Tag Archives: bokashi

Coffee grounds. Free to a good home.

Photo: Jenny Harlen“Hello gardeners! Please take some coffee grinds for your garden!”

What gardener could resist that? Well, unfortunately I had to as I was just a tourist passing by. But I was seriously tempted to drag some home to the friends we were staying with.

Coffee grounds are just great in the garden. The nice thing is that they’re brown, so you can just spread them out under bushes and in garden beds. Smells nice while you’re doing it and pretty soon they just eat their way down into the soil where the nitrogen in the grounds is released to the plants nearby (with some good help of whatever microbes are in the vicinity).

The only disadvantage can be if you use a lot of coffee grounds in your veggie patch that the carrots start tasting like coffee. No, just joking. There can be a risk that heavy metals in the coffee build up in the veggie patch if you overdo it. My feeling is that it would take an awful lot of coffee to get you to that point, and the greater worry would be whether we should be running that much coffee through our bodies. However, worth checking out a bit more if you’re concerned.

The alternative is to dose up bushes, trees, flower beds, even a smallish lawn with coffee grounds — none of that is going to get into the food chain. It’s a cheap source of nitrogen and a cool thing to do, just swag home with a bag of coffee grinds when you pass your neighborhood cafe.

Unfortunately none of the cafes round us do this. I’m hoping that will change gradually, like so many recycling-related things. Common sense does seem to be kicking in all over.

A few years ago I did a deal with the local bakery/cafe to pick up their coffee grinds once a week. I kept it up for a few years until other priorities took over, hopefully they have now adopted a new coffee collector.

My original idea was to do bokashi of the grinds to increase their microbial value in the soil. Great idea, well worth doing, but for me at the time just too hard work. So what I did was just dump the buckets of coffee grinds under our multitude of bushes, one bush at a time. Sometimes the buckets were frozen because they’d been stored outside, I just dumped them under the bush as they were. Come spring the weird collection of coffee towers mushed together and I could rake them out a bit.

Given that we produce bokashi bran here at home it’s not something we have a shortage of. Each spring I’d go around with a wheelbarrow of bokashi bran and throw a handful or two under each coffee bush. The microbes could spend the summer doing their good work.

Obviously you could get the same result using bokashi juice (the runoff from a bucket with drainage tap) or using EM in activated form. Either way, pretty cost effective and hard to overdose.

In the autumn I usually pile up a lot of leaves under the bushes and rake a lot straight into garden beds. Partly because I’m lazy and it’s easy to shuffle them up into the first best spot, but mainly because with such an active soil the leaves are rapidly absorbed into the soil around the bushes. They also keep the worms warm and happy for a good while into the late autumn and that’s always a good thing.

People around here say that coffee grinds are a great way of stopping snails in their tracks. I haven’t tested it myself so can’t say for sure, but it seems reasonable. Tugging a slimy snail body over a barrier of coffee grinds is probably not the most pleasant of options for a snail. Have you tested it? (Not dragging yourself through the grinds, obviously, but spreading them in the garden.) Is it worthwhile giving it a go?

So, all up — a lot you can do with coffee grinds without it being such a chore. Great for the garden but the greater good is probably getting them out of their landfill destiny and into the food/soil loop. Well worth giving it a shot in other words.

And you can always reward yourself with a steaming hot latte the next time you’re there to pick up your grounds!


Some excellent EM recipes from teraganix.com in the US

If you’ve been into bokashi for a while, perhaps it’s time to branch out into some new zone for your experiments? Make your own activated bran, maybe — way cheaper and fun to do. Or activate the EM mother culture (EM-1®) and make your own activated EM to use in the garden. Does wonders for the soil and is a really cost-effective approach. Lots of microbes for very little work.

All credit to Teraganix for the following information, it’s thorough and professional. Unfortunately all the measurements are non-metric but that’s life. Drag out the calculator!

Teraganix by the way is the official manufacturer of EM in the US. Original. Authentic. Certified, as they say. Look for the logos and the EM registered trademarks when you buy your EM and bokashi supplies, whatever country you’re in. The real thing is available in every country of the world, just make sure you’re getting it.

