Bokashi: a Simple, Clean Way to Compost in Homes and Apartments
When I was a kid, composting was a two-step process. First, we piled food scraps in a tub under the sink and waited for them to get slimy and putrid enough to attract flies. Then we held our noses, carried the food scraps outside, and dumped them onto a rotting heap that served mostly as a buffet for the local rats.
Well folks, we’ve come a long way since then.
Bokashi composting is also a two-step system, but one that eliminates many of the usual drawbacks of home composting. It’s very simple: as you collect food scraps in a bucket, you add a special inoculation of effective microorganisms – bacteria and yeast – which immediately begin an anaerobic fermentation process and prime the scraps to become compost. A week after the bucket is full, the fermented scraps are ready to be buried in your garden or planter box, where soil microbes, earthworms, and other decomposers will complete the composting process in about 10 days. This system provides many advantages:
- Minimizes the smell in your compost bucket. There should only be a mild, “fermenty” smell.
- Robust enough to handle all food waste, including meat, dairy, eggshells, and crushed bone.
- No need for large bins or piles that sit for months. This means Bokashi compost can be used effectively in urban settings, with just the buckets and a couple of planter boxes.
- Food scraps are converted into mature compost in as little as two weeks.
- Inexpensive, especially if you can make your own Bokashi mix.
Bokashi systems are already in large-scale use in Japan. Effective microorganisms formulas have also found other applications as direct soil additives, kitty litter odor control agents, and even probiotic health drinks.
How to Make Bokashi
You will need:
- Two buckets, ideally with bottom spigots so you can drain liquid. Your choice of:
- DIY: use 5-gallon buckets or similar, with tight-fitting lids. Install a bottom spigot yourself, or just minimize how much liquid you put into it.
- Fancy: many retailers will sell you custom-built Bokashi buckets for $50-60 each.
- Bokashi mix. Your choice of:
- A garden, or planter box, to receive the Bokashi compost
How it works:
- Throw your kitchen scraps into the bucket. You can include cooked food, eggshells, meat, and just about everything. The smell should be minimal, so keep the bucket wherever is most convenient.
- After each layer of scraps (say 3-4 inches), sprinkle on a few handfuls of Bokashi. The microorganisms will be activated by the moisture in the food scraps, and begin fermentation immediately.
- Once the bucket is full, add a final layer of Bokashi and let the bucket sit, sealed, for at least 7 days so that the topmost layer can ferment. This is why you need two buckets – put the empty one in your kitchen while the full one stews.
- After the fermentation is complete, the compost must be buried 8-12 inches deep to complete its maturation process. You can bury it between rows in your garden, and the nearby plants will start to feed on it immediately. You can plant directly on top of the buried Bokashi compost after 10 days.
- Keep the lid of the bucket tightly sealed at all times to reduce oxygen circulation. This aids the anaerobic fermentation process.
- If your bucket has a spigot, drain the liquid out once every 48 hours. This “Bokashi tea” can be diluted 1-to-100 and used as liquid fertilizer in your garden. Or, pour it undiluted down a drain to clear scum build-up in your pipes.
- Bones can be broken down into highly nutritious bone meal, however they must be crushed prior to composting. If you put whole bones into your Bokashi bucket, they will turn to rubber, which is sort of fun but not as useful for your gardening. Use a hammer or similar tool to smash bones into small pieces before adding them to the bucket.
To read lots more, check out the blog on Bokashicycle.