Tag Archives: EM

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!


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.




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

Living soil. Read all about it.

There are many sites talking about Bokashi, about EM, about how marvelous it all is.

Which it is. (Of course.)

But this one’s a bit different. There are some real experts on board and they’ve been working with Bokashi for many years. With a lot of heart in what they’re doing.

Here’s a paper by a Dan Woodward talking about soil and sustainability. Effective Microorganisms as Regenerative Systems in Earth Healing.

It’ll take you a little while to read and digest so it’s probably worth going and getting yourself a cup of coffee before you dive in. But it’ll be one of the more interesting coffee breaks you’ve had for a while!

Here’s the link to the article>>  The organization is called Living Soil and they’re based in the UK.

Bokashi goes luxury in Krabi

No, it’s the Bokashi going luxury, not us. Unfortunately.

This is an article I pulled out of a recent magazine from Thai Airways. They’re promoting this (admittedly gorgeous) resort in Krabi but the interesting thing is that Bokashi and EM are featured in the article as part of the resorts greener than green profile.

While maintaining its green environment, the staff has been trained in eco-friendly measures. Reduction of chemical usage is a top priority. To this end, the in-house fertilizer from organic waste is fermented to produce “Effective Microorganisms (EM)” used as a substitute for chemical fertilizer to nourish the garden.


Not that I think for a minute that all the flying miles spent on traveling to an eco-resort is in any way justified. But you have to admit it’s a cool thing to see EM featured in this way and becoming mainstream. The more of this we see the better!

Soil and souvlaki.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just back from a couple of weeks backpacking in the Greek Islands. Heavenly — of course!!

But there were a couple of things that really got me thinking. The first was plastic bags — far too many of them were blowing around on the islands and out to sea. Blah.

And the other was the soil. Bone-hard.

I don’t know how you’d get a spade into it if you didn’t soak it up with a few buckets of water first. You’d think it would be a dream to grow fruit and veg in a place where the sun shines every day (believe me, a contrast to here!!) and for us it was a real treat to eat so many fresh peaches and apricots and cherries. But not a lot is grown on the islands, and the few hardy souls that have a kitchen garden growing are working hard with it. Water is precious in the towns and villages as it is, but when you head out just a bit further you realize just how hard people are working on their little patches. Deep wells, buckets on ropes, plastic jerry cans and donkeys. Up and down those steep slopes, day after day year after year.

But still. You can’t help thinking what a difference some organic material would make in the soil. A decent layer of mulch. Manure.

But when you look around you realize there’s not much mulch to be had. The little strawlike stuff there is goes to the donkeys, the rest is dry as dust. And I’m sure the little manure from goats and donkeys is put to good use.

Meanwhile down at the beach and in the village the streets are full of tavernas and cafes, plate after plate of marvellous sallads, souvlakis and roast chickens carried in and out of the kitchens. Nerd that I am I tried hard to crane my neck behind the scenes and into the kitchens, try to see what they were doing with all the leftovers. And time and time again I saw them land in the bin. One big bin. Paper, cans, glass and all the good food bits from the kitchen. I’d like to think some of it was kept aside for the donkeys and goats but I’m not so sure. Big bins of rubbish to be carried away at the end of the day, a big load on small islands with little infrastructure.

It felt so hopeless.

Two big problems. One easy solution. How to connect the dots?

I was a wimp. I didn’t take up the discussion with anyone. How could you? But it was tough to see what a difference Bokashi could make in this situation and not be able to do anything.

The change has to come from within in some way. But first they have to find out about it. I don’t think there’s any big Bokashi/EM movement anywhere in Greece yet. But I’m putting my hopes on Australians! Bokashi is taking off nicely in Australia, and in Australia you have a huge Greek population. (Melbourne used to be the third biggest Greek city in the world population-wise!). So let’s say one day some guys from Australia go “home” to visit their relations and bring with them some Bokashi. Talk it through, get something started. Show the difference. Anchor the concept a bit. Make sure there’s a supply line for EM and Bokashi bran.

It has to start somewhere. And it’s just too sad to see such an opportunity wasting. It would be great to see some of those little kitchen gardens getting a better chance. And it would be a real relief to see the leftovers from tavernas and cafes channelled back into the gardens of their neighbours.

Please someone — just do it!!

ps One thing I have to say was quite pragmatic…tomatoes and peaches growing around church walls!

pps This thing with flying. We went by air to Athens and took boats from there. I’m not proud about the flying bit, we try to travel by train wherever possible, or just skip it. But this trip we decided to do anyhow. And enjoy it to the utmost!