Bokashi is advertised as a fast, convenient process that allows you to convert kitchen scraps into nutrient rich soil in record time, without the mess and smells associated with traditional composting.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? What could be simpler than tossing everything into a bucket? Before you jump on that band wagon, however, let’s find out the truth about bokashi.
First, bokashi does not produce soil. Soil is made up of minerals (sand, silt, and clay), organic matter (dead bugs and plants), and spaces (micropores and macropores) that fill with water and gases. The mixture that comes out of a bokashi bucket is not soil. It is fermented versions of whatever went in. This mixture can be added to soil, but it does not create soil. More accurately, it is a soil amendment. Secondly, bokashi is not composting.
Traditional composting uses air, water, and microorganisms to decompose yard and kitchen waste. This makes composting an aerobic exercise. Traditional composting can be done in several different ways:
Many people feel that they do not have the space needed for composting. If you live in an apartment without a balcony, you’d be right. Otherwise, composting is nearly always an option. So, how is bokashi different from composting?
What is bokashi?
While composting is aerobic, bokashi is an anaerobic (without air) process. Instead of relying on the microorganisms already in the soil and air to cause decomposition, wheat bran is treated with specific yeast, fungi, and bacteria that cause the contents of the bucket to ferment. Without them, everything in the bucket would simply rot. Yuck! But, because bokashi is a fermentation process, this method can be used to break down meat and dairy products, which is not recommended for traditional composting, though it can be done.
How to bokashi
First, you buy a bokashi bucket. This will cost you $45 to $150 in today’s dollars, depending on where and how you shop. You can also make one for much less. A bokashi bucket has a raised floor, a tight fitting lid, and a spigot. Bokashi kits come with a bag of inoculated bran, also known as Effective Microbes (EM). Replacement bags of bokashi bran currently run about $6 a pound. You can also collect and raise your own microorganisms, but that task is beyond the scope of this blog.
To get started, sprinkle some of the bran on the floor of the bucket, add food scraps, sprinkle more bran, squish out as much air as possible, and put on the lid. Some people use a plastic bag on top of the mixture, to press the air out, while others use a plate. Advertisements claim that there are no smells, but that isn’t exactly true. Each time you open the bucket to add more material and sprinkle on more bran, you will smell it - a vinegary molasses bran smell. You continue this layering of waste and bran and pressing out air until the bucket is full. Then, you set the bucket aside for two or three weeks and let nature take its course.
Because this is a fermentation process, liquids are produced. You need to remove those liquids every few days, using the spigot., to reduce the chances of it going sour and smelling bad.. I’m not sure what I would do with this liquid. The material I found on the subject suggested using it to combat slime in drains and septic systems. Other sources claimed it was perfectly usable as a fertilizer, but some sites said to use it full strength, while others said to dilute it to 1/100th strength. Sorry, but I love my plants. I’m not going to risk them, trying to figure out which claim is accurate.
How to use bokashi mixture
After the fermentation process is complete, much of what is in the bucket will look like a pickled version of what it was when it first went in. Proponents of bokashi call this resulting mixture “pre-compost”, which must then be added to your compost pile or dug into the soil. Just be sure there are no plants nearby for another couple of weeks. This initial mixture is very acidic, with an average soil pH of 4.0, which can burn plant roots. Before you think this will be a way to acidify your soil, you need to understand that soil pH is very difficult to alter and that it would take A LOT of bokashi mixture to make a lasting change. The fermented mixture can also be added to your worm bin, if you are practicing vermiculture. I don’t know if it is safe for worms (or if it gets them drunk) but, aside from the meat and dairy, you could have added the raw materials to the worm bin in the first place and skipped the whole fermentation process.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I am not sold on the bokashi method. While it would be wonderful to simply drop all our trash in a bin that kicks out healthy soil, that mechanism does not yet exist. Making soil takes millions of years. You can certainly use bokashi to feed your soil, if you enjoy the process, but you can also raise worms, or just compost the old fashioned way.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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