Bokashi Composting Journey

 One of the benefits of curbside composting is that meat and dairy could also be diverted from the garbage can.  I don't know about you but my semi-vegetarian 4-year-olds(they make exceptions for bacon & sausage) make a LOT of meat and dairy trash.  I have been reading about the benefits of composting ALL waste the more committed I am to find a way to divert both plant and animal waste these as well.

The town is still looking into bringing compost cab into town as an option for residents but in the meantime, I've decided to give a new method of 'composting' a shot.  Composting is in quotes because it's actually fermenting and not traditional composting. Please see below for a step by step plan for Bokashi

A Step by Step Guide For a Simple Kitchen Compost
This kitchen compost method is an anaerobic process. Handling food waste this way is more popular in Asia, especially in Japan and Korea where people are open to anaerobic processes. After all, their staple food, rice, is grown in the low oxygen conditions of flooded paddies.

Bokashi composting efficiently handles all food wastes, even meats, and dairy, in as little as four weeks. It is a two-stage process. In stage one scraps are fermented or pickled. In stage two they are buried in a shallow hole or buried in your current compost bin or other backyard bin. This link will take you to an in-depth look at the pros and cons of bokashi composting.

At the end of many meals, one of the twins asks "does XXX save?" meaning they don't want to eat it but feel bad about wasting it.  Often it doesn't save but still, we put it in a Tupperware in the fridge where it decomposes slowly.  While we are working on reducing this we are excited that the food will be put to work making new soil in our backyard.
Getting Started with Bokashi Composting - What You Need

Bokashi - this is the fermented bran that you will layer between your food scrap deposits.
You can buy through eitherBokashiCycle or Teraganix for a reasonable price.
It is also available on Amazon
There are also recipes for making your own bokashi in 10 or 50 pound lots.

Buckets - ideally you want two buckets (5 gallon or 20 liter) with lids that seal well and a small drain that allows you to remove excess liquid as the food scraps ferment. You'll be removing the lids every day or so to add your scraps so you want to be able to get the lids off easily - a screw off lid is ideal. You can get away with a strong plastic bag at first if you can't get buckets.

Plate- a dinner plate will likely be a good fit for your bucket(it's the shiny green thing next to the bucket in that picture). This is used to protect fermenting materials from the air as you fill your bucket.

A Few Do's and Don'ts for Bokashi Composting
  • Do use enough bokashi bran. It's impossible to use too much bran in your system, but you can use too little. If you use too little your nose will let you know. Instead of the sour saurkraut smell of healthy bokashi, the bucket will really stink.
  • Don't add a vat of deep fryer fat. Bokashi composting can handle certain amounts of fats like fried food, cheese, and the salad dressing on your leftover salad but your deep fryer fat needs a different home.
  • Don't add food that has green or black mold. These molds may overwhelm the good microbes in bokashi. If the food has white mold it can be added.

Stage One - Pickling Your Kitchen Scraps

1. Place a small amount (a couple of spoonfuls) of bokashi into the bottom of the bucket. If you have no drainage, start with an inch or so of shredded
newspaper, then add the bokashi.

2. Add your first layer of food scraps. Cutting them into smaller bits, say an inch or so long, will help speed things along and keep air pockets from forming. You can add almost all food waste including cheese, meat, fish, salad with bits of dressing, eggs, eggshells, bones etc. Food with white mold can be added but leave food with green or black mold out.

3. Sprinkle a small amount, a tablespoon or so onto the top of the layer.

4. Press it down with the plate to eliminate the air.
Put a plate or some other barrier on top of the scraps to keep air out and put the lid back on the bucket.

5. Every other day or so drain off any excess liquid that has accumulated. You can pour this down the sink or toilet - it will improve your drains. You can also dilute it 100 to 1 and use the diluted liquid to water your plants.

Repeat. Remove your plate, add scraps, sprinkle with bokashi, press, apply plate and seal until your bucket is full. Let the full bucket sit sealed and undisturbed for 1-2 weeks or more. Keep removing excess liquid as it sits if you have a drainage system n your pail.
Just as pickled onions are still the same size and shape as onions, your pickled food scraps preserve their looks. In the compost, you are used to the material shrinks to half its size. Not so with bokashi composting. This means more carbon is sequestered, no greenhouse gases are produced and nutrients for your soil and plants are preserved.
Stage Two - Digging a Pit and Burying the Fermented Material
  • Dig a hole or trench about 8-12 inches 20-30 cm deep. This hole should not touch plant roots. Bokashi is quite acidic. It needs a couple of weeks in the soil to neutralize before plant roots are safe.
  • Pour the fermented bokashi bucket into the hole and mix with the soil. Cover with 6-8 inches 15-20 cm of soil.
  • Plant into the bokashi enriched soil 2-4 weeks after it has been buried.
This second stage can be a problem. What if you live in an apartment and don't have a garden you can dig a hole in to bury your bucket of pickled garbage. And what if the ground is frozen and you can't dig a pit. Or maybe you are a no dig gardener and just flat out don't believe in pits.
Pit Variations
  • Apartment dwellers can use a large planter to handle their waste. One person tested this using a 25 gallon planter so four parts soil to one part bokashi. He buried 8 buckets in the planter over the course of a year. I'm not sure whether he harvested the soil for other planter boxes after the 2 week burial period or not.
  • Winter makes stage two tough. You can plan ahead and have a hole or trench ready but it is also perfectly fine to store ferment outside. It's okay if it freezes. Bury it in the spring.
  • If you are a committed no dig gardener you can finish bokashi in a regular compost. It will actually improve your compost. Just use your compost as you normally do.
  • [edited to add: another option mentioned elsewhere is to get a sealable plastic tub and do ⅓ dirt ⅓ bokashi and ⅓ yard waste and then add to the garden.  Or it could be included in a regular composter]

There is an initial investment for Bokashi and it is recommended that users have two bins so that during the two week fermentation time they can fill up the other bin.