In the days of a dark, gardenless flat, I just had my EMs for composting comfort. I’ve always thought of these ‘efficient microorganisms’ as industrious little pets, chomping their way through my kitchen choppings, and saving them from landfill.

Hungry mouths to feed. The EMs will eat almost anything.

Hungry mouths to feed. The EMs will eat almost anything.

The EMs are the residents of a bokashi bin, an anaerobic composting system. Food waste is added to the bucket – I’ve added everything including small meat bones, fish and dairy products – squashed down to remove air pockets, and a handful of EM-infused bran is added. Lid on tight, and no smells. Though He-who-lives-with-me turns up his nose when the lid is lifted, that is because he has so much to learn. The bran has the homely aroma of fat clean warm happy chickens, and the pickle is pickley, and what could be wrong with a bit of pickle?

He also had a tendency to whinge a bit when the EM-juice was drained – a wonderful thick brown ooze that just smells to me of potent plant-fertilising, drain-cleaning goodness, but he begs to differ. I explained we could not let the EMs get their feet wet, and we compromised with a safe-zone of at least one hour before he was due home for juice-gathering.

Bokashi bran contains all the compost crunchers. Squish down the layers to get rid of all the air pockets, add a sprinkling of bran, and lots more room for the next load.

Bokashi bran contains all the compost crunchers. Squish down the layers to get rid of all the air pockets, add a sprinkling of bran, and there's lots more room for the next load.

It was almost perfect. But once the bokashi bin is brim-full, and the pickle has been left to ferment in its airless darkness for an appropriate period of time (I used to think this was six weeks, but it seems the latest reports are saying only two), it needs somewhere to go – normally either added to a compost heap, or dug into the ground, where it quickly turns into glorious mud. Lacking either option in dark, gardenless abode, I instead embarked on three mile round trips to an accommodating compost heap, where I deposited my (oh, okay slightly stinky) heap of pickle. (I follow the two-bin system with one filling, one fermenting, but after twelve weeks both are full. Then what’s one to do?)

I’ve not weighed a full bucket, but I do know I never made it past the first bus stop. Each time, the prospect of sitting on a bus with several kilograms of six-week-old vegetable peelings, tea bags and fishheads in my lap seemed more appealing than trying to carry the buckets a single step further. Funnily enough, the empty buckets smell more than the full ones (anaerobic is very effective until it meets air…). Still, it didn’t seem to stop me taking them into the local ale-house a few times on my way home; I’m sure they’ve had worse in there.

Now, bokashi bliss nearly reigns. The EMs live outside the kitchen door, sheltered under a little overhang. I can decant brown liquor with complete freedom, and the garden awaits its pickle.

The only limitation is the space – not much bare soil, and a long-resident compost bin full, and clearly neglected. I’ve added one load, but the heap needs some work to make it healthy, and as it is sited right next to the table and chairs, I am reluctant to add more pickle to the already potent brew. My only other addition has been approximately 150 slug corpses, from a very successful beer trap.

So I find myself with surplus pickle again. Time for some new pets methinks. Bring on the worms!