Letting Johanna and Bokashi do their thing

This week we caught up with Adam and Hayley who are first-time users of a Green Johanna.

They set up their Johanna in their back garden back in April. The couple had been keen to compost for years and had tried a couple of times with different composters but been disappointed with the results.

 Their reasons for composting were that they wanted to recycle their food and garden waste as well as produce their own compost to grow their own vegetables.  

Adam said:We have quite a big garden and a lot of garden waste to put to good use, such as branches, leaves etc. We also wanted a good place to put our food waste. We grow potatoes and other vegetables in the garden in large planters.’

They’ve been using the Johanna with an insulating jacket and in combination with a Bokashi bin. Bokashi bins are waste containers that ferment – rather than decompose – food waste thanks to the addition of beneficial anaerobic microbes in a spray or bran. Once full, the bin is sealed and left to ferment for around two weeks to become a pre-compost mixture which is then added to a composter or buried in soil in the garden.

  ‘It’s become a really useful part of our composting process,’ said Adam. ‘We put all our food waste straight into it and give it a few sprays of Bokashi spray, then once it’s full and has been left to ferment we transfer it to the Johanna.’

ABOVE: Contents of the kitchen caddy added to the Johanna.

 ABOVE: The Bokashi bin’s contents added to the Johanna. The contents of a Bokashi bin after two-weeks’ fermentation don’t appear much different; there will usually be a pickled smell. When added to a compost bin the pre-compost mixture acts as an accelerator – heat increases and the composting process speeds up.

Adam and Hayley are a household of two, both vegans, and it takes around one to two weeks for them to fill the Bokashi bin. Their waste is mainly vegetable scraps along with some beans. They then use their  smaller kitchen caddy to take food waste to the Johanna ‘whilst the Bokashi bin is doing its thing.’

They used some Bokashi bran in the Johanna when they were starting out to give the contents an initial boost but haven’t felt the need to use more since. Some people use it throughout the year to keep giving their compost an accelerating boost thanks to the presence of beneficial microbes in the bran.

While they haven’t used a thermometer to check the compost temperature, they’re having a lot more success with the Johanna than with other composters they tried in the past.

 ‘The Johanna is much better built and seems to be working faster at breaking down all the waste,’ said Adam. He added there had been no problems with flies or rodents.

Their garden waste provides them with more than enough carbon content (Browns) but they have also added shredded waste paper.

If you lack garden waste it’s a good idea to store shredded paper or cardboard, wood chips or sawdust in lidded containers nearby so that they can be added at the same time as adding food waste to get a good balance of nitrogen-rich Greens and carbon-rich Browns as compost materials You may be able to find a local tree surgeon who is willing to drop wood chips off for free.

So far, Adam and Hayley are happy composters and are waiting for the big reveal – accessing their first batch of compost! Watch this space…

Bokashi bins boost hot compost

When it comes to boosting the composting process, we have found a Bokashi bin to be the perfect partner for the Green Johanna.

We recently carried out trials involving additions of fermented food waste from a Maze Bokashi bin to a Green Johanna and found that temperatures in the Johanna rapidly increased as a result.  

For our trials, we re-started a Johanna more or less from scratch, having previously removed large amounts of compost.  Using a permanently installed insulation jacket and large amounts of Bokashi bran and carbon-rich materials, compost temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius. 

 We added the contents of a Bokashi bin that had been fermenting for 21 days, followed by a full 1kg bag of Bokashi bran.   We then added some mulch and stirred well with a garden fork, before completing the process with a thin layer of mulch. 

 The Johanna was then left for 48 hours.  Temperatures rose to 66 degrees Celsius whilst outdoor temperatures were in the 0-10 degree range.   After 48 hours we re-stirred to spread heat more widely through the Johanna.    Using two Bokashi bins in rotation we repeated this cycle roughly every three weeks and got the same results.

We used the Green Johanna in combination with a regular kitchen caddy (as the Johanna needs regular feeding to maintain the hot composting process), twin-bin Bokashi system, Insulating Jacket, Bokashi Bran as an accelerant and plenty of mulch.

Photos show starting temperature at 30 degrees Celsius/adding fermented waste from a Bokashi bin/ adding Bokashi bran/temperature at 66 degrees Celsius.

The Bokashi process was developed in Japan in the 1980s; the term means ‘fermented organic matter’ in Japanese.  It involves adding all your food waste, cooked and uncooked, to a specially designed airtight Bokashi bin, with the addition of Bokashi in the form of a fermented bran or spray. The food waste is compressed with a compactor to eliminate as much air as possible as this is an anaerobic process.  Once the bin is full, you close the airtight lid and leave for 2-3 weeks.  Many people use two or three bins to keep the process going.

The bacteria (lactobacilli) in the bran or spray will create lactic acid which will effectively pickle the food waste rather than letting it decompose as it would in a regular food waste caddy.  After a week or so, liquid should start to form in the Bokashi bin which should be drained using the tap.   This ‘Bokashi tea’ can be used as a drain cleaner or diluted for use as plant food.

