Sunday, February 17, 2008


When we moved to England, I knew that we would be moving to a smaller place. One of the things that I hoped living in a smaller space would do, was to make me reduce my tendency to hoard things, to rationalise my consumer desires and to become a bit 'greener'. For starters, we would not have a car, and we would not be buying one. For another, we would be hanging out with my family less, so we could consume less meat. To be honest, that was about the extent of how I thought the way we lived our lives day-by-day would change in coming to the UK. I can be a bit blithely naive sometimes.

One of the first things that shocked me about the UK was how many chain stores there were, how enormous the supermarkets were, and how I could not find a greengrocer. It was awfully hard finding a cafe, that was not Costas or Nero or Starbucks. Like a country bumpkin, I stood in one humungous Asda (ultra-supermarket) and just stared at how large it was. It was, perhaps, my old local supermarket (which was inner-city and reasonably large) squared, or maybe even cubed. It was, like, really, really BIG.

Initially, we bought fruit and veggies from the supermarket and bemoaned the packaging. Everything was wrapped in plastic and/or came on a plastic tray. For the month or so that I was jobless, I wandered the streets collecting groceries. I found one greengrocer but he was about a mile and a half from where we were living, and not particularly good. We found an organic supermarket and greengrocer but they were on a farm, about two miles from the nearest train station, and not a very popular station at that (the train only stopped there at random times, when the driver felt like, I suppose). We visited once, trekking across a cow field and getting our shoes all muddy, to buy our groceries. We did pass a quaint church and a toll bridge across a lovely patch of water. But it wasn't really going to become our regular grocery shop.

Then we moved into our Little Flat, and I got A Job, and convenience became the key priority. I found a supermarket nearby work, which I would visit in my lunch times because I had not yet made friends with my workmates and did not have a lunch time companion or three (is that a violin I hear?). I started buying groceries randomly - whatever would fit in my bag, whatever caught my eye, whatever was on special. I would place on the conveyor belt an onion, three tins of tomatoes, lentils, laundry detergent and ginger beer. The next day, I would buy yoghurt, a bag of apples, a bag of parsnips, cleaning cloths and two boxes of veggie sausages. This went on for a good couple of months, until my workmates starting coming to the supermarket with me, because it was clearly the funnest thing to do at lunchtime. Eventually, I felt sorry for them and started having lunch with them and not frequenting the supermarket so often.

And our waste! Vegetables surprised me by going rotten much more quickly than in Australia. The potatoes I bought would sprout green tendrils, which meant I should not eat them, or feed them to my partner and, at the time, only friend in England. If he died, who would I talk to? Broccoli turned yellow and carrots went floppy. Did you know it was really difficult to find cauliflower which was not already brown at the edges? (Well, it was. I tried. I *love* cauliflower.) There I was, thinking that the cooler weather meant veggies would last longer. Alas, not so. Food miles made their detrimental effect on the food itself, and not just the environment, felt.

The cooler weather did enable butter to be left out of the fridge. That was very exciting.

In Australia, I did not worry too much about throwing out organic waste (rotten fruit and veggies) because we had a compost bin. It actually took us about a year and a half - and a birthday present - before we composted in a bin. Prior to that, we'd just been collecting the waste and occassionally digging a hole directly into the garden. This is what my parents had always done, and I never quite understood the wonder of the black plastic compost bins. My parents would collect all organic waste - cooked food, meat and seafood - in various buckets and bury it in the garden. I tried to do this when I lived in a share house (I ended up digging a deep hole and just adding to it, or collecting organic waste and taking it home to my parents). Burying compost is all well and good - but you need time. And neither of us had much of that. So the compost bin was a godsend. (Actually, it was sent by my partner's mother, together with red worms and a pitchfork. Probably one of the best birthday presents, ever.)

In England, we do not have a garden. We live in a Little Flat. I have never lived in a flat before. Our Little Flat does not have a balcony. Composting in a bin, or at all, is not possible. We mulled over the idea of getting an allotment for a while, but our weekends were jammed with rambles (hikes / bushwalks / tramps) and jaunts to London or elsewhere. I had, unconsciously, assumed that any flat we lived in would have a balcony and so I could get a worm farm for my balcony. Alas, no balcony = no worm farm. All our organic waste went into the bin.

This worried me for a long time. I spent long days surfing the internet for various indoor composting techniques. Everything came back to either the worm farm or some strange new-fangled thing called Bokashi. (Actually, there was also this electronic composter thing, but it cost 300 US dollars, would need to be posted to the UK from the US and just seemed ridiculous. It was not an option.)

Last year, after much discussion and net-surfing, we decided against both. The worm farm would still be too large for our Little Flat, and the Bokashi system still had the problem of what to do with the end result of pickled rotten veggies (yum yum!) Bokashi also had a problem of whatever those enahnced microorganisms were. I understand worms. I don't understand enhanced bran and molasses. And nothing I was reading helped me to understand. So we resorted to collecting our organic waste and giving it away to a hippie workmate of my partner's, who had not one, but two, compost bins. I also bought a compost bin and gave it away to another of my partner's workmates, as a bribe so we could occassionally dump our veggie scraps on her.

This system worked fine and dandily until my partner's workmate, inconsiderately, hurt her back and could not take the veggie scraps because she was not able to carry very much, and also not very often in her garden. In the habit of collecting veggie scraps, my kitchen bench had three plastic bags of rotten vegetables, the decaying process happily kicking in and organic juices seeping out of the plastic. It was, in a word, gross.

So I started reading about Bokashi again. And this time, one year on, many more people have it and have used it, and can attest to it. Since entering the blogging world, I tend to trust bloggers' reviews of products. I can guage how similar I am to them, or their process of thinking, by reading happily around their archives and deciding whether or not what they say can apply to me. I tend to search reviews on the internet and specifically on blogs.

And here's what I've found.

Basically, the Bokashi system of compost requires enhanced bran, and a plastic bucket with air tight lid (but preferably two of them). You put your scraps in a bucket, and sprinkle magic bran onto the scraps as you go. Once you've filled a bucket, you put the lid on tight and ignore it for at least two weeks. (Well, okay, you can't *completely* ignore it, because you have to drain it of juices every couple of days.) At the end, you will have pickled rotten veggies, which can be added to your compost bin, or directly into your garden. This end product is a problem for us - but I had the epiphany that it is a not dissimilar problem to the bags of veggies scraps seeping brown juices onto my lovely, almost always clean, kitchen benchtop.

Initially, I avoided Bokashi Man because, although he's a blogger, he was a seller of the Bokashi bran and plastic buckets. I thought he would be commercial. But eventually, I returned to his site and had a proper read. He is full of useful information, and is not just trying to sell his product. Indeed, he directed a person from New Zealand (we Aussies call them Kiwis, but I think perjoratively, so perhaps I should not) to another site from which they could purchase the product. He's also a decent read, once you get over your stupid prejudice (if you're me).

I also found very useful Clean Air Gardening and I think it, more than anything else, persuaded me, because it has week by week accounts of the whole Bokashi saga. Clean Air Gardener seems to drink as much tea as I do, his tea bag count in his Bokashi is of supreme interest to me.

I also liked Compost Guy because he's making his own magic bran. Maybe one day I will too. And when I do, Compost Guy, you will be my guru.

There were other random sites that I visited and which pushed me over the edge into Bokashi-mania. A tip I picked up, and which had completely eluded me until I read it, was that people in allotments would welcome my pickled rotten veggie scraps. Yes, even complete strangers would welcome me, carting my bucket of organic waste, with open arms and would not look at me askance for being so worked up about binning veggie matter. So, if my partner's workmates were not at home, or on holiday, or their bin was too full with their own veggie scraps, I could wander down to the nearest allotment and charm my way into someone else's veggie patch. Hell, I'd even dig the hole to bury it in, because I know how to do that sort of stuff.
I just haven't for a long time, that's all.

The final nail in the coffin, however, was that I could order the whole Bokashi system from Amazon, to whom I have already disclosed my personal details and who I know deliver reliably. Bemoaning the UK postal system is a whole other post.

So, I now wait excitedly and somewhat impatiently for my Bokashi. I know you too await with baited breath my next update. Don't. You already know it might take me forever.


Wandering Chopsticks said...

Oh Oanh,

I chuckled so hard reading this post!

If only we were neighbors because I would gladly welcome your veggie matter. I have an Earth Machine! LA County sells them at a discount for $20 (I've seen them selling on eBay for $80). But as it's just me, after 4 months, there's barely a little pile so it'll probably be an entire year before I see any compost. And I seriously do not eat fast enough before my fruits and veggies spoil, even when I only buy a few at a time. So I actually feel slightly less bad about waste as it'll eventually get returned to the earth anyway?

