I recently made this poster. Hope you like it!
I recently made this poster. Hope you like it!
This is the first in the series of interviewing people who are involved in Effective Microorganisms, Bokashi and composting in general. And today’s interview is by the owner of EM Sustainable Living. I see so much compostable waste being thrown away in central London. So I decided to run a series of interviews with experts to both help me and others who read my blog to understand more about the benefit of composting and Bokashi composting, what others are doing to compost more and to better our environment.
When I started making bokashi bran, EM Sustainable Living was the first place I stumbled upon and I thought the information given on their website was so helpful. I buy my EM1 and molasses from there. So I thought it would be the perfect place to start my series.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Robert Sweeney, I am married have children and I am the owner of EM Sustainable Living. My business offers products that contain effective microorganisms (EM). EM is a totally organic product and was discovered accidently when several types of beneficial bacteria were disposed of by emptying an experimental dish containing several types of beneficial bacteria onto grass. Shortly afterwards it was noted that this grass was more vibrant in colour and had grown taller that the other grass around it. The rest is history.
What got you interested in EM?
A friend who moved to Hong Kong told me about it and I tried it for myself and found that it worked on my garden. EM was originally used by farmers in the far east to produce crops without the need for expensive chemical fertilisers and I had an interest in experimenting with it.
What made you start an EM business?
I have always had an interest in gardening and remember fondly helping my Grandfather around his garden but as I grew older my interest in gardening was trying to produce healthy organic food, naturally. It is well known that the addition of manure and other organic material to the soil helps produce good growth and crops benefit naturally. Farmers also spray animal slurry over their fields to produce better crop growth, but the disadvantage of this is that it smells bad depending on what type of slurry was used. These methods add microorganisms to the soil but are time consuming and can be very labour intensive and the mix of the microorganisms is unknown. However with EM the microorganisms are known and it is very easy to add beneficial microorganisms to the soil or compost as the solution comes in a plastic bottle and the required amount is added to a watering can and diluted with water. The solution is than watered onto the ground. EM contains three types of beneficial bacteria which work in harmony with each other and promote beneficial activity when they come in contact with the other bacteria living in soil. This enhanced bacterial activity produces greater food for plants naturally and the plants grow well without the need for chemical additives. I thought this was a great idea and ran tests and discovered that it worked for me and the other people who trialled it. It was very cost effective and reduced the need for expensive chemical fertilisers. I believed it was a great product for gardeners so decided to invest some money in it.
Who is your EM hero other than Dr Higa?
There are many people throughout the world who have benefitted from EM use and I believe it is unfair to single out any individual for praise. People have experimented with EM and discovered that EM has many uses.
Do you brew your own EM? Do you need a special license to sell EM as it’s microorganisms?
All EM-1 production worldwide is produced under licence from EMRO Japan which is an organisation set up by Dr Higa.
Other than composting, what can we use EM for?
EM was originally used for crop production and due to experimentation it was discovered that EM could turn waste organic materials into a fermented product which was called bokashi. The fermented material bokashi when buried in soil was quickly absorbed into the soils and plants grew well. Over the years EM has been used medically, in waste management, human and animal health products, soil remediation, water treatment, water pollution, oil spill containment. EM has the ability to remove smells and is used in many places where industrial smells are offensive to their communities. New uses for EM are being found frequently and some of these are tightly controlled commercial activities. An example of new EM uses is that in the UK box hedging, which has been used for centuries in gardens both large and small throughout the country and is prone to a disease known as “Box Blight” can be cured using a solution of EM and a sticker agent. The EM fights the cause of the box blight and thus prevents the destruction of the box hedging which is so beloved by gardeners.
I recently blogged about Bokashi composting without using the bran. Other than using the EMA spray, are there other methods of Bokashi composting without using the bran?
Not that I know of. Bokashi bran which is sprinkled onto waste food adds a carbon based material which contains the beneficial microorganisms and provides food for the microorganisms and as it is a dry material it absorbs moisture. However a solution of EM and water produces the same result although the bokashi will be wetter. It is the beneficial microorganisms contained in the EM that do all the work and ferment the waste food into the fermented product which we know as bokashi.
Can an enthusiast sell compost made of Bokashi ferment?
In the UK all compost must comply with PAS 100 legislation so any compost sold would have to comply with this standard. However in other countries (not EU) bokashi originating compost/soil is sold. EM Hawaii published a story about raising funds for a school through this method, calling their product super soil.
What is the benefit of EM in general?
EM has many benefits and enhances microorganisms all around us. Microorganisms are a natural part of our environment and we have billions of them in our bodies, without microorganisms we could not survive. EM use enhances the natural environment and makes life a little better for us.
Why do you think so few people know about or use Bokashi composting in the UK?
The lack of advertising about the benefits of EM and what it can do enhance our living environment as well as the cost of the bokashi buckets put many people off. The lack of support for an organic method of food waste disposal is not a priority in this country and several other more enlightened countries lead the way in bokashi composting.
If there was a program on television about the benefits and use of EM especially on one of the gardening programs then the use of EM would increase however I have spoken to two television presenters about EM and I have had little encouragement from them and they were not in the least interested.
