Bokashi Composting 101 – Kitchen Waste to Garden Gold!

Bokashi composting is sometimes referred to as fermented composting or bokashi fermentation. The word “bokashi” comes from spoken Japanese and means “fermented organic matter.” 

The origin of where the practice comes from lies in the traditional natural farming method used in Korea and a discovery made by Dr. Teruo Hiya (professor at the University of Ryukyus in Okinawa) from Japan in the 1980s.

Today, Bokashi composting has made its mark in 120 countries around the world. You can buy complete kits online or from many garden centers. 

Composting waste is not only great to use in the garden, but it also takes food waste and recycles it. 

If you consider that up to 40% of food bought in the U.S. is wasted, having the option to reuse it in your garden is great for the environment. 

By adding nutrients to the soil, it encourages healthy root growth, and it also helps to hold moisture in the soil, both of which minimize wind and water erosion. 

Imagine how much good could come if even a quarter of the food waste in the U.S. and around the world reused in beneficial ways? 

Anyway, it’s great you want to know more about this method, so let’s jump in.

What Is Bokashi Composting?

Bokashi composting is a food waste process that is a composting system. It involves fermenting organic matter, and the byproduct is very nutritious for plants and gardens.

It works slightly differently from the regular composting method. It doesn’t take much to get started, though, and has significant benefits.

How Does Bokashi Composting Work?

In the simplest of terms, the bokashi composting process works by putting food waste in an airtight bin with bran and micro-organisms and letting it ferment over two weeks. 

The composting process completed by burying the material in the soil for an additional two weeks.

If you want to get a little more technical, this is what happens throughout the process:

  1. Food matter is layered with a bran mixture treated with Lactobacilli (lactic acid bacteria). This converts some of the carbohydrates in the food waste to lactic acid by producing chemical changes in the organic substrates. This is where the fermentation begins.
  2. An airtight bin/composter is used so that it can ferment anaerobically (without the presence of oxygen) for a couple of weeks. 
  3. While waiting for this fermentation process to occur, the liquid that forms at the bottom has to be drained off every couple of days or so. This is to prevent the reservoir at the bottom of the bin from becoming too wet. This liquid is often referred to as bokashi “tea” or “juice.”
  4. The material (pre-compost) inside the bin can then be mixed into the ground buried under the soil. By removing it from the bin and exposing it to air, the lactic acid in the mixture oxidizes to pyruvate. 
  5. This oxidized preserve will then be consumed by different life in the soil and usually takes just a few weeks to disappear under normal temperatures and conditions.  

What’s Needed For A Bokashi Composting System?

There are two ways that you can go about bokashi composting: 

  1. Buy a complete kit
  2. Make a bokashi system yourself.

Obviously, it’s going to be easier if you buy a kit because you’ll have everything you need, it’s great for beginners, and you’ll be able to start quicker. 

If you’re the type that gets joy from doing projects yourself, I’ve included some DIY Bokashi system instructions for you below. 

What Comes In A Bokashi Kit?

The contents of a kit vary from brand to brand and how much you’re willing to pay.

The most important piece of the kit is the special bokashi composting bin. You want to make sure the kit you choose includes a spigot at the bottom of the bin so you can easily drain the bokashi tea throughout the fermentation process.

The other important item you will receive is bokashi bran that has been treated with Lactobacilli.

Here is one of the most popular bokashi kits:

Check Price On Amazon 

What You’ll Need To Start Your Own Bokashi Setup

Apart from a little patience and DIY know-how, you’re going to need to make yourself an airtight composting bin. The first thing you should do is look for a bucket that comes with an airtight lid.

Next, you need to make your bokashi bran mix (or you could just buy a mix premade like this one).

If you’re up for making your own bran mix from scratch, here’s a simple recipe:

  • one tablespoon of molasses
  • roughly one cup of warm water
  • one tablespoon of EM-1 (effective micro-organisms). 

See, not too difficult.

What Can/Can’t You Put In A Bokashi Bin?

One of the best things about a bokashi bin is you can add all of your kitchen and food scraps. 

The only things you can’t put in a bokashi bin are moldy or rotten food and excess liquids.

This means you can compost all of your scraps, including:

  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • bones
  • meat
  • bread
  • and dairy products, including eggshells. 

It can even break down compostable plastics such as some plastic spoons.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to compost plastics, though, because they will likely take much longer to break down, AND they won’t add any nutritional value to your soil.

The reason you can’t put in moldy or rotten food is it may turn everything in your bin bad, leading to blue/green mold. 

A couple of pieces here and there are probably fine but try not to make adding moldy food a habit.

An excessive amount of liquid shouldn’t be added either. That’s because too much of it will stop the good bacteria from thriving and could also turn your bin bad. 

How Do You Use Bokashi Compost In Your Garden

While it takes two weeks to produce the pre-compost, you should wait another two weeks after this before you incorporate it into the soil if it’s near plant roots. 

After the initial fermentation period, the material in the bin is still acidic, but you can go ahead and add it to your compost pile, mix it with soil away from plant life, or leave it another two weeks. 

Alternatively, you can add this fermented material to your vermicomposting worms if you have some. Even though it’s acidic, they don’t mind it or react to it negatively. 

The liquid byproduct I talked about earlier makes an excellent fertilizer for trees, plants, and flowers, and you can feed this to them by diluting it with water first (1:100 ratio). 

It’s a much better alternative than chemical fertilizers and is better for the environment because runoff from chemical fertilizers is known to cause algae blooms in lakes and oceans, which change the coastal ecosystem. 

Bokashi Composting vs. Regular Composting

So, what’s the difference between bokashi composting vs. regular composting?

The main difference is that bokashi composting is anaerobic (without air) and ferments the organic matter, whereas regular composting breaks it down using an aerobic (with air) process. 

This gives the bokashi process many benefits over regular composting. 

One of its main advantages is you can add animal products (including meat, bones, and dairy) whereas you can’t to a regular compost bin.

Another benefit that bokashi composting provides is that the bin can be kept indoors. Since it is in an airtight bin, it shouldn’t smell (as long as you’ve followed all of the instructions correctly!).