The Great Bokashi Composting Experiment
Several weeks ago, Kati posted her garden plan and introduced us to Bokashi composting. I was so intrigued that I researched it right away, and decided to give it a try.
My History With Composting
You may notice I’ve never written about composting before. Don’t be fooled–I have tried to compost! But I keep waiting to find the method that works well before I write about it. I’ve bought two different composting bins, but have not had much success.
My yard (1/5 acre) is too big–it produces more grass than the bins can hold. And yet it is not big enough–there’s no good spot to dump everything into a big composting pile. I tried adding my food scraps, but nothing seemed to decompose very quickly, and soon I gave up.
I’ve concluded composting takes a lot of work–without attending to it regularly (adding water, turning it), the decomposition process takes a long time. I certainly can’t make enough compost to fill my garden beds every spring–so is it worth it?
A New Way To Compost
Composting uses microorganisms to decompose food and yard waste, using air and water. Technically, Bokashi is actually a method of fermenting. The microorganisms break down and pickle the food waste. To keep things simple, I’m calling it Bokashi composting, even though this is somewhat of a misnomer.
Basically, you take all your food waste and put it in a bucket. Spread Bokashi mixture (made of wheat bran, water, molasses, and microorganisms) on top, and seal it up. Once the bucket is full, keep it sealed for 2 weeks, then bury it in the garden. After another two weeks, the food is fully decomposed and incorporated into the soil.
It is much faster than traditional composting, and has many benefits.
Reduces Food Waste
With our new eating habits, we eat so many vegetables, so I have been throwing away TONS of peels, seeds, cores, etc. In just 3 weeks I have filled a 6-gallon bucket. Technically, with Bokashi composting you can recycle ANY food, including cooked meat, cheese, eggs, leftovers, etc. I have chosen to start with just fruit and veggie scraps.
No Rotten Smells and Pests
Because the Bokashi system is sealed in an airtight bucket, there is no smell except when you open it to add more food. Even then, the smell is pickle-y, not rotten. Once it’s finished fermenting, it gets buried in the garden–so it never attracts flies, bugs, mice, or other animals.
Quick and Efficient
Under normal circumstances, food and yard waste will decompose completely in 12-18 months. Traditional composting can speed that process so it takes 3-4 months. Bokashi composting takes only 2 weeks in the bucket, and about 2 weeks in the ground.
Improves the Soil
The fermentation process breaks down the food waste, and then when it’s added to the garden the microbes in the soil decompose it completely within a short time (summer: 7-10 days; winter 20-30 days). Adding the Bokashi waste feeds the soil, helping everything from microorganisms to earthworms to plants.
Call me a wimp, but I HATE turning a compost pile every week. Inevitably I end up at the chiropractor, and sneezing from allergies. Bokashi composting is as easy as scraping scraps into the garbage can, sprinkling it with “sugar”, and then adding it to the garden. If this method proves effective, it definitely qualifies for the “Lazy man’s composting” award.
Bokashi Composting in 10 Easy Steps
I wanted to try this method, but I didn’t want to fork out tons of money for equipment, only to find it won’t work for me. So I scoured the internet for information, and made my own Bokashi system.
Step 1: Get a Bucket and a Lid
I’ve done a little food storage, so I actually had an empty bucket with Gamma Lid sitting around. It needs to be airtight, and these Gamma lids are awesome because they’re easy to open with one hand (while the other is clutching banana peels and onion skins).
Step 2: Get Bokashi Mix
Now, for most of these types of projects, I dive in and make everything. This was one that seemed smarter to just purchase. So I found a place online that sells it, and ordered a 6 month supply. Cost $36 (including shipping)
Step 3: (optional) Make a Drain
If you get fancy and buy a bucket, it will have a spout so you can pour out any liquid (which is a great fertilizer). Since I was going the super-cheap route, I made sort of a drain out of a Tupperware to keep the food raised above any liquid that might collect.
I put this in the bottom of the bucket, like so:
Step 4: Fill ‘er Up!
Every day I collect all my food scraps in a bowl, then toss them all into the bucket.
Step 5: Sprinkle With Bokashi Mix
I grab my bag of Bokashi mix (I transferred mine into a zip-lock baggie), and spread a handful or two of the mix on the food. The texture is like half-blended oatmeal, and it has no smell.
Step 6: Close It Up
I added an extra fancy thing at the top–I cut a piece of cardboard the same size as the bucket. This allows me to squish everything down and fit more in. Then I screw on the Gamma Lid.
Step 7: Repeat
Keep adding food and covering it with mix until the bucket is full. It’s best to store the bucket at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.
Step 8: Let It Sit
Once it’s full, let it sit for 2 weeks.
Step 9: Bury the Bokashi Waste
After two weeks, dig a hole in the garden and bury the waste. It’s best to place it in a fallow spot where you are not actively growing plants. The waste is not yet broken down enough for the plants to utilize the nutrients. The decomposition process takes up nutrients from the soil while it breaks down waste, and then releases nutrients back into the soil. It’s best to wait until the entire process is complete before planting seeds or plants.
During the summer time, the waste will be unrecognizable in 7-10 days. In the winter it might take 20-30 days. If the ground is frozen, you can dump the Bokashi waste into a plain bucket or a larger bin. If you can, toss some soil on top of it. Once the ground is soft enough to dig in, bury the Bokashi waste.
Step 10: Enjoy Your Garden
This method of “fertilizing” your garden is supposed to be fantastic. I am only on Step 7, so I can’t vouch for the results yet.
To Make or To Buy
If you’re like me, you look at a project and think “I could make that!” I think the Bokashi system I created will work fine for now, but I do plan to upgrade once I am sure this is a sustainable method for my family. Some things I noticed about the Bokashi Recycling system I found online that were difficult to copy:
- The plastic thicker and impermeable. These are not the same buckets you buy at Wal-Mart or Home Depot.
- I did not find a way to replicate the spigot.
- My makeshift drain at the bottom is not great, and I am unwilling to sacrifice more of my Tupperware!
- The cardboard at the top allows me to squish the food down, but it really doesn’t keep out any air.
So if it works, I’m going to invest the money in a system designed especially for Bokashi composting.
On the other hand, I purchased the Bokashi mix up front. It was ready to go, right out of the bag. Making Bokashi mix requires ordering special products (microorganisms), mixing, 2 weeks of fermenting, and spreading it out to dry(could I do that in the winter?). If we love this method then I think I would move toward making my own mix–it would probably be cheaper, especially since 1/3 of the cost is the shipping.
I am really excited to utilize this method during the upcoming gardening season. It allows me to recycle my food waste (score!) in a way that uses little space (double score!) and produces output that will benefit my garden (triple score!). The setup cost is comparable to traditional composting methods, and the maintenance costs are minimal.
Bokashi composting does not address the grass and yard waste we produce, but I throw away most of that anyway because it won’t fit into my compost pile. I think I might just bite the bullet and participate in our city’s green waste recycling program.
I’m planning to post updates with pictures and progress throughout the gardening season. Stay tuned!
For those of you who are interested, I have partnered with a manufacturer of Bokashi products. You can find Bokashi Recycling Systems and Bokashi Mix in my store.