It’s no secret that the key to healthy plants is healthy soil, and the best way to improve soil is to incorporate compost, which can take up to a year to produce.
Bokashi is a composting method that can speed this up. It uses an inoculant developed in Japan in the 1980s that contains beneficial microorganisms.
Compost improves the drainage of heavy clay soil and increases the water retention of sand. It delivers nutrients and microbes to nourish plants and increase their vitality while reducing or eliminating the need for traditional fertilizer.
Homemade compost, always a worthwhile endeavor, takes time and patience. Ingredients need to be turned or turned regularly to expose all parts to the oxygen necessary for their aerobic — or oxygen-driven — breakdown.
Bokashi composting breaks down ingredients anaerobically, replacing the function of oxygen with fermentation, which it essentially sets in. This shortens the waiting time to just 10 days and creates a product that is even more nutritious than traditional compost.
It can be done in a small indoor space, and the only equipment needed is a 5-gallon bucket with a spout and a tight-fitting lid, and a bag of inoculant to get the fermentation process started. Bokashi inoculants typically contain wheat bran, wheat germ, or sawdust. You can buy a kit or research DIY options to get started.
Place kitchen scraps in the bucket in 2-inch layers, sprinkling a small handful of inoculant over each layer and reseal the bucket tightly between additions. You can cover the layers with a plate or plastic wrap before sealing the container to further reduce oxygen exposure.
When the bucket is full, dump the produced liquid out of the spout every few days. Dilute one teaspoon of this “compost tea” in one liter of water and apply the highly nutritious solution to garden or houseplant soil to increase plant vigor and yield. Avoid direct contact with foliage and use each batch within about a day of collection.
Meat and dairy waste – strictly forbidden in a regular compost pile – can be incorporated into the Bokashi Bucket. Unlike traditional compost heaps that don’t heat up enough to kill harmful bacteria and parasites, the effective microorganisms in the Bokashi Bucket destroy any pathogens present in the animal products.
The ingredients should be added quickly and sporadically to avoid adding too much oxygen to the bucket. Likewise, resist the temptation to check progress between additions.
The closed bucket should not emit any odors into the room, however, a sweet and sour scent can be perceived when opening the lid. That is normal. However, a foul smell signals that something has gone wrong. If you notice a rotting egg odor or if dark mold is visible in the bucket (white mold is fine), try adding more inoculant. If the situation isn’t resolved within a few days, discard the batch, clean and disinfect the bucket, and start over.
When the fermentation process is complete – again in just 10 days – the resulting biomass will still resemble the original ingredients, but will decompose quickly. It can be buried in trenches in a new garden bed at least two weeks before planting. Be sure to cover it completely with soil.
You can also put it in the center of a traditional or vermicompost bin or pile (mixed well with the existing contents) where it will further break down.
If the idea of creating “pre-compost” just to add to a traditional compost pile seems pointless, consider that incorporating bokashi-decomposed ingredients will save you many months, which is essentially a fast route to finished compost.
If you don’t have a traditional compost pile, you can complete your bokashi compost by digging a hole and burying batches in a designated spot in the garden. After two weeks you can dig up what you need and use it like regular compost.
Another option: Bokashi can be dug into ditches next to, but safely away from, plants. Be careful to avoid direct contact with the roots as the acidity of the fermented product will burn them. For the same reason, it should not be used as a top dressing or as a mulch unless it has been further composted using traditional methods.