Tag Archives: environment

2015: International Year of the Soils

10968455_10152848645119934_1166334746202857131_nAnd about time!

We have been talking about pollution, the environment, climate change and the future of the planet for decades. We talk about the air, about the water, about sound pollution, plastic and deforestation. But when was the last time you ever heard anyone talking about our soil?

About the fact that if we blow it we won’t eat.

Topsoil is that thin, thin layer of soil we can use to grow food in. There’s nowhere near as much of it as you think, and the worst is that it’s disappearing fast. Statistics vary, but a starting point is that we have roughly half as much topsoil now as we had a century ago. And a population that is growing, globally.

Every year.

Where does it go? We build cities on some of our best fields. Great tracts of soil are washed away or blow away in the aftermath of deforestation and other poor management. We make deserts out of what was once fertile land. We poison good acreage with chemicals. We take out more than we give back.

Basically, we’ve not been thinking for a long, long while. And we’ve been damn quiet about it.

So it’s a blessing that this year our soil gets some limelight. A year, of course, is nothing in the great scheme of things, we need to be thinking about this every day and changing the way things are done. But it is a change to have a chat with your kids, your neighbors, your colleagues and your gardening mates about what is going on. How it could be if all decided to be the change, start doing what we can in our own backyard.

A backyard is not much but it’s still a bequest to the generations that come after us. People will need to grow food locally and to do that, they will need good soil. In their own backyard.

And soil, as we know, takes a hell of a time to build.

So we could make 2015 the year of doing things differently. For our children. And for theirs.

Bokashi gardening in Edmonton

The good news is it’s thawed in Edmonton! As it has here (even if we got some snow this week!) The apple blossoms are just about to spring and life is good. Again.

Remember the Bokashi project that Mike in Edmonton is running? Here’s an update from one of the test group. Thumbs up it seems.

This little guy is doing great, he’s clearly in charge of sprinkling on the bokashi bran each day into the bucket. Anyhow, if you’re curious, have a read and see how the project is progressing.

Another lovely Canadian with a mission is Desi in Edmonton. Here’s her latest bokashi post (she’s done a few good ones on the subject). Now we’re just waiting to hear the latest from Edmonton now that life has once again turned green there as it has there. So Desi, how’s things in your bokashi garden?!

And Mike, the guy behind it all and rather an interesting blog. Here’s his latest update with follow-up from one of the other members of the test squad, Cara. This is a really nice way of cranking up awareness, no preconceived ideas, no flogging of stuff, no heavy scientific stuff, just some nice friendly kitchen floor experiments. I like it!

Create your own Eden!

Isn’t it a great picture? Check the website here, it’s just excellent. A bunch of councils in New Zealand have gone together to produce this site and it really works. Simple, friendly, and pedagogic. Suddenly all this Bokashi stuff doesn’t seem so hard any more, it’s just a good-old down-to-earth way of creating your own little paradise. Here and now.

One of the reasons I’m sitting here in Sweden carrying on and on about Bokashi is because I’m actually from New Zealand. I’ve seen how over the last ten years Bokashi has become more and more part of everyday life there, not an overnight sensation but just something that’s gradually crept into the way things are done. And coming from there I know that you’d have to look far to find a country of more down-to-earth people. This is not the land of hocus-pocus. So if it works there it should work anywhere. On the other hand, New Zealand is not a particularly urban country — even if most people live in towns they still have gardens.

And you have to admit the climate makes life easy, it’s not that hard to go dig a hole any time of year.

But all the same. Keep an eye on what these kiwis are doing. They may show us yet!

Website: www.createyourowneden.org.nz

Getting going with Bokashi


So put up your hand if you’re an expert at resisting changes. (Hand going quietly up here…)

I like to think of myself as being open, curious, willing to try new things. In actual fact I’m probably quite cynical, jaded and treat a lot of new things with a healthy measure of suspicion. Until proved otherwise.

Bokashi is one of those things that rung a few hocus-pocus warning bells for me when I first came across it. Forget it. There’s nothing new age or even vaguely hocus pocus about Bokashi. In actual fact it’s as old as the earth and belongs under one category only: good old-fashioned, down-to-earth common sense. The sort of thing farmers have known for hundreds of years but we, in our modern wisdom, have lost sight of.

Bokashi is fermented organic material, a lovely Japanese word that works in all languages and will one day be an unquestioned addition to ours. These days the fermentation is done using Effective Microorganisms (EM), a mix of very natural, age-old “good” bacteria that do the work for us in this process. No hocus pocus there, but a lot more to say in future blogs.

There are two things “Bokashi” and that’s a bit confusing. First, you have Bokashi bran. That’s normal bran — organic of course — that is inoculated with Effective Microorganisms. Fermented quite simply, just like a lot of stuff you’d find in your kitchen, pickles, yoghurt, wine and the like. Then second, you have Bokashi compost, and that’s what you get when you add Bokashi bran to your food waste and leave it to ferment in an airtight bucket.

There’s nothing magic about the bucket, apart from the fact that using a proper Bokashi bucket takes some of the trial and error out of the process. Two things Bokashi microbes hate are being wet and having too much air around them. Which is why the bucket is air-tight and must be drained regularly.

What happens in the bucket then? A lot actually, far more than you’d ever think when you take a look inside and see that, well, nothing much seems to have changed. Every handful of Bokashi bran you throw in has billions of microbes living in it. They go to work on your food waste and eat, breed and generally live a good life. The breeding is no small business, microbes reproduce every 20 minutes and sooneä than you know there’s a hell of a colony in your bucket.

So what are they doing there other than having a good time? The process is symbiotic, that means it’s a give and take thing where all parts win. (Pathogenic bacteria on the other hand, the ones we definitely don’t want in our lives, are just take-takers.)

While they’re eating and breeding, the microbes are breaking down the food waste into another structure. And this is what makes them so valuable. They take the food and sort of split it up into its component parts — proteins, which in turn consist of amino acids and other stuff. Why is this such a big deal? Plants can’t eat our food. But they can eat the amino acids and stuff. So what the microbes are doing is the equivalent of preparing a buffet of goodies for the  plants and soil.

When you dig the content of your Bokashi bucket into  the soil it quickly “disappears”. Obviously it doesn’t disappear at all, it is converted to soil. Rich, nutrient-loaded soil that is like a 5-star buffet for your plants.

It does other great things when you add it to your compost, but that’s a story for another day. As is the story about why Bokashi works as a miniature carbon-sink in your yard, something great you can do for the environment without (hardly) lifting a finger.