I came across bokashi composting a couple of years into my composting journey. I loved composting but the 2 previous methods (aerobic composting and vermiculture) still left a void. While traditional aerobic composting and earthworms could handle most of my organic waste, it couldn’t handle all of it. I still had to put any meat (which I ate more of then than I do now) and any leftover food in the garbage. If our garbage collection schedule changed or we didn’t time things correctly the garbage would smell and cause other problems. But then I found Bokashi.
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History of Bokashi Composting
Bokashi composting is a method of breaking down food waste in the absence of oxygen. Bokashi, a Japanese word that translates to “fermented organic matter” was developed in the 1980s by Dr Teuro Higa, a professor at the University of Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan.
What is Bokashi Composting?
Unlike most other composting methods, Bokashi composting is an anaerobic process (i.e. it takes place in the absence/ without oxygen). Bokashi relies on inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste, including meat and dairy, into a safe soil builder and nutrient-rich tea for your plants.
Bokashi composting isn’t entirely a composting method in the traditional sense. It is a long fermentation process (approximately 4 weeks) followed by a rapid decomposition process (another 2 weeks). After the first phase of fermenting the food waste, it looks exactly the same.
“Composting is defined as the biological degradation process of heterogeneous solid organic materials under controlled moist, self-heating, and aerobic conditions to obtain a stable material that can be used as organic fertilizer”https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/composting
Since the fermented food waste only truly starts to significantly break down in the second phase, some would argue that bokashi composting is a fermentation process. However, when we refer to bokashi composting we are referring to the entire 2 step process. The process isn’t complete until the food waste has been converted into something useable by plants.
What is Bokashi Bran?
Bokashi bran is simply the medium that hosts your microbes (or the thing that your microbes live on) that will be fermenting your organic waste. It’s up to you if you want to make your bokashi bran yourself from scratch or buy the bran and use it immediately. While making it yourself can be fun and a great way to save money it does take several weeks. I also find the way homemade bokashi bran performs isn’t as consistent as the commercial version.
Bokashi bran is made from:
- A group of microbes. Bokashi composting relies on various of microbes such as yeast, phototrophic bacteria, actinomycetes and lactic acid bacteria working together
- Sugar. This can be molasses, table sugar or any other simple carbohydrate. The sugar is the food that these microbes will be living off of.
- Some carbon material. This is simply the home for the microbes. What your final product looks like will depend largely on what carbon material you use. This can be anything from paper, rice hulls, coconut fiber etc. As long as it is rich in carbon and doesn’t have anything in it that will compete with or kill your microbes it can be used.
Why Bokashi Composting?
Bokashi Composting has to be the most flexible composting method I have come across. No need to balance browns and greens in traditional composting or worry about changes in temperature or overfeeding your worms. 1 bokashi bucket can fit neatly under most kitchen sinks and would take a couple of weeks for an average family to fill.
Because you can easily keep your bokashi bin indoors it makes it a great addition to most homes, even if you don’t have a garden. Once managed properly it doesn’t smell and can significantly reduce the amount of waste your family is sending to landfills.
What Can You Put in a Bokashi Bin?
Honestly? Almost anything. Many of the things you can’t (or maybe I should say shouldn’t) put in a traditional compost pile can go into a bokashi bin. Your family’s cooked food, meat and dairy products can go in a bokashi bin. Avoid pouring liquids or very oily foods into the bin. No brown material such as paper or leaves should go into the bin either; there is no need to balance green and brown materials when composting with bokashi.
The food you put in your bokashi system should be as fresh as possible. If the food had already started to rot there will be a competition between the family of bokashi microbes you want in your bin and the introduced microbes that are causing the food to rot.
How to Use Your Bokashi Bin
Starting your bokashi bin
- Add a thin layer of bokashi bran at the bottom of the bucket.
- Add food waste to the bucket and add a thin layer of bran on top.
- Push the waste down with the back of a spoon or a plate to remove any air pockets.
- Use a plastic bag or any other suitable device to cover the top of the waste to further reduce airflow.
- Cover the bin. If you are using a bokashi bin with a flexible cover, push in the center of the cover to remove additional air before sealing the bin
Adding waste to your Bokashi bin
- Compress each day’s waste flat into the container so as to eliminate any air pockets
- Every time you add waste add a layer of bokashi bran on top.
- Avoid stirring up the previous day’s waste when putting in new garbage.
- Once the waste starts fermenting it will start producing a liquid known as bokashi compost tea. Drawing off liquid regularly. This helps maintain the environment needed for your bokashi microbes to flourish.
When the bin is full
Once the bokashi bin is full. Set is aside for about 2 weeks without opening it. Bokashi composting needs about 2 weeks undisturbed for the food waste to ferment properly. Drain the liquid regularly to maintain optimum conditions.