 At the end of the fermentation period the waste food is a pre-compost mixture that can be added to a composter or buried in soil to become a soil enhancer. Its composition is such that virtually all its original nutrients, carbon and energy enter rapidly into the soil.   No greenhouse gases are released to the atmosphere as they are during regular food waste decomposition in landfill.

Bokashi composting has traditionally proven particularly popular in urban environments where traditional garden composting is difficult. 

Mark

Helping the planet by switching to bokashi

Man emptying food into a bokashi bin

My parents and I were discussing the fact that their local council doesn’t yet operate a separate food waste collection.

My mum said it wasn’t a huge deal for them because they didn’t have any food waste anyway.

 I queried this; they must have food waste.  She maintained that they didn’t.

I said I wondered if they ate eggshell sandwiches, or tea bag pie, or perhaps apple core crumble. She said she wondered if I was being sarcastic.

Of course, they didn’t eat those things, she said, but that wasn’t waste ‘because you couldn’t eat it anyway’. It became clear that the word ‘waste’ meant different things to each of us.  

‘Our generation sees waste as something you scrape off your plate,’ Mum said. ‘So it’s the result of not planning properly and cooking too much or putting too much on your plate.’

My parents’ generation of ‘war babies’ equate the word waste with wastefulness.

Wasting food

This might go some way towards explaining the confusion that arose some years ago when research was being done to establish what residents’ attitudes would be if their local council offered voluntary food waste collections. Researchers found that many people said they wouldn’t use a food waste collection because they had no food waste. This didn’t stack up as it didn’t equate to the amount of food waste that the councils had to dispose of. Perhaps these respondents were people of my parents’ generation who thought that if they weren’t ‘wasting’ food they had no food waste.

After our discussion, Mum started thinking about everything she threw in the bin. She realised that she created large amounts of peelings because she makes fresh soup every day.

The next time I visited, she said that because they didn’t yet have any information about when their council would start food waste collections, it had been preying on her mind that every scrap in their bin went to landfill.

But they also felt ‘too old at our age’ (81 and 84) to start stirring compost.

Starting with the belief that you’re never too old to save the earth, I came up with a solution – Team Bokashi. It would work like this:

  • A Maze bokashi bin indoor composter would fit neatly on their worktop, or under the sink, and they could scrape all their food waste into it.
  • By adding bokashi spray to each input of food waste, natural beneficial microbes are introduced which accelerate the fermentation process. (Bokashi is Japanese for ‘fermented organic matter’).
  • Because the waste ferments anaerobically (without air), there are no flies or smells.
  • Once the 14L bin is full, it is left sealed shut for two to three weeks while the contents are left to ferment. Then the contents would normally be added to a garden composter, where it acts as an accelerator, or buried in the garden to break down and become soil-building compost. But I don’t see my dad at 84 being keen to go round digging holes in his garden, so I said I would take the bin and add its contents to our own Green Johanna or Compost Tumbler and hand it back to them. Using two bins on rotation should do the job.

In a way, it’s our own version of what the ShareWaste app does – connecting people who would like to recycle their food scraps with other people who are already composting.

My dad came on board when I explained that the liquid you drain every few days from the tap at the bottom of the bin is a great organic drain cleaner that controls smells and prevents algae build-up.  You can also dilute it for use as plant feed, but it looked like the plants would have to go hungry. My dad has always had a thing about blocked drains. I think it’s a man thing. Using the bokashi drain cleaner might save them a small fortune on whatever gunk he normally chucks down the plughole, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the water system too.

I gave them the bokashi bin and left them to it. Would they become bokashi fans or might it be too much change too soon?

At first Mum argued that there was no space on the kitchen worktop (what with her soup maker, bread maker, food processor etc) for the bokashi bucket so it was given a home on the patio table outside. After a few weeks, however, she did rearrange her worktop space to accommodate the bokashi bin and the sky didn’t fall in.

No blocked drains

Dad expressed disappointment that he wasn’t getting the promised bokashi drain cleaner. I explained it was quite normal to go a week at first without liquid while the process got going. Then he forgot to check for a few days and ended up with half a jugful of the stuff. He was highly delighted. I could tell no drains were going to get the chance to get blocked around these parts.

Bokashi ‘tea’ drain cleaner

My parents reported that after a few early instances of forgetting they had a new food waste bin, they quickly got the bokashi habit. It was now unthinkable for them to throw food waste in the normal kitchen bin, as they had done for the past 80 years.

We have had our bokashi bins for a while, but it was only when I was transporting my parents’ bins back and forth in my car that I came to appreciate how portable they are.  The cube-type shape makes them sturdy and the three locking clips mean they don’t spill. And as for the effectiveness of fermented bokashi mixture as a compost accelerator – wow, our compost bins love it!

Bokashi convert

Mum is now a complete bokashi convert. She says she feels ‘empowered’ by being useful. It’s been six months now and I can tell there’s no turning back.