Activated EM-1

EM•1® microbial products can be grown one time for economical purposes. This “growing” or “brewing” process is called Activation (it used to be called “extension”). It does not mean the microbes in EM•1® are not active; they are. It is just a term EMRO developed years ago. Activation involves taking one part EM•1®, 1 part molasses, and 20 parts water. Numbers can be rounded up or down a bit according to the size of the container and are not crucial to the outcome of the final product.
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EM bokashi bran

To make your own EM•1® Bokashi (in this recipe) you’ll need some bran (or some other dried plant material), some EM•1®, molasses, and fresh water. A 50-pound bag of wheat bran made into bokashi costs about $22 to make (including the EM•1® Microbial Inoculant, molasses, and bran). Rice bran costs about twice as much as wheat bran. This recipe takes about 20 minutes from start to finish to make a 50-pound bag of EM•1® Bokashi. It needs to ferment for a minimum of two weeks and then is dried for long-term storage (up to several years). If you choose not to make it, you can purchase it ready to use.

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EM5 natural pesticide

EM5 is often used as a type of homemade pesticide. The fermentation extracts properties out of plant materials and the alcohol and retains them in the liquid. The EM•1® in the recipe is the fermentation catalyst. EM•1® itself has no pesticide qualities at all. This is an all-natural concoction that can be made by anyone and is in no way harmful to humans or animals. It combines water, EM•1®, a distilled spirit, molasses, and vinegar. The most successful programs with EM5 involve alternating its applications with Activated EM•1® and EMFPE. EM5 is effective for reducing pest populations because EM5 contains esters formed by mixing acetic acid and alcohol, which provokes intestinal intoxication.
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EM fermented plant extracts

“Fermented plant extracts – most commonly done as a plain liquid manure or plant extract – is a dynamic practice gaining increased usage in India, Africa, Asia, and Central America where poor farmers need to obtain fertility and pest control from local plants and simple on-farm extraction methods.” Steve Diver, ATTRA*
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EM fermented foods

Fermented foods provide a number of valuable health benefits, not the least of which is introducing beneficial bacteria to the digestive system, improving digestion and strengthening the immune system. If you are interested in introducing more fermented foods into your diet, browse our collection of easy-to-make fermented food recipes and find the flavors that fit your lifestyle best. From kim chee (kimchi) to the best mango salsa recipe, we have something for every home and palette. All it takes is a little preparation and Pro EM•1® to get started!

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Pop-up gardening in Christchurch

Christchurch, the third-biggest city in New Zealand, has had a terrible time the last years. They got hit with a huge earthquake in 2010, an even more traumatic one in 2011, and then the quakes and uncertainty just kept coming. The city centre has long been razed but the go-ahead for new building hasn’t really come until recently.

Meanwhile, life goes on. A tough call, but it does.

We were in Christchurch recently visiting our colleagues at EMNZ and ZingBokashi, they’re doing a great work and have been for many years. (And when the earthquake damage was at it’s worst they were out there with truckloads of EM, spraying against smell and potential disease).

They tipped us about the great Agropolis community garden right in the heart of town. It’s a true pop-up affair, the signs are up for the current property to be sold, then I assume they’ll move on to a new spot yet again.

It’s a great little garden. Truly inspiring to see the spirit behind it, hanging in even when it’s tough, and creating a little spot of beauty and good health in the midst of what is, honestly, a traumatized city centre with a lot of building ahead of it.

The garden is sponsored in part by our EM colleagues. Bokashi and EM are used in the garden beds. Everything is very pragmatic here, they’ve made a great soil factory out of an old pallet-based water tank. (I’m sure these things have a name, just not sure what it is!)

There’s a productive greenhouse (plastic tunnel style) on site, information about when the next work session is, a practical watering system round the boxes and a great design on the garden beds. Lots of wooden shipping pallets here!

Anyhow, enjoy the pictures! Hope you’ll be inspired to pass them on to a community garden you know of.

You don’t need an earthquake to get this to happen!



Fresh and healthy herbs and veggies. You quickly forget what once was…


…until you look up at the backdrop.


Smart use of shipping pallets.


Yep. It works!


Coffee sacks. Not an idea I’d ever thought of. But then again, there’s a coffee roasters across the street…


Giant size bokashi bin.


Which is mixed with soil in this highly-pragmatic soil factory.


Fresh and healthy all right.


Smart use of stacked plastic crates with bokashi soil.