I have been composting and trying to reduce my food waste going to the landfill for 12 months now.
It’s incredible to think that food that comes from the other side of the world is put back to where you live. Trying to reduce food waste cannot be done unless you really commit to it. But I have learnt that the secret is to do it slowly within your comfort zone and you are definitely able to sustain and contribute positively to the planet and the wider society.
I live in a flat with a tiny 1.5m x 1.5m square balcony so composting is a big challenge. But given there are so many people who are living in flats and I hope this post will encourage and help people who are also trying to do the same.
What I have learnt about Bokashi composting after 12 months
The fact that you can compost any kind of food is a big advantage. I feel so good!
Bokashi will turn into compost at an amazing speed! When the condition is right (warm days, soil not wet) the buried fermented Bokashi will turn into soil within 3 weeks!
It’s educational. My daughter now knows different types of composting and she knows that the food comes from the earth and we put it back to the earth. We are part of the Mother Nature and I think it’s so fundamental!
Even if you have a small space outside of your home you can do Bokashi.
It never smells rotten. If it smells rotten, something has gone wrong. Bokashi fermented food will just have sour smell like an odd apple cider. And you can only smell it when you open the lid.
I love my Bokashi tea (check my recent post). It’s a free fertiliser for my plants. And the fertilisers really make the plants healthy. It’s basically probiotic drinks for the plants.
Bokashi composting process itself is actually results in “pre-compost”. So you still have do something about it to close the loop. You can use the fermented Bokashi for various sites: bury in the ground, put in the container pot (but you must choose bigger enough pot to do that), add to a normal compost bin to speed up the composting process, give it to worms in the wormery. You can do so many good with it.
Buying bokashi bran is expensive so I make my own fresh and use it without drying it as drying of the fresh bokashi bran is nearly impossible in the UK. But if you live in a small space keeping a large sac of wheat bran is not very space efficient. I make a fresh batch every 2-3months or so and found that the freshly made bokashi bran will go rancid after 2-3 month of being ready (it takes about 3 weeks to mature the bran and then lasts for further 2-3 months). However, THERE IS AN ANSWER TO THAT! You can use activated EM (EM-A) and spray it onto the food instead using the bran. This way, you only have to have the spray and not the bulky bran. The fermented food will just be a bit wetter but that’s ok because you get more Bokashi tea! You can also use other cheaper materials to make bokashi bran alternative such as coffee grounds, sawdust, and shredded newspaper.
Bokashi composting definitely suits my lifestyle. It is very easy to maintain. It’s hard to go wrong. It never smells and effective microorganisms helped my plants grow and be healthy. As long as you make your own Bokashi bran or EMA spray the running cost of Bokashi composting is very low. It can be difficult if you don’t have anywhere to bury your fermented food. So make sure you know what to do when the fermented food is ready. No rotten smell, beneficial effect to the plants and environment by the effective microorganisms, and the fact that it turns the food into soil so quickly really makes Bokashi composting special. Knowing what positive things you can do by just composting your kitchen waste, I don’t think I can now live without Bokashi composting.
I feel composting should be a part of your life. I want to compost comfortably without worrying or having a burden in your everyday schedule. It’s so easy to give up or feel disappointed when there is a problem or things go wrong with your composting activity.
If you live in a small flat like I do, making and storing Bokashi bran may be bulky. So I have been experimenting using activated effective microorganism (EM-A) solution for Bokashi composting instead of using the bran. Now I have some results so here is my post about Bokashi composting without using the bran!
I contacted Robert from EM sustainable living and he told me that using EMA solution for Bokashi composting is definitely possible but it’s just going to be a little bit wet. Well, that’s fine by me as I find Bokashi tea extremely beneficial!
Reasons why many recommends using Bokashi bran when you start doing Bokashi composting:
We generally use Bokashi bran because bran is a source of carbon and easy to inoculate the EM. In Japan we use rice husks instead. I tried to inoculate the EM using coffee ground but it was a bit too wet and the whole mixture started to sizzle (probably EM really liked it and it was bursting out of my container and got very messy – I still used the mixture and it was fine but simply wasn’t practical).
Using Bokashi bran also absorbs some moisture. You don’t want Bokashi compost to be too wet as this will risk draining down the EM.
How you can Bokashi compost without using the Bokashi bran:
Making an EMA (taken from EM Sustainable Living):
To make 1L of EMA – Use plastic bottles:
Make up to 1L of water (900ml)
Then leave it in dark cool place for 1 week
So for me, I made 500ml of the EMA (25ml EM, 25ml Molasses made up to 500ml water). For the water, I used boiled and cooled water so as to remove chlorine and kill germs as much as possible (although boiling does not get rid of chloramine). Because molasses are really gooey, I usually mix the molasses with 900ml of boiled water then cool it. This makes mixing later much easier.
How to use EMA for Bokashi composting:
Dilute EMA with water (1:20) and this solution can be used for spraying onto for Bokashi composting instead of sprinkling bran.
So for example I used 1 tbsp (15ml) to make up to 300ml water (again I used boiled and cooled water) in the spray bottle.
