Down the back stairs of the clubhouse kitchen, on a plot lost among the expanse of tightly trimmed fairways and greens, weeks-old food is buried under a tarp and mulch and left to decompose.
But this private country club in Massachusetts isn't taking an unsanitary shortcut with its trash. It's trying bokashi, an obscure composting method it says will help it recycle 4 tons of food waste each year.
Bokashi is based on an ancient Japanese practice that ferments food waste by covering it with a mix of microorganisms that suppress its smell and eventually produce soil. Bokashi is not widely used in the United States, but its practitioners think it should be.
At Ferncroft Country Club, owner Affinity Management decided to start bokashi last month after trying it successfully at a public golf course it operates in Maryland.
Advocates say the key advantage of bokashi, if done correctly, is that the microorganisms involved don't produce foul odors as they break down the food. So people can toss in meat, and even small amounts of dairy and oils, unlike in other composting methods. That eliminates much of the waste sorting that can make composting impractical for a larger food establishment. And the treated food won't turn stomachs or attract pests.
At Ferncroft, a mild smell is apparent only within inches of the food, which is first fermented in a sealed container. There's no smell near the pile where the food is later buried, and it appears untouched by varmints as it breaks down into soil.
"I'll be honest with you. I thought by now we were going to see a hole, a nibble or something. It's nothing," said executive chef Stephane Baloy, who runs Ferncroft's program.
Though little-known, bokashi has appeared in recent decades in pockets around the country, from Arizona to Brooklyn. But the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't list it as a composting method and has no information on it, according to a spokeswoman.
At the U.S. Composting Council, Leanne Spaulding said there's almost no credible research on the practice. She said there are questions about whether there's enough space in crowded urban settings for the soil that would be produced by widespread bokashi use. And she said some see bokashi as a "gimmick" because the commercial product that's widely used by practitioners today is made up of microorganisms that occur naturally everywhere.
Bokashi traces back centuries to Japanese farmers who covered food scraps in their rich, regional soil, which contained microorganisms that would ferment the food. After a few weeks, they'd bury the waste. Two or three weeks later, it was soil.
Today, bokashi practitioners often get the needed microorganisms from a product first sold in the early 1980s called Effective Microorganisms (EM1), which is distributed by a Texas-based company called TeraGanix. The product is no gimmick, said executive vice president Eric Lancaster, but rather a way to help bokashi practitioners avoid a stinking mess by assuring them they're getting the right mix of microorganisms every time.
The EM1 is mixed with some kind of carbon it can stick to, such as bran or sawdust, as well as molasses or another sugar the microorganisms can feed on. Practitioners then layer the concoction on newly disposed food and seal it in an airtight bucket. Weeks later, it's taken out of the bucket and buried.
There's little smell with properly done bokashi because the microorganisms that break down the food produce amino acids and small amounts of alcohol. Those don't stink like the ammonia and hydrogen sulfide produced by other microorganisms when food is left to rot, said Joshua Cheng, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Brooklyn College.
Cheng is doing research on bokashi, some of it funded by TeraGanix, to better understand the chemistry behind how the food breaks down, the quality of the soil produced and to document the claims about a lack of odor. He's also trying to make sure there are no pathogens produced — a concern in any composting process.
"There are not supposed to be, but we need to make sure that there is not," Cheng said.
Bokashi advocates believe the practice will see wider adoption if people can get word about it, just because the amount of food wasted in the U.S. is so staggering. According to the EPA, the U.S. generated more than 34 million tons of food waste in 2010, accounting for 14 percent of all the solid waste that reached landfills or incinerators.
Vandra Thorburn, who runs a business in which she provides and collects bokashi buckets from about 50 customers around Brooklyn, said she's making it her personal mission to get bokashi listed by the EPA. Contrary to concerns that cities don't have space for bokashi, she said the unobtrusive method produces soil that could fill community gardens or revitalize worn or contaminated soils around the city.
At Ferncroft last week, Baloy surveyed his new herb and seasonings garden, which he'll fill with the soil produced by bokashi. He said he's liked what he's seen from the process. But it's early.
"It's still pretty new," Baloy said. "We're seeing how it goes."
