Compost, which has the nickname ‘black gold’ or ‘plant food’, is the most nutritious organic matter you can add to your garden. When waste is composted, it resembles something like dark, rich soil.
While fertilizer might benefit your plants in the short term, good old compost is the number one source of nutrients. Compost not only enriches the soil but also makes your plants resistant to nutrient deficiencies and pests.
All forms of compost contain beneficial microbes; these microscopic organisms add oxygen to the soil and turn food waste into organic materials that plants love.
The best part about composting, in general, is that it turns trash into treasure. In a world where resources are depleted quickly, compost is a way to recycle your kitchen waste and contribute to a better garden and planet as a whole!
Traditional Compost: Yay or Nay?
For centuries, farmers and gardeners have been using traditional composting to add nutrients to their soil. You know the one: the big, bulky compost bin filled with newspaper, leaves, and food.
Traditional composting is a very slow process. It can take months to turn food into compost, and in especially big compost heaps, it can take years.
In addition to that, traditional composting takes effort. There are several things to do for your compost pile, including finding the perfect balance of food scraps, turning and watering your compost heap, and making sure pests stay away.
A traditional compost pile is done out in the open, too. Whether you compost in cold or hot weather, traditional composting requires oxygen to decompose food waste and other types of material. That means there’s a bigger chance to attract pests, as well as the chance of foul odor coming from your compost heap.
But, what if we told you that there’s a much faster method, doesn’t smell, doesn’t attract pests, and is practically foolproof? Enter: the amazing bokashi compost.
Introducing: Bokashi Compost
If you’ve never heard of this process before, bokashi composting is an amazing method that turns food waste into organic matter much faster than traditional composting.
The name bokashi comes from the Japanese word for fermentation. When it was developed in the 1980s, it was discovered that the fermentation process can speed up composting from months to just weeks with anaerobic bacteria.
The key to this process is micro-organisms. Bokashi compost makes use of effective microorganisms (aka good bacteria) to process kitchen waste and food scraps. These micro-organisms are found in bokashi bran, where the microbes are inoculated (mixed in) with a carrier material that is placed on food waste.
Bokashi bran is chock full of good bacteria that allow micro-organisms to ferment the food when mixed in with food waste. This speeds up the breakdown process of food scraps entirely!
That’s why bokashi is famous for turning food scraps into compost in just two weeks. When bokashi is added to food waste, the microbes ferment the scraps at an extremely faster rate, compared to traditional composting.
The bokashi process is practically built on fermentation. Unlike traditional composting, which requires oxygen, bokashi is an anaerobic fermentation process that doesn’t need any oxygen at all.
Fermentation is found in the most common food: whether it’s Korean Kimchi, German Sauerkrat, or even beer, this process turns one type of food into something else entirely.
When the bokashi process begins, the microbes in the bokashi bran begin consuming kitchen scraps. The fermented food that comes out of it is broken down so quickly that it produces amazing nutrients for your garden when it’s mixed with soil.
This composting process brings worms and other beneficial organisms to your garden, making the soil healthy and optimal for plants and vegetables!
Though bokashi sounds like an intimidating process, it’s actually quite simple to make bokashi compost. There are a lot of benefits that come with it, too!
Benefits of Bokashi Compost
Time: Two Week Wait!
The biggest benefit of bokashi composting is really the saved time. While the traditional composting process can take months to create organic compost, bokashi can take just about 2 weeks from kitchen to soil.
If you’ve ever tried traditional composting, you would know how challenging it is to keep pests away. Food scraps tend to attract rodents, deer, and other bugs to your compost pile. With bokashi, though, this will never be a problem.
Because bokashi is an anaerobic process, you will be using air-tight containers that have zero smell! In fact, the smell of bokashi compost is sweet; if you hate the rotting scent of a compost pile, bokashi is definitely for you.
