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Anaerobic Fermentation & Compost Without Bad Odors

Many of you will be familiar with L. acidophilus. The Lactobacillus family of bacteria is the source of sour beer, kimchi, and sauerkraut. These bacteria are microaerobic, meaning they can live aerobically but switch to anaerobic fermentation when oxygen is lacking. Lactobacillus is harmless to humans and occurs naturally in our digestive tract.

6 gallon bucket with airlock

6 gallon bucket with airlock

The unique combination of the ability to thrive in stagnant conditions devoid of oxygen and to live with exposure to air and being beneficial to human health makes it a good companion for soil remediation. Lactobacillus turns what would have putrefied into a controlled fermentation process. You can use this to manage your compost, preventing infestations of insects and reducing unsavory smells.

The recipe to extend your source of beneficial microbes,  is as follows: Molasses, EM-1®, and Water:

1 cup Molasses
1 cup EM-1®
4.5 gallons water @ 110F

Molasses & EM-1® &; Water

1 cup organic molasses, 1 cup EM-1®, 4.5 gallons water @ 110F

The result is 4.5 gallons of “Activated” EM-1®. Though they do not claim that you can continue to clone your original batch, this could work like a sourdough starter, or fungus, or yeast: a very small amount of a previous culture is usually enough to inoculate another batch. The producers claim that this will last 45-60 days. I presume that if you can keep it at cool temperatures and out of the sun, you might be able to extend this further.

If my hopes are correct, buying even a very small amount of EM-1®, a one-time investment could be increased virtually ad infinitum. But I do not think many repeated “activations” will hold up because Lactobacillus lowers to pH by producing lactic acid this kills a lot of the yeast and phototropic bacteria. Chances are that repeated “activations” will result in a monoculture of Lactobacillus. This would still be useful for your soil and plants, but not as beneficial as a host of diverse beneficials.

If you want to maintain a diverse blend of microbes you will probably have to set up at least three separate special brews, one for yeast, one for phototropic bacteria, and one for Lactobacillus. These could subsequently be mixed to simulate “activated” EM-1®.

Out of 4 cups, you will easily produce 5 gallons of diverse beneficial bacteria. I recommend starting with a 6 gallon bucket with airlock or buying an airlock. In preparation for expansion, it is worth getting a drain assembly and use the smallest drill bit from this kit. For only a few dollars you might be able to repeat this process many  times.

You want food grade plastic or glass. Anything else can leech noxious chemicals into your preparation.

drain on 55 gallon barrel

Drain assembly on 58 gallon barrel

The application of EM-1® is in very dilute form. Only a few gallons will go a long way. You only need a 1:50 ratio of EM-1®-to-water for your applications. If you do more regular applications, you can dilute it further to 1:100 or even more. The dilution depends on your needs. The low pH of “activated” EM-1® is not a concern because of how dilute it is in your sprays.

This might not work, but since sauerkraut is made with the same bacteria, I expect that if you have leftover sauerkraut that was not pasteurized, you might be able to use that to jump-start a reaction. If you try this let me know!

58 gallon food grade plastic barrel with spigot, drain assembly, 3/8" grommet, and airlock

58 gallon food grade plastic barrel with spigot, drain assembly, 3/8″ grommet, and airlock

For composting kitchen waste or weeds, the same principle applies as above: you place your vegetable waste in a 5 gallon bucket, fill it with a recipe of Molasses, EM-1®, and water, and seal it for two weeks. The result will be a sour fermentation, but not putrefication. This product can then be buried and you can plant in the same spot two weeks later. This is a way to cycle nutrients back into your soil quickly and without attracting flies or repelling your neighbors.

Nothing is really odor-free, especially when it comes to decomposition. This fermentation will smell tart, like sauerkraut or yogurt. If you do not want your kitchen to smell like this, keep it outside.

Molasses, "Activated" EM-1®, and water.

Molasses, “Activated” EM-1®, and water.

I will be writing about my experiment extending 5 gallons of “Activated” EM-1® to 58 gallons. If the fermentation seems to have worked, I will try extending this amount to 400 gallons in a month or so, if the lab results from stepping up to 58 gallons are favorable.

Wish me luck!

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