I did not know you loved cauliflower. I bought a lovely purple cauliflower at the farmers' market and made purple aloo gobi and roasted cauliflower and a nice gratin out of it. They're all sitting in my queue like so many other photos. But perhaps I should post about them just for you?

Especially since I had thought about posting about my compost bin but wondered who would want to read about that? Haha! Thanks for the laughs.

PS So are you gonna contact this Denise lady? You should! I'll order your book. :)

Wandering Chopsticks said...

PS, And yes, I knew all about bokashi and was a little doubtful as well. And a bunch of worms crawling up through layers rather freaks me out. So I'm happily sticking to my Earth Machine. Although I am quite enamored with the tumbling composters!

L-K said...

I've been using bokashi for two years now, and in spite of being in a rather urban area, I've been happily enjoying my rather 'clean' VNese herbs (tia to, la lot, rau ram, etc) along with a robust batch of tomatoes recently. It is a little stinky but I don't know any other system that suits apartment living so well; at least I have a little terrace. When we move to a non-terraced, non-balconied apartment, then I will be really sad as the food waste will continue but where shall I plant?

Happy composting. Let us see how your garden grows.

Hedgehog said...

Does the bokashi smell bad? We actually thought about doing something with the amount of waste we produce but unfortunately never really got round to do it. You should let us know how you get on with it and maybe I can follow suit. :)

Kirsty said...

Since I wrote my Bokashi post, the bin has been slowly filling. I was worried that because I live by myself I wouldn't be able to fill it quickly enough, before it all became one big festering, disgustingly pungent mess.

Thankfully that doesn't seemed to have happened. If you make sure you drain the liquid off regularly that helps keep any smells to a minimum--not that I've notice unpleasant smells.

I keep my bin in the cupboard below my kitchen sink, which is a great place. I tend to gather the bits in a covered bowl on the bench throughout the day, then do the magic bran and tamping ritual at the end of the day.

Anyway good luck with it, and the publishing offer (!). I'm going to document the first pickled vegetable burial, so stay tuned.

Al said...


Thanks for the link.

I'm glad you got over your bias about reading my blog and consider it a decent read. I appreciate that. Care to elaborate?

I hoped you ordered your bokashi bucket from Amazon UK. There are many places it can be acquired from. If not, you can always reorder the bokashi from businesses like this one:

If you have any questions about bokashi and how it works feel free to contact me.

BTW, Compost Guy is a client of mine.



P.S. I am a blogger, not a blog.:-)

Oanh said...

FYI I've emailed Denise. I'll keep you updated.

Also, FYI, my bokashi arrived! I am super-dooper-mondo excited! So excited, I think more than one exclamation mark is required. !!

Wandering Chopsticks -

Worms are great and a worm farm would be my preferred, were space not a *major* issue.

And I'm keen to read a post about your Earth Machine! I am obsessed about composting, I just try to keep a lid on it most of the time. A lot of people just don't understand.

I would also be mondo-chuffed if you were to move forward posting about purple cauliflower just for lil ol me!

BTW have you seen the tumbling composters in the shape of a pig? Oh, so cute. But not v practical.

L-K -

Thanks for your comment :-) And it is reassuring to have people say that Bokashi works for them in an apartment, and can also grow VNese herbs. Very, very important :-)

Now I know you folks out there seem keen on my compost experiences, I won't hold back ...

Hedgehog -

You should definitely start using Bokashi. I don't want to proselytise, but you will be amazed at how much your waste will reduce, and organic waste in landfill is terrible on the environment. Composting - by whatever means - is just such a simple way of making a difference. Don't wait for my experiment ...

I have the bran now, and it does smell a little bit - but not a bad smell. Kinda like gerbil feed or hay. Sort of a very earthy organic smell. Probably like bran, except that I don't know what bran smells like ...

Kirsty -

I've been hoping eagerly for a follow up Bokashi post. Now I can wait eagerly, knowing that the post will come, and, bonus of bonuses, it will be wonderfully written and engaging.

I haven't quite worked out where we're going to put ours yet ...

Al -

Hi :-) Thanks for the comment and the link.

I have corrected the error!

I'm not sure how to elaborate ... I was impressed by the breadth and depth of your advice, but also its conversational nature. And I like how your personal life is integrated with your thoughts on Bokashi.

I'll be reading now, and checking back for tips!

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