No Direct Sunlight
Unlike regular compost, bokashi doesn’t need heat. The bokashi fermentation process is generally done in the dark, and in cool areas, too.
With bokashi, ALL types of food scraps can be used in your compost. Yes, that includes kitchen waste like meat, bones, and even cardboard. All these kitchen scraps can be turned into fermented organic matter with little fuss.
Traditional composting usually requires a well-balanced ratio of brown and green (Nitrogen and Carbon). Bokashi compost, though, uses all types of kitchen waste.
Food Scraps To Fertilizer: Bokashi Tea
Even the byproducts of bokashi compost can be used for fertilizer. While bokashi composting takes a few weeks to finish, your compost pile will almost immediately produce a nutrient-rich liquid called bokashi tea (or leachate) that can be diluted for use in the garden.
Perfect for Small Spaces
There’s a reason that bokashi composting is extremely popular in apartments and small spaces: it’s a compact method.
A bokashi bucket is only about 5 gallons big. While you can definitely size up, a regular bokashi bucket can be filled up pretty quickly and can be kept right under your kitchen sink.
A regular composting pile often emits a foul odor because of the decomposition process; it really can smell like garbage. With bokashi, though, the beneficial microbes are known to have antibacterial effects!
The airtight seal in a fermented bokashi bucket produces organic materials that smell sweet and acidic, instead of putrid. This airtight seal is also what keeps pests and insects away.
The Bokashi Anaerobic Process: From Fermented Food to Fertilizer
Bokashi is an anaerobic process that makes use of micro-organisms to turn food waste into organic matter.
Most store-bought bokashi buckets make use of bokashi bran. This is regular wheat bran that is inoculated with effective microorganisms that will basically process the food scraps in the bokashi bin.
If you’ve reached this far, you may be wondering where to get your own bokashi system. Fortunately, bokashi buckets and bran are highly available at most nurseries and garden centers.
Online options are possible, too! Many websites carry complete bokashi bins and bucket sets. However, the downside of this is that bokashi systems can be quite expensive to maintain with constant bran refills.
If we told you that you could mix your own effective micro-organisms and make your own bokashi system, you might be surprised at how easy it is.
While a regular bokashi bin will cost around $50, and bokashi bran refills cost $25, we have a practically FREE method!
Before we show you how to make your own bokashi compost bin, you may be interested in knowing how exactly this process works.
How does Bokashi Composting Work?
If you’ve ever seen gardeners with buckets filled with food waste, they’re likely using a bokashi bucket to compost their kitchen scraps.
Bokashi composting generally occurs with only three ingredients:
A bokashi bucket (or an airtight container)
The Bokashi Process (Bokashi System Composting)
The process of producing bokashi compost is even simpler. These are the general instructions:
STEP 1: Fermentation
Collect food scraps or other types of compostable waste.
Add the bokashi bran to the bottom of your bucket or bin.
For every inch of food waste collected, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of bokashi bran. Do this as often as necessary, or until the bucket is full.
A regular bokashi bin has two layers: one where the food is kept, and another where the liquid byproduct is caught.
Every week, check if the bottom layer of your bin has liquid at the bottom. This liquid is bokashi tea or compost tea.
Drain the bokashi tea. (We’ll show you how to use this tea later on)
When the bucket is full, wait for two weeks until the fermentation process is complete.
The fermentation process is in full swing when microbes begin to colonize the food.
These microbes appear with a powdery, white mold-like appearance. This is a good sign that your bucket is working well.
STEP 2: Composting and Planting
After the 2 week wait, your fermented bokashi waste will be ready for the garden. This next step takes a total of two weeks, making the total bokashi system a 1 month-long project.
Take your fermented food waste out of the bokashi bucket.
Unlike traditional composting, which breaks down food completely, the bokashi system doesn’t change the appearance of food; all your food scraps will look the same, but the microbes have changed their chemical composition.
You will know that the food waste is fermented when it has white mold, and a sweet, pickled smell reminiscent of beer, yogurt, or any other fermented food.
