Monday, August 29, 2011

Bokashi, Oh my Gosh!

Fermentation is all the rage.  I am hearing fellow gardeners and foodies discussing lacto-fermented salsa, sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, kefir, les herbes salees...  The list goes on.  And, there are some serious health benefits with this method of preserving.  The claims range from reducing cholesterol to improving immune function and even fighting cancer.  A quick Google search on lacto-fermented foods will give you enough articles to keep you busy for a few days.  All good stuff.

I have decided to broaden our fermenting scope around here beyond my usual homemade yogurt.  But, I am not using it for preservation.  I am using it for decomposition.  See, I am still searching for that perfect composting system.  Bins are great.  Worms are great.  Piles are great.  But, I still have three big issues:
  1. Small hive beetle populations are known to be larger in bee yards that are in close proximity to compost.  I was warned about this over and over again by very experienced beekeepers.  And, I was encouraged to give up composting.  This I will not do.
  2. I am lazy about kitchen scraps.  I fully admit it.  I have a bin in my kitchen and the scraps end up sitting in there for days before I haul them out to the composter.  By the time I get around to it, it's a rubber glove event.  Frankly, it can be foul.  This becomes an even bigger issue in the winter due to the shorter days and cooler temps.  This means I have to trek out to the compost pile in the dark and in the cold.  Not likely.
  3. I have too many food scraps for the worms to get through.
The solution is simple, easy and oh so wonderful:  Bokashi

According to

"Bokashi means fermented organic matter in Japanese. Bokashi composting uses a selected group of microorganisms to anaerobically ferment organic waste. The microorganisms are applied using a impregnation carrier such as wheat bran. The fermentation process breaks the organic matter down in a process that is odor free. The process is very fast and usually takes less than two weeks. Once the fermentation has completed you can add the scraps to a worm bin or bury them directly in the soil. Since the process is done in a closed system you don't have to worry about insects and smells making it ideal for urban or business settings. Unlike more conventional composting systems bokashi systems can break down heavier items like meat, fish and cheese."

I have been using this system now for several weeks and I am happy to report that I am hooked.  I had my doubts about some of the claims, namely the claim that it would be odor-free.  (Especially once you smell the inoculant.  One whiff of that and you'll have your doubts, too.)  But, it's true.  In fact, my Mom was just here for a visit and she thought I had fashioned the buckets together to create a little sitting stool for myself in my kitchen.  She had no idea there's a week's worth of food scraps in those buckets.  Odor.  Free.

There are commercially made bins available for purchase to use in this system, but that's not really my style.  Why spend $50 when you can spend $10?  I set myself up with a bin for next to nothing and here's how you can do it, too:

These are the materials you will need:  two 5 gallon buckets and one lid.  Here, you see three 5 gallon buckets because I wanted to have an extra bucket on hand to start using when the first bucket became full.  I bought the buckets at Home Depot for under $3.  The lid was $1 or so.  If you don't care what color your buckets are or if you have a red kitchen, then you can buy recycled pickle buckets from Firehouse Subs for only $2 and the money goes to a good cause.  I care.  This thing is going to sit in my kitchen decomposing food scraps.  Call me petty, but I want it to at least blend

Turn one bucket over and and drill holes in the bottom of it.  I used a 1/8 inch drill bit and aimed for around 30 holes in an evenly spaced pattern.  I started in the center and worked my way out.  It took maybe 2 minutes.  This does not need to be precise for the system to work.  It can be completely random.  It really doesn't matter.  The evenly-spaced-pattern thing is just one of my hang-ups.  You don't have to make it one of yours.  At this point, you should have one 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled into it and one 5 gallon bucket with a solid bottom.

Now that you have drilled your holes, you are ready to use your bokashi composting system. First, you want to set the bucket with the holes in the bottom into the bucket with the solid bottom.  The goal is to create a reservoir to collect any liquids that leach from the decomposition process.  This liquid is good for a variety of uses including clearing and deodorizing clogged drains, feeding houseplants and activating regular compost among other things.  Now, based on some advice I read on the internet, I placed two coffee filters in the bottom of the inner bin to prevent food particles from falling into the drain holes and clogging them.  I am not 100% sure this is necessary, but it seemed like a good idea with sound reasoning and so I went with it. 

I then added a layer of shredded newspaper.  The idea here is to add an absorbent layer.  I forgot to do this the second time I started a bucket and have noticed no difference in either smell or amount of liquid leachate.  So, I would call this step optional.

Now, this is the step where this system goes from being an indoor waste bucket to a bokashi system.  The inoculant comes into play.  This is what makes bokashi bokashi.  This inoculant is made with bacteria, molasses and wheat bran.  If you perform a Google search for homemade bokashi recipes, you will get pages of hits.  Some recipes use shredded newspaper, some use wheat bran and others still use rice hulls.  I wanted to do this right the first time, so I bought this bokashi wheat bran made by Pro-kashi at Farmer D's for $14.00.  Going forward, I will make my own or buy directly from Pro-kashi for only $9.00.  Anyway, back to the directions.  You want to add a few tablespoons of bokashi inoculant on top of the shredded newspaper.

Now, add some food scraps and sprinkle more bokashi mix on top. Here's the great thing about bokashi- NOTHING is off limits.  Dairy?  It's fine.  Meat and bones?  Okay, too.  Oils and fats?  Toss 'em in.  We literally clear our dinner plates into the bin and call it a day.  A bokashi system reduces your household food wastes to zero. 

Put the tight fitting lid on your bucket and your system is complete and working.  At this point, you keep adding food scraps as you need to.  When you have a solid layer, you toss in a few more tablespoons of the bokashi inoculant.  When the bucket is full, you set it somewhere to let it decompose for 2 to 4 weeks.  Then, you can add it to a worm bin, bury it in the garden somewhere or add it to an existing compost pile where it will continue to break down even more.  Here's a great pictorial of the process -->click me!<--

As I mentioned earlier, I have been using this bokashi system for several weeks now and I don't think I will be stopping anytime soon.  It's so simple and convenient.  No more runs to the compost bin.  No more bins of rotting food scraps sitting on the kitchen counter stinking up the joint.  And, as an added benefit, I can take the buckets with me to the community garden where I have a plot and add my bokashi straight into my raised bed if I have an open space or am in between seasons.  It's portable like that.  Oh my gosh!  What else can I say? 


  1. I am in
    Can't wait
    I need worms in my bed
    I have a very strange life

  2. I'm 100% going to do this too.

  3. Good idea adding some shredded newspaper. It won’t only absorb the water from your bedding, but hold it for longer period as well.