Breaking Down The Bokashi Composting System

A different way to compost could change how you treat your kitchen scraps

Composting has long been a great way to turn trash into treasure, converting food scraps into a rich soil amendment. And even better than that, it keeps food from making its way to the landfill where it not only takes up space, but also releases harmful methane gas. In fact, food waste accounts for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA, but you can help reduce that number with compost.

There’s the standard pile or worm system, but if you want to make fewer trips out to the compost heap, or if you’re looking for a less odorous way to convert your food waste, the bokashi system could be the answer.

How It Works

Bokashi is one of the lesser known ways to compost to not only reduce food waste, but fuel an organic garden. The system works by fermenting or, as some say, pickling the scraps from your kitchen via microorganisms.

The breakdown process starts by layering fermented wheat or rice bran with organic waste and sealing the material in an airtight container or “bokashi bucket.” You simply add organic material to the bin, push it down and sprinkle the bran over top. When the bucket is full, you just add some more bran on top and let the bucket sit while the bran works its magic.

The microbes break down the scraps over a few weeks, making it ready for burial either in a traditional compost heap or soil. Once buried, the pickled material will become a rich soil amendment. There will also be liquid in the bottom of the bin, which can be used for keeping drains clear or mixed with water and added to the garden.

Benefits of Bokashi

Marcia Wallings has been using the bokashi system for about 2 years to minimize waste and fuel her organic garden in Calgary, Alberta. Growing up in a family that always composted, she stumbled upon bokashi while looking for a way to compost without the smell and the numerous trips out to the compost heap.

“When I got pregnant with my son, I just couldn’t stand the smell,” she says. “It had never been pleasant before, but it got to be too much.” And living in Calgary, she certainly liked the idea of fewer trips outside during the frigid winter months.

Getting Started

  • Have two bokashi bins handy so that you can fill one with scraps while the other is going through the fermentation process.
  • Keep your bin sealed airtight and don’t open the lid more than is necessary.
  • Be sure to mash down scraps when you add them to the bin. This will remove air and save you space.
  • Keep your bin somewhere it will stay around room temperature or higher.
  • Keep your bin out of direct sunlight.
  • Do not put liquid in your bin.
  • If you have pets, be sure to bury your fermented matter deep enough that they won’t dig it up.

Because bokashi is an anaerobic microbial process, the smell is minimal. Many composters say they can’t even detect it. Marcia says she can only catch a whiff when she takes the lid off her bin to add material, and even then the smell isn’t bad.

The growing season is short in Calgary where frost typically hits from mid-September to late May, but that doesn’t stop Marcia from composting year-round. By simply digging a large hole, drilling holes in a garbage can and placing it in the hole, she keeps her kitchen scraps from going to waste.

“Sometimes it’s a little hard to find in the snow, so I just stuck a flag in the ground right next to it to make it easy,” she says.

There are many different ways to do bokashi. You can make your own bokashi system. All you need is a bucket drilled with holes for drainage, some bokashi bran and organic matter.

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