Bokashi: The ultimate guide - Everything you need to know

December, 2023
Darren Spalding

Bokashi is an anaerobic process that relies on inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste, including meat and dairy, into a safe soil builder. The fermented liquid from the process can also be used as a fertilizer for plants.

Bokashi is a Japanese term that translates to 'fermented organic matter. It relies on a specific blend of microbes, yeasts and fungi to break down kitchen waste. During this process, dangerous pathogens are killed off while valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) remain.

Bokashi can be used at home or by anybody who produces food waste in commercial settings. A range of Bokashi buckets has been developed for those who want to make the most efficient use of their current kitchen space. For large-scale operations with multiple kitchens, industrial fermentors can be used.

What is Bokashi?

Bokashi relies on a specific blend of microorganisms to break down kitchen waste. During this process, harmful pathogens are killed off while valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) remain.

The word bokashi roughly translates as 'fermented organic matter in Japanese and refers to the fermented liquid produced during the process. This liquid can be used as fertilizer for plants; it is full of beneficial microbes that will enhance growth and help crops fight off disease. There is no better way to ensure your tomatoes, beans and lettuce grow into healthy strong vegetables than by using this fertiliser.

##Kitchen waste & landfill Because of our lack of understanding about how anaerobic digestion works many people still believe biodegradable waste should be thrown into landfills. This is an incredibly wasteful practice, contributing to methane emissions and polluting the soil for generations to come. By adding Bokashi bran, along with food waste to your compost bin you can lessen your carbon footprint and create a valuable fertilizer at the same time.

How does it work?

Instead of relying on nature to break down organic matter using aerobic processes (which produces dangerous greenhouse gases), bokashi uses beneficial microbes instead; this process happens in a sealed bucket. The microbes feed off the sugars produced by the natural rotting process - that's why we call it 'fermentation' - without creating odours or attracting pests like flies.

The fermentation/rotting process continues until all of the available sugars are broken down into carbon dioxide and alcohol. By sealing the bucket, oxygen that would otherwise create foul odours and attract pests is kept out.

The microbes used in Bokashi Fermentation are a combination of aerobic, anaerobic and facultatively anaerobic bacteria as well as some yeasts. The use of a specific blend of microbes means no bad odours are created during the fermentation process. This allows bokashi to be done off-site, creating an efficient system with only three stages: source separation (separating food waste at home or work), transportation (collecting your waste and transporting it for fermenting) and land application (using the composted material on fields). This results in less contamination from flies and other pests and is less of a smell for those living near the site.

The main ingredient in Bokashi Fermentation is inoculated bran, called bokashi bran. It contains all of the microbes needed to break down kitchen waste into an inert soil-building material. This means that different ratios can be used for effective composting depending on bucket size and waste levels - reducing your carbon footprint further still!

There are three types of bokashi mix to choose from: Single Bucket, Double Bucket and Three-Stage fermentation systems - these contain different quantities of inoculated bran depending on how much waste you want to break down. Inoculated bran can also be mixed with other mulches like wood chippings and sawdust to be used as a compost mulch.

What can it be used for?

Bokashi fermentation has become very popular with home gardeners, who use the waste from their kitchen combined with bokashi bran as compost or fertilizer for plants - reducing household food waste at the same time. If you enjoy growing your own fruit and vegetables bokashi is the perfect tool for making compost to use in your garden; it's a simple and relatively cheap way of reducing your carbon footprint.

Where did the idea for Bokashi come from?

Bokashi Fermentation was invented in Japan over 70 years ago by Professor Teruo Higa. After experiencing the horrors of war first-hand, he became concerned with how little action Westerners were taking to protect themselves from further wars and destruction. The focus at that time was on developing big machines for mass production rather than sustainable inventions that would benefit future generations.

So he developed the first Bokashi recipes which are still used today, teaching friends and neighbours in his local communities how to apply them effectively. His idea spread quickly and is now popular throughout Japan, with many households composting their food waste in buckets instead of sending it to landfill sites - generating effective soil-building material at the same time.

What are the benefits of using it in your home kitchen?

Bokashi is easy to use and very effective; you can see the progress of your waste as it ferments, with dark liquid being added during week one three times a day. The bucket should be sealed between additions so odours do not escape - this means no unpleasant smells for you and your family while your waste decomposes!

Do I need to buy a special container or equipment for this process to work properly?

No special containers or equipment are needed as long as you can seal the bucket. This means no smell will escape while your waste is fermenting, which has several benefits.

What can I put into my Bokashi bin?

The only rules are to keep your mix consistent by adding roughly the same amount of waste every time, ensure you include fibrous material like fruit and vegetables as well as cooked food so anaerobic fermentation can take place. You might start off with 70% waste such as banana peels and 30% bran, but this depends on how busy your household is and how big the bucket is.

How long does it take to make fermented vegetable garden soil using bokashi?

From one full bucket of waste, you can expect to have enough soil in about 2-3 months. If you have a double bucket, then the process should be quicker and if make your own bran from sawdust or other sources it will also be faster.

What are the benefits of creating my own Bokashi mix?

If you make your own bran, you will know what has gone into it and it will have been sourced locally - not shipped halfway across the world. As an added benefit, it can be used as a compost mulch in your garden or for houseplants, which means less waste going into landfill sites and more money saved!

Is there a difference between 'compost' and 'fermented compost'?

Heaps of compost can be left to break down naturally, whereas bokashi is specifically used to prevent odours and speed up the process.

How much does it cost to use?

Compared with buying your compost from a shop or garden centre, using Bokashi in your kitchen can save you money as you're reusing something that would have gone into a landfill and your food waste is being used for something positive. Because you can see the progress of your waste as it ferments, you will be less likely to overbuy or buy more than you need.

Can you store your bokashi bran once you have used it to ferment waste for later use in the garden or on plants and trees? If so, for how long can you keep it?

Yes, it is possible to store it for a short period of time by putting it into your compost bin or storage container and covering it with soil. However, you should rotate the bran frequently so that you don't use the same supply too often as this will contaminate the bokashi if it is being stored before fermenting waste again.

How often should I add food and water?

The aim is to keep the amount of waste that you can put into your bokashi bucket consistent each week, adding roughly the same amount and not overfilling it. You may need to add a little less if the conditions are dry as there will be a lot more moisture in humid weather.

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