The for sale sign is up. The nature of the best for pop-up community gardens.


Just a practical detail from the watering system.




Bokashi a hit in restaurants and offices in New Zealand

Just a few years ago Bokashi was something that people quietly did in their homes and back yards. A bit embarrassing to discuss it with the neighbors, bit of a hippy warning.

Now it’s really gone mainstream and can be found in the best of restaurants and the most professional of offices. This film from New Zealand, where Bokashi has been building popularity and credibility for nearly 20 years now, is inspiring.

The Mudbrick vineyard and restaurant on Waiheke is no small place — lots of stars, stunning location and a fabulous kitchen garden. Would go there in a minute if I could! But even though their wines are no doubt brilliant, the thing that impresses me is that they’ve got it. They have created a food loop.

Each chef has a bucket for food scraps, no big deal. When the work is done the buckets are taken out to ferment in barrels and ultimately dug back down into the kitchen garden. When you see it on a film like this it all looks so, well, obvious. And they haven’t made it any more complicated than it needs to be. Just a whole lot of kiwi common sense combined with wanting the best possible soil for their veggies.

That the vineyard is located on an island (in the Hauraki Gulf, just outside Auckland where I grew up) means it makes even more sense. Rubbish disposal on any island is difficult, so setting up a food loop in this way is logical, and I would imagine economical.

Unfortunately not all of us have a vineyard to run, so the office stories are more likely closer to home. How hard is it, really, when you think about it? Every office has it’s food waste, and here in the film they make it look pretty easy. Brilliant to see how people think it’s cool to be going home from work these days with a bucket of bokashi to dig into the veggie patch at home. The food loop strikes again!

Admittedly, New Zealand has  a pretty nice climate. Even in the cold south the ground rarely freezes, in the north you can grow veggies year round. Not tropical but for those of us living in Northern Europe (I’m in Sweden even if I grew up in New Zealand), it looks pretty comfortable.

So we have to be innovative.

Look for new ways of doing big scale bokashi. After all, when spring comes we need every bit of fertilizer we can get our hands on so even if the process involves a bit of winter storage it pays off big time when the spring comes.

My current best suggestion for winter storage would be to store bokashi in bottomless barrels on-site in the garden. Something we could all have a go at testing and compare notes? Obviously it needs to ferment indoors for a couple of weeks. But then to drop the fermented bokashi into a barrel with a good lid isn’t hard work. Line up the bottomless barrels on the land that needs fertilizing the best then let them fill up over the winter.

When the spring warmth comes the microbes, worms and other critters will spring into action. They’ll work the nutrients down into the soil and probably make a faster start on the gardening than you will. When the time comes to prepare the land, you can remove the barrel, dig down the ready and not-quite-so-ready bokashi into the soil and you’re ready to go.

Not a lot of carrying and lifting there. And a great way of making a food loop small or big that stretches over the winter.

Worth giving it a go? Let us know if you’ve got any good ideas on the subject!


ps the photo below is a 120 liter bokashi bin we’re currently testing here in Sweden in an urban gardening project, available from Agriton in Holland. It’s a bit hard to see, but it has a tap for draining off bokashi fluid, a metal grid in the bottom for separating the solids and liquids, and a pretty airtight lid with a good catch. Will let you know how it goes!

Photo: Jenny Harlen

Drain your scraps before they land in the Bokashi bin!


One of biggest frustrations people have with their Bokashi bin, it seems, is that now and then it smells.

Not just a bit, but really, really off. Not good for goodwill in the family or recruiting friends and neighbors to the cause. Mostly, people try to solve the problem by tossing in more bran. Gradually getting more disillusioned as it fails to make a big difference. Sadly I think a lot of bins have ended up in a corner of the garage because of this. A great idea that just didn’t quite make it.

The reason a Bokashi bin starts to smell is, nearly always, that it’s simply too wet in there. No amount of bran will help, you simply ha

ve to get rid of the excess moisture. The easiest way to do that is to simply put a newspaper inside the bin for a few days, it will absorb the humidity and most of the smell will disappear.

How do you know when it’s too wet in your bin? You’d think the drainage tap would take care of all liquid issues but for whatever reason not all liquid goes down to the bottom. Some goes up and hangs in the air pocket over the food waste. Some forms condensation droplets on the inside of the lid. And this is the point at which your bin starts to stink.

