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" ...no 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
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
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
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
Quick Guide to Getting What You Need
If you're ready to get started I've gone through Amazon.com 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.