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…

Can you compost in communities? Anthea shows how

When Anthea Rossouw tried to get people into composting years ago, they thought she was crazy.

‘I just got blank stares,’ she recalls. ‘At the time there weren’t studies that proved what composting could do. People just wanted to throw things in the bin. Composting was a controversial idea.’

But Anthea is passionate about the environment and has a way of bringing people with her. Using workshops to show how to use the Green Johanna, she introduced composting to the housing complex in West Sussex where she was living at the time. This was so successful that it spread to other housing developments and businesses.

Anthea had been a keen recycler for years and pursued her interest by enrolling on the West Sussex County Council Waste Prevention Advisor programme delivered by the University of Brighton. So then when she was living in Walstead Court extra-care housing facility and saw piles of bin bags in the ‘rubbish room’ destined for landfill, she knew something could be done about it.   

With the support of the housing manager, Anthea showed residents and staff how to recycle food, garden and paper waste using three Green Johanna composters.

Her tutor at Brighton, Dr Ryan Woodard, had told her about Green Johannas and she thought they sounded ideal.

‘It was essential to get everyone on board though,’ she says.

 Anthea, front right, with other keen composters and the Green Johanna.

The workshops worked a treat. Waste disposal routines were transformed, as was the rubbish room, now that it was clear of bin bags containing food waste.

 Before long the residents were making their own compost and growing their own food and flowers. ‘We grew the most beautiful tomatoes,’ Anthea remembers.

Anthea approached the task methodically, weighing waste and tracking residual waste.  Waste to landfill was reduced by 55 per cent, black bin bags were reduced from three to one per flat per week. Over a six-month period 280 kg of food waste was diverted from landfill.

The communal gardens were not the only things that blossomed. Residents and staff reported that personal well-being and community spirit also flourished. The projects helped to keep people mentally alert and physically active, through taking waste out to the Johannas, crunching up cardboard containers etc. It also gave neighbours an added reason to chat to each other, acting as a conversational ice-breaker.

Anthea was then asked to introduce similar schemes to other housing associations and businesses. She also ran trials for DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and won the Gatwick Diamond Green Champion award for her environmental work.

She then decided to try the same method of community food waste recycling in a very different place – her native South Africa. Here she introduced composting to struggling townships as part of her work with the Dreamcatcher South Africa Foundation that she had set up in 1991 to alleviate poverty by creating employment. In the community, waste was historically burnt at the dumpsite having a devastating impact on the environment and public health.

Anthea, second left next to Sir Trevor McDonald, receiving the Gatwick Diamond Green Champion award.

On a trip back home, she took three Johannas as luggage instead of suitcases, wrapping her clothes around the Johannas’ circular sections. Using the same training methods as in East and West Sussex, she installed three Johannas in a communal garden managed by local women known as Kamammas (a term meaning matriarch, or community leader).

Anthea says the Kamammas quickly took to working with the Johannas.

 ‘They found the composters didn’t attract dogs or vermin and they were delighted when they saw the quality of compost that was produced and the food they could grow with it.’ This trial was then scaled up to introduce another 25 Johannas.

The food that is grown with the Johannas’ compost is used in the women’s work providing tourists with traditional South African cuisine.  

A Kamamma introduces tourists to traditional South African cuisine.

Anthea divides her time between the UK and South Africa, and she is still in contact with the people she got composting back in the South of England. She is delighted – but not surprised – that the schemes she helped to implement are still going strong.

‘Any system must be sustainable, otherwise there’s no point. To bring about real change you have to go truly local. You need the people to make it work.

‘It takes around three months to introduce a composting project. After that people can stand on their own two feet.

‘Once you give people the skills, knowledge and confidence they become compost evangelists!’

After all these years, Anthea is still a big Johanna fan.

‘We used many other composters before settling on the Green Johanna. I underpin everything with baseline research and I knew the Green Johanna was the one.’

She still loves introducing beginners to composting.

 ‘They might know nothing now but you know they soon will. People become fascinated to know about all these little creatures in the composter doing their work.’

She firmly believes that if you pay attention to what’s happening in your composter you will learn  how to ‘speak compost’.

‘You soon learn to tell if you need to do something to bring good conditions back. If you haven’t enough garden waste, you can use paper product waste, such as toilet rolls, cardboard, shredded paper. If the contents look dry sprinkle a little water on top.’

The Johanna may have been designed in Sweden to cope with harsh Scandinavian winters, but it has happily adjusted to the South African climate, often turning ‘psychedelic green’ in the sun.

Whatever the shade, it’s still doing a great green job for the planet, wherever on earth it happens to be.  

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 would fit neatly on their worktop, or under the sink, and they could scrape all their food waste into it.
  • By adding Bokashi spray or Bokashi bran 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 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

Spare Parts