Dig a few inches down your garden soil.
While bokashi generally keeps pests away due to its acidic scent, it’s best to keep the food waste at least 6 inches below the soil.
Wait 2 weeks more for the soil to break down the fermented organic matter even further.
It is necessary to wait for the soil to break down the food waste even further.
Soil with bokashi is highly acidic and can damage plant roots if used right away, so do not plant anything on your soil yet.
After two weeks, your soil is ready for planting. Congratulations, you’ve just finished the bokashi process! Just like that, you’ve got the organic matter for your plants in under a month.
When is my bokashi ready for transferring?
Your bucket is ready when the topmost part is covered with fluffy, white mold. This is good news! If you see any other colored mold, this means your bucket may have not worked out.
At the Bokashi Hacks portion below, we have the perfect solution for what to do next.
Now that you’ve seen the magic of bokashi over traditional composting, you might be interested in finding out how to make bokashi for yourself. This method is so cheap and easy that bokashi will be your favorite composting method ever!
To make your own bokashi bin, you will need the following:
(2) 5-gallon buckets with a cover (preferably large paint buckets or hardware buckets)
Dairy Milk (Full fat or skim)
Newspaper or Wheat Bran
If you noticed, these are materials that are readily available at home. At most, this method will only cost you $10 or less!
Making Your Bokashi Bucket
To make your own bokashi bucket, you’ll actually need two buckets. One will be used to catch the liquid byproduct (aka bokashi tea), while the other will be used to hold your food waste.
Take one bucket and drill several holes underneath it. Afterward, stack it on top of the other bucket and cover it, ensuring an airtight seal. That’s it! Your bucket is ready to go!
How To Make Bokashi Bran
To make your own bokashi bran, you will actually undergo a process of creating your own beneficial microbes. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds! This process is extremely easy to follow and will cost you next to nothing.
STEP 1: Beneficial Microbes
To make your microbes, take 1 cup of uncooked rice grains and mix it with 1 cup of water. Afterward, discard your rice and keep the water. This water is where the good stuff is: Beneficial lactobacillus bacteria will grow from here.
Store this rice water in a jar covered with cheesecloth for around 1 week in a cool, dark place out of direct sunlight. You’ll notice that the microbes will rise to the top and appear like foam. These are your effective microorganisms!
By the end of your week-long wait, the microbes will smell mildly sour; like beer.
NOTE: When choosing a jar, give enough headspace for the lactobacillus bacteria to expand. Fill up your jar up to only 50% with rice water. Discard your rice water if blue, black, or gray molds from inside it and start again.
STEP 2: Multiplying the Microbes (Lactobacillus Serum)
Bokashi relies heavily on the presence of microbes, so you will have to multiply them into a massive enough amount. Take the foam from your rice water and mix it into 1 quart (1 Liter) of dairy milk at a 1:10 ratio of rice water to milk.
Store this mix for 1 week; the milk will begin the fermentation process and multiply the microbes, forming lactobacillus serum.
NOTE: The usual ratio of rice water to dairy milk is 1:10. So, if you’ve taken 100mL of rice water, 1 quart will be more than enough.
STEP 3: Mixing Microbes With Molasses
You will know your mix from the previous step is ready when there’s a cheese-like, solid curd forming on top of your liquid mix.
Discard the curd and strain the mix. The remaining liquid is filled with microbes and is called a lactobacillus serum. It’s filled with anaerobic bacteria that you’ll use for your bokashi system.
Now, mix this serum with an equal amount of molasses at a 1:1 ratio. Afterward, add 6 parts of lukewarm water!
Ex. If you have 50mL of serum, add an equal amount of molasses (50mL). You will then mix it with 300mL of water.
And you’re done! You’ve made your own bokashi! Now, you can head over and make some bran!
