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.