Bokashi: An Ancient Method for the Modern Gardener
Have you been wanting to compost your kitchen scraps, but don’t have the space or quantity of waste for a traditional pile? Or have you tried composting, but found that it took too much time to monitor, water, and aerate the pile? Or perhaps the whole process of carbon-nitrogen balancing seems too complicated to bother with?
If this sounds like you, it’s time to consider Bokashi composting!
Bokashi composting originated in Japan, where it was traditionally practiced for centuries. In recent years, the process has been studied and improved, so that now it is possible to purchase a high quality inoculant for composting without the trouble of having to make your own.
The mechanism of Bokashi composting is very similar to making pickles, wine, kombucha, or most other fermented foods. Essentially, Bokashi compost is fermented compost. As with correctly prepared fermented food, a correctly fermented compost will yield healthy results. The process is simple, but must be followed or else the result will be rotten. Watch Tricia demonstrate in the video Bokashi Composting, to see just how easy it is to compost your kitchen scraps.
Getting Started is Easy
The first step is to get the necessary supplies. You will need a container for composting in. Unlike compost piles, which require adequate oxygen for the correct microbes to thrive, Bokashi microorganisms live in conditions with little to no oxygen. The container, then, should be solid and have a sealable lid. The ideal container size is one you can fill in two weeks or less. You can build your own using instructions in the book Bokashi Composting.
The other supply you will need is the correct inoculant, called Bokashi bran. This is a complex blend of bacteria and yeast which, when applied to kitchen waste and kept in an anaerobic environment, will outcompete all the other microbes (like mold) that would grow on the decomposing scraps.
Now you’re ready to get started!
Saving the World in Just One Minute Per Day
Sprinkle a handful of bokashi bran on the bottom of the container. Every time you add food scraps, add a thin coating of bran to the top. You can compost any food scrap, even dairy and meat (just add more bran for these). Chopping the scraps into small pieces is helpful, but not necessary (after all, this is supposed to be quick and easy composting!). Be sure to seal the lid every time, and you’ll have even better results if you weigh down a sheet of plastic on the top of the scraps in the container in order to keep it even more sealed from the air. If your scraps start to smell bad, add more bran: the boost of beneficial microbes should be sufficient to overcome any bad smelling microbes.
Keep your container out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat or cold. You can even keep it in your kitchen, since the lid holds in what little smell the composting scraps generate. You will need to drain the “compost tea” every few days, to remove the liquid that is released as the food breaks down. This tea can be diluted with water at 1/4 cup per gallon water and used on your garden.
Once your container is full, seal the lid and set it aside for two weeks while the compost undergoes primary fermentation. This will give the compost time to ferment and break down. Don’t peek! Your helpful microbes need to be kept air-free during this period.
From Kitchen to Soil in Four Weeks
At the end of two weeks, it’s time for secondary fermentation. Open the container and take a look. The scraps will have broken down, but some food will still be discernible. There may be a white mold growing on it: this is normal, healthy mycelium. If you see any colorful mold, though, something went wrong: throw it out and try again.
Secondary fermentation is done in the soil. Take the contents of the bucket and place them in a hole or trench in your garden. Bury them with at least six inches of soil, and don’t disturb the area for two more weeks while the compost breaks down the rest of the way.
At this point, just four weeks after starting the process, your compost-soil mix is ready for planting!
Enjoy our companion video on bokashi composting in our Resource Center.