Monday, October 15, 2012

The Great Bokashi Experiment

A topic that was a question from a friend in a composting class I took - you know what they say about curiosity and cats?

So the whole group of us was ready to start our composting class earlier this summer.  All of us anxiously waiting to hear how to begin composting if we had not started already, improve what we were already doing if we were composting, or add vermicomposting (composting with worms) to our "portfolio" of gardening skills.

And my friend asks "Will we be learning about bokashi?"

You would not believe how fast everyone was scribbling that word in their notes to look up online later!

What is bokashi?  According to all the websites that feature information about it, bokashi means "fermented waste" in Japanese.  This is not like most forms of composting, where food is broken down by fungi, bacteria, etc. aerobically, meaning in an oxygen-rich environment.  No no no.  Bokashi composting ferments your waste anaerobically, as in without oxygen.  Or as close to it as possible.

And yes, your food waste ferments.  Actually, it's cultured.  Like yogurt.  But with food scraps.

So I started doing my own research.  There are lots and lots and lots of sites online, and videos on YouTube.  I will warn you that some of these are produced by folks who grow - shall we say - "medicinal herbs".  SPH is a family-friendly show, so I just want to give you a heads-up on that one.

You can buy expensive buckets to contain your waste, and also bran, which is what contains the micro-organisms (EM) that will be fermenting your scraps.  I found this article that describes how to make your own from newspapers and water from rinsing rice, and I found a compromise idea for my own bucket.

Several weeks ago, I posted our own little trash experiment.  There is one number that didn't make it into the data I shared with you.  Newspaper.  We get our local paper once a week, and Hubby and I gladly take copies from others that would normally be recycled.  We use them as the "potty area" for our disabled rabbit who can no longer hop into his litter box.  In the spring and summer, I gladly reuse these pre-fertilized papers in the garden.  However, Northern Illinois really only has a 6-month growing season, which means for half the year, bags of soiled newspapers from our house head to the landfill.  While we only get rid of the bags once a month, these bags still weigh probably about 20-30 pounds each.  Because of the strong acid in our bunny's urine, I can't use them in the worm bins.  They cannot be recycled.  So off they go.

After reading the newspaper bokashi article, I knew we had a solution, and here's what I came up with...

Start with a 5-gallon bucket.  These are inexpensive and readily available.  You probably have one in your garage.

Measure up from the bottom about 2-3".

Fill that bottom space with newspaper.  I filled my bucket with bunny newspapers.  This will absorb any excess liquids from your food wastes.

Sprinkle bran over the top of the newspapers.  Just a couple of handfuls.  I bought my bran on Amazon.  Until I get more confident in this process, I'm planning on buying the bran.  For now.  But not forever.  It's not cheap.  Add your food scraps on top of the bran.
Which food scraps, you ask?  Anything and everything.  Meat.  Dairy. Vegies.  Bones.  Dairy.  Oily foods.  Salty foods.  In the photo above, I have leftover chicken pieces including bones from making some wings, vegie scraps, used paper napkins.  Like I said, anything and everything.

Then, cover your food scraps with another couple handfuls of bran, and another layer (@ 1/2") of newspaper.  For us, that's one section of bunny papers.  On top of the papers, I place an old ceramic plate, and press it down firmly to remove as much air as possible.  Remember, anaerobic means without oxygen.  To keep things packed down, I use an old landscaping brick on top of the plate.  And finally, I seal with a lid.  Managing that lid is the hardest part.  You may wish to invest in one of the screw-on types.  I will warn you that they are almost 4 times the price of a regular lid, so adjust your project budget according to your patience level.

Only open your bucket at the most once a day.  I've been "feeding" mine every other day.  And no, there's no real smell to it.  Remember, it's not rotting, it's fermenting.  The first few days, it smelled somewhere between sweet pickles and sauerkraut.  Yesterday, it smelled like mayonnaise.  Just keep covering with a few handfuls of bran and another layer of newspaper every time until your bucket is full.

We have been adding to our bucket for a week now.  It is only half-full.  When it's all the way full, we'll leave it covered and let it set for about 2 weeks, or until a nice white layer of moldy-type stuff forms across the top.  Before we seal it that final time, I plan on switching out the plate for a pizza circle and removing the brick.

And then, when that batch is done, I'll bury it in my garden.  The micro-organisms in the garden can then work their miracles, and incorporate this waste into the soil.

This may seem like a lot of steps for composting.  And you're right, compared to regular composting with leaves, lawn clippings and vegetable peels it is.  It's even more involved than composting with the worms.


This process will take at least 25 pounds a month of trash from our house out of the general waste stream, and turn them into compost for my garden.  To me, that's a big deal, and totally worth it.  It's no different than hauling that heavy bag (and the smaller kitchen bags) out to the trash, or our compostables outside to the compost pile.  Especially in January when it's (usually) cold and icy.

Do your own research and check this out.  You'll be surprised and amazed like I was.  Find your own solution.  Maybe it'll be the premade buckets with premade bran.  Maybe you'll go totally DIY.  Maybe you'll find a middle-ground, like I did.

No matter what, give it a look, and give it a try!

1 comment:

Jill said...

Oh wow Ann! I've never heard of Bokashi - but love the idea of being able to 'ferment' all types of waste - not just ones that can go on the compost heap! I'm bookmarking this to look into it further!!

Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
Hope you have a fabulous week!
Jill @ Creating my way to Success