Next time you open your bin, check the underside of the lid. Condensation? Then it’s too wet and it would be worth tossing in a newspaper. If it’s not a big problem it could be enough just to add a toilet roll or two, or an empty  egg carton, something along those lines that will take up the moisture.

Usually the newspaper will be

quite soggy after a couple of days, then it’s done its work. You can leave it in there if you like, but if you think it’s just taking up a lot of valuable space you could remove it — just add another paper if and when needed. When you’ve got a newspaper in there it’s also a good chance to push down the contents of your bin, at least your hands won’t get icky in the process. And the more compact it is in your bin the better the Bokashi process will work. I suspect this  also helps squeeze down moisture towards the drainage tap too, and that’s always a good thing.

So then you’re standing there with a soggy newspaper in your hand, wondering what to do next. Don’t just toss it! By this time the paper is soaked with nutrients and good microbes, just the thing to use in your garden. If you’re into mulching, these newspapers are g

reat to lay out under bushes (especially berry bushes if you have them), in garden beds or veggie patches. Admittedly, they look a bit silly and will blow away as soon as they dry out, but you can always cover them with some bark, leaves or soil so they look a bit better. Have a peek under the paper after a few days, most likely it will be a full-scale worm party right there under your nose.

Another option is to toss the nutrient/microbe newspaper in the garden compost and cover so it doesn’t blow away. The carbon in the paper is nea

rly always needed in a standard outdoor compost to compensate all the leaves and other green stuff. And the microbes and nutrients just help it all along.

Or you can tear it into shreds and simply dig it down into your soil. The worms will love it, and after all it’s the worms that feed the plants so why not?

Just realized I’d posted a picture here before starting to write and completely lost my thread. The little white gadget is something I brought home from Ikea the other day and plan to have on the kitchen bench (or maybe in the cupboard under the sink) to store my

food scraps in during the day. That means they can run off for a few hours before landing in the bin. Especially useful if you’re fighting with a bin that is always too wet, or a family that is hard to train. Kids can always find their way to the little white box and put in their apple core. Once or twice a day, probably when you’re cleaning up after a meal, it’s just to take the drained-off bits in the white box and add them to the Bokashi bin.

Here in Sweden people drink enormous amounts of coffee for some reason, and it’s nearly always brewed at home (or in the office) in filter brewers. That means that after each brew you have a dripping wet filter of coffee to deal with. It’s really worth letting it run off first, coffee dries up quite quickly (and is a brilliant nutrient!), and it’s much better to add it your Bokashi bin after it’

s stopped dripping. Especially if you brew a lot of coffee at home! So a neat and tidy drainage solution is not so silly. Previously I’ve used a terra-cotta plant pot with an extra drainage tray as a lid. Works well, and the lid is not so silly if you have banana flies in the summer.

And, if you’ve got a Bokashi bin in the corner of your garage somewhere, would some of this be the reason you lost interest? May be time to have another go — your garden will thank you for it!

Photo: Jenny Harlen

Photo: Jenny Harlen

Just another thought: if you have a lot of loose tea leaves to deal with or make coffee in a french press you’re probably tearing your hair out with all the wet mess. At home we have one of these nylon coffee filters lying around in the sink, it gets in the way a bit, but as there’s always some tea or coffee slops to deal with we put up with it. They dry out really fast then you can dump them in the Bokashi bin. Also works well if you end up with a lot of wet, slimy rice in the sink. Just scoop it up and drain if off in the filter for a while.


Just found an EM Teachers’ Manual

Just stumbled across this great guide to using Bokashi and EM in schools. A 37-page manual aimed at teachers to help start up a Bokashi-based composting project in the classroom. Maybe not everything is relevant to where you live, but it’s something I haven’t seen before and gives you a lot of ideas for practical implementation along with the background information to make the process credible. Some of the environmental facts would need updating, and obviously made relevant to whatever part of the world you’re in.

A great start though, don’t you think? If you’ve seen anything else along these lines, please post a comment. The more we can share this type of information the better.

Have you been involved in running a school project using Bokashi and EM? What worked well? What would you have differently? What did the kids think about it all? Love to hear!

Download the manual here>>

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!