Jennifer is an environmentalist from Ohio. She is passionate about advocating for the planet and wildlife through gardening and education.
What is Bokashi Composting?
Bokashi is an alternative to traditional composting that allows you to turn kitchen waste into a valuable soil amendment for your garden. Though the process is often referred to as “bokashi composting,” it is actually a process of fermenting organic waste material using specialized microbes rather than composting. A bran powder inoculated with specific bacteria is added to kitchen waste in an air-tight container to begin the fermentation process. Once the bucket is filled and allowed to age for two weeks, the fermented pre-compost can then be added directly to the soil to add nutrients and improve soil texture, or it can be added to a traditional compost pile and allowed to finish breaking down.
Bokashi composting can be done indoors and can odorlessly process waste that usually isn’t added to regular compost piles, such as oily foods, cooked foods, bones, dairy, and meat. Because of these unique features, bokashi composting is ideal for people who live in apartments or who are unable to manage a regular compost pile. Bokashi composting can even be a beneficial addition for people who do have a traditional compost pile and/or a worm bin simply because there is virtually no limit to the types of organic waste that can be processed by bokashi.
How is Bokashi Composting Different from Traditional Composting Methods?
While traditional composting is an aerobic process that breaks down organic matter into humus, bokashi is an aerobic process that ferments organic matter such as kitchen waste. With bokashi, the kitchen scraps don’t decompose completely before being added to the soil. Instead, they are fermented using a special mix of bacteria.
How to Set Up a Bokashi Bucket
To get started with bokashi composting, you can either purchase a ready-to-use bokashi bucket or make your own. I bought an All Seasons Indoor Composter bokashi bucket kit that included the bucket and a bag of bokashi bran. You can also make your own by attaching a spigot to any air-tight bucket and adding a raised grate to the bottom of the bucket. You will also need a container to collect your kitchen scraps, which you will transfer to the bokashi bucket every few days. Once you have your supplies, getting started with bokashi composting is easy!
Step 1: Get the Bucket Ready
Make sure the spigot on your bokashi bin is closed tightly and place the bottom grate into the bucket. Sprinkle a thin layer of the bokashi bran across the grate at the bottom of the bin. It doesn’t have to be a thick layer; it just needs to cover the surface.
Step 2: Add Some Food Scraps
You are now ready to add your first batch of food scraps. Simply dump your collected kitchen waste into the bokashi bucket. Be sure to spread it evenly across the bottom surface. Sprinkle another layer of bokashi bran evenly over the food waste. Press down on the mixture to remove any trapped air. You can do this with a potato masher or just press down on a plastic bag on top of the waste with your hand. Some bins also come with a special tool to use for this purpose.
Step 3: Seal Out Air
Bokashi is an anaerobic process, so you want to be sure seal out as much air as possible away from the food waste material for the process to be effective. I use a plastic bag for this purpose (recently I’ve switched to biodegradable trash bags. I’m still experimenting with them to see if they are actually compostable in my home composting systems). After I squeeze out the excess air from the waste in step 2, I just leave the plastic bag on top of the waste, then seal up the bucket. When you put the lid back on the bokashi bucket, be sure it is tightly sealed. If it isn’t tightly sealed, air can get inside, which will cause the food waste to begin decomposing instead of fermenting. This will create horrible smells and lead to mold growth, which is not what you want for bokashi composting.
Step 4: Drain the Liquid
You will want to drain any liquid from the bucket every few days using the spigot at the bottom. This liquid is sometimes called “bokashi tea.” If too much liquid builds up inside the bucket, the microbes could drown, and the bucket could fail. The amount and color of the liquid depends on what contents you have added to your bokashi bucket.
The bokashi tea can be diluted with water and used as fertilizer. It can also be used as an excellent drain cleaner. To use as a drain cleaner, simply pour it down your clogged sink drain. It is completely safe for pipes and the microbes can even help the sewer system or septic tank. I’ve found that bokashi tea works better than commercial drain cleaner to remove difficult clogs.
Step 5: Repeat
Repeat the previous steps a couple times a week until your bokashi bucket is full.
Note: You may notice a white mold-like substance in the bin. This is totally normal and not a cause for concern. If you notice blue or green mold, however, it is a sign that something is wrong, and the bin is failing. You can try to add quite a bit more bokashi bran to fix it.
Step 6: Age the Bokashi Compost
Once the bucket is full, add one more layer of bokashi bran, then seal the bucket up. Set it aside for two weeks, while continuing to drain off excess liquid a couple times a week. Keep the bucket somewhere room-temperature that is out of direct sunlight. You may want to consider having two bokashi buckets so that you still have one to use while the first one is in the aging process.
Step 7: Bury the Bokashi Pre-Compost
Now it is time for the fun part. After aging your bokashi pre-compost for two weeks, it is time to bury it. You can either add it to your compost pile to finish decomposing or bury it directly in your garden. Don’t be alarmed if the contents don’t look much different from when you added them to the bucket. This is what is supposed to happen. Bokashi simply ferments your organic waste. It will finish its decomposition process after it is added to the soil or compost pile.
If you are burying it directly in the soil, wait at least two weeks before planting anything in this spot. Fresh bokashi pre-compost is very acidic, and it will burn the delicate roots of new plants. Give it time to work itself into the soil before planting.
Benefits of Bokashi Over Traditional Composting Methods
One of the biggest benefits of bokashi composting over traditional methods is that bokashi can process significantly more types of waste than other methods. Virtually any type of food scraps, including cheese and other dairy, cooked foods, processed foods, pasta, bones, skin, and meat, can be effectively recycled into a valuable soil amendment using this method.
Another benefit is that bokashi composting can be done inside your home, so you don’t need to empty your collection bucket outside.
If you are someone who isn’t comfortable handling worms, a bokashi bucket system may be a better indoor composting solution for you than a worm bin.
Bokashi also has the added benefit of releasing no greenhouse gasses as compared to regular compost pile decomposition.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Jennifer Wilber
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on August 20, 2021:
That's really useful to know. I used to have a compost bin in my last place and I learned so much about what you can put in it.