All You Need To Know About The Bokashi Composting Method

The Bokashi composting method is an anaerobic method of fermenting biodegradable kitchen waste into a finished compost that can be used to provide nutrition to plants.

The difference that sets the Bokashi method apart from other forms of composting is that apart from being anaerobic (it does not require oxygen for the composting process to occur), is that the Bokashi system mainly depends on an inoculated bran, which is added to the kitchen scraps in the composting bin.

This bran is composed of millions of specially selected microbes which break down the kitchen waste into a nutrient rich product. The final product of the Bokashi composting method also includes a liquid component that is also very rich in nutrients for your plants and also good for your soil.

Vegetable scraps for the Bokashi composting method

The Bokashi system is unique in the fact that it provides a fast, easy way to compost your food scraps without having to build a time consuming compost pile in your back yard.

Additionally, and this is a BIG one for me, you can also compost meat, bread, and some dairy products with this anaerobic composting method, something you just can't do with a traditional compost method.

If you did, you'd end up with rotten food and rats, not something that the neighbors are going to approve of.

All that is really required is a Bokashi bucket, an understanding of the process (which we'll be discussing in this article) and a desire to reduce waste and improve the health of your garden.

Sounds like a win-win to me!

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Bokashi One Starter Kit

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Let's geek out, just for a moment and see how this popular and effective composting system came to be.

A History Of Bokashi Composting

In 1982, Doctor Teuro Higa, a professor at a University in Okinawa, Japan developed an Effective Micro-Organism, the bran which will later be used to inoculate in the Bokashi composting method.

During this time, all the Asian countries, had developed a habit of collecting and culturing natural occurring soil microorganism for their agricultural practices. They believed that applying these cultures will reduce the cost associated with inorganic fertilizers. 

No one is entirely sure where the exact composting process started from, but it is highly believed that it was from one of the Asian countries.

So What Is The Bokashi Composting Method Exactly?

Wikipedia describes Bokashi as a Japanese word which simply means organic matter that is fermented. This term 'Bokashi' , has also come to be accepted in some other countries such as North America and Britain as meaning fermented organic matter. The host medium of the Bokashi compost method can be almost anything organic. Some people even use dried leaves.

The specific medium is usually treated with beneficial microbes. The microbes to be used need not only to be able to flourish in anaerobic environments but also in acidic environments. The microbes also should be producing less or no foul smell as those in the natural anaerobic environments.

The host material is usually immersed in a brew that is known to attract bacterial strains and the microbes allowed to ferment. The microbes reproduce rapidly for several days with molasses acting as the energy source. When the fermentation stage is complete, the inoculation host is then dried, packaged and stored for a long time before it is used.

Bokashi composting bin and accessories

Preparation For Using The Bokashi Method

Bokashi is the cheapest form of anaerobic composting systems around the world.

A simple Bokashi bucket consists of a plastic bin equipped with a tight fitting lid at the top and a tap or spigot near the bottom. The spigot is for draining the leachate that accumulates in the bucket.

So what would you need?

1. A fully functional Bokashi bucket fitted with a spigot and a very tight lid.

2. An appropriate Bokashi bran such as the all purpose starter mix activator.

Note: I like the Bokashi composting starter kit, which comes with the complete bucket system and bran to get started. You can also make a homemade Bokashi bucket if you can find some cheap buckets.

This is a very simple process. It only requires a couple of minutes per day. Everyday, you just have to place a handful of the Bokashi bran onto every deposit of kitchen scrap. You will have to scatter it evenly across the kitchen waste in the bucket.  Compress the new scraps down using a plate or something approximately the same diameter as the bucket. Then close the lid tightly to prevent air and flies from entering. You don't want maggots in your Bokashi bin, although they die quickly when the lid it tightly fixed. You can also decide to place a weight on top of the compost so as to reduce any air that does find it's way into the bucket from reaching your fermenting material.

Although Bokashi IS an anaerobic system, there is still the chance that small amounts of air will reach the composting scraps. Nothing to panic about, but it pays to minimize the inflow of air.

