Monday, December 3, 2018

Bokashi 101: Intro to Composting Wizardry


Guest Post by Randall Martinez

By now you’ve learned the basics of composting and maybe some readers even have a couple of worm bins. But, have you dared trying your hand at the wizardry of Bokashi?

It really is a quite simple premise and technique:

  1. Take all of your food scraps - No need to worry about sorting and separating foods, but you might want to avoid concentrations of highly fatty and salty foods.
  2. Layer them in an airtight container (a 5 gallon bucket works great) and inoculate with mixture of beneficial microbes for two or more weeks (anaerobic activity goes counter to what we’ve learned so far about compost.. but stick with me here - the food scraps will ferment , not go rancid).  
  3. After two weeks, bury the contents of the bucket in compost pile, bury in a hole or trench in the ground, or in flower pots/containers.
  4. After two more weeks in the earth with Mother Nature’s help, you will have ready to use compost - Magic? No. But it will feel that way.

You may be asking at this point, “why would I do all those extra steps? ” or “what the heck are beneficial microbes?”

Bokashi Bran full of beneficial microorganisms.


First, let’s discuss where Bokashi comes from:

Origin Story:
Bokashi comes from a Japanese method of fermenting organic wastes using beneficial microbes known as Effective Microorganisms (EM). Back in the 1960s an agricultural scientist, Dr Teruo Higa began experimenting with naturally occurring microbes in conjunction with natural farming methods to help relieve farmers of the stress of relying on expensive and harsh chemical treatments for their crops. By the 1980s, he had formulated what is considered an ideal combination of microorganisms to improve soil health - yeast, photosynthetic bacteria, and lactic acid bacteria. He named it EM1 and it is widely used as a soil conditioner. Today, more applications have been discovered, including the bokashi method of fermentation.

Now, for your answers:
  • It’s a very low maintenance process. No turning piles, no carbon to nitrogen ratios to worry about, no moisture monitoring, and by fermenting (aka pickling) the food scraps, you speed up the breakdown process of the food - delivering a nutrient-rich compost to your garden faster (approximately 4 weeks from table to garden)
  • By increasing the variety of foods you can safely compost, you have little to no food waste for the trash.
  • You can actually do this indoors - it’s great for apartment living or homes with little access to large gardens or compost piles. You just need space for a 5 gallon bucket.
  • With an airtight lid in place there is no odor present, and when the lid is removed to add more food scraps, it will smell fermented - not rancid.
  • The beneficial microbes are combination of microorganisms that work symbiotically to ferment the food waste. These may be cultivated in your kitchen with an easy to follow recipe, or purchased online.
All you need to start a Bokashi system of your own.



I have found that using Bokashi in my composting toolbox has been an effective way to eliminate all food waste from my household and deliver amazing soil all year long. There are a few simple rules to follow, but beyond that - the limits to how creatively you wear your own wizard’s hat is up to you.

Be on the lookout for Bokashi 102: Recipes and methods for the DIY wizards