What is Bokashi?
Bokashi is a virtually smell-free way of creating a soil conditioner via fermentation (or pickling) of organic waste by micro-organisms in an anaerobic environment.
How Does it Work?
It’s really very simple. Here’s the two-step process:
Save up your waste in an airtight container and add the bokashi mix layer by layer. Each layer of organic waste needs a sprinkle of the mix on top. The micro-organisms will ferment or pickle the waste.
Bury the processed waste underneath soil and let the traditional composting cycle take over.
You can put most ANYTHING in your bokashi bins. All forms of organic waste including fruit and vegetable waste, yard waste, egg shells, paper towels, coffee grounds and filters.
Even small amounts of meat, bones, or grease (traditional composting and vermicomposting no-no’s) are acceptable.
Because the waste has been preprocessed – Step Two is a shorter step than in traditional yard composting. Perhaps more importantly, the smell is significantly less so you’re less likely to attract yard buddies who want to eat your old garbage. Truthfully – I think the smell is nice.
So What’s This Bokashi Mix Stuff?
This type of composting only works with the aid of the fabulous bokashi mix. The mix is concocted all kinds of different ways, but the most common elements are wheat bran, molasses, and the fabulous micro-organisms. The mixture is combined and then dried so it has quite a shelf-life (the consensus seems to be about 2 years if kept dry).
I didn’t make my own for this initial experiment, but bought some (see above). In the future, I’d like to try making my own!
How I Made My Containers
I initially thought of purchasing a pre-made system, but when I realized just how much some of them cost (upwards of $100), I changed my mind. I did some surfing around and discovered the basic requirements of a bokashi system.
Usually you’ll want 2 bins – one to actively fill while the other ferments undisturbed. It must be airtight and have drainage (sounds like it is a pretty wet process).
Several websites I stumbled across mentioned using old bulk food containers (you know the big plastic buckets that foodstuffs come in at restaurants?) This made me think of the all-purpose buckets at home improvement centers.
Why not experiment? Those containers run about $3-4 each and if you stack one on top of the other to serve as a drainage bucket – you’d need only four. At $16 plus an extra $2 for two lids – that’s a great price!
Here’s a step-by-step walk-through of how I set up my containers:
Gather up the following supplies:
- 4 of those large all-purpose buckets that you can buy at home improvement stores
- 2 lids for those same buckets (they usually are sold separately from the buckets)
- drill (or something else to drill holes in the bottom of two of the buckets)
- some screen material (I used the leftovers from my worm bin)
- bokashi mix (buy some or make your own)
Drill multiple holes in the bottom of two of the four buckets (this is for drainage).
Put a piece of screen on the ground and use the bottom of the bucket to trace the shape.
Cut the screen out using the line you just created as your guide. It should fit perfectly in the bottom of your bucket.
Fit the screen into the bottom of your bucket.
Put your bin with holes inside your bin without holes (the bottom bin will be your liquid-collection unit). Then sprinkle some of the mix on top of your screen.
Add some of your collected waste and then liberally sprinkle more of the mix on top (this shot was taken before I knew the “liberally” part.) Seal it up and you’re fermenting!
My Learning Notes
I’m learning while I go so I thought I’d share what I’ve picked up at this early stage (also promise to update with more info as I go further down this path.)
- It’s best to leave your fermenting waste as air-free as possible. My brother-in-law (with a household of 2 people) saves up his food waste for a week and then adds it to his bin along with a fresh layer of bokashi. I tried that for a few days, but discovered that with our household of 5, it’s just too deep a layer. So I’ve opted to save up a few days worth at a time before adding it to my active bin.
- Be liberal with your mix. The more saturated the waste is, the faster it seems to ferment/pickle.
- Avoid extreme temperatures. Bokashi is a “hot” compost type item, but it likes temperatures that are not Arizona summer weather worthy (i.e. keep it under 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Kitchen cupboards/pantry or laundry room/mud room seem ideal.
- Rotate your bins. Use Bin #2 when Bin #1 is full. After 7-10 days (depending on climate – hotter climates seem to speed the process), your Bin #1 is ready to be buried and freed up for more waste.
- The finished product (from Step One) comes out looking like it did when it went in – this is normal! It will not look like worm castings (think black rich soil) – that will happen after you bury it in soil.
I’m pretty excited about this experiment. I’m also planning on feeding some of the waste to my worms. It’s like double-composting!