Composting With Bokashi

composting with bokashiMaking compost right at home is an easy way to get rid of kitchen scraps. Plus, it adds fertility to your garden and keeps our landfills from piling up too fast. However, everyone that composts at home knows what a pain it is to sort out food scraps every day to ensure only fruit and vegetable-based foods make it in the bucket. What should you do with your extra dairy products and meat scraps? With a regular compost system, the only answer is the trash can.

For this reason, bokashi buckets change everything you thought you knew about making compost at home. Not truly a composter? Bokashi buckets actually ferment your food scraps instead, filling them with beneficial anaerobic microbes and helping them break it down.

Once you start to break down your scraps the bokashi bucket way, there’s usually no going back to your boring old bin.

History of Bokashi

For centuries, farmers in Asian countries have collected and fermented their food scraps as a highly beneficial (and cheap!) soil amendment. The method started by farmers adding food scraps directly to the soil and depending on the natural microbes within the soil to break them down and ferment them. After several weeks of fermentation pass, scoop up the scraps, mix them with soil and use for garden enrichment.

The bokashi method was practiced largely without change. That was until Japanese Professor Teruo Higa’s led to the discovery of the proper technique and ratio of microbes that was most efficient for producing pickling-like results for food scraps.

Today, you can use a bokashi bucket to efficiently make your own fermented compost scraps. Most commercially produced buckets have a false bottom floor for keeping the moisture (called leachate) away from the food scraps. Some even have a spigot for draining the leachate away. This makes it easier to get the conditions exactly right in order to have the highest quality end result.

How It Works

Bokashi buckets work because of the anaerobic process that the food scraps go through. This excludes air from the decomposition process. This is because it causes the microorganisms to pickle the food scraps instead of fully break them down through decomposition. The volume of the material goes down as the waste moisture drains out of the bottom through the spigot.

When bokashi compost ends up in your garden, plants are easily able to extract the nutrient content out of it. Additionally, the added microbes help renew the soil and maintain higher levels of soil biodiversity.

Where Can You Get a Bokashi Bucket?

All you need for successful bokashi is a bucket and a form of inoculate. You can buy a special bokashi bucket for about $100, or make your own for about $20. To make your own, take care to ensure that you use a bin with a tight lid, sides of thick, impermeable plastic and add a spigot to the bottom. Online instructions for making your own bokashi bucket can be found here.

In most cases, it’s better to buy the bokashi fermenting mix rather than making it yourself. For those who are truly ambitious, the starter mix can be made in about two weeks following these instructions.

How Do You Use a Bokashi Bucket?

Once you have a bokashi bucket, getting it to work is easy. Simply add food scraps to the bottom of your bucket and sprinkle a small handful of bokashi mix over the top. Continue this layering process until the bucket is completely full. Some people find that it’s helpful to press down the food scraps with a heavy plate to keep them compressed. Be sure to keep the container completely airtight except when you add in more material. When done right, the food you add to a bokashi bucket shouldn’t have any smell except a faint sour odor.

After your bucket is full, the waste inside needs to be taken outside and buried in the ground. This completes the composting part of the process. Make sure your hole is about a foot deep and far away from plant roots, as bokashi in this stage is acidic and might be damaging to them. Cover the food scraps with six to eight inches of soil and allow it to mellow for two to four weeks before digging it out to be used in your garden or as part of a planting mix.

What are the Benefits For Your Garden and Compost Pile?

Not only is the bokashi method an efficient way to turn your food scraps into a useful garden additive, it has a lot of benefits when compared with regular methods of composting. Because bokashi buckets allow you to compost meat and dairy products, you won’t have to sort out food scraps before putting them in the bin. The overall time for making compost is also much faster than regular compost piles. Thus, making the entire break down process take a matter of weeks rather than months.

Many people find that the lack of smelly odor in their bokashi bin is a huge advantage, especially for keeping it in the house. Not even fruit flies will be attracted to the bin, which isn’t true for systems like worm bins. After the fermenting process is done, the lack of smell from the buried pickled food scraps also means you won’t have to worry about unwanted vermin visitors that might dig up other forms of compost.

An additional benefit to using a bokashi bucket is that the acidity of the fermentation process kills dangerous pathogens before they can be re-introduced into the soil. Finally, because the anaerobic process of bokashi is a fermenting process, it doesn’t produce heat or greenhouse gasses like CO2 or methane.

For many people, the main drawback of bokashi is that you need a special inoculate to make it work. However, you can buy it in bulk or even make your own to cut down on costs.

Additional Tips For Success

Using a bokashi bucket can be confusing for first time users. Below are some troubleshooting tips to help you get the process right the first time around.

  • Keep the lid of your bucket tightly closed when not adding more compost mix.
  • For faster fermentation, chop up big pieces of food scraps into smaller pieces.
  • A putrid smell coming from your bokashi bucket is a sign that something is wrong, as the inoculating yeasts and microbes don’t produce the sulfuric acid that typically smells so bad. As a rule of thumb, a properly smelling bucket will have a sweet and sour smell, rather than a foul, decay-like smell. If your bucket starts to smell off, add more bokashi bran to see if it takes care of the problem. If that doesn’t work, dump out the entire mixture and start again.
  • Never add water or other liquids to your bin.
  • Remember that the fermentation process in the bucket is only part one of making bokashi compost. The second step comes when it’s buried in the ground for two weeks. Allowing plant roots to come in contact with untreated bokashi is a recipe for disaster, as the high acid content can burn the roots.
  • For best results, try to minimize the amount of rotten or moldy food scraps that you add to your bucket. A little bit of mold forming in your bucket is okay, so long as it’s white. This means that you have breeding filamentous bacteria, which is perfectly safe. Black, blue or smelly mold is a different story and should be removed immediately.
  • A potato masher is a smart way to press down food scraps in order to remove trapped air.
  • Keep your bucket out of direct sunlight and wash it thoroughly after each use.
  • Make sure you use enough bokashi bran to keep the system healthy. Remember that it’s impossible to use too much, so feel free to be a little heavy handed.
  • You can use the juice from your bokashi bucket as a fertilizer so long as you dilute it before adding it to your garden. Simply dilute one teaspoon with two to three liters of water and mix it directly in to the soil. Make sure to keep it off plant leaves as it can burn them. Concentrated bokashi juice can also be poured directly down drains to help kill algae and remove unpleasant odors.