Try Bokashi Composting

A Practical Solution for the Kitchen Compost

Bokashi composting might be just what you're looking for if...

  • If the daily trek to the compost bin has lost it's appeal,
  • If you're sick of carbon nitrogen ratios and trying to balance the browns and greens,
  • If the "don't compost list" meats, no dairy, no bones, etc. makes you crazy.

A few years ago, cold temperatures, deep snow, and a broken arm conspired to put my compost bin out of reach. I was also at the time working on my town's environment committee. We decided to try bokashi composting in town. Here is a short video talking about why.

But... Bokashi Composting Breaks the Rules

The first stage of bokashi composting uses a specific group of anaerobic microbes to ferment kitchen wastes. Your job through the process is to inoculate the scraps with bokashi and exclude as much air as possible so as to keep the process anaerobic.

My big composting rule is to keep compost aerobic. I'm a bit worried.

The second stage of bokashi composting is digging a hole, pouring your pickled waste into it and then covering it with 6 - 8 inches of soil.

My big garden rule is to put anything to build up the soil on top of the soil and let the earthworms do their thing. Yikes!

The promises of bokashi composting however, are too compelling to ignore. Plus those buckets and bowls of slop waiting to make the crossing to the compost bin are becoming a menace.

The Promises of Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting comes from Japan. Here the staple food, rice, is grown in flooded rice paddies. Anaerobic microbes are simply not scary to the Japanese farmer. And, while it is true that certain anaerobic microbes are bad news, many others are good news. The combination of microbes, called effective microorganisms or em for short, at the heart of bokashi composting are good news indeed. Here are some advantages.

  • Handles virtually all food waste - all food waste can be put in the bucket including meat and fish, bones, any leftovers from your plates, cheese and dairy, eggs and eggshells, coffee grounds and tea bags,
  • Doesn't attract insects, not even fruit flies - when you first start your bokashi you may have fruit flies for a short while but they will soon be history. Why? Bokashi fermentation creates highly acidic conditions, a pH of 3.5 - 4.5. Flies simply can't survive in these acidic conditions.
  • Many pathogens are eliminated - the acidity of the bokashi process is the hero here. Most pathogens we worry about can not survive the acidic conditions of the fermenting process.
  • Doesn't attract rodents - rodents do not like pickled food. In fact bokashi composting is being tested in Alaska's bear country. So far it looks like bears don't go for pickled food waste either.
  • Low odor - the odor associated with bokashi is a kind of sweet smell a bit like the smell of wine making. Most people won't find it too offensive.
  • Doesn't produce greenhouse gases - normal composting produces CO2 and if your pile goes anaerobic, methane, a problem greenhouse gas, Bokashi, however, is a fermenting process, that doesn't produce heat or CO2. Even though it is anaerobic, the types of microbes that produce methane can not survive in the acidic conditions of the bokashi bucket.
  • Process is very efficient - this process is quick. Fermentation takes one to two weeks. Once buried, most of the fermented material, with the exception of bones and very hard stems and pits, is gone within two weeks in summer weather. You can plant directly into the material two to four weeks from burying it.

The Problems with Bokashi Composting

While bokashi composting solves most kitchen compost problems it is not quite perfect. The biggest pitfall for many people is the pit - that hole you need to dig to bury the waste for part two of the process. Here are some of the problems and how you can solve them.

  • The pit - part two of the process is burying the pickled waste for a time. Few people enjoy the work of digging holes and for those who have embraced the no dig approach to gardening digging holes in the garden is a big no no. Plus if you want to use the enriched matter after burial you have to dig it up to get at it. A way around this is to simply put the fermented waste into your regular compost pile or bin. It breaks down very fast in the compost and seems to enhance the regular compost process.
  • The winter pit - obviously if the ground os frozen it's hard to dig a pit. You can store the stuff until you can dig your pit. It does not matter f it freezes. You can also add it to your conventional compost.
  • The apartment pit - if you live in an apartment it may be tough to dig a pit anywhere ever. What then? The fermented material can be buried is a large planter. One person used a 25 gallon planter to bury the fermented material and it worked well. Another option is finding someone willing to let you dig a small pit in their garden or putting your fermented matter into their compost.
  • Getting bokashi bran - you have to have the bokashi bran in order to do bokashi composting. This is fairly easy to buy on line and is simple to make if you can get a hold of the em microbes but it is necessary.
  • The fermenting smell - while this odor is much less problematic than rotting waste some people do hate it. If it gets really bad it's likely that something has gone wrong - usually that you've used too little of the bran.
  • The acidity - while the acidity of bokashi eliminates fruit flies, rodents, and pathogens you might be worried that it is going to make your soil acidic. Tests show that the bokashi neutralizes completely during the burial part of the process. Once neutral it also becomes a favorite food for earthworms.

Quick Guide to Getting What You Need

If you're ready to get started I've gone through to find the products you might consider for getting started.

You absolutely need some bokashi bran. If you want to make your own bran check out the making bokashi page and buy some em-1 inoculant. The TeraGanix kit is the least expensive kit and includes bran and a pair of buckets with lids. Finally there is kit with a container equipped with a spigot to drain away excess liquid. This is a nice feature but you kind of need two which is a bit pricey. If you're on a strict budget in theory you could get by with two heavy duty plastic garbage bags and the bran at first.

Some Other Pages You Might Want to Check Out:

  1. Compost Home
  2. Bokashi Composting