Like I would do for the bran, I sprayed the base of the bucket. Then added food. I sprayed the EMA liberally (but not soaking wet – if too we I read that it can increase odour). Initially I was a little worried whether it would work or not, but it was completely fine (the last image of the semi-fermented food smelled exactly like how it would smell when I used the bran)! I ended up having lots more Bokashi tea, but that was not a problem.
Making your own EMA and using it as a replacement of Bokashi bran is:
So if you feel you are not sure about Bokashi composting because of the burden of using the Bokashi bran, try EMA as a replacement of bokashi bran before you stop it. Slowly you will find a good equilibrium to fit the composting activity into your daily lifestyle! 😉
Bokashi tea is the liquid you drain off from the Bokashi bin. It smells like sweet vinegar. It has lots of effective microorganism (EM) in it with nutrients from the breakdown of the food. As it comes out of the Bokashi bin, it is acidic and too concentrated for the plants to use so you need to dilute it.
The amount of Bokashi tea you get from the Bokashi bin depends on what food is in the bucket. So the wetter the food there is the more liquid produced. Sometimes I have too much Bokashi tea to use especially during winter so I put the tea in the container and keep it in the fridge until needed or give it to my friends. I have so far kept it for a good couple of weeks, and they were OK.
You can use Bokashi tea for several uses: removing odour (caused by bad bacteria) in the sink by pouring the undiluted liquid down the sink. In Japan they use Bokashi to make leaf composting. So I have also used the Bokashi tea in the same 1 in 100 dilution and poured it onto my standard community compost bin that had lots of fallen leaves inside. But using Bokashi tea as a fertiliser is by far the best use of this amazing liquid!
To feed the plants, dilute 1:100. It means add 1ml of Bokashi tea to every 100ml of water (more realistically 10ml to 1l or 100ml to 10l of water). But in practise you don’t really need to be precise about it or at least I have been measuring it roughly (it helps to know how much water can be held in your watering can then you can put the rough amount of Bokashi tea).
Plants grow really well when you feed them with Bokashi tea. This is my geranium. The big leaves are produced after I started the feed.
Cyclamens also seem to love it. This was a tiny pot when I bought it and now it has grown lots over the last year. From my observation bokashi tea helps to grow the plants’ green part. So it would be perfect if you want your plants to grow. I guess it has lots more nitrogen than phosphorus. But I find Bokashi tea has been the best fertiliser I have ever used. All my plants absolutely love it!
Last September, the communal compost bin I inherited was in such a terrible state. I removed so many rubbish from there including plastics.
Today I took my fermented Bokashi to the place to mix with some of the compost in the bin.
Since September, I have been mixing Bokashi fermented food, coffee grounds donated by various independent cafes, fallen leaves during winter etc and I was so happy to see the contents of the communal bin looked so good!
So many people including those who were at the different stalls from different green organisations were interested in Bokashi composting. And it was such a satisfying day for me to meet so many who were keen to compost and reduce kitchen waste at home.
There were yummy food, work shops and loads of green information.
I came home really inspired but at the same time very frustrated about the fact that Southwark council simply is not keen to help people especially those who live in flat to manage our kitchen waste despite the fact that there are so many people who live in flats! Two days before the Grow Fest I spoke to commercial department of Veolia who is responsible for recycling in our borough but again had a very unsatisfying answer.
But I won’t give up. I’m sure there is something I can do. I want to thank Bankside Open Spaces Trust for the amazing support. And Grow Fest made me realise that there are people out there who are also frustrated and passionate about composting and reducing methane gas carbon foot print from kitchen waste. I also would like to thank to EM Sustainable Living for providing us really interesting information and sample Bokashi bran.
My first encounter to Haws watering cans was at the Garson’s when I went to pick your own with my husband and my daughter. It was a love at first sight because they were so pretty and colourful.
Small watering cans from Haws are not only handy for indoor plants but they are perfect size for children. They love it because the nozzle can be taken off which is interesting for toddlers and also colours are vibrant. So Haws watering cans were the first on my list of must-haves for children’s gardening activities at my raised bed next to Redcross Garden.
Just to hold it with your hand, makes my gardening so much more fun!
So here are the watering cans in action! Thank you Haws watering cans for making our gardening activities fun!
I am still on a mission to figure out how we can all dispose/recycle food waste we produce from our home.
Finding out how you feel about your food waste is crucial in helping me achieve my goal. So I created a very quick (5 question only) and I would really appreciate if you can take a few minutes to fill out my House Food Waste Management Questionnaire!
Baking a banana cake is a perfect example of turning a horribly ripe banana into the most scrumptious tea time treat.
Makes 4 cupcakes
1 medium egg – separate egg yolk and white
100g self raising whole meal or plain flour (I used 50:50 whole meal and white before and the result is also good)
30g organic butter or margarine (I usually use yeo valley organic spreadable butter) softened
50g olive oil (or you can use sunflower oil but make sure that the olive oil is an extra virgin and mild one)
1 ripe large banana lightly mushed with folk (you can use two small bananas)
1tsp of cinnamon added to the flour
1tbs of water