Never heard of Bokashi composting? Don’t feel bad!
Up until a year ago, I hadn’t heard of it either. But, now that I’ve seen the benefits of Bokashi composting, I want to share it with you.
For avid gardeners, or anyone looking to reduce landfill waste, the Bokashi method of composting is a breeze to follow.
Turn those kitchen scraps, even ones forbidden in traditional compost methods, into nutrients plants love.
In this guide, I explain the meaning of Bokashi composting, the steps you need to begin, and how to manage and use your compost.
What Does Bokashi Mean?
Bokashi is a Japanese term that has several meanings, but in regard to composting, it stands for organic matter that is fermented.
While called “composting,” the Bokashi method ferments kitchen scraps. The technique relies on an air-free or anaerobic process that uses a grain-based inoculant to treat the waste material.
The Bokashi method uses a grain host medium, typically bran, that has beneficial microbes in the mixture. The bacteria are active, like the ones found in yogurt, and work together to ferment the scraps.
Lactobacillus bacteria, yeast, and phototrophic bacteria feed on the waste material and start breaking down molecular structures.
These microbes thrive in anaerobic conditions and work on the kitchen waste to turn it into a “pre-compost” material ready for introduction into your garden.
The Bokashi Method Step-by-Step
It’s easy to incorporate the Bokashi system into your daily lifestyle.
The steps are simple:
- Place the starter mixture (known as “Bokashi bran”) into your composter and add an energy source (aka food scraps) which puts the microbes into action.
- As you add a new layer of food scraps, add a handful of the bran and push the material down to remove air pockets. Always tightly seal the lid after adding scraps to your Bokashi composter.
- Remove liquid that accumulates at the bottom of the bin manually or through the built-in spigot found on some containers.
- Keep layering food scraps and bran, and removing the liquid, until the bucket is full.
- When the bucket is full, keep the lid on and set it aside for about two weeks. Drain any liquid that forms during this time.
- After two weeks, open the bucket. Either bury the contents in your yard or add it to your traditional compost pile to finish off the decomposition process.
What You Need To Get Started
To start Bokashi composting you’ll need a plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid and a spigot near the bottom. You can purchase many Bokashi composter kits on Amazon.
Some people choose to DIY an inexpensive composter using a five-gallon bucket with lid. They then attach a spigot from the hardware store or devise another way to drain off the liquid that forms.
You also need a bit of floor space to place the bucket in the kitchen or pantry during use. You need an area out of direct sunlight to store the bucket when full until the compost is ready for use.
The only other items you need to start is the inoculated Bokashi bran and a steady supply of food scraps. The scraps can include fruits, veggies, bread, cheese, eggs, dairy, meat, bones, and even the occasional bits of cardboard.
The simplicity of the Bokashi composting system is what makes it so popular for people who don’t want to fuss with large composting piles that need tending.
Advantages Of Bokashi Composting
The Bokashi method gives you the ability to compost no matter where you live. Even apartment dwellers can reduce and repurpose food waste.
There are other numerous advantages of Bokashi composting like:
- Compost bones, shells, meat, and dairy
- No loss of nutrients
- No bugs or rodent issues
- No offensive odors
- No “balancing” of green and brown material
- Requires very little time and space
- Liquids and solids are useable
- Works with compostable plastics
Bokashi is also ideal for composting specific plant trimmings like tomato stems, which tend to carry parasites you want to keep out of an outdoor compost pile. The fermentation process will kill such bacteria and parasites.
More advantages are that you can Bokashi compost all-year, no matter what the weather condition or temperature.
This method quickly breaks down even tricky materials in a matter of weeks. With traditional composting, this same material could take six months or longer to decompose.
Disadvantages Of Bokashi Composting
1. Bokashi bins hold around five gallons. If you create little food waste, this size may last a long time. If you cook daily with fresh ingredients, the bin fills fast, which means you’ll need to purchase additional bins to keep one available for scraps at all times.
2. The operating cost adds up. A pre-made Bokashi bin (which I recommend for the built-in spigot). The bran, about two pounds, which is about what it takes to fill a bin one time.
You can make a bran mixture at a much lower cost if you don’t mind handling large bags of grain and the inoculating microbes.
