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 Apr 18 - 24, 2013 
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Feature

Fast Track Your Compost

The bokashi method turns food scraps to fertilizer in a matter of weeks

By Christina Hartsock
El Pinto restaurant uses the bokashi composting method on a large scale.
Julie Kois
El Pinto restaurant uses the bokashi composting method on a large scale.

On average, each U.S. citizen produces 4.5 pounds of garbage every day, of which 60 percent goes into landfills. According to Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, three-quarters of a household’s waste is compostable. Not only does composting minimize landfill impact, but it is an awesome free fertilizer for your garden and house plants.

One problem with starting a compost pile, though, is that it can take a long time to produce usable fertilizer. Another issue is the smell of rotting matter that wafts over your backyard. If you’re concerned about either of these things, then maybe bokashi composting is for you.

“Bokashi” is a Japanese word that means “fermented organic matter.” It can be simply defined as intensive, anaerobic composting. Essentