Compost, Eventually

Results from composting This is a little compost essay, more than likely Part One of a series -- because so far we have a mixed ending, and some of our friends and neighbors -- the braggarts -- have all happy endings, or, in other words, they get rich dark sweet-smelling material to add to their garden beds.

So, without going to Compost School, some time ago we began trying for composted kitchen scraps that turn into this kind of soil.

How hard can it be???

Ummmmm....pretty hard. In the spirit of reuse and all that, and with help from smart friends (meaning, in part, that they own a pickup truck and make enough money to keep it insured and working) we got these handsome, free, re-purposed bins from our fair city. Sort of like having ungainly but friendly hippotami in the backyard. (Soundtrack: The Gymnopédies, by Erik Satie)

The lumbering duet of the compost bins

A closer look - because I know you want to be closer to this cuddly thing:

A solo bin, a beauty

But wait! There's a problem. Perhaps instead of the noble work of building compost, we are merely stockpiling garbage?? The difference derives, in part, from temperatures. Compost comes out of garbage-y kitchen scraps after a nice interior sauna heats all the organic material hot enough to boost a specific set of bio-botanical processes. One of the heat-up results should be that no fruit or veggie seeds that were composted will germinate.

Uh-oh. We have seedlings in the bin....cue soundtrack, The Eensy Beensy Spider Climbed Up the Compost Bin....

Hmmmm. A few sprouts

And nice, healthy winter squash seedlings, we think, after spreading the "compost" around.

Sprouted winter squash seeds from compost bin

And so - much googling. Chatting, inquiring, sneaking up to eavesdrop on any nearby compost conversations, living through nearly unbearable YouTube pitches, and, eventually, throwing in the towel. Okay! I surrender! I will try  pickling garden waste with a dose of specific microbes, then burying it - because I get to include foods that cannot go in the outdoor bins, and, maybe, I can compost indoors in winter.

I decide to try Bokashi composting, but not in the moderately expensive specialty kit (we would need at least two of them), and not with a permanent commitment to buying the expensive external input (Bokashi "meal.")

Here we come to a sort of Ol' Dan Tucker soundtrack moment, given the "novel" and "inventive" ways some plenty cheap tools get used. Perhaps I'll explain more in a later installment, but for now, just know we used $2.29 buckets, a few of them, and a drill.....

New Bokashi bucket compost system

and a couple of cool Gamma Seal lids, about $7.50 each, instead of the special Bokashi fermenter kits, $55 or so each.

Gamma Seal lid for Bokashi (indoor porch) system

I bought one package of prepared Bokashi meal, to be sure my first trial mixed the right bugs with the kitchen scraps. The "Happy Farmer" here requires a few rounds of Old McDonald Had a Farm...and a reminder that farming with Bokashi in plastic pails isn't exactly farming, but it's what we urban types can do, maybe, maybe, perhaps...

Happy Farmer Bokashi

That's my first little batch of Bokashi meal, below, in the bottom of the first bucket. Soundtrack, as I'm sure you have already guessed, is the incredibly annoying There's a Hole in the Bucket, the Bucket, the Bucket... because there are quite a few, as you may be able to see.

Bokashi powder in bottom of inside bucket, with drainage holes

And, sparing you a closeup of the actual first batch of scraps, here's what the bucket looks like with a plastic bag on top of the scraps to help seal out oxygen. Bokashi "pickles" trash through anaerobic (lack of oxygen) digestion, so air and oxygen are the enemies of good Bokashi composting. Or so I think.

First scraps tucked into Bokashi bucket

Fast forward about five weeks. We filled the bucket gradually with all manner of kitchen scraps (including dairy, meats, bones, fats). When we added scraps, we lightly tamped down, and even more lightly sprinkled the magic  Bokashi powder on the scraps, until the bucket filled. Then a two week wait in the bucket, followed by burial outside, and another two week (or longer) wait for the supposed accelerated decomposition into fine, usable soil.

The unveiling, below, brings us back where we began: Success in the form of beautiful, usable, brown soil, earthwormy and all that. The completely missing food scraps brought on little garden dances to the tune of We are the World -- a lousy dance tune, improved greatly by conversion to 6/8 time, and some new words:

"We help the Earth - We build the Compost. We know the way to make a better soil, So let's start binnin' "

Results from composting

So - what's the problem? Why is this a partial success? Failure in Bokashi meal production. I'm only willing to use Bokashi composting approaches if I can ace the development of the Bokashi meal based on a free, local medium,  ideally hardwood sawdust. I used organic rice bran for my first try, a two-week process along these lines. After another of those anxious Bokashi two-week waits, I opened my plastic box to find a smelly failure that I attribute to too much oxygen entering the process.

After an August trip, I will try that again, and we'll see.  Cue High Hopes...."Oops there goes another rubber tree plant."

(I do notice that many of the Bokashi soundtrack suggestions are among the world's most irritating songs, and that may not bode well. We'll see...and hear...)

CORRECTION, July 26, 2009: Deeper digging and closer scrutiny revealed that three weeks of burial in a compost pile had mostly -- but not completely -- decomposed the "pickled" Bokashi compost waste. Current belief: Bokashi can speed up composting, but perhaps not accelerate it to warp speed.