Monday, August 29, 2011

Kitchen Bokashi Series: Part 3 - Making the Inoculated Carrier

Inoculated carrier, bran treated with EM, is used to inoculate food wastes with fermentation organisms (phototropic bacteria, lactic acid bacteria and yeast) that are essential for producing kitchen bokashi.

Left to right: container of EM 1,
2 2-liter plastic bottles containing
extended EM solution, jar of
 Ingredients for a small batch of bokashi carrier (5 kg):
  • 5 kg (11 lb.) of rice bran
  • 20 ml (1.35 tablespoons) EM•1®
  • 20 ml (1.35 tablespoons) molasses
  • 1 liter of water (1.05 quarts)
    Bran moistened with EM solution
  1. To activate and extend an adequate supply of EM microbes to produce 5 kg of inoculated carrier, dissolve 20 ml of molasses into 1 liter of water along with 20 ml of EM•1® (non-chlorinated is usually advised). Keep the culture solution for 5-7 days in a sealed plastic bottle away from direct sunlight. Quickly vent off excess gases once a day (if needed).
  3. Mix the culture solution thoroughly with 5 kg of bran in a bucket, but avoid adding too much solution. To check the moisture content, squeeze some of the bran into a ball. If no liquid can be squeezed out and the bran still holds shape after being released, then the material contains an appropriate amount of moisture. It may not be necessary to add the entire liter of culture solution to moisture 5 kg of bran.
  5. If using a strong plastic bag to ferment the carrier, press the moistened material down to displace any air pockets and then tie the bag tightly after squeezing out excess air. Leave the bag of inoculated carrier undisturbed for two weeks or longer.
  6. After near anaerobic storage for two weeks or longer, the carrier will have a fermented, malt-like smell. It may also have some white mold growing on it, which is fine. However, the presence of undesirable black or green mold probably means that the carrier was exposed to too much air or contaminants or that the inoculated brain was stored too moist. Therefore, do not use the starter mix if it has black or green mold growing on it.
    Fermented bran drying in the sun
  8. Break the moist, fermented carrier apart with your hands and spread it out on a canvas in a sunny location to dry. Every half hour or so, use a rake to spread and respread the treated bran until the material is completely dry.
  9. Use a rolling pin to break apart any clods of bran, both large and small.
    Bokashi carrier ready to use
  11. Store the fine, dry carrier in a sealed plastic bag and/or in an airtight container for long-term storage. Under dry, near anaerobic conditions, the inoculated carrier can be stored for at least several months.
The final blog will discuss how food scraps are collected, fermented and eventually incorporated into garden soils.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kitchen Bokashi Series: Part 2 - Food Waste to Garden Soil Amendment

Airtight container half full of bokashi
During the 2009 ECHO Asia Agriculture Conference in Chiang Mai, Keith Mikkelson, from the Aloha Natural Farm in the Philippines, shared about making and using bokashi from food waste. His presentation inspired conference delegate, Kenny Miller, to begin producing his own household bokashi. And Kenny’s positive bokashi experience influenced my family to do the same.

Kitchen bokashi is a useful soil amendment that is produced by fermenting food wastes. It offers households and institutions the following opportunities:
  • a manageable means of reducing the volume of waste by recycling food scraps
  • Healthy white mold forming
  • unending access to an excellent soil amendment that improves garden soil structure and fertility, benefiting helpful soil organisms as well.
To produce kitchen bokashi, food scraps are collected in airtight containers and inoculated with a carrier. Such a carrier is often comprised of a high carbon material, such as rice or wheat bran, that has been inoculated with fermentation microorganisms (e.g. natural lactic acid bacteria, yeast, and phototrophic bacteria). One source of such microorganisms is a commercial product called Effective Microorganisms (EM).

Each shallow layer of food scraps should have a liberal sprinkling of inoculated carrier on top with layering continuing until the container is full. Stored under near anaerobic conditions, microbes will expand throughout the kitchen scraps and ferment the materials.

If done correctly, there will be no spoilage or putrid smell, allowing fermented food wastes to be collected and stored over the long term; even for months until burial. Finally, weeks after incorporation into the garden, the bokashi will become soil-like, providing both organic matter and plant nutrients to the soil.

