What is Bokashi? Why You Should Start Some Now!
The word Bokashi is Japanese in origin and generally translates to the term, “fermented organic matter.” To write this article I listened to one of our recent podcast episodes hosted by Jos and Jim Zamzow with their special guest, Craig Alger. You can listen to the podcast here. Through some additional research, there seems to be some confusion around the origin and direct translation of the word “Bokashi,” the process and benefits are very clear.
Bokashi Isn’t Compost
Bokashi is a fermenting of organic material, using an inoculation of beneficial bacteria and yeast. The main difference between Bokashi and composting comes down to aerobic and anaerobic activity. Composting utilizes aerobic activity to decompose and break down organic material. Bokashi is the opposite, utilizing anaerobic activity to ferment the organic material. This fermentation process is essentially pre-digesting your organic material. Through the process, your bokashi will be turned into compost that will be used and appreciated by your vegetable garden, houseplants, and landscape.
Proper composting requires a lot of balancing. To generate a healthy and nourishing compost you need a combination of what are referred to as greens and browns. Greens are energy-dense and wet things like grass clippings, pruned leaves, or the salad greens you forgot in the back of the fridge. Browns are dry carbon sources, consisting of fallen leaves, or straws. In addition to this material balancing, you also need to turn your compost pile regularly to prevent heat build-up.
Bokashi, is flexible, it eliminates this balancing act, and doesn’t require frequent turning. You can add all your kitchen scraps to your bokashi, even meat, dairy, and citrus. All of which you won’t want to use in a standard compost pile.
A great benefit to getting started with bokashi is, how little space you need. Bokashi can be done in a small five-gallon bucket or any container that can be made airtight. So, if you are inclined, and your significant other agrees, you can set it up in your kitchen! You may ask, “what about the smell?” Well, you will be happy to hear that, when done correctly, your bokashi will not generate an off-putting smell, even when the lid comes off. The lack of air and fermentation process means the organic material is not rotting. It is fermenting and the light odor generated will smell slightly sweet or “pickley.”
As mentioned above a five-gallon bucket is a great place to start. You can use a snap-on lid, or an easier solution is the Gamma Lid, which attaches to the top and gives you an easy-to-open spinning lid, that seals tightly.
Then you will simply add your kitchen scraps and organic materials to your bucket. An important step will be to compress the material in your bucket, to remove any air pockets. You can use a designated potato masher or some other tool you might have laying around. After adding your new material, press it all down and remove as much air as possible.
Here comes the magic! After adding your material and removing the air, you need to inoculate your bokashi. Dr. JimZ Bokashi starter is a collection of 14 species of bacteria, yeast, and trace minerals. You only need to add a small amount over the top of your material. Usually, about 1/8 of a cup will be enough. After you have added your starter inoculant, seal the lid and your Bokashi is on the way!
Let your Bokashi sit for about a week. Collect your scraps and food waste in a separate container and add them all at once each week. Press them down to remove the air pockets and add a little more Dr. JimZ Bokashi starter again. You will continue this process until your bucket is full. After adding your last amount of material let it sit for at least one more week.
A Bucket Full of Bokashi, Now What?
When your bucket is full you will notice what you have looks a lot like what you put in. The fermented organic material doesn’t break down in your bucket like it would in a compost pile. Once your bokashi is ready, it’s time to add it to the garden.
The easiest way to use your bokashi is to dig a small trench in your garden or near some plants. Then spread your bokashi in the trench and cover it with 2-6 inches of your garden soil. Now aerobic activity begins. Because your fermented organic material is “pre-digested” the aerobic activity will compost your bokashi very quickly. If you come back and check your bokashi a week later you’ll find a rich, dark, and nutritious compost that your plants will go crazy for!
Bokashi is really that simple. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can fill up your five-gallon bucket with organic material. Just think of all the waste you’ll be keeping out of our landfills. Instead of a truck shipping it away, you’re recycling it in your home and using it to grow healthy plants and vegetables sourced from your back yard!
It’s very common for your bokashi to generate liquid in your bucket. This tea can be collected and used on your plants. However, this tea is very highly concentrated and needs to be diluted before use. You will want to dilute your bokashi tea at a 1 to 100 ratio. Then you can water your plants and even apply as a foliar application.
A bucket with a spigot at the bottom can make collecting the tea very easily. You can also collect it if it pools up at the top of your organic material after pressing it down. If you don’t want to collect the tea you can also start with some shredded paper at the bottom to absorb the liquid and that can all go into the soil when you use your bokashi.
Other uses for Dr. JimZ Bokashi Starter
- Cat box deodorizer
- Soil amendment
- Standard compost pile starter
- Safe to use in earthworm composters