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What Is Bokashi?
Bokashi is a type of composting in which you seal food scraps and organic waste in an airtight container, add a “bokashi bran,” and periodically drain off the liquid, until the food scraps are fermented and ready to be composted. The composting method was developed by Dr. Teruo Higa in the early 1980s, and is translated from the Japanese to mean “fading away.”
Bokashi is an anaerobic method which takes advantage of certain strains of bacteria that don’t need oxygen in order to thrive, as opposed to other forms of composting, which are aerobic and require open air to break down materials.
Technically speaking, the bokashi method is a form of fermentation rather than composting—while composting decomposes waste and results in matter ready to be added to a garden, bokashi ferments (or pickles) food and results in matter still too acidic to be added to plants. That’s why the final stage of bokashi composting is to add the bokashi matter to a compost bin or fallow spot in the garden. In short, bokashi is a way to quickly ferment food scraps so that they can be composted faster.
6 Benefits of Bokashi Composting
The bokashi system can be a great alternative to traditional composting methods, because it:
- Is much quicker than traditional composting. While traditional composting can take several months for food scraps to break down into usable matter, bokashi can take as little as one month—two weeks in the anaerobic container, and another two in a compost pile or a fallow patch of your garden.
- Gives off less odor. Traditional composting has a reputation for strong, bad smells—but bokashi gives off significantly less odor. This is because it is sealed away in an airtight container rather than exposed to the open air, and because the anaerobic fermenting process doesn’t give off foul odors the way traditional composting bacteria do.
- Requires less maintenance. Regular compost heaps require a little maintenance—whether it’s turning, watering, or monitoring what you put in. Bokashi is a much simpler process: simply place food scraps in the bucket and drain off liquid every few days.
- Takes up less space. If you’re living in an apartment or an area without a large backyard space, bokashi is a great choice for composting, since in its smallest form it can exist in a small bucket on your kitchen countertop.
- Allows you to compost dairy and meat products. While traditional composting recommends against adding meat or dairy products (either because the compost doesn’t reach high enough temperatures, or because it may attract unwanted pests or smells), bokashi’s anaerobic process can handle meat and dairy products.
- Produces a plant-nutritious liquid byproduct. To keep bokashi bacteria thriving, you’ll need to drain the liquid off of it every few days. Treat this “bokashi tea” liquid like a compost tea—it is a great source of nutrients for houseplants or herb gardens.
Bokashi Composting vs. Traditional Composting
While bokashi and traditional composting are both ways to break down organic matter into plant food, they differ in many of their requirements:
- Oxygen. Bokashi is an anaerobic process, which means that its bacteria prefer airtight environments to thrive; traditional composting is aerobic, requiring oxygen for its bacteria.
- Time. Bokashi is one of the fastest forms of composting, and it can take as little as one month for viable compost; traditional composting can take several months before the matter is ready for the garden.
- Maintenance. Bokashi requires much less maintenance than traditional composting. While bokashi requires only that you add organic materials to a bucket and then bury the fermented matter, traditional composting often involves watering, tilling, and other maintenance.
- Space. Bokashi composting can be done in a small bucket on a kitchen countertop and a small patch of land; traditional composting often requires more space and should be kept further away from your house, in order to avoid foul odors.
How to Bokashi Compost
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Ready to become a master bokashi composter? The bokashi process is one of the simplest forms of home composting:
- Obtain materials. Before you start your bokashi composting, you’ll need an airtight bucket with a drainage spout and some bokashi bran. The bucket (often called a “bokashi bucket” or “bokashi bin”) will help provide the right anaerobic environment and offer easy drainage, while the bran (fermented organic matter, also called “effective microorganisms” or “inoculants”) contains the beneficial microbes that will flourish in the bakashi environment and help break down the waste.
- Add scraps to the bucket. Add kitchen scraps to your bucket as you have them—whether it’s fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, egg shells, meat, or cheese. Other organic materials are also fine—like grass clippings, sawdust, or dead leaves.
- Add bokashi bran and squish down. Every time you add kitchen waste to the bucket, sprinkle them with a layer of bokashi bran and press them down firmly (using your hand, a plate, or a kitchen masher). Pressing will help push the air out of the matter and create the best anaerobic environment. After adding the bran and squishing down, replace the lid. Be sure to store the bucket outside of direct sunlight.
- Continue adding food scraps until the bucket is full. Every time you add food scraps, continue layering with more bokashi bran, and press the pile down.
- Drain liquid off. The fermentation process will produce excess liquid that can hamper the beneficial bacteria. Every other day, use the spigot to drain off excess liquid. This liquid can be diluted as fertilizer for houseplants.
- After two weeks, bury in a fallow spot of your garden. After two weeks, the matter should be properly fermented—it should feel soft and smell slightly sour. In this state, it is still too acidic for plant roots; it needs a little extra time to go through the true composting process. Bury the fermented food waste in a bare spot of your garden to allow it to decompose, or add it to your composting bins or worm bin.
- Add to your garden soil. Within two weeks of beginning to compost, your fermented bokashi compost should be ready to feed plants. If you buried it in your garden, plant over the top of it. If you added it to your compost pile, mix it in to your garden bed.
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