3. Bokashi is touted as being “odor-free,” which is bending the truth. The fermentation process creates a distinctive smell that is along the lines of sauerkraut.
An offensive odor means the batch went bad and typically happens when you fail to use enough inoculated bran.
4. Bokashi compost tends to be very acidic when first buried, which can kill roots if you don’t wait a month or so before planting above it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Bokashi Composting Work?
Reducing kitchen waste and reusing the nutrients is what Bokashi composting delivers, so yes it works quite well as long as you understand what to expect of the final product.
The material is not fully decomposed, like in traditional compost mixes.
You can bury the Bokashi material to let it finish decomposing underground, or add it to your outdoor composting pile to complete the process.
What Can You Not Put In Bokashi?
Your Bokashi bin is not a trash can. Never add harsh chemicals, glass, oils, or plastic.
An occasional piece of moldy fruit is okay to place in the bin. Never dump food with large amounts of green or black mold present, as it upsets the delicate microbial balance and makes the batch go bad. White mold on food is always safe to add.
Too much liquid overpowers the bacteria and is terrible for Bokashi composting. Refrain from pouring oily substances like bacon grease into the bin.
How Long Does Bokashi Mix Last?
An average household uses about ten pounds of Bokashi bran every six to eight months.
For avid Bokashi composters, buying inoculated bran in bulk is common. So you may wonder how long the microbes in the bran remain active and the best way to store the bran.
If you keep your bran tightly sealed, dry, and away from freezing temperatures and direct sunlight, it should be suitable to use for a year. The bacteria should remain dormant while in this controlled environment.
While I’m sure the bran could be fine for a more extended period, it’s better to be safe than having to deal with a bad batch of compost.
What Do You Do With Bokashi Liquid?
Expect up to a cup of liquid to form at the bottom of your Bokashi bin every day. This “tea” is an incredible fertilizer for your house plants and garden.
The nutrient level in this liquid is intense. Dilute it one part tea to 100 parts water for general fertilization of vegetable gardens and grass, 1:300 for houseplants, and 1:500 for potted succulents.
Lastly, pour some down your household drains occasionally. The Bokashi bacteria help keep drain lines clear and add beneficial microbes to local water treatment facilities.
Is Bokashi Safe For Dogs?
Bokashi bran and properly made bokashi compost are safe for wildlife. Most animals shy away from the smell of fermented food, but some dogs won’t leave it alone and may try to dig up or eat the material.
Unless you put chocolate or harmful chemicals into your bin, your dog should not have severe issues by ingesting or digging in Bokashi compost.
If you see them near a recent compost addition, keep a sharp eye on them. You should expect some stomach irritation or distress, as fermented food isn’t a regular part of their diet.
Can You Put Meat In Bokashi?
The greatest benefit of the Bokashi composting method is that meat of any sort can go into the bin. This feature was the reason I began using this method, as I was always at a loss about what to do with my meat, bones, cheese, and seafood scraps.
If you place large amounts of meat into the bin, you need to use an extra generous helping of bran to keep the fermentation process going strong.
Can You Put Bones In Bokashi?
The microbes in Bokashi bran work hard to ferment the material in bone, so it’s safe to add bones into your bin.
But, bones take a very long time to decompose, and it won’t happen during the month, or so it ferments in your bin. This is a great reason not to overload your bin with bones.
I use the Bokashi process as a pre-treatment for bones before I add them to my standard compost pile, as it helps prevent overheating while they finish decomposing.
Can You Put Eggshells In Bokashi?
Yes, eggshells are fantastic to add to your Bokashi bin. Crush them up to aid in the fermentation process when possible.
Eggshells add a high amount of calcium to the compost, which plant cells need to grow strong.
Always use more bran when putting large amounts of eggshells into the bin to offset the extra work the bacteria will have to do to ferment the hard shells.
Bokashi composting is such an easy way to transform almost all of your kitchen waste into something useful.
I use both Bokashi and traditional composting at my home to cover my indoor food waste and outdoor yard debris.
Don’t have a yard or garden? No worries, contact the local garden club or offer up your Bokashi compost online. Many people would love a free and natural addition to improve their plantings.
I hope this article gives you the inspiration to embark on a Bokashi composting journey. Once you begin, you’ll see the combined benefits of better kitchen waste management and a beautiful and healthy garden.