#127 - Bokashi Composting System
We are going to take a look at another newer form of composting systems available on the market which is Bokashi Composting. I will be using the Bokashi stem as part of my overall composting system here for my garden, however I want to go over a few things to help people understand Bokashi better, and understand how it works, what it actually does, and most importantly what it does not do.
First off, Bokashi is a Japanese term which means to ferment. Bokashi is NOT compost. The Bokashi system does not produce compost, period.
No composting takes place of the food scraps that you add to the Bokashi bucket, the food is simply fermented or pickled over a two week period. You then have to take the finished Bokashi food scraps and either bury them in the garden, or add them into a compost pile for them to finish breaking down to form compost.
Composting is a system where organic material is decomposed and broken down over a long period of time and the nutrients are available for plants to use in the soil. There are ways to speed the natural decomposition up, one of which is by using a hot composting pile where high temperatures are reached over several weeks, the other is by using worms to break the material down and digest it through their digestive systems creating compost material in the form of worm castings or vermicast.
I will be using the fermented Bokashi material to feed the worms in my vermicompost system with. The Bokashi system's fermentation process starts breaking down the foods by softening them up, make it easier for the worms to be able to eat quickly. Worms do not like fresh foods, they like foods that are starting to decompose where bacteria, fungus and other microbes have started to break the food down by softening it up. By using the food scraps after it has gone through the Bokashi system I am basically just speeding up that process and giving them foods that are in a state that they prefer them to be in, right from the beginning.
Let's take a look at how the Bokashi system works. The Bokashi system is fairly easy to operate and there are only a few basic rules that you need to follow to be successful with it. First off a Bokashi system must use a plastic bucket with a well fitting airtight lid. It doesn't have to be made from plastic, but it does have to be airtight and plastic buckets are the most convenient and handy items to use. The fermentation process in Bokashi requires an anaerobic, or oxygen deprived environment to work. If oxygen gets in it will kill off the micro-organisms that are doing the work on the food in the bucket.
Second, there needs to be a way of removing liquid from the bottom of the bucket. A faucet of some kind is normally installed on the bottom of the bucket for this purpose. As the foods ferment, liquids from the foods will collect in the bottom of the bucket which must be drained each day. If this liquid is not removed it will cause very strong odors to be present inside the bucket, which we do not want, so make sure you drain this liquid off every day or at least every other day.
What do you do with the liquid? Well most companies promoting their Bokashi system say that it is a very good natural fertilizer that you can use it straight or dilute it 1:100 with water. That is a huge red flag. A fertilizer that can be effective at full strength and also effective at a 100 dilution rate does not make any sense. If a fertilizer is effective when it is diluted with 100 parts water, it would be strong enough to burn the roots off the plants if it were applied full strength. Even a high school student with any basic natural science and chemistry training would be able to deduce that concept.
Also, if the liquid is so nutritious, why is it that not a single one of the companies marketing the Bokashi systems are showing any laboratory results to verify the remarkable nutritional content in the liquid. If it contained a lot of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, you would expect that the companies selling these systems would brag about the high levels of nutrients in the liquid. Unfortunately, I could not find a single site that provided these numbers. Are they so embarrassed about how low the numbers really are that they do not want to publish it?
Here is what one such site says about the liquid:
"Bokashi juice contains nutrients from the food waste and is alive with micro-organisms so it makes a terrific, free fertilizer! it is very strong so must be diluted with water at a 100:1 ratio, that's 100 parts water to 1 part bokashi juice, approximately 2 teaspoons of juice for every litre of water.
Pour the concentrated Bokashi juice directly into kitchen and bathroom drains, toilets and septic systems. It will help prevent algae build-up and control odor.
And as a huge bonus, it contributes to cleaning up our waterways as the good bacteria compete with the bad bacteria!
Are you freaking kidding me?
Let's take a logical, sensible look at it. The nutrients in the liquid come from the juices in the fruits, vegetables, and other foods in the bucket. As the food ferments some of this liquid seeps out of the food and makes its way to the bottom of the bucket. The Effective Microorganisms (EM) that are processing the food and causing the fermentation process to happen are also feeding on these nutrients to allow them to grow and do their work. So if the amount of nutrients being released by the foods contain trace amounts of water soluble nutrients, and the EM are consuming those nutrients for their growth, how do those nutrients suddenly supercharge themselves to a point where they are effective at a dilution rate of 100:1 at the bottom of the bucket? That is just illogical. The nutritional content left in the liquid that the EM did not consume would be quite low. This is why you are able to put it directly on the plants full strength with no fear of burning the plants up.
As for it being alive with micro-organisms, well yes, it was, until they were exposed to oxygen when you exposed the liquid to air by removing it from the bucket which killed them off. Remember, it is an anaerobic, or oxygen-free environment inside the Bokashi bucket. The process works by using micro-organisms that thrive in an oxygen-free environment. Those organisms can not live in an oxygen rich environment. Even a sixth-grader could punch holes in their logic on that fantastic claim that it helps the environment by having the "good bacteria compete with the bad bacteria".
So yes, you can pour the liquid on your plants and it will not harm MOST of them, but don't expect any remarkable results from it that you would not get from standard watering. The liquid should be tested for its pH level as it has a tendency to be acidic which may harm certain plants that cannot handle the acidity. If you are diluting it with 100 parts water, you are basically just giving the plants plain water.
Personally, I pour the liquid on my compost pile since it always needs more moisture and it isn't picky as to what the moisture is.
The liquid from the Bokashi system is nothing like Compost Tea or Worm Tea that we brew from the finished compost and therefore you will not get the results that you get from those products which I will discuss in further detail in a future post on brewing teas.
Each time you add food scraps to the Bokashi bucket, you must also sprinkle in some of the Effective Micro-organisms in the form of the Bokashi Bran that these companies will sell you. Without adding this bran into the bucket, Bokashi does not happen and all you are left with is a bucket of slowly rotting, stinking food scraps. So these companies have you as a life-long customer coming back again and again to buy more Bokashi Bran to keep your system going, or do they?
In a future post I will teach you how to save a small fortune by making your own Bokashi Bran right at home instead of having to buy their pre-made bran and having it shipped to you.
Each day when you add food scraps to the bucket, you sprinkle about a tablespoon of the Bokashi Bran over the top of it, and then squeeze the food down to remove as much of the air out of it as you can and seal the bucket back up. Remember to drain off the excess liquid. Each day it is the same thing, adding food scraps, sprinkle the EM, squeeze, and drain.
Once the bucket has been filled to the top, simply sprinkle a little more Bokashi Bran over the top, squeeze it down to remove air, seal the bucket closed, and allow the food to ferment in the unopened bucket for two weeks.
This is why you need at least 2 buckets for the Bokashi system to work. While the food is fermenting in the bucket for two weeks, you are using the second bucket to add your food scraps to. It takes most people about two weeks to fill a bucket, so basically you are swapping out the buckets every two weeks with one being filled and the other sitting and fermenting.
If you have a larger family and therefore have more food scraps each day and will fill up a bucket before the two weeks have elapsed, you may need 3 or 4 Bokashi buckets, but I would recommend starting with just two and going from there.
By using thee Bokashi system to basically start the breakdown of the food scraps I am supposed to be able to use foods that you would normally not feed to worms, including small amounts of meats, dairy products like cheese, citrus fruits, and small amounts of onions, garlic, etc. Normally worms do not like these foods and will avoid them, but apparently once they have been fermented in the Bokashi system, the worms will love them. So, we shall see.
Once the food scraps have been allowed to ferment for two weeks I will be adding a small amount of the finished Bokashi "compost" to a corner of the worm bin when I feed them and monitoring the reaction of the worms to it.
Since adding the fermented food scraps to the bin has the potential of raising the acidity in the bin I will be closely monitoring the pH level of the soil each day and buffering any increase in acidity to make sure that it does not get too high and cause a problem for the worms.
I have a batch of Bokashi fermenting now, so I will start the worm trials with it in a few weeks after the fermentation process has completed and I will post updates from time to time with the results that I find.
Until Next Time,
Aloha & 73