When it comes to placing meat bones or egg shells inside the Bokashi bucket, you will have to chop or crush them up in small pieces. This is because large pieces will takes a lot of time to disintegrate and disappear. Ensuring that all added materials are as small as they can be leads to maximum efficiency. This certainly isn't a major issue with fruit and vegetable scraps, but the size will affect the timescale.

Drain off the Bokashi tea every couple of days and use to fertilize your house plants, veggies and lawn.

When the bin is completely full, cover it very tightly and then put it aside. The bin should in a place that is sheltered from direct sunlight. It should remain there for about ten to fourteen days and in all those days, you should be withdrawing a liquid from the tap at the bottom of the bucket. This liquid can be used as a fertilizer in its diluted form. When it has not been tampered with it can be used to control slime in drains and septic tanks.

After the ten to fourteen days, the waste in the bucket will appear thoroughly pickled. It can then be buried in a trench in the garden to allow further composting to occur.

Maintaining Your Bokashi Bin System

The Bokashi system is mainly based on an anaerobic process. So it needs to be free of oxygen as much as possible. When putting the waste in the bucket, you need to make sure that the waste is compressed flat into the container on top of the previous day's waste.

This is to avoid stirring up the already added scraps when you are putting in new kitchen peelings and offcuts. You can do this by using a plate to press on the waste in the bucket. Leaving the plate there will also help protect the surface of the compost from any air that may have come in the bucket.

Regularly tapping off the liquid in the bucket helps to maintain the environment needed by the microbes to break down the organic materials. The liquid you collect needs to be put to use within a day or so. Use it to in a watered down form to water your plants, or apply directly to the soil around the plant stems, and water in. Bokashi juice is an excellent liquid fertilizer (see FAQ for how to use)

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Bokashi One Starter Kit

Complete Kit To Begin Bokashi Composting. No Turning! Create Finished Compost In Days!

Benefits Of Bokashi

Bokashi is a great system of composting food waste, especially for those living in apartments or homes without much in the way of outside space. You can use the resulting compost in garden beds or in plant pots to increase the vitality and health of your plants.

Bokashi can:

  • Be an easy to set up, and maintain composting system
  • Provide rich nutrition to your plants
  • Save money on shop bought fertilizers and soil enhancers
  • Eliminate waste as most food scraps can be fermented
  • Be affordable, there are low priced bins available online

Bokashi Composting Problems

So, are there any problems that you may encounter when composting with the Bokashi system?

Normally, fouls smells tell you that something has gone wrong with the project. However, diagnosing this problem can be very difficult. Lets face it, Bokashi does not smell like candy even at the best of times. It may have a slightly sweet smell, which is totally normal.

Bokashi is not supposed to smell like any other sort of anaerobic decay. This is because the inoculating microbes, yeast, produce lactic acid while the other outdoor anaerobic microbes produce sulphuric acid which gives out that characteristic foul odor. If the buckets starts to smell like some roadkill that has been lying in the heat for days, you have a problem that needs immediate attention.

If it happens that some decaying does occur, it can sometimes be reversed by adding a little more Bokashi bran to the bucket. This does not always work, and if this happens, just throw away that pile, wash the bucket and start again.

bokashi fermentation

Bokashi Frequently Asked Questions

I'm still a little confused about Bokashi composting......

Not a problem. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about composting Bokashi style:

Q. How does Bokashi composting work?

A. As discussed at the beginning of this article, the Bokashi composting method is different from other composting systems in that the process occurs WITHOUT the presence of oxygen.

The food waste that you put in the bin provides a rich source of nutrition to the microbes that the Bokashi bran culture has been inoculated with. The microbes consume the food scraps. This process results in some beneficial substances being created. Enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, trace minerals, organic acids and some plant hormones too.

The fermentation process kills pathogens and also damages seeds that could be in the container, making it a very safe and effective composting method.

When the finished product is added to the soil in your vegetable garden, worms, fungi, insects, bacteria and other microbes continue to break down the materials. The beneficial substances increase, further enhancing the quality of the soil.

