We love hosting workshops and answering our Rotline calls to help our community resolve their composting questions. We especially love when we’re able to address multiple concerns with one simple solution. This is why we so often recommend the bokashi method, an effective technique for easier composting and better results. Whether you’re hearing about bokashi for the first time or have been wondering whether to try it yourself, we hope to inspire you to give it a try!
What is bokashi?
The word bokashi is borrowed from the Japanese language and refers to the fermentation of organic matter. Essentially, the bokashi method pairs food waste with “Effective Microorganisms,” typically a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeast that work together to ferment the food waste in an airless (anaerobic) environment.
The microbes are usually mixed and dried with the outer coating of a grain, such as wheat or rice bran. If you already compost, you may now be thinking, “But wait, doesn’t compost need access to air?” You’re absolutely right! While often called “bokashi composting,” it is helpful to think of it more as a kind of pre-composting, and in fact, bokashi serves the opposite purpose of preserving food waste.
This biological process is similar to that used for making sauerkraut or kombucha: microorganisms without access to oxygen consume sugars and produce acids; in this case, it’s lactic acid. The acid produced lowers the pH of the waste, preventing the growth of organisms that would normally come in and putrefy the food. However, only the sugars are consumed and much of the waste is left largely intact. The bokashi method uses fermenting microbes to prevent food waste from decomposing. Once the waste has been thoroughly fermented over 2-4 weeks, it can be added to a traditional compost pile as a green material, which is beneficial to you as a composter!
Why should I use bokashi?
Stockpile food waste and compost when you want. Since the bokashi method preserves your food waste, there’s no rush to add it to the pile before it begins putrefying and losing essential nitrogen. This means that bokashi works on your schedule! It can even be used alongside vermicomposting; if your worms aren’t hungry now, ferment your food and feed it to them later!
Maximize results and reduce composting time. In households where food waste is the only “green” compost ingredient and not much is produced at a time, it can be difficult to build up the volume needed to achieve a hot pile. But with bokashi, you can build up your store of greens until you have enough to build a hot compost pile. A hot pile will decompose much faster than a smaller, cooler pile and will kill weed seeds and pathogens along the way. Don’t worry; the acidity of the preserved waste will neutralize as it decomposes aerobically.
Compost ALL food waste. Most composters have heard to keep meat and dairy out of the compost bin; the microbes that tend to take these over can stink, attract pests, and may even be toxic. But exposing these wastes to bokashi organisms keeps the more problematic microbes at bay, allowing you to safely compost meat, bones, and dairy so you can divert even more waste!
Treat food waste with no bin, browns, or maintenance. An alternative method to composting bokashi waste traditionally is “trenching.” The fermented matter can simply be added to a trench or hole in the earth, buried under several inches of soil to deter pests, and left for 2-4 weeks to finish decomposing. Air within the soil, along with the tunnelling action of worms who are especially attracted to the bokashi waste, will allow your food waste to transform into a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
Want to learn more and see bokashi in action?
Attend our Backyard Composting and Intro to Bokashi workshop to learn how to get started using bokashi at home.
Join our Food Cycle program: Simply drop off your bokashi-treated waste using one of our buckets that we’ve assigned to you, and we’ll turn it into compost!
Volunteer at a Food Cycle work day to get hands-on experience turning fermented food waste into a useful soil amendment.