When Green Isn’t Necessarily Clean
Have you noticed that nowadays, no matter who you are entertaining, one of your guests will inevitably ask, “Where is your compost bin?”
A nod toward the wastebasket or the kitchen sink waste disposer is no longer an acceptable response.
“What? You don’t compost?”
This question is asked in the same way that one asks, “Oh, so you never bathe?”
So my wife and I decided to find out what this whole composting business is all about. Short answer: It’s complicated and there are lots of options.
A worm farm was out of the question. You basically feed your garbage to the worms. Apparently the worms interact with (i.e., eat) the garbage and produce something called “casts” (i.e., worm shit). The advertisements show people running their hands through this stuff like it’s black gold or something. No comment.
Not only that, a long time ago I saw this movie in which lightning strikes a worm farm and turns the worms into ravening man eaters. It’s just not worth it.
A reasonable option appeared to be something called the Bokashi system. It sounded promising. It was invented in Japan for people who live in apartments and don’t have big back yards where they can have worm farms. And let’s face it, the Japanese would never invent anything that wasn’t neat and clean and efficient. How bad could it be?
But I’d forgotten that the Japanese are also the people who invented Godzilla and reality television.
Here’s how it works. You get two buckets that fit inside each other. One has holes in the bottom and a sealable lid. The idea is that you put your food scraps in the bucket and the seal keeps all the smell and nastiness in. You can put in anything you want. And no worms are involved.
But that proves to be a mixed blessing. Each time you dump something into the bucket, you sprinkle something called “Bokashi Zing Powder” over the scraps. They don’t tell you what Bokashi powder is made of, and it’s probably just as well. The “secret” ingredient is something called EM, which stands for “effective microorganisms.”
It gets better. EM is also known as a microbial innoculant.
I used to think worms were bad. Now I have the Andromeda Strain incubating in the garage.
The idea is that after you fill the bucket, you let the EM go to work and ‘cure’ your food scraps for a couple of weeks. You then bury what is left in the garden and in six weeks it turns into wonderful soil. And you don’t have to do anything else. The instructions assure you that if it smells bad you are doing something wrong.
That’s a brilliant marketing idea. And like a lot of marketing ideas, reality falls somewhere short of the claim. I will admit that if you do it right, the system is largely odourless and relatively easy.
But there is one very large but.
Remember those holes in the top bucket? As result of the interaction of the food scraps with the Bokashi powder, and other natural processes I don’t want to know about (microbial innoculation, I guess), liquid condenses out of the mass in the bucket and drips through the holes into the bottom bucket. The brochures and web site call this product “Bokashi Juice.” In concentrated form it is one of the most powerful herbicides known to man. Diluted 1 to 1000 it makes for an excellent fertilizer. I can attest to the veracity of both claims.
Make no mistake. Bokashi Juice is pure evil. It looks like vomit and smells infinitely worse. I have poured it on weed patches in the yard on a breezy day, come back hours later and the stench was still as strong as when I first poured it out. Even the flies avoid it and the thought of getting some on me is now my number one primal fear.
The other downside, minor in comparison, is the ritual burial process. The stuff you bury, regardless of its original components, is a yellowish orange mass in which can be discerned the odd teabag, orange peel or eggshell. It’s not appetizing, but nothing like the juice it produced. And digging the holes is good exercise.
We’ve been doing it for quite a while now and it’s done wonders for our garden. It’s greatly reduced the amount of garbage we throw out and prevents looks of horror from guests.
But I keep worrying that the cops are going to think I’m a serial killer with all the freshly dug holes in the back yard!