Q. What is in the Bokashi culture mix?

A. The Bokashi culture mix consists of wheat bran, molasses and microorganisms that have been added in the production process. These microorganisms are varied, and include yeasts, lactic acid bacteria, photosynthetic bacteria and actinomycetes. These organisms, when added to the soil will help increase plant growth and health, and positively affect soil quality.

Q. Is The Bokashi method smelly?

A. Well, there certainly is an aroma associated with this method of composting.  Many people comment that the bin smells a little like pickles, with a slightly acid smell.

If this is the smell you have, then great! This means that the process is working correctly. If the smell is really foul, then try removing some of the liquid from your bucket. You can try adding some more of the bran culture mix, or even some extra sugar, which will enliven the microbes and stop the putrefaction of the contents.

Q. What do I do with the liquid that forms in the Bokashi bin?

A. This 'garbage juice' is actually very useful and there are things you can do with it. Simple drain it off using the drain tap on your bin. Be warned, in the raw state it is very strong and can even be used to unblock drains or clean algae from a pond.

To use it as an incredible liquid fertilizer for plants, you'll need to dilute approximately 1 tsp of the Bokashi juice into 2 cups of water. Used within a day to prevent it going sour. Then spray or water it onto your flowers or vegetables.

Q. How long does the composting method take?

A.  The fermentation process in the bucket takes from 7-14 days. The Bokashi compost is then dug into a trench in the garden to further break down. This takes a few weeks.

Q. How do I use the fermented food wastes after the 2 week fermentation period?

A.  Simply dig a composting trench in your garden and bury the bin materials. You can plant your seed of seedlings into the surface soil of this trench around a month after burying.

Q. How do I avoid the food scraps going moldy and rotting?

A. Ensure that you add the correct quantities of the bran to your bucket when you add new waste scraps. Make sure you compress the scraps down each time, a plate slightly smaller than the diameter of the bucket can be useful to do this

Q. What foods can I add to my Bokashi bin?

A.  Many more than with conventional composting. As well as fruit and vegetable scraps, meat and dairy, both raw and cooked can be added. Just make sure you are not adding scraps with too much liquid. Coffee grounds are also good.

Egg shells will decompose, but you need to crush them up to allow them to break down relatively quickly.

Q. Can I ferment animal waste with the Bokashi system?

A.  Yes, the Bokashi system can be used to ferment pet waste. Due to some potential toxins in pet waste, you must never use the fermented materials in soil where you grow food. If you do decide to Bokashi your animal poop, only use the finished materials under ornamental, not edible plants.

Q. What does the term anaerobic fermentation actually mean?

A. Anaerobic means that oxygen is excluded during the process of breaking down the food waste. Keeping oxygen levels as low as possible is desirable, and the process will be most effective this way. Keep the lid well sealed unless you are adding more waste.

Q. I have white patches in my bin. Is this normal?

A.  White mold is a sign of a healthy Bokashi process. This is a result of good bacteria starting to inhabit your bucket.

Black or blue mold is a sign that something is amiss. It will likely smell really bad, and under these circumstances, I would recommend taking the bucket out and burying the contents. Add a little extra sugar and Bokashi bran and, over a month or so, the rotten materials will break down and become part of the soil. Avoid planting directly into this for a month or so.

Clean your bucket and begin again.

Q. How long does the Bokashi mix last if I don't use it?

A. The shelf life of your Bokashi bran culture is many years, not need to worry about it becoming ineffective.

To Sum Up

The Bokashi composting method is a very simple process with really good results. Because it is an indoor composting method, where the bucket can be stored close at hand in the kitchen or in a utility room, this system lends itself to people who need things to be easy and accesible.

This method of fertilizer production can also be commercialized with very minimal capital. You will just have to work closely with the households to get the kitchen scraps. Purchasing the Bokashi buckets would be a major cost, but there are plenty of options to manufacture your own using off the shelf products.

In my opinion, Bokashi composting is one amazing invention when it comes to home agriculture. Being able to ferment waste food right in your kitchen with all the convenience that provides is incredibly useful.

This is a great way to minimize waste while providing a great form of nutrition to your plants. Bokashi is a WINNER!


Charles Sturt University - The Bokashi Bucket Kitchen Waste Recycling System

Green Calgary - Bokashi Composting Guide

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