STEP 4: Making Bokashi Bran
To make your own bokashi bran, you don’t actually need to use wheat bran. Even newspaper shreds work particularly well!
To do this, take your wheat bran or newspaper and submerge it in the bokashi liquid mix (the lactobacillus serum we made in the last step). The resulting product is an evenly moist (not wet!) bran. Leave this for two weeks in dark, cool conditions.
And you’re done! That’s the bokashi process in a nutshell. After making your bran, make sure to keep it in an airtight container and out of direct sunlight. It stores well for over a year in great conditions.
When using this bran for bokashi composting, follow the same instructions: add 1-3 tablespoons of your DIY bran for every inch of food waste.
Bokashi Hacks: Tips and Tricks
The bokashi composting system is worlds away from traditional composting, so if you’ve made the leap, congratulations!
If you’ve decided to implement the bokashi system in your life, we’re here to make it much easier for you. Below, we’re listing the best tips and tricks to maximize your bokashi compost pile!
Tip 1: What To Put In Your Bucket and How
When it comes to bokashi composting, all sorts of food scraps can be put in your bucket. But, certain food scraps require more bokashi bran.
While meat can definitely ferment well in your bucket, you’ll need to add more bran for effective fermentation. For every inch of meat, add 2 tablespoons of bran so that more bacteria can begin fermenting the meat much faster than it decomposes.
Bokashi works best when the microbes are fermenting fresh food. Any type of rotting food might produce a putrid scent in your bucket, so try to keep only fresh food scraps and vegetables in your bin. A tablespoon of bran per inch of fresh food in your pile is recommended.
Tip 2: Keep The Air Out!
With bokashi bins and buckets, keeping the environment free from oxygen is key. This allows for an effective fermenting process.
To keep your bokashi free from air, compress your layers of food waste as much as possible. This air-free environment keeps anaerobic bacteria at their best and allows them to ferment the food much faster, shortening the process from 2 weeks to up to just 10 days!
Tip 2: What to do with bokashi tea
Earlier, we mentioned that bokashi buckets produce a liquid run-off that you have to drain from your bucket every week. This liquid is filled with the nutrients from your food scrap pile, so don’t throw it away just yet!
If you want to give your garden soil a boost, compost tea is a great option. Dilute the bokashi tea with water at a 1:100 ratio. For a quart of water, 2 teaspoons of tea are recommended for the garden.
Use only a small amount of compost tea in your garden; this liquid is acidic and may harm tender plant roots if not diluted enough!
If you’re looking to get rid of weeds in the garden, this tea can definitely deliver. Add 2 tablespoons of tea to 1 quart (1 Liter) of water and drench your garden soil with it. The acidity of this tea kills the plant roots of even the most stubborn weeds.
Bokashi doesn’t just produce plant food, but it’s also a great natural cleaner. If you want to clean pipes or surfaces in your home, add the bokashi tea to water at a 1:100 ratio. Afterward, pour it down your sink! The tea helps to clean up waste and leaves no scent at all.
Tip 3: Failed Bokashi Bins
Once in a while, you might experience a bokashi bin with smelly organic matter. This is usually accompanied by black or blue mold and means your bokashi composting failed.
Fear not, this can definitely be rescued. For one, you can try adding more handfuls of bran to attempt to ferment the rotting food. Check back in a week to see if white mold begins growing, or if the putrid smell has gone.
If your bin still smells and looks rotten, you still have a shot at composting: Simply take out the contents of your bokashi composting pile and throw it into your traditional composting bin!
This way, you’ll still be able to use up the waste and produce regular compost. Win-win!
Tip 4: Bokashi as Worm Food
If you’d like to add even more nutrients to your bokashi pile, worms are a great option! Worms love to eat food and decompose it, so if you keep worms and worm bins in your garden, you can definitely feed them with fermented bokashi.
Worms produce waste known as worm castings. Mixed in with the bokashi composting method, this super-fuel natural fertilizer is great for the garden.