Accelerate Your Composting with the Bokashi Fermentation Process
The bokashi composting method is unique in that it allows all types of food waste to be turned into soil-enriching compost, even meat and dairy products. What makes this possible and sets bokashi composting apart from other methods is the use of an inoculated fermented bran.
The bokashi method was developed in the 1980s by a professor in Okinawa. The word ‘bokashi’ in Japanese means ‘fermented organic matter’. And that is exactly what bokashi is – organic matter that has decomposed through fermentation. The bran that is added to the organic material speeds up the decomposition process. The end result is a pre-compost organic material that can be used with minor preparation directly in your garden or containers, or it can be used to feed a worm composting bin or traditional compost bin or pile.
The decomposition process of the organic matter is anaerobic and occurs in a sealed bokashi bucket. This makes it an inexpensive way to turn food waste into nutrient-rich plant food. The bokashi method lends itself to indoor composting which makes it great for apartments or other living quarters where you don’t have much space to compost outdoors.
What You Need to Get Started with Bokashi
- Bucket. First you will need a bokshi bucket. A typical bucket, such as the one that comes with the SCD Probiotics Bokashi Kit, can hold up to 5 gallons when full and has a tight-fitting lid so odors cannot escape. The bucket is small enough to be hidden out of sight and lifted easily.
- Inoculated bran. Next you will need inoculated bokashi bran. This ‘jump starts’ the decomposition in the bucket. When getting started with bokashi, you will probably want to use commercially prepared bokashi bran, in fact, it may come with your bucket. Once you get in the groove though, you may want to make your own bran. See the recipe at the end of this article.
The Bokashi Process
Food waste is placed into the bucket and mixed with the inoculated bokashi bran. It helps if you cut up your food scraps into small pieces. As noted, it is OK to compost meat and dairy using the bokashi method. Since the process is anaerobic, it will kill any potential pathogens. When the composting bucket is full more of the inoculated bokashi bran is sprinkled on top of the food waste and the lid is placed securely on top. The bucket is now placed in an out of the way location for the next 10-12 days.
A traditional compost bin or pile needs to be turned frequently to promote air circulation.
Bokashi compost does not require turning. But there is a little maintenance that will need to be done every other day.
As the organic material breaks down, a liquid known as leachate is formed. The leachate percolates through the organic material and needs to be drained off from the decomposing matter. This liquid can then be diluted and used as compost tea to feed and hydrate plants. The leachate is very concentrated and must be diluted with water before feeding it to garden plants. See instructions that follow below for making compost tea.
The leachate collects at the bottom of the bokashi bucket. The bucket has a spigot near the bottom that allows you to quickly and easily be drain it out. Removing the liquid and keeping the decomposing food waste dry speeds up the fermentation process.
After 10-12 days remove the lid from the bokashi bucket to check the progress of the compost. You will still be able to recognize all the food waste at this point. This stage is called ‘pre-compost’. It is not ready to be used directly as plant food yet.
You have a few options for how to proceed with the pre-compost. The pre-compost is basically pickled or fermented food scraps. It is highly acidic at this stage of decomposition and is not ready to come into contact with plant roots
5 Ways to Use Bokashi
1. Bury Bokashi Directly in Your Garden
Bury the pre-compost in a trench in your garden away from plants or in a container or pot without any plants and allow it to remain undisturbed for at least 2 weeks. The acid will be neutralized and the decomposition process complete after this waiting time. This spot will then be ready for planting.
2. Use Bokashi in Your Containers
To use bokashi pre-compost in a pot or other container, fill 1/3 of the container with potting soil first. Add another 1/3 layer of bokashi pre-compost and lightly mix with soil. Finally, fill the remaining 1/3 of the container with potting soil. If you want, cover the container with a plastic bag to maintain anaerobic breakdown of the compost . Wait two weeks before planting.
3. Feed Bokashi to Your Worms
Bokashi pre-compost can be added directly to a vermicomposting bin or worm farm. It may seem strange that worms will thrive in the acidic environment that bokashi pre-compost creates but they do. The fermenting food scraps provide a nutrient-rich food source for the worm farm and as the worms eat their way through the fermenting matter they are helping to make it even more nutrient-rich. The worm castings are mixed in with the bokashi compost, making it twice as fertile for use in the garden.
4. Enrich Your Compost Bin or Pile with Bokashi
If you don’t have a worm farm and have no available garden space to bury the pre-compost, just add it to a regular compost bin or pile. This may seem pointless, but the decomposing process is still much faster than doing it completely in the traditional composting manner. The pre-compost will be ready to use in the garden in one month along with the other decomposing organic matter that was already in the compost pile.
To use this compost, apply a 1/2 cup of the compost to 1-square foot of garden soil. This fertile organic soil conditioner can be used in containers, raised beds, or in-ground gardens.
5. Make Bokashi Compost Tea
Bokashi tea can be easily be made and used to water and feed your plants. In addition to making it from the leachate which you drain off while the bokashi is fermenting, you can make it from the pre-compost as well.
To make compost tea from the leachate, mix one TBSP of leachate per one gallon of water. You can then immediately use on either your potted or your in-ground plants
To make the tea from the pre-compost, mix one-third cup of bokashi compost into 1-gallon of water and let sit for 2-days. Add 1-teaspoon of blackstrap molasses to the tea and stir well, strain, and feed to plants by apply 1-cup to each plant. The compost tea can be used each time the plants are watered.
Compost is vital for healthy soil and plant production. It helps prevent soil compaction, promotes air and water circulation under the soil, adds nutrients to soil, and can transform barren or clay soils into healthy productive soil that can support plant life.
Compost also promotes the development of a bio-diverse sub-culture under the garden soil that will improve soil structure and fertility. Earthworms are attracted to compost and they will feed on the tiny food particles in the compost. As the earthworms tunnel their way under the garden soil feasting on the compost they leave behind nutrient-rich castings. The tunnels the earthworms create also promote good water drainage, air circulation, and loosen compacted soil so the plant roots can spread out further in search of food and moisture.
Bokashi composting gives you a way to accelerate your composting process and produce more of this vital ingredient for your garden. It also has the benefit of being able to break down organiz matter such as meat and dairy that you don’t want to put in your traditional compost pile. Give it a try and see what you think!
Making Your Own Bokashi Bran
To make a DIY bokashi bran to add to you will need the following:
- 4 tablespoons of EM (effective microorganisms). A prepared EM serum will ensure that it contains the needed lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, and photosynthetic bacteria.
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- 4 tablespoons of molasses
- 10 pounds of wheat bran
- 10 cups of water that does not contain chlorine. The chlorine will kill the EM. Allow tap water to sit for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate or use purified water.
- Large airtight container
Add molasses to water and stir until dissolved. Next, add the EM and stir. Place wheat bran in a large tub and mix in liquid with your hands. Mixing by hand will allow you to get the feel of the bokashi bran so it won’t become overly wet. The bran needs to be moist and crumbly.
Place bran in an airtight container, seal lid securely, and place in a warm location for 2-weeks. The bran is ready to use in a bokashi bucket at the end of 2-weeks and can be stored for up to 2-years in an airtight container.
Keep the container away from sunlight. If the DIY bokashi bran develops white mold on the top it’s still good to use. If green or black mold develops on the bran, that is not good and it must be discarded.