When is bokashi ready?
After the 2 weeks have passed, the bokashi compost is ready to go into the garden. If there is a fuzzy white mould growing on the surface, that is completely normal. However, if the mould is green or blue something has gone wrong and your best option may be to either discard the waste or if you have a very large traditional aerobic compost pile mix it into the pile and try again.
|Bokashi buried into the garden||Digging up the area 10 days later|
How to Use Bokashi Compost Products
Bokashi Fermented food waste
After the bin has been set aside for at least 10 days the solid fermented bokashi mixture can be dug into the garden. Because the bokashi mixture is slightly acidic it should not touch the roots of plants for at least 2 weeks after removal from the compost bin. You could use a pH metre to see if it is suitable to plant in, but nature has a better way. Once that area is ready to plant in you will see lots of earthworms where you buried your food waste and the fermented food would have completely disappeared.
If you live in an apartment or don’t have access to outdoor space you can either feed your fermented waste to your worm bin or create a “soil factory”. After all of the waste has disappeared and the pH neutralized you can use it on your indoor plants.
The liquid coming off your bokashi bin is commonly called bokashi tea. It should be a clear brown/yellow liquid. This liquid is very concentrated with beneficial microbes but it doesn’t store well. Dilute the liquid 20 parts water to 1 part tea and use it in the garden. Ideally, it should be used within the same day but definitely, all the tea needs to be used within a week of collecting it from your bin.
If you don’t have any plants simply pour the bokashi tea down the drain. It won’t harm the environment and the microbes can continue breaking down organic materials stuck in your drain pipes
Bokashi Composting Tips
As with every process, there are a few things to keep in mind when making your bokashi compost.
- Only add fresh food waste. Waste that has begun to rot already has bacteria flourishing all over it. If added to the bin it will compete with the microbes on your bokashi bran
- Chop large pieces of food waste into smaller chunks. Smaller pieces create a greater surface area for the microbes to grow, feed and multiply. Some people blend their waste before putting it into the bin. But I don’t think it is necessary. This can also lead to too much water draining too quickly which will affect the quality of the bokashi liquid you produce.
- Do not add water or excessive amounts of fluids.
- Compact the waste to remove as much air as possible. The system in your bin works best with no/limited amount of oxygen. Compressing the food waste removes air from between the material. You should also seal the top of the waste with a plate, a plastic seal or even a plastic bag.
- Keep the lid closed tightly. The lid of your bin should have an air tight seal. Do not open the bin more than once a day. And ensure it is closed properly to maintain the limited oxygen environment.
- Drain the fluid frequently. The amount of fluid will depend on what your put in. every 3 to 5 days is usually ok. Fresh fruit and vegetables produce more liquid than cooked food or meat. Leaving the bokashi fluid in the bin can cause the system to smell.
- Dilute the liquid 20 to 1 before using it on your plants. The liquid coming out of your bokashi bin is very concentrated. Before using it on your plants dilute with water (preferably rainwater, but tap water will work also).
- Wash the bucket after emptying. It is better to start with a clean bin every time. This ensures any unwanted bacteria form a previous batch won’t be there in the next batch.
- If your bin stinks add more bran. If the bokashi microbes aren’t able to out compete other microbes your bin can give off a foul odor. If your Bokashi smells like vomit, add more bran ensure that it is sealed, remove any excess liquid and set the bin aside for a few days.
Where to Buy Bokashi Products
If you’ve decided to purchase rather than make your bokashi bin and bran yourself there are many options available on amazon. If you are in Trinidad and Tobago you can grab your bokashi products via our website.
Choosing a bokashi bran
I haven’t come across a bokashi bran I didn’t like. Outside of some minor differences. Any of the options below work well. There are sprays that can be used as well but I haven’t tried any so I am not experienced enough to compare the brans to the sprays. Something about seeing the waste covered in the bran is a bit more satisfying.
Choosing a bokashi bucket
When purchasing a bokashi bucket the single unit, rather than one bucket inside of another will be much easier. Most companies that have all black buckets had them made out of recycled plastics, so keep that in mind when you are shopping around. Lastly, because the bokashi system requires you to set the waste aside for 2 weeks, you may want to consider getting 2 bins instead of one so you can consistently manage your food waste.
There are many ways we can turn our food waste into valuable nutrients in your soil. At this point you may be asking is bokashi better than composting? Or is bokashi better than composting with worms? Well, the short answer is, it depends. That’s the thing about composting, it isn’t a one size fits all. Whatever method you choose, make sure it’s the best solution for you. If you still need help deciding on a composting method we can email you our free composting flow chart. Fill out the form below and you will receive it in your inbox.
If you have more questions on bokashi composting please take a look at our FAQ for bokashi composting. If you still can’t find the answers you need please let us know in the comments.
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