This looks like an interesting thing especially for gardeners! The ability to turn waste food into productive soil is going to be a valuable skill the worse the economy gets. Food production skills will be honed by those most likely to survive the rough times, imho
It doesn't sound too different from John Jeavons' methods, which I have used very successfully in the past (trying to get gardening/composting happening again). It's a layer method of composting, no need for purchasing special microbe thingies. I'll post a couple of links below, but here's the very basic method:
1. Start on the dirt, scrape off enough of whatever's on the dirt so the dirt is "open".
2. Lay some sticks on the dirt for aeration.
3. Have a bucket of loose dirt, or pile, handy.
4. Layer dirt, then kitchen scraps, then green stuff like weeds and leaves, then dirt.
5. Continue with layer; the order may be slightly off - I think dirt goes directly on kitchen scraps and then the green stuff. Somewhere in there toss in dried leaves etc, sawdust works (best if raw wood, not kiln dried, no microbes in it.)
6. Water it a bit in dry weather.
7. When the pile is big enough to your liking, cover with dirt and keep a bit moist if it doesn't rain.
In a month or two, depending on warmth and moisture and how small chunks of stuff are, you'll have incredible rich in organic matter soil.
On youtube, it says: (this is one of many videos, I buy seeds from their outfit, very good seeds.)
The third component of this exposee on bio-intensive growing, here's an example of how to help "grow soil" by composting. The general formula is (1) a layer of kitchen scraps or "green", live yard waste like weeds or grasses, (2) A thin layer of soil and (3) a layer of "brown" or mature vegetation, like straw, dead leaves, etc.
My grandfather took the kitchen scaps (less meat/fat) and buried them in the garden each evening. Just a light layer of soil to cover. I did the same for the first time recently. But, I am pretty sure the meat and fat scraps weren't supposed to go into the garden each day. Seems simpler.
i use layers of mulch from the green waste dump and mix it with grass clippings and kitchen waste. Then I strap down the lid ever few weeks and roll it down the hill in the back yard to mix it up. seems to work pretty well.
ETA: if you have a dog, or any omnivorous pet, there shouldn't be any meat or dairy scraps anyway.
Interesting idea (though requires a special additive):
Here in the West, Bokashi refers to both a composting system and to the fermented bran, rice or hay that makes it possible. Like vermicomposting, Bokashi composting is usually a small-scale operation that can be carried out indoors. But while vermicomposting is aerobic, Bokashi is an anaerobic process that relies on the inoculated bran to ferment organic material in a tightly closed container.
In Bokashi composting, kitchen scraps of all kinds -- including meat and dairy products banned from aerobic systems -- are mixed with some of the inoculated bran, pressed into the Bokashi bucket, covered with another handful of bran, and tightly covered. When the bucket is full, it is sealed shut and set aside for ten to twelve days. Every other day during that time, the leachate that is an inevitable by-product of anaerobic composting needs to be drawn off. That's the only care required. (This is very easy with a commercial Bokashi Composter which has a spigot for this purpose.) When the bucket is opened, the contents, though recognizable, are thoroughly pickled. At this stage, the "pre-compost" as one company brochure terms it can be buried in a fallow spot in the garden. One Caution: It is still so acidic that plant roots should not come in contact with it for two to four weeks.
We have a large garden, and I wanted to get more organized about compositing the vegetable peels, scraps, etc. My Bokashi bucket is now about 4/5 full (i.e., still in the "collecting" mode); each day I add stuff and sprinkle it with the special "Bokashi bran" (that contains microbes). So far there is absolutely no smell.
Once full, I'm supposed to let it sit 2-3 weeks, draining off fluid through that time (which can be used as fertilizer). After that, the composted material can be used in the garden (or at least buried outside without attracting vermin).
I haven't tried meat, cheese, bones, etc. yet (I'm waiting to see how this first batch turns out), but the info says those can be composted in the Bokashi composter. I did order a second bucket (most people seem to have at least two going at a time, one collecting scraps and the other fermenting).
I did a brief search and there are recipes online to make your own "Bokashi bran" rather than use the purchased material. That will be my next project.
That sounds a little like what I do, which is just the lazy girl's compost routine. Animals would dig in my pile, and I wouldn't spend a dime to fence it. So I got a big plastic garbage can with lid on sale. Scraps go in, including some meat. I put a little dirt in every once in awhile if it starts to stink. When the can reaches my weight lifting limit, I dig a hole in the old compost area and bury the stuff. By then it's mostly black slime, a little stinky but not too bad. A couple weeks later, it's ready to use. It gets buried just once or twice a year. And it sure is handy in the winter to just drop kitchen scraps in there. No muss. No fuss.
It took me a few months to go buy the garbage can. Spending money to process garbage. Bah, humbug. Though it is still handy, it was handier when I didn't have garbage pick up service.
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