Bokashi: The Composting Samurai
Effective microorganisms (EM) are tiny little living entities that help break down compost and organic matter. They operate in a different way than beneficial bacteria or fungi in how they affect your plants. They turn up the volume on compost and aid in creating a soil that is rich in microbes and nutrients that you can integrate right back into your grow. Let’s dig into Bokashi.
What is Bokashi?
Bokashi is a Japanese word that means “fermented organic matter”. The term refers to both the method used and the inoculant mixture (the kick starter) used to power the fermentation process. The inoculant mixture consists of lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus casei), photosynthetic bacteria (Rhodopseudomonas palustris), and yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).
Freshly fermented bokashi doesn’t usually stay alive very long. Therefore, the inoculant mixture is made up of either bran or sawdust that has been soaked in water with molasses and beneficial microbes. This mixture is then dried out, packaged, and remains shelf-stable for up to two years for use in your grow.
Composting with Bokashi
Bokashi has several benefits, which is why we love it. You can use it to compost, to add nutrients to your soil, or brew it into a compost tea. The most commonly known use for it is its amazing power and efficiency in fermenting compost. Many people use bokashi bran to create a simple, closed compost bucket in their kitchen. After a few weeks, you have usable compost right there under your sink. If you aren’t into composting in your kitchen, adding bokashi straight to your grow can improve the rhizosphere of your plants, as well.
The composting method involves layering the bran with layers of your compostable material and leaving it to ferment. A big benefit of using the bokashi composting method is that it doesn’t require heat or air the way that traditional compost heaps do. It can work its magic in a sealed container with no access to fresh air or sun. The bran acts as a compost accelerator. In just ten to twelve days, this miracle bokashi will have fermented your food scraps and plant waste to create healthy beneficial compost, full of microbes and nutrients, for your garden! There are a few different bucket methods, but the basic idea is that as you throw food scraps into your bucket, you then toss some bokashi bran on top. This article has great instructions on how to use any of the simple bucket methods.
Because bokashi decomposes waste so fast, it doesn’t create nasty odors that you usually get coming from compost piles. It may smell a little like vinegar or beer because of the yeast that is present but it should never smell putrid. You may see a light white layer of mold on top of the compost while it is fermenting, it is normal and not a fungal infestation. If you see black or green mold, however, that is a sign of contamination and you will not want to use it in your garden or grow.
Bokashi and Bacteria
The bacterias that are created during the bokashi fermentation process are the same as some of the bacteria that have been found in the soils of oak trees and fruit trees in Asia. They help to produce ATP in plants and enable them to grow bigger and stronger. These bacteria use the energy of the heat of the sun in the soil and convert the secretions of the plant’s roots by eating it and producing a nutrient that is easier for the plant to take in as food.
Breaking All the Rules
Thanks to the anaerobic processes in bokashi composting, you can throw more than just plant waste and your rotting vegetables in there. The environment in bokashi fermentation buckets doesn’t allow for pathogens to live or grow. This is because bokashi composting is an anaerobic process, which means that it does not require oxygen. No need to worry about sprouting unwanted pathogens while turning waste into nutrient-dense soil. The only thing you will be adding is more micronutrients to your soil. So feel free to scrape your dinner plates directly into your bokashi bucket!
Adding Meat, Dairy, or Egg Products to Your Bokashi Compost
Bokashi can break down meat (not bones), cheese, and egg products in addition to your typical compost additions. Just make sure to add a layer of bokashi bran to the top of your bucket when throwing these protein items in. Charles Sturt University says there is no need to worry about those protein items messing up your microbial ecosystem with pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.
There is little risk of a pathogenic infestation because of the lack of air available in the sealed bokashi composting bins, as well as the acidic presence of lactobacillus. With an airtight seal, the only thing that can grow is the bokashi bacteria that help in making its pathogen-fighting environment. To make sure that you are not passing along salmonella or E. coli to your plants or gardens, let your compost ferment completely. If the idea of throwing meat and eggs in your compost bucket is too freaky for you, just leave it out.
How Do I Use It?
You can always use the composted material from your bin, but if you don’t want to commit to composting with bokashi, there are a few other ways to reap the benefits of what it has to offer. You can mix bokashi bran right into your soil, you can make a compost tea, or you can spray it directly on your plants. By mixing the bran directly into your soil, you are introducing tons of awesome micronutrients into your growing medium. It increases microbial activity and helps your plant uptake nutrients at a higher rate.
Bokashi in Your Compost Pile
You can use bokashi bran to speed up your regular compost pile outdoors by just adding it to your existing pile or composting bin. We prefer to use the bokashi airtight bin in our kitchen to get the fermentation process started and then move the pickled goodness to the outdoor heap. Also, worms love bokashi. You can expect to see them more frequently in your outdoor piles doing work to your soil when you feed them nutrient-dense bokashi compost.
