FAQ about Bokashi composting
I'm a little confused...
Q. Bokashi is made with wheat bran, molasses, and EM•1®. What is in EM•1®?
A. EM•1® is the abbreviation of Effective Microorganisms, originated by Dr. Teruo Higa. It's a mixed microbial culture of selected species of microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, photosynthetic bacteria and actinomycetes. All of these are mutually compatible and coexist in liquid culture. When applied to soil as an inoculant, these microorganisms function cooperatively to exert beneficial effects on soil quality, enhancing plant growth and protection.
Q. What is the difference between bokashi bucket composting and bokashi bin composting?
A. In bucket composting you ferment/pickle your food waste in a bucket before you add it to the compost bin. The fermentation process takes about 2 weeks in an airtight bucket, then you can add it to the bin. With bucket composting you can compost ALL food waste - meat, oils, dairy.
In bokashi bin composting, you take your food waste directly to your compost bin, without going through the process of fermentation first. Add it to your bin, add bokashi, and be sure to cover it. It is a little slower process, and you won't want to compost meat, fish, dairy, or heavy oils.
Q. In bokashi bucket composting, what happens in the bucket?
A. The food wastes supply nutrients that feed the microbes in the bokashi. As the food wastes ferment, the microbes produce a variety of beneficial substances. Some of these substances include enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, trace minerals, some plant hormones, and organic acids. The pickling process controls pathogens and damages seeds in the container.
Worms, insects, and other beneficial microbes finish the process of digestion after the contents are added to the soil. The result over a couple of weeks is increased microbe populations and bio-available nutrients supplied to plants growing in the area.
Q. How much bokashi should I use to do bucket composting?
A. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup bokashi on the bottom of the bucket. Add 1-2 T. bokashi to every 2" of food waste. After adding bokashi, press down on food waste to eliminate oxygen. Keep the bucket tightly sealed except when adding food waste. It's important to create an anaerobic system for fermentation. When bucket is 3/4 full, add another 1/2 cup bokashi, seal tightly and store in a dark location for 2 weeks while food waste ferments.
When you are adding meat, fish, dairy, oils to your bokashi bucket, use 2x as much bokashi. These foods break down more slowly, and you will need more bokashi to hasten the process.
If there is a lot of liquid produced in the bucket, add something to soak it up: bread, paper (nothing with colored inks), or more bokashi. You can also siphon it out if you wish. If the liquid starts to smell, simply add some sugar to increase the microbial activity.
Q. With bucket composting, what foods can I compost?
A. All food wastes can go into your bucket, including meats and dairy products, cooked and raw. Just be sure not to add too much liquid, keep the container airtight when it is not being filled, and to use enough bokashi to ensure the materials are fully pickled.
Q. How about shells, coffee grounds, egg shells, and large garbage?
A. Shells such as clams are not decomposed in the soil. Crush them, then add to the bucket, and minute levels of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals will be released. Coffee grounds are good for the compost. Egg shells will decompose faster if crushed.
Large pieces of food should be broken down into small pieces to hasten the fermentation process. Be sure to expose seeds of an item (such as cantaloupe) when adding to the bucket. Fermentation will ensure that the seeds will not sprout in your compost later!
Q. Why is the odor of food waste removed when treated with bokashi?
A. There are 2 types of decomposition: putrefaction and fermemtation. Putrid odor comes from the putrefaction process; not from the fermentation process. In the bokashi compost process, fermentation is taking place. This is like making wine. When yeast is added to grapes, grapes ferment, decompose, and become wine. Yeast, lactobacillus and other beneficial bacteria in bokashi ferment the kitchen garbage; therefore, bokashi compost smells sour like pickles, instead.
Q. What are some tips to avoid food waste putrefaction?
A. The important thing is to maintain an anaerobic state because garbage is anaerobically fermented. Select an airtight bucket. Remove excess water from the food waste before putting it in your bucket. Push down on the food waste to remove oxygen. Be sure to add enough bokashi. When "fermenting" meat, fish, dairy and oils, use extra bokashi, as these items take longer to break down.
If it starts to "stink", sprinkle a couple tablespoons of sugar on your food waste. That should kick start the microbes and stop putrefaction.
Q. It stinks!
A. But does it smell like pickles? The "pickle" or acid smell can be strong and bother some people, but if that's the smell you have, the procedure is successful. If the odor is really foul, you may have too much liquid in the bucket. Drain the liquid (garbage juice), which tends to "sour" easily, and add about 1/4 cup sugar to the food waste, which will ignite the microbes. If it has black or blue mold, take it out to your yard and bury it with some extra bokashi and a little sugar - it will still feed your plants. Then start over.
Q. I have white mold in my bokashi composting bucket. Is something wrong?
A. As long as the mold is white, it's OK. The appearance of white mold is a result of breeding filamentous bacteria in bokashi. You may also see white mold when you are converting fermented food waste into soil in your "soil factory". No problem.
If the mold is black or blue, and smells terrible, take the garbage out, bury it with extra bokashi and some sugar, and it will turn into dirt. You can plant on it in about a month. Clean your bucket and start over.
Q. The color and shape of the bokashi'd garbage does not change very much. Has it failed?
A. The color and shape does not change in an airtight bucket because the food waste is fermented anaerobically. When it is added into the soil, it will transform into "good dirt"
Q. I don't have very much food waste and a large bucket. Is there too much air?
A. You want to maintain an anaerobic condition as much as possible. A few solutions:
1. Get an old pan lid that will fit inside your bucket and keep that on top of your food waste, pushing down to reduce oxygen.
2. Put a plastic bag over the food waste inside the bucket, which will help it stay anaerobic as the bucket fills.
3. Break large items into small pieces which will help reduce airflow.
Q. Is there something I can do with the liquid I drain off my fermenting food waste?
A. We call this "garbage juice" and yes, there are many things you can do with it. It is fermented liquid and highly nutritious, but very strong. Full strength, you can pour it into your toilet or down a drain to clean and unclog drain pipes; pour it into a pond to clean up algae. To make a spray for flowers or vegetables, dilute it (1tsp to 2 cups water) and use it within a day, because it will turn sour quickly.
Q. What can I do with my fermented food waste after the 2-week fermentation time?
A. Here are some options:
1. Bury the contents of the bucket in a hole or trench about 8-12 inches deep. Use the soil that was removed to cover the fermented food waste. You can plant seeds in the soil immediately after filling the hole. Wait 1-2 weeks before planting transplants.
2. Fermented food waste can also be added around established plants throughout the year without causing any damage to the plants.
3. Add it to an existing compost pile. Just dig in the pile, empty the bucket, and cover fermented food waste with compost materials.
4. You can make your own "soil factory" in a storage tub: put some good soil on the bottom, add a layer of well-drained fermented food waste, mix well. Cover with a layer of soil and flatten. Cover with plastic or a lid to keep it from getting wet. After about 30 days, it's ready for use as "good dirt".
Q. I want to compost my garden's weeds. Will this work in a bokashi compost bin?
A. The fermentation process in a bokashi cold compost bin creates a very high acidic environment, which will kill both pathogens and weed seeds. In a traditional hot composting system, it's the heat which kills the weed seeds, but there is less heat in a bokashi bin. It's important to create an anaerobic environment in which the bokashi can work as a fermenter in your bin.
If you are adding bokashi to your existing bin and using it simply as a compost accelerant, and not creating an anaerobic system, then it would be best not to add weeds to your bin. Put them in the garbage, or burn them.
See this chart for a comparison. Chart was compiled by Rita Forner Schulte of Columbus, another mad scientist gardener who experiments and uses bokashi in composting and growing.
Q. I've heard a lot about compost tea, but don't really understand how to make it or what it does. Help!
A. You can make your own compost tea once you have made good compost using any method - preferably the bokashi method, which makes very high-nutrient compost. Compost tea feeds your soil, which in turn feeds your plants. It's not the fertilizers which feed your plants, it's the soil. When you put good nutrients into your soil, you will have healthy plants.
Here's a video direct from the creators of EM•1 ®, which is the microorganism-rich liquid that bokashi is made from. It's long, but will answer many questions:
Geoff Lawton, one of Australia's premier permaculture experts, explains how it is that organic waste material that has been sprayed with a toxin will still come out perfectly clean on the other end of the compost cycle, depending on the ratio of toxin to compost. In a non-industrial composting scenario - say there is yard waste that has been exposed, he says:
"All the life- potentially 50 million genus of bacteria and 50 million genus of fungi lock up the toxins to the carbon molecule - and it becomes inert."
Learn about this marvel of earth's healing ability in this two minute video!
Still have questions? Write an email to Captain Compost and he'll answer you!