Tag Archives: making soil

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.

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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.

Bokashi 101 on webradio

A couple of weeks ago I got to do something fun. Talk about Bokashi on webradio!

There’s a woman in Montana who does a web radio show on gardening. (What else could she possibly write about given that her name is Kate Gardner?!). She called and we talked. And talked…and talked. Probably got a bit carried away with it all actually but it was such fun. And in the end she knocked it up into a nice little session called Bokashi 101.

So if you’ve got an hour to spare load it up on your iPod and take the dog out for a walk.

It was really fun talking to Kate. But what I learnt is that it’s hard to keep your thoughts in a straight line when you’re being asked questions. Running a course is much easier! So there were a couple of really important things I would have liked to bring up if I’d only remembered.

And they are this:
1. That the topsoil on our planet is fast fading away. Some estimates are that we are losing 1%  per year. Yikes. So whatever we do in this generation of ours, we have to make sure we start building top soil again. Every bucket of Bokashi you dig down adds a bucket of topsoil to the planet. A bucket for mankind and not for the landfill…

2. That the single most important thing about Bokashi is that it puts carbon into the soil where we need it and not into the atmosphere, where we absolutely don’t. Each bucket you dig down is a sort of micro carbon sink. A bucket of carbon in the soil is a good thing. Half a bucket of carbon in the air is not a good thing. (What happens in a regular compost pile or even a landfill pile is that almost half the organic waste goes up into the air in the form of greenhouse gases. Much of it as methane which is a far worse gas than carbon dioxide.)

Today (on my dog walk!) I listened to the next installment of the Bokashi story on Kate’s web radio show. Here she’s talking to an inspiring couple in Great Falls, Montana, who are working hard to set up large-scale Bokashi composting units in schools and food banks in the area. There’s a lot of trial and error behind how Michael and MJ do it and it’s interesting to hear their story. Everything we’re doing with Bokashi is a sort of pioneer thing, a lot of product development, and the more we can compare notes and share ideas the better it’s going to be.

Anyhow it’s well worth listening to their story. If you’re curious about the nuts and bolts of how they build their bins check their website. Basically they’re using shipping pallets, insulation foam and plastic to build modular, insulated bins. Food waste, wood chips and Bokashi bran in; three months later soil out. Really cool concept, and I think somewhere here is the start of what we’re going to be doing all over in a few years time.

Got your iPod handy? Got your dog handy? Take a nice walk in the autumn leaves and enjoy!

Here’s the link: http://webtalkradio.net/2011/10/24/the-manic-gardener-–-kitchen-composting-bokashi-101/

And here’s the link to Kate’s blog, The Manic Gardener. Worth reading!!
http://themanicgardener.com/

Urban gardening in bread crates.

First. A confession. I don’t live anywhere near a city.

But we have a patch of gravel outside the house so that, for the time being, is my urban backyard.

My idea was to test if you could grow a “garden” in a pile of bread crates on a wooden pallet. Then use them during the winter for storage of Bokashi. Conclusion: works brilliantly.

I started in the winter (the original blog is here) and now that summer is just about done here there’s no doubt it works really well. Actually I’m quite excited because I think this could be a really nice way for people with real urban backyards to get a small garden going AND recycle more or less all their food waste on a patch of asphalt no bigger than one square metre.

This is the summer bit. (The winter bit involves storing cured Bokashi in bio-bags or plastic bags in the empty crates.)

First step, you’ll need a pallet and up to ten plastic crates. Not too deep or you’ll never be able to lift them. Get hold of some plastic potting mix bags and cut them to size. Poke in a few drainage holes. (In the original experiment I used newspaper for lining. Forget it, it gets too dry. Plastic is better.)

Then a first layer of potting mix, just the cheap stuff from the garden shop.

Empty a bucket of cured Bokashi and spread it around nicely.

Then top up the crate with soil.

Lift on the crate you’re going to plant in. This one I’d done a couple of weeks earlier. You can have up to five crates in a stack, makes a nice working height. (No snails! No weeds!)

If you plant in a couple of worms before you know it you’ll have a whole colony doing their bit for your garden!

Time to plant! Herbs, lettuce, whatever will do ok in the shallow soil. But it seems to me you can plant quite intensively as the soil is so good.


Ready! Just to let them grow and enjoy the results.

The good thing with growing in a stack like this is that run-off nutrients from the top crate will filter down through the others and not be wasted. In peak season you could spread out the trays and grown in all of them, or hand them out to friends and neighbours ready-planted.

When the season is over the soil will still be quite good in the trays, so empty them somewhere valuable and stack up the trays nice and neat ready to be used as winter storage. You may even want to lift the whole thing into the cellar to make life easier in the winter.

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>>