Composting: Bokashi



to reduce waste by composting food waste using the bokashi method (bokashi is a Japanese word for fermented organic matter)

What do you need?

For this particular method, you will need (1) a bokashi bin (2) bokashi bran (3) a before-the-bin container (4) space where you can store the bin while in use (5) space you can store it while it decomposes (6) spaces to bury the pre-compost

Does the bokashi smell bad?

Yes! When that bin is opened, it is 100% an unpleasant smell, but eventually, it’s a familiar acrid smell and you will just get on with it. It will not smell when the bin is closed if you have the right bin (more about that further down) and it seals properly.  When it is buried you will smell it for a day or two but it does fade and make your soil all lovely.

What can you compost in your bokashi bin?

All food scraps, including bones. Dairy products, coffee grounds, inside of a tea bag (the actual bag has traces of plastic), old flowers, serviettes, egg cartons (be sure to take stickers off).

This is my little sign at home:

what to put in bokashi

My experience

When we decided to compost I had this amazing idea (or so I thought) to make my own bokashi bin – to save money and be all self-sufficient. The reality is that I don’t have time or the skills to do it. I guess with a youtube tutorial I could have figured it out, but what if it went badly? When was I going to do it? Eventually, after doing a sort of pro and con list, I decided it would be far better to buy what I needed online. In South Africa, there are some great online places to buy bokashi starter kits where you get pretty much everything you need. You can look on Faithful to Nature or Earth Probiotic. If you’re a big family then you will probably need about 3-4 bins. If you’re two or three people or don’t have much food waste, then 2 is probably sufficient.

You can purchase starter kits like these on Earth Probiotic:

Composting kit
Small bokashi composting kit

We purchased two starter kits because I wanted two of the little containers for our food collection before putting it in the big bin. I also tracked down a jar for our bokashi bran. Once we bought our starter kit, we needed to find a space to keep it all which was fairly tricky. We keep our bin (the big one) in a corner on our kitchen counter out of the way, I guess if you had a pantry, that would be a pretty good space too. It does not smell if you have the correct bin because it seals really tightly. We put two hooks above our sink and hang the little bins there for first-step food collection.

How does it work?

We collect our food waste in one of the smaller containers and once those containers are full then we deposit the food waste into the bigger container.

The big container has a base strainer thing in it for the liquid that inevitably comes from the food waste.

bokashi strainer

You start your big bin with a layer of bokashi bran then add food waste and add bokashi bran on top of every layer of food waste, just a sprinkling so that everything you have added has a layer of bokashi bran on top of it.

bokashi bran.jpg

What is bokashi bran (also called earth bokashi)?

Earth bokashi is a bran-like substance that looks like sawdust, which enables the pre-composting of food.

Earth bokashi is manufactured using up-cycled materials and is specifically formulated with a balanced CN (carbon-nitrogen) composting ratio. This ration lowers fermentation odours while improving the composting of the fermented food waste.


Why is there a tap on the big bin?

You might need to empty out some of the liquid – often called bokashi tea (please do not drink this). This by-product of the bokashi process has many uses. You dilute it 1:100 because it is SUPER acidic. This is then a really good fertilizer for your plants (indoor and outdoor). We also often pour it down our drains as a natural drain cleaner. For more information on the uses read this super helpful article.

And when the big bin is full?

We make sure the lid is tightly sealed and put it aside, either inside or outside, away from sunlight. We keep it there for about 10-12 days – usually about 2-3 weeks if I’m honest. What comes out of the bin now is what is called pre-compost. We bury that in the garden, far away from our dogs in a space they cannot gain access to (because when they have managed to get through the gate, they LOVE eating it and rolling in it and then inevitably have to have a little vomit to return to normal). You cannot plant anything on top of that spot for about 2-3 weeks but then you’re good to go. We have a veggie garden so we just move around the veggie garden with our pre-compost. Then when we are ready to plant our veggies, we turn the soil, plant our veggies and so continues the cycle.

FYI: the burying is not easy, you need to dig a fairly substantial hole and it takes quite a bit of effort. We are lucky enough to have a gardener who works for us once a week. He started our veggie garden, we share the produce, and he is really keen on adding compost so has been helping with the burying.

For more information on how it all works, here is a really helpful great article.

How has it benefited us?

We are a lot less wasteful with our food.

We have reduced the amount of rubbish we put out for collection.

It is a much better form of composting for the environment.

Traditional composting actually releases a lot of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In contrast, the anaerobic bokashi process releases little (if any) harmful greenhouse gas.

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