December 4, 2012

Bokashi Composting – Is It For you?

Once upon a time, I thought the Green Cone was the answer to all our food waste woes.

It was great. While it worked.

Then Winter came, the cone became anaerobic and we were unable to throw any more food waste in it.

Maybe we were disposing of too much food waste all at once. Maybe the soil in our backyard wasn’t draining well enough. Maybe it was just too darn cold.

Whatever the reason, no matter how much “accelerator” DH poured into the cone, the contents just stopped decomposing. So we were left with a big icky mess, and we were back to throwing a lot of food waste to the land fill.

That’s when I decided to give Bokashi composting another chance.

When I first heard of it, I was immediately turned off by a number of things. First off, there’s the initial investment in the Bokashi buckets and the Bokashi bran. And then there’s the idea of having to bury the food after letting it ferment indoors for a couple of weeks. Finally, you need to keep buying the Bokashi bran.

Issue 1: Cost

I addressed the first issue by researching online to find the most affordable Bokashi kits. Let me save you the trouble. If you’re in Canada, you’ll probably find the most reasonably priced Bokashi kits, including shipping costs, here. The shopping cart isn’t state of the art, but owner Vera is pleasant to deal with.

If you’re in the United States, your best best would be to check out the Bokashi kits in As I’m writing this, the SCD Bokashi Kit is the least expensive option:

At these prices, the Bokashi kits are just about the same cost as a Green Cone, and definitely less than the cost of a composter, especially those that rotate and do all sorts of other things (short of mowing your lawn).

Issue 2: Digging & Burying

The Bokashi composter is a misnomer, but you don’t actually make compost inside the bucket; you only ferment the food waste in there. After you’ve pretty much filled it up, you need to close the bin very tightly (fermentation is an anaerobic process) and put the bin away for a couple of weeks. And then you need to bury the fermented food waste into a hole in your garden.

I don’t know about you, but inspite of my backyard, I don’t have a lot of spaces to dig up. Fortunately, we had our basement waterproofed last year and, instead of pouring concrete over one side of the house again, we decided to leave the dirt exposed and possibly plant on it next Spring. That’s where we’ve been burying our Bokashi’d waste.

That strip of land, having been buried in concrete for years, was pretty lifeless all of last Spring and Summer. Nothing grew on it, except for a couple of weeds (gotta admire the tenacity of those weeds!). So I’m looking forward to having it teeming with life next Spring.

The thing is, though, that Winter is fast approaching and soon, the ground will be frozen solid. Bokashi sites advice making a soil factory in an airtight container or tote. Basically, you put a bit of soil in it, mix your Bokashi fermented food in it, cover it with more soil, and then keep it shut tight until your next batch of Bokashi is ready.

This is what I’m planning to do when the ground gets too hard to dig. I would have to buy a plastic tote with a tight-enough lid and some good soil. It’s still a bit of a pain, but definitely still doable and worth it, considering I will have plenty of healthy soil next Spring!

Issue 3:  Continuing Costs

Finally, my last issue with Bokashi composting was the continuing cost of purchasing the Bokashi bran. As of this writing, this costs about $10 for a one-gallon bag.

This is a big issue for me, because in Canada, shipping this Bokashi bran costs more than the item itself!

But I’ve found a workaround that I’m rather looking forward to: making my own Bokashi bran. It’s not expensive at all, and I can use the bran for other uses around the house and garden. I’ll let you know in a future post how it goes!

The Good, The Bad

So should you Bokashi, too?

I like doing Bokashi, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s what I like about it:

  • You can put anything edible and biodegradable in your Bokashi kit. They don’t tell you this, but I don’t see why I couldn’t put some dead plant leaves and pieces of paper in there.
  • It’s a lot simpler than composting. No need to worry about balancing the green stuff with the brown stuff, checking the temperature and making sure everything’s aerated. Just dump your food waste in the bucket, sprinkle with Bokashi bran (you could mix if you want to. I don’t), push it down with a potato masher, cover with a plastic grocery bag (to lessen contact with air), and close the lid tightly until the next day.
  • You get rich Bokashi tea for your house plants and drains. Every few days, you can harvest some liquid from your Bokashi bin. Mix with water (1:10 to 1:100 dilution) and use to water your plants. Or pour the undiluted stuff down your drains to keep them clear.
  • As soon as 4 weeks after you started, you’ll have compost! A lot faster than traditional composting. Unless, of course, it’s Winter, in which case you’ll have to wait a few months.

What I don’t like about Bokashi:

  • It’s still a bit expensive and not very sustainable, because you have to keep buying either the Bokashi bran or the EM to make your own.
  • I hate washing the Bokashi bin after burying the fermented waste. No matter what you say, it does smell. It’s not the smell of putrefaction, but it’s still an unpleasant smell, in the same way that yogurt or kimchi stink. The Bokashi tea, on the other hand, smells more like a sweet beer, which I can take.

Because I started doing Bokashi so late in the year, I haven’t actually collected any compost from it. However, I am looking forward to having plenty of rich, fertile soil come springtime.

Plus, we’re throwing a lot less waste into our landfills — that makes me very happy!

How about you? Do you do Bokashi? What do you like and dislike about it?

If you don’t Bokashi, what do you do with your food waste?


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Alexis Rodrigo

  • Karin says:

    I’ve been bokashi composting in my condo apartment for just under a year and I love it. I have a typical condo kitchen (8′ x 8′) but find it easy to accommodate my two buckets. I have that open concept (open to living room) galley kitchen found in many condos. The bin I use daily sits at the wall end of the kitchen in front of the cat bowls. When full I rotate it to under the sink cabinet. During the winter I’ve just kept up with draining the tea and – when there’s been a break in the winter cold (I’m in Toronto) – I take it out for burying. I agree that the bokashi has a sour odour when you open the bin, but I have absolutely no issues with smell in my place. The odour doesn’t linger unless you leave the lid off. Since we haven’t had a warm spell in awhile I currently have two nearly full bins in my kitchen and yet visitors to my place have no clue. (My place is very tidy and fresh – you really have no idea I have a composting set-up right inside the apartment!)

    So, as for ‘burying’ my compost: that’s gone amazingly well too. My condo has a terrace. I bury my bin contents in a recycling bin on the terrace. I layer the compost with soil (mixing it in a bit) and make sure to add a couple inches of soil on top. It’s been wonderful because I’ve been able to rehabilitate tired, used soil from previous plantings. As long as you try to make sure you keep the food scraps that you put into the bin relatively small, it fully decomposes in about a month. Really! The first time, I was so surprised at how quick and how successful it was that I kept digging in the container thinking I’d just missed finding what I’d buried. I came up with a couple small pieces of corn cob (nearly broken down) but that was it!

    I compost everything in my kitchen this way (plus most plant waste in the fall when I tidy up the flowers and get winter-ready). I’m vegetarian so I don’t have to worry about meat scraps. Occasionally I put small amounts of cooked food in but mostly I try to eat most leftovers.

    It might be tight on a balcony, but I think that with a little ingenuity it would be possible. I hope others will give it a try!

  • Alexis says:

    @Karin – Sounds like you have a great system going there, thanks for sharing! My family produces a LOT of food waste, though, so I don’t know if the recycling bin method will work for us. But I will keep trying until I find something that works 🙂

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