months. Let’s just see if it can give us the excellent results seen elsewhere.

— Kitchen Garden, February 2005

I’ve now collected the entire series of articles together and made them into PDFs, just to click on the links and read on. 11 articles in total, I felt they were pretty honest and straightforward and very interesting to read. The series is from 2005 and I’m not sure what follow up has been done in the magazine, I plan to dig a bit more and see what I can find.

Regardless, it’s inspiring to read the series, especially as I sit here in minus whatever temperatures and look out at snow and ice and wonder if it will ever be green again. The good news is that it’s soon time to start planting seeds again in preparation for the spring and as soon as you start seeing those little green shoots coming up it feels like, just maybe, there is a chance of meeting spring around the corner. If they can do it so can I!!

Anyhow, enjoy the articles! If you find anything similar let us know and we can post it here.

1. EM_allotment_trial_1_What_on_Earth_is_EM

2. EM_allotment_trial_1_continued

3. EM_allotment_trial_2_More_roots_mean_stronger_healthier_plants

4. EM_allotment_trial_2_continued

5. EM_allotment_trial_3_Hotbeds_and_a_bean_wheel

6. EM_allotment_trial_3_continued

7. EM_allotment_trial_4_Going_like_a_rocket

8. EM_allotment_trial_5_Good companions

9. EM_allotment_trial_6_Making_light_work

10. EM_allotment_trial_7_Roots_of_sucess

11. EM_allotment_trial_7_continued

Church + bokashi = food for people who need it.

(DNAinfo/Tuan Nguyen()

Just posted this on our facebook page but thought it was so inspiring I should post it here as well. A church in Harlem has taken their precious inner city land and made a farm out of it. They’re feeding their parishioners with healthy, home grown food from their new veggie patch. Just watch the film here, it’s done with love and compassion. Now this is what a church can really add to the world!

Because their land is polluted and hardly farming land (surprise!) they’ve built raised beds to grow their veggie beds. Probably the way to go regardless of what you have under your feet, it’s a much easier work height, lot less weeding, drains well and warms up easily. And looks beautiful.

They haven’t made a lot of fuss about it in the article but they are using Bokashi in the garden. Makes perfect sense really. I have no idea where they’re sourcing their food waste but the possibilities are endless when the whole project is part of a community-based program.

A lot of people are working on many fronts to start up urban growing projects, often on abandoned lots or in community parks. I’ve never seen a churchyard used in this way before and it’s obviously the perfect hand-in-hand solution. Hope we get to see a lot more of it!!


Blog on all things Bokashi — food recycling for our fuure


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