Back in February I audited my compost and started a bokashi bucket to dispose of kitchen waste that can’t go into the regular compost (meat, dairy and cooked food). In a bokashi bucket you can compost any cooked or raw food of pretty much any description. This works because you keep your waste in an air tight bucket (anaerobic conditions – check out my post on The Lowdown on Composting for more on the science of composting) and add an accelerator made up of microbes (I use the Maze Bokashi compost additive and Maze liquid additive) that help the waste to breakdown. I decided to use 2 bokashi buckets so when one was full, it could ferment while I was added more waste to the other.
Bokashi buckets and additives.
We try not to waste too much food in our house and we have two miniature vacuums that go by the names Toggle and Honey, who do a stellar job of making sure not a morsel is left on the floor. So it has taken almost three months for both bokashi buckets to fill.
The pooped out pair post vacuum session (try saying that ten times in a row).
When I lifted the lid on bucket one, I was quite surprised to see it didn’t look like humus from my regular compost. In fact, I was worried that it hadn’t composted at all! The additive was sitting right on top and it looked like the waste was still in its pre-bokashi form. I had read numerous instructions claiming it only takes 2 weeks to ferment your compost… mine had started fermenting two months ago! I was beginning to lose faith. I jumped on google post-haste to find out what was going on with the funk in my bokashi bucket.
Before emptying the bokashi bucket on the left and once I’d tipped it into my regular compost on the right.
I did however, notice the content of the bucket had shrunk considerably as it was jammed to the top before I moved on to bucket number two so something must have been happening. I also took note of the white mould growing around the edges of the bucket and it’s smell was VERY strong.
EDIT: When I opened the second bin it stank and had both green and white mould! Uh oh! Bokashi fail.
Inside bucket number two where green and white mould has formed.
So, what were my research findings?
- The colour or shape does not change in an airtight bucket because the food waste is fermented anaerobically. However, the chemical structure does change. It will eventually breakdown to humus once added to the regular compost.
- If the mould is white and the bokashi smells sweet and pickle like, this is fine as it’s a result of filamentous bacteria growing
- If, on the other hand, the mould is blue or green and the bucket sticks then something is amiss.
Now that I had realised my bin hadn’t necessarily failed, but I had indeed left it for perhaps a little too long (including the tea – hence why it smelt like rotten football socks!), I figured it was best I find out the rules so I can bokashi like a pro!
- Fill the bin with food scraps, making sure to chop larger items into small pieces.
- Sprinkle with a generous amount of additive every time waste is added – add an extra helping when putting in meat and bones as these take a little longer to breakdown.
- Push down the waste with an instrument such as a potato masher to squeeze as much of the air out as possible.
- Replace the lid, making sure it is airtight.
- Drain the ‘tea’ every couple of days otherwise it may make your bokashi wet or it may go bad itself.
- To enhance the process and reduce the amount of air, cover the food scraps with ideas such as:
- Plastic bag
- Piece of cardboard
- Kitchen plate
- Saucepan lid
- Once the bucket if full, add plenty of bokashi additive and let set for 2 weeks (not 2 months!).
- Ensure to drain the tea during the fermenting process.
- Gardens from Garbage give some good advice on what to do with the ‘pickled’ waste after the two-week fermentation period:
- Bury the contents of the bucket in a hole or trench about 8-12 inches deep. Use the soil that was removed to cover the fermented food waste. You can plant seeds in the soil immediately after filling the hole. Wait 1-2 weeks before planting transplants.
- Fermented food waste can also be added around established plants throughout the year without causing any damage to the plants (good option for apartment dwellers).
- Add it to an existing compost pile. Just dig in the pile, empty the bucket, and cover fermented food waste with compost materials (this is my pick).
- You can make your own “soil factory” in a storage tub: put some good soil on the bottom, add a layer of well-drained fermented food waste, mix well. Cover with a layer of soil and flatten. Cover with plastic or a lid to keep it from getting wet. After about 30 days, it’s ready for use as “good dirt”.
- Clean the bucket thoroughly before starting a new batch.
Using plastic to help ferment the waste and my potato masher on the right.
Bokashi No No’s
- Paper and cardboard
- Mouldy or rotten food
- Insufficient additive
- Leaving the bucket in the sun
- Excess air
- Large items of food
- Bokashi tea can be used a fertiliser (1:100 ratio with water) and sprayed onto your plants (only do this with fresh tea, less than 24 hours old) or it can be poured directly into your kitchen and bathroom sinks or toilet. According to Charles Sturt University, the microorganisms help to prevent algae build-up and control odour. The will also help to clean up our waterways by competing with harmful bacteria – how cool is that?!
- Gardens from Garbage recommends adding a couple of tablespoons of sugar to stinky bokashi’s to re-ignite the microbes.
- Crush egg shells to hasten the process.
- If you’re unsure on how much additive to use – the more the better!
- If you don’t have a garden, ask your neighbour or friend, or find out if there is a community garden in your area.
- 1 Million Women have a great blog post on how to make your own bokashi – a lot cheaper than buying a branded one!
Charles Sturt University – The “Bokashi bucket” kitchen waste recycling system
So now I have all this info behind me, I can bokashi like a pro, cutting down on even more waste to landfill! All aboard the zero waste train!
Thanks for reading, now go and get your bokashi on!
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