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Bokashi Composting

BokashiI used to think I couldn’t be bothered with bokashi. After all, between my six chickens, a worm bin on the deck, and a two-bin garden compost out back, there really wasn’t any kitchen scraps left to dispose of.

Well… the chickens have all gone to chicken heaven; the worms died after I mistakenly put wet cat litter in their bin (I guess they couldn’t handle the ammonia, poor things, I still feel guilty); and unfortunately the rats have discovered my garden compost bins so I’m currently sending my kitchen waste away with the municipal organics collection system.

While this is far better than the landfill, it does mean extra trucks on the road, emissions from transportation, and energy spent on building and managing large centralized composting facilities. Isn’t there another way? There is: Bokashi composting!

This method takes relatively short time and does not require a big compost bin. It is well suited for an apartment or balcony. Kitchen scraps are fermented in a sealed bucket with the help of bran infused with EM (effective microorganisms), called bokashi. Because the scraps are essentially pickled, there is neither odour nor insects, and virtually no limit to what can go in the bucket: You can compost all vegetable and fruit materials including citrus, as well as raw or cooked food, and even dairy, fish, meat, and bones.

How do you get started? Get a plastic bucket with a tight fitting lid and some EM infused bokashi bran. Layer bran and food wastes until the bucket is full, then let this sit for a couple of weeks with the lid on tight. Voila, the wastes have been pre-digested by the EM and are ready for their final resting spot in the earth.

Then what? The fermented material can be buried in the garden and will continue to decompose underground, while creating a nutritious depot of organic matter in the soil. You can plant the spot as early as two weeks later. It’s a win-win: You are re-using kitchen waste right at home where it was generated, and you are providing nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to your garden soil at the same time!

What if you don’t have a garden? Ask around, and chances are you will find a community garden or private back yard where people will be only too happy to receive your compost — maybe in exchange for fresh garden produce!

What kind of bran is used, and where do you get some ready-to-use bokashi bran? Traditionally, rice bran is used in Asia, and wheat bran or other grain by-products as available elsewhere. Any carbon-rich plant material can substitute for bran, even sawdust. I now sell EM-infused bokashi bran in one-pound bags through The Organic Gardener’s Pantry.

Can you make your own? Absolutely. You can make your own bokashi by fermenting bran or sawdust with a mixture of EM, water, and molasses. It’s much like activating EM: The ratio is 1 part EM to 1 part molasses to 100 parts water. Add this liquid to dry bran and mix until the bran feels evenly moist but not wet. Then pack the bran firmly in an air tight container, cover the top to keep out oxygen, and let it ferment in a warm place for one to two weeks. When it’s done, the bran should have a sweet and pleasant smell. It can now be dried and used in the bokashi bucket with your food scraps.

Are there other uses for bokashi? Indeed! Bokashi can be used to activate compost (mix one pound bokashi bran into a quarter yard of organic matter and keep covered). It can also be dug into the soil at a rate of one pound per 200 square feet, or be used to topdress lawns and gardens. Last not least, bokashi can be fed to livestock at a rate of 3-5% of their feed rations.

One last question: Does it have to be EM mother culture, or can Activated EM be used to prepare the bran? A great question. Activated EM works just as well as EM mother to make bokashi bran, and saves money!

So, will I try it? Oh yes, certainly. Come join me!