Tag Archives: food waste

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!

/Jenny

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!

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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.

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Bio-bags. Dead easy and a great way to do Bokashi.

I keep talking about bio-bags. And to be honest I’m not completely sure what they’re called in different countries. But they are basically these — a roll of bags that work just like plastic bags but that are made from corn starch. Organic in other words, and they will break down in the soil.

We use them here in our Swedish “green bucket” system. The bucket itself is a super standard plastic bucket with tight fitting lid. You can whatever you have handy as long as it fits the bill. Pizzerias and bakeries usually throw out tons of similar buckets. Not necessarily green, but white will work just as well 🙂

Step one is to put the bag in the bucket just as you would a normal rubbish bag. Then put in some newspaper to take up the liquid that the food waste will produce. You’ll learn pretty quickly how much you need, I usually tear the local paper in two and just plonk it in. If you have wood pellets, hay pellets, cat litter or anything like that on hand you could test it. Anything will work as long it’s cheap and easy to get hold of, will absorb a lot of liquid and you’re happy about having it in your soil.

A sprinkle of Bokashi bran on top of the newspaper layer then you’re ready to tip in your days food waste. Just as you would with any other bucket. A little more bran, some extra paper if it looked like it’s going to be wet. Serviettes are ideal if you use them at home. Otherwise kitchen paper, egg cartons, dry bread. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

How much paper (or whatever) you use will depend partly on how wet your food waste is and partly on how long you plan to store your biobag. Let the food drain as much as possible before you put it in and you’ll save yourself some trouble. If your bag is going to wait a few months before going into the soil I’d say be a bit generous on the absorbent front. Food waste just goes on getting wetter as time goes on (unless you have it frozen out in the snow, but one day it’s still going to thaw). The quality won’t be particularly better or worse if it’s wet or dry but there will be a big difference in the smell. Wet = smelly. No way round it. So aim for damp or dryish if you can. It’s usually worth squeezing in an extra section of newspaper before you tie up the bag.

Final step: tie a good tight knot in the bag and carry it out to your storage spot. The bag will still need to ferment in a warm spot for a couple of weeks, just as in any other bucket. But the advantage is you don’t have to clean out the original bucket. In fact, you only really need the one bucket as you can remove the bag as soon as it’s full and use the same bucket again and again.

What you’ll need to think about:
– That the bio-bags you use are good and thick. We’ve tested a lot here and many are extremely flimsy. They will drive you nuts. The thick bio-bags will take time to break down in the soil (4 to 6 months even), but you can hack them up with a spade when you “plant them” to speed things up. At least you know they are organic so you don’t have to worry about getting plastic in your soil.
– That you have somewhere warm enough to store them for a couple of weeks. 20 degrees C is about right, depends of course where you live. Room temperature in other words. It can work in a coldish cellar but you’d want to make sure the bucket got going properly in the kitchen before it hit the cellar.
– That the bags are airtight — knotted tightly or with a good tight clip on. They are your “bucket” and the microbes just don’t like a lot of fresh air at this stage.
– That you have somewhere to store the “ready” bio-bags if you’re keeping them till spring or storing for someone else to carry away. One option is to load them into  black plastic rubbish bags, another is to keep them in plastic barrels or bins. Whatever, as long as it works for you.

I wrote a bit in the previous blog about how we collect Bokashi bags from a pre-school and an office building. It’s honestly so extremely easy once you get going. And the bio-bags do make it easy on a lot of fronts.

The three main advantages I can see are that…
– the process is a lot cleaner, especially valuable in an office environment where no-one wants to do the icky sticky stuff.
– it’s easy to hand over the bags to someone else for their garden. They don’t even have to see what you had for lunch!
– it’s easy to store the bags as long as you need until spring comes or you have some time to do some gardening.
and four,  it’s easy just to plonk a couple of bags in the wheelbarrow when you have a garden project on the go and plant the whole bag in the right hole in the right spot. You don’t have to deal with all your bags at the same time, just use them up gradually as you need some fertilizer in the garden.

So the way we see it, this opens up a lot of possibilities for the future. The key to making this whole Bokashi thing happen is that it has to be easy. Preferably nice and clean and preferably without a lot of digging involved.

So we’ll keep inventing things till we find the path of least resistance. Then it will be easy for everyone to start getting their food waste back into the ground and getting us back on track so we can grow the food we need in the future.

Bokashiworld on facebook

I’ve just set up a facebook group for Bokashiworld (I think! I hope!). So far it has a proud membership of 1 (one). Me…

So if you’re a facebook user and would find it easier to follow this blog there rather than here please go ahead and join me!

Here’s the link:

Otherwise you can just search for Bokashiworld and it should turn up.

Oh, and please feel free to have your say. It’s an open forum and there’s no marketing of products involved — the main thing is we give each other a hand to share new ideas and help more people get started. If you have any good stories from wherever you are in the world it would be great to share them. Even better if you have pictures.

See you there!!

A good news story!

“Salvation Army workers getting compost business off the ground.”

This is one of the better, I promise. Just read this and your day will be off to a good start. We can ALL make a difference. And thank god there are some guys out there showing the way.

Read the article from the Billings Gazette in Montana>>

Bokashi + leaves = a bucket full of soil!

Leaves are something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Quite possibly because I have a hell of a lot of them to rake up. FINALLY we’re free of snow here and after nearly six months of being covered in white stuff a hopefull green-brown lawn has appeared.

But winter surprised us last year (doesn’t it every year?!) and the leaves were left just lying where they fell. Normally I shuffle them up into garden beds and under bushes, paradise for worms and even, unfortunately, for snails.

But probably leaves are one of our greatest unseen resources. We all have them, even in the city. But the focus is always on getting rid of them. Yesterday I drove past a guy who was cleaning up his footpath and sweeping leaves and gravel down into the stormwater grate. Bizarre!

So what if were to do more with leaves and Bokashi in combination? Together they make fantastically good soil. We encourage people here to fill a number of standard-issue sacks with leaves in the autumn and toss in their bokashi buckets during the winter. Put them out in the sun when spring comes and sooner or later you’ll have soil.

These guys have been doing fantastic work with the concept. Real hands-on projects on a bit bigger scale than we have at home in the kitchen. First, a standard fermentation in the bucket. Then the bokashi is layered with leaves and left to turn to soil. The end product is therefore a batch of great soil rather than a batch of half-icky fermented food waste.

So smart and so down-to-earth. It seems to me like this has to be the way to go in the future. There are sure to be a million possible variations on the theme — but the basic idea is to work with what you have instead of work against it.

Imagine a super soil factory like this at the back of every garage, apartment building, shop and office block. Takes a little bit of imagination and a bit of planning and reschooling but the outcome can only be good. Local communities producing the one thing they just can’t get enough of — good fertilising soil, using a couple of the things that they just can’t get rid of fast enough — food waste and old leaves.

Exciting, isn’t it? And the really good thing is that there’s nothing to lose by giving it a go.

http://www.gardensfromgarbage.org

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