‘We all have to do something about the climate crisis,’ she says, ‘and this isn’t a lot to ask, especially when you consider the upsides.’

All that remained was to take a photo using Mum as a model for this blog, showing ‘People in their Eighties getting the Bokashi bug’.

But when I turned up to take her photo, Mum had just been to the dentist’s and was looking very elegantly groomed and made-up – and not a day over 60.

I was dismayed. ‘You’re going to ruin my photo, you don’t look old.’

‘Really?’ she said, delighted. ‘You’d better use your dad then.’

Julie

Man emptying food into a bokashi bin

Dad does his bit – using a bokashi bin

Christmas eco gifts give back to the planet

Christmas Green Johanna

‘Tis the month before Christmas when all through the house not a single thing’s stirring except Rachel’s mouse…

Still on her laptop at midnight, Rachel’s searching for gifts for the family that won’t cost the earth but also won’t cost the Earth.

She’s hit on a solution for her husband Paul’s parents, Dick and Liddy, who are so tricky to buy for. They say they don’t want any more presents because they already have everything they need. And Dick says he doesn’t need any more gloves because he’s not an octopus. Ditto socks.

They’re already keen recyclers and want to do their bit for the environment in an easy way for people in their eighties.

So how about a Green Cone food waste digester? It takes all food waste, even bones, and no stirring or turning is required. It doesn’t produce compost, but that’s OK; Dick and Liddy will be perfectly happy with the nutritious soil conditioner that will seep from the underground waste basket into their flower beds once worms and microbes have broken down the food scraps.

Dick will like the fact that they’re in control of their own food waste, turning something that harms the planet in landfill to something that heals it by nourishing the soil. Liddy will love the idea that, in their own small way, they’re doing something to save the planet for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The little we can do is a lot – that’s Liddy’s motto.

Composting for a busy brother

For her brother Stephen, who is officially the busiest man on the planet (which he would love to save if he could only get the staff), Rachel plans to get a Green Johanna hot composter. He’s seen Paul and Rachel’s Johanna at work in their garden and has even been known to make himself useful by emptying the kitchen caddy into it. The idea of having a ready supply of his own free compost would definitely appeal too.

Green Johanna Winter Jacket

Worm-farming for children

Stephen’s wife Jill would also like to save the earth; she just doesn’t want it being traipsed through the house on the children’s muddy boots. So Rachel thought a great present for their children, Billie and Ben, would be a wormery. She managed to sell the idea to Stephen by saying it would get the kids interested in eco-science (anything educational always gets his vote), and Jill agreed when she knew the Maze Worm Farm could be kept in the shed. Rachel knows the kids will be fascinated by the process, and if through harvesting their own vermicompost they gain a passion for gardening, well…that’s the very definition of a gift that keeps on giving.

Rachel suspects it might become her job to teach her niece and nephew how to harvest the compost, but it will be more than worth it to see them giggle when she tells them that this nutritious soil food is essentially the worms’ poo. If you’re under 10 it doesn’t get much funnier than that.

Gifts for the eco-conscious young

What could be better for Rachel and Paul’s son, George, than a Compost Tumbler for the back yard of his student house? The compost it produces will come in handy for all their potted plants and vegetable raised beds, as well as at the  community garden where they help out.  

And a useful stocking filler would be a kitchen cooking oil container. George has taken on the job of storing his household’s used oil in various containers to take to the local recycling centre where it’s collected to be turned into electricity. But this purpose-built 3 litre container with its secure lid will make it so much easier to store and transport the oil.

George has had to stop his housemates pouring their used oil down the sink, which they thought was the right thing to do. In fact, what happens is the oil binds with other objects that should never have been flushed away, creating huge fatbergs that block sewers. Everybody thinks their own little bit of oil can’t do any harm but try telling that to the engineers who get the lovely job of breaking down these monster blockages so that the rest of us can flush the toilet confident the waste will just disappear. Sewage backflow anyone?

Every millilitre adds up. Isn’t this at the heart of recycling? Grandma Liddy says: The little we can do is a lot. And she’s right; there are no small acts.

A present for the planet

For Millie, George’s girlfriend, Rachel will get a bokashi bin. Millie showed great interest in Paul and Rachel’s Maze Bokashi Bin when she saw it on their kitchen worktop and was fascinated when Rachel explained the anaerobic process which ferments all food waste, turning it into pre-compost. Well, not every girl wants scented candles…

14 litre Maze Bokashi Bin

Millie will be able to feed her houseplants with the diluted bokashi ‘tea’ fertiliser that drains from the contents of the bokashi bin. The tea can also be used concentrated as organic drain cleaner. Another freebie – what’s not to like? When the food waste has fermented to become pre-compost pulp, she will add it as an accelerator to the Compost Tumbler to break down into compost.

Paul suggested that with all this festive recycling going on, perhaps he could give back to Stephen and Jill the flashing-nose Rudolph jumper they gave him last Christmas?

Rachel said no.

Spare Parts