What is Bokashi Composting?

Learn the technique of Bokashi composting and how you can try it at home.

Compost Bin

Compost Bin

Woman holding a container of kitchen fruit and vegetable waste for transporting to the outside compost.

Photo by: © iStockphoto/lucentius

© iStockphoto/lucentius

Most popular composting techniques promote oxygen-loving aerobic bacteria to decompose ingredients in the compost bin. Composters are instructed to keep aerobic bacteria happy by turning piles regularly, avoiding overwatering, keeping an eye on carbon-to-nitrogen ratios and avoiding dairy products.

Bokashi composting is an alternative method that uses anaerobic bacteria that work hard in the absence of oxygen. Bokashi composting does not require turning or ratio monitoring, and makes use of kitchen scraps that may be banned from the normal bin, such as dairy, meats and oils. 

Bokashi composting tends to be on a smaller scale than traditional home composting. Many composters who use Bokashi methods at home tend to use this technique to handle kitchen waste while continuing traditional composting to process landscape waste. 

To get started with Bokashi composting, you’ll need:

1. A suitable bin or bucket with a tightly fitted lid to contain your compost. There are buckets custom built for Bokashi composting that have a platform to lift food waste above any liquid that may accumulate in the bottom of the bucket and a spigot to drain excess fluids. Although these can be pricey, they are designed for convenience. 

You can make your own bin by repurposing an old plastic pickle or kitty litter bucket. Spigot nozzles and washers can be purchased from most hardware or box stores. Insert the spigot in the side of the bin near the bottom of the bucket.

2. Anaerobic inoculant to introduce the bacteria needed to decompose your kitchen scraps. There are some recipes for making your own inoculants, but it would be a good idea for first-timers to invest in a professionally made product like Bokashi bran. The bacteria needed for Bokashi composting tend to create fewer foul odors than other anaerobic bacteria, but if you’re used to traditional composting it may be difficult to identify whether or not the right bacteria are working in your bin.

3. Kitchen scraps, including products with meat, dairy and oil, will eventually become the finished Bokashi compost. Each time you make a contribution from the kitchen, be sure to add a generous layer of anaerobic inoculant and compress the materials. Remember, anaerobic bacteria work in conditions without oxygen. It may help to use a plate or other flat surface to press the materials down in the bin.

Counter Top Compost Bin

Green Stoneware Compost Crock

This attractive crock, made of green and tan glazed ceramic, has a ventilated lid that uses an activated charcoal filter to help control odors. Run the crock through your dishwasher when it’s time for a clean up. It holds up to a gallon of kitchen scraps and stands 9-1/4 inches tall.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Gardener's Supply Company

Image courtesy of Gardener's Supply Company

Liquids need to be drawn from the bin every other day. When heavily diluted with water, this liquid byproduct can be used to fertilize plants growing in the garden. Some sources say that the undiluted liquid can help clean pipes when poured down a drain.

The first phase of composting should be complete within two weeks. The product at this stage can be very acidic and will actually damage plant roots. The second step of the Bokashi process allows the compost time to cure before it can be used in the garden. Pre-compost can be cured by burying somewhere in the garden away from plant roots. After two weeks or more, you can plant directly above the plot or dig up the finished Bokashi compost to use elsewhere.

If you have limited space available or if the ground is frozen, pre-compost can be added to a traditional compost pile rather than burying. By then the anaerobic bacteria should have decomposed any oils, meats or dairy to levels that will be safe for traditional aerobic composting.

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