by Matt Gibson
Bokashi is a composting method that is new to most Western gardeners. The compost is cheap to start and easy to maintain. The word Bokashi means “fermented organic matter,” and that is exactly what the process of Bokashi composting creates. It’s also the name of the ingredient used to get the compost going, called Bokashi bran. Bokashi composting allows gardeners to use all their available kitchen scraps, unlike other composting methods, which discourage the use of oils, dairy and meat products. The Bokashi process creates a fermented liquid fertilizer that is known as Bokashi tea. Once you’ve drained the liquid from the bin, you can use diluted Bokashi tea to fertilize the soil in your garden. At full strength, the tea can double as a drain cleaner, degreaser, or even a septic tank cleaner.
Toss the fermented waste created with Bokashi composting into an unused section of your garden as a soil amendment method. It will immediately start sinking in and work its magic to enrich the soil of your garden for the next planting season. The fresh Bokashi mix, often called “precompost,” will be very acidic for several weeks after it’s done. That’s why you’ll want to bury it in an idle area that plants won’t spread roots into for at least two weeks.
You can choose instead to take the fermented Bokashi precompost mixture and collect it in a standard compost heap. Give the compost mixture itself some time to break down further and become less acidic before adding it into the garden. After about a month in the pile, the Bokashi precompost will be safe and ready get to work feeding and providing for your harvest, saving you months as compared to standard composting.
Bokashi composting doesn’t need heat or air like other composting methods require. You will need inoculated Bokashi bran and a sealed container you’ll keep in your kitchen called a Bokashi container: a five-gallon bucket with airtight lid and a spigot installed. Add the Bokashi bran in layers between deposits of organic material. Keep the lid on the container tightly to keep oxygen out and to allow the mixture to ferment. The bran is a fast-acting compost accelerator. Within a few short weeks, you will have usable compost that is chock-full of microbes and nutrients that will help your garden thrive.
What You Will Need To Get Started
As mentioned, all you need is an airtight container, kitchen scraps and Bokashi bran to start composting. While the bran and container are specialized, investing approximately $50 in a Bokashi bucket is well worth it. You can find these items easily on Amazon. During the fermentation process, you’ll drain the compost every other day. Luckily, Bokashi buckets come equipped with a spigot that makes draining a clean and easy process. The draining is actually the only care or maintenance that the compost container needs once it’s started. As your everyday routines produce kitchen scraps, add them to the bucket, and cover the scraps with Bokashi bran. Press the waste down to remove the air, and put the lid back on the container. Continue to layer in kitchen scraps and Bokashi bran until the container is full, and don’t forget to drain off the compost tea every other day.
Because there are no noticeable odors associated with this method, the container doesn’t need to filled immediately. You can add in scraps as needed and allow the mixture time to ferment and break down.
How Bokashi Works
Bokashi composting works in layers as you place kitchen scraps into the special bin along with a Bokashi inoculant. The inoculant is usually made of either wheat germ or sawdust combined with molasses. Combine that with a super-special ingredient called EM, or Effective Microorganisms®. Developed by a Japanese doctor in the early 80s, Bokashi composting has recently become the newest craze in eco-friendly gardening. When prepared in the correct container and drained out of direct contact with sunlight, the precompost will begin to ferment within a period of 10 days. Then added the concoction to a compost pile to finish decomposing or dug into a garden area to feed the soil and help create a healthy garden environment.
Bokashi is a great method for utilizing all kitchen scraps and a practical way to compost for people working with small spaces. However, it is very important to remember that the precompost waste product that comes out of the Bokashi bin still needs to finish the process of decomposition before it’s safe to use in active soil where plants spread their roots.The mixture, when taken out of the bin, is too acidic for plants to take in. Bokashi precompost can actually harm plant roots if the mixture allowed to further decompose and break down, whether in a bin or underground, before it’s put to use by your plants
As Bokashi is an anaerobic (oxygen-free) process, keeping oxygen levels as low as possible in the Bokashi bin is ideal. There is no need to open the bin to check whether things are going well. Trust that the mixture is fermenting as it should, and only open the bin when it’s time to add in new scraps and Bokashi inoculant mix. Another way to keep oxygen out of your Bokashi bin is to press the mixture down into the composter with each addition to remove as much air as possible. Then keep a paper plate on the top of the pile to keep the surface area from being exposed to excess oxygen whenever you are adding new contents to the mix.
You may be asking yourself whether you really need to use the specialized equipment and process that goes along with the Bokashi system. You may already have a composting system at your house that has been doing quite well for you. In that case, do you need to learn this new process and completely change the way you compost? Well, that’s completely up to you.
The main benefit the Bokashi method adds to your composting repertoire is that it allows you to use animal products in your compost instead of just tossing them in the trash. If you eat a diet that uses a significant amount of animal products and you want to leave as small of a carbon footprint as possible, then Bokashi composting is your best bet. Bokashi is the only composting system that maintains a high enough acidity level to break down fats and meats without creating a foul odor or attracting raccoons and other animals that are known to stick their noses where they don’t belong.
Plus, Bokashi composting is cheap to start, and once you get the hang of the process, managing your bin and getting the most out of your compost will become second nature. So, what’s not to like? It’s cheap. It’s easy. You can do it in small indoor spaces. And if done correctly, you will have no issues with odors.
Bokashi composting also combines seamlessly with your other composting routines. Once the mixture in the bin has fermented, you just add the precompost to your outdoor compost pile so that it can finish breaking down, then it’s ready for the garden. The fermented Bokashi precompost also gives your already nutrient-rich compost material an all-natural boost of microbes and other nutrients plants love. Though some vermicomposters believe Bokashi material is too acidic to feed to worms, experienced Bokashi composters report they’ve had success feeding Bokashi matter to their compost worms when the Bokashi compost gets mixed with regular compost product to lower its acidity level.
The liquid that you drain off the bin every other day (otherwise known as Bokashi tea) can be diluted and used as a powerful fertilizer. Bokashi tea is power-packed with a whole community of microbes that will work wonders in your garden when added to the soil. When these microbes find their way into the roots of your garden’s plants, they can really boost the health and vitality of your favorite fauna.
If you don’t dilute Bokashi tea, it has a few household uses in its concentrated form. Because of its pH level and unique microbial content, Bokashi tea can double as a drain cleaner for slow or clogged drains in your house. Strong batches of Bokashi tea work as a weed killer, taking out pesky weeds that would suck up nutrition you’d rather go to the plants you are cultivating on purpose in your garden beds. As a bonus, when used as a weed killer, Bokashi tea nurtures the soil with garden-friendly microbes that encourage your plants to thrive. Follow this link to find out how to make the most of your Bokashi tea.
So, unless you are a vegan, vegetarian, or an omnivore who uses animal products very rarely, Bokashi composting may be the perfect method to learn about and add to your composting toolkit. However, even those with meat-free diets have been known to use Bokashi composting, as adding meat and dairy products to the mix is not a requirement.
One thing to note before scraping your dinner plates into your Bokashi bin is that even though Bokashi composting will break down fat and meat waste, it cannot break down animal bones, so you will want to continue to add those to the broth bag in your freezer to create an incredible soup base during the winter months or whenever your heart desires.
Want to learn more about Bokashi composting?
Bokashi Living covers Making A Quality Compost Tea
DIY Network covers Bokashi Compost
Mother Earth News covers Organic Gardening: How to Compost with Bokashi
Planet Natural covers Indoor Composting: Bokashi Composting
The Spruce covers The Basics of Bokashi Composting
Way to Grow covers 8 Steps to DIY Bokashi Composting
Please note that links to Amazon from Gardening Channel are affiliate links.