Kitchen bokashi being buried in the garden
Speaking of plant nutrients, based on lab analysis done at Mae Jo University on a batch of kitchen bokashi, this is how our bokashi’s N-P-K ratio compared to other natural fertilizers and animal manures (compiled from various sources):

  • kitchen bokashi 2.39 – 0.77 – 0.97
  • worm castings 1.1 - 0.8 – 0.5
  • blood meal 12 – 0 – 0
  • chicken manure 1.1 – 0.8 – 0.5
  • rabbit manure 2.4 – 1.4 – 0.6
The next blog will offer detailed instructions on making the inoculated bokashi carrier.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Kitchen Bokashi Series: Part 1 - Reducing Food Waste

Alarming news from the Food and Agriculture Organization
  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted, according to an FAO-commissioned study in early 2011.
  • Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.
  • Generally speaking, consumers fail to plan their food purchases properly, the report found. That means they often throw food away when "best-before" dates expired.
  • Rich-country consumers should be taught that throwing food away needlessly is unacceptable.
  • Good use for food that would otherwise be thrown away should be found.
Cutting food waste to feed the world (The FAO Media Center)

This photo shows an example of food waste in our household not too long ago. Such wasted food included stale cereal and baked goods as well as spoiled leftovers. Since then, more awareness among family members and increased effort to keep certain types of food from spoiling, such as storing opened cereals in airtight containers, has significantly helped to lessen the volume of wasted food.

Waste from fruit and vegetables as well as coffee grounds have long been recycled by our earthworms into vermicompost. However, as we have yet to completely eliminate uneaten leftovers, a practical means of putting such a “resource” to good use evaded us until we discovered bokashi.

My next blog will introduce the concept of Kitchen Bokashi.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Rest of the Story...."Stepping Up Irrigation”

By Kimberly Duncan
ECHO Asia Intern

Not to be left out of the wet, ECHO partner, UHDP, has commissioned not one, but two pumps from our Burmese visitors as they also prepare for drier days. A rope and washer pump being built for them retains the full body of the bicycle being used to provide rotation which is pedaled rather than cranked by hand like the ECHO pump; hence, we’ve begun referring to it simply as the “bicycle pump.” Other than the leg power being used to make the wheels go round, however, the concept is exactly the same as the ECHO Asia pump described in our previous posting.

The second pump is a treadle pump. This one is made almost entirely of metal, with the exception of the PVC pipe used to support the operator; however, hundreds have been built around the developing world using bamboo, wood, or other materials. This one was purchased in Tachilek, Myanmar and though not entirely identical to the “pulley and rope” arrangement typical of many treadle pump designs that can found on the Internet, it runs on the same concept. We’ve borrowed Climate Lab’s explanation of the mechanics:

The treadle pump consists of two parts, the pump and the operating mechanism. The pump is generally made of metal and has two cylinders that are connected to a suction pipe at the base and an outlet spout at the surface. The operating mechanism is made up of metal, bamboo, or wood foot pedals that are attached to a superstructure that the operator can hold onto for support. As the operator of the pump shifts their weight on the foot pedals, plungers inside the cylinders reciprocate the motion and draw water alternately into each barrel. Non-return valves protect the inlet and also allow the plunger to move down through the water in the cylinder on the downward stroke without forcing it back down the suction pipe. The upward movement of the plunger lifts the water in the cylinder out the spout and simultaneously draws more water into the barrel of the suction pipe. The water is either lifted onto the field directly, into a pond or into an irrigation canal. (Palumbo)*

Both pumps can lift water from standing water or wells. In both cases the distance from the water source or depth to the water table will affect the amount of water that can be brought up and at what rate. (Most treadle pumps can draw from a maximum 7 meters depth.) In the case of a treadle pump, the size of the piston cylinders and the draw length of the pistons themselves will also determine volume. Cylinders on the UHDP pump are 101mm in diameter; stroke length about 250mm. The bicycle pump sourcing water from the pond is currently functioning at 12 liters per minute. I’m told that the treadle pump, when completed, should be able to pump 30 liters per minute from the same pond.

As mentioned before, a lot of work with treadle pumps is being done around the developing world. Huge success has been found in areas like Southeast Asia (particularly in Bangladesh) where water tends to be more readily accessible; however, the pumps have also worked well in parts of semi-arid Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has some extremely detailed and helpful publications describing them. For some fascinating bed-time reading, check out the following links:


FAO - HOW TREADLE PUMPS WORK (continuation of publication above






*Palumbo, Jamie. "Treadle Pumps." Climate Lab(beta). Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike, 31 March 2010. Web. 11 Aug 2011.