Bokashi as a Top Dressing
When you use bokashi as a top dressing, add 1/3 cup of bokashi bran to every cubic foot of soil. Apply the top-dressing once every two weeks to see awesome results.
By making a compost tea, you ensure that your plants are receiving a uniform application. Additionally, a liquid application will be absorbed by the root system at a faster rate.
For a five-gallon brew, begin with a mixture that is 0.5 liters of bokashi compost, and then add 5 gallons of unchlorinated water. For best results with the tea, let it brew for 20-40 hours before applying it to your plants. You can use that same diluted brew to spray directly on your plants, as well. If you are using bokashi to compost your vegetable and plant matter, simply add that compost to your grow or outdoor garden when it is done fermenting, and watch your plants thrive!
Tried and Tested
If you want to see the difference that effective microorganisms and other added nutrients have on your soil, consider purchasing a BRIX meter. A BRIX meter measures the mineral, sugar, and nutrient density in your soil and plants. This handy tool can help you determine a more appropriate feeding schedule specifically for your grow. It can also help you better understand how added nutrients affect your plants.
Is It Compatible With My Grow?
You can use bokashi with any system—hydroponic, aquaponic, or soil medium. You do not want to add a bokashi brew to your hydroponic reservoir but instead should apply it directly to the root system. Bokashi can also be used with synthetic nutrients but that is where it gets a little bit of a grey area. Bokashi is meant to help foster natural and organic growth- a step toward biodynamic farming. If you are using synthetics, you may not see all the benefits that you would in an organic system.
Why Use It?
Bokashi is an all-natural additive that is not harmful to you, your plants, or the environment. Unlike regular composting, it doesn’t emit any greenhouse gasses, nor does it require any additional heat or churning. Another added benefit is the cost savings when compared to other fertilizers and synthetic nutrients. It provides micronutrients to your soil and is a renewable resource that you can even brew yourself.
Beneficial Microbes, Yet Again!
Developing beneficial microbial life through the bokashi process helps to diversify the microbial life of your soil. This creates a healthier ecosystem within your growing medium that is a huge benefit to your plants. These microorganisms help your plants grow bigger and stronger while becoming more disease-resistant. Diversifying the microbiome helps your plants build up resistance to potential threats!
What Would We Do?
The product that we recommend is Build-A-Soil Bokashi. It is an all-natural compost starter containing beneficial and Effective Microorganisms (EM).
We recommend brewing a compost tea for 24 hours before adding it to your soil. The micronutrients then flourish before being added to your grow and they supply your plants with immediate benefits. You can expect to see more resilient plants as a result of higher biodiversity in the soil, and as a result, higher yields.
If you feel like taking on a new pet project, making your own bokashi bran could be right up your alley. It is pretty easy and cheap so you can save a few bucks when taking the time to make it yourself.
What you will need to gather for supplies:
- EM (effective microorganisms): We recommend buying a prepared EM serum to ensure that it contains lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, and photosynthetic bacteria.
- Chlorine-free water: If using tap water, be sure to let it sit out for at least 24 hours to let the chlorine evaporate.
- Wheat or rice bran
- A big tub or tarp to mix it all
- An airtight container to ferment your bran
DIY Bokashi Instructions
For 10 pounds of bokashi, you will need 4 tablespoons of EM, 4 tablespoons of molasses, 10 cups of water, and 10 pounds of bran.
- Add molasses to water and stir until dissolved.
- Add EM microbes to the water/molasses mixture and stir.
- Place bran into a container large enough to hold it (or onto a tarp if mixing a large amount).
- Add the liquid mixture and stir it with your hands. This mixture should be moist and crumbly, but not sopping wet. If it is too wet, you run the risk of growing pathogenic mold. You can adjust the moisture content by adding a bit more liquid or a bit more bran.
- Place the damp bran into your airtight container and fasten the lid on tightly.
- Let it sit in a warm place for 2 weeks or more.
- Check your bokashi bran. White mold is okay, but black or green mold is not good. Your bran should not smell bad.
- If you are storing this mixture long-term, be sure to dry it out completely after fermenting and store it in an airtight container out of light for up to 2 years. Happy fermenting!
The More You Know, The Better You Grow
When you intend to grow a high-quality product naturally, implementing bokashi into your grow is a must-have. The price is right and allows you to diversify the microculture of your soil that richly benefits your plants. Why would you not want to feed your plants, simultaneously build up their disease resistance, and increase your yield?! Because bokashi is all-natural and organic, you don’t have to fear your plants may have a bad reaction. Just remember, this is potent stuff and you don’t want to overdose your plants. To learn more, drop into one of our seven stores and come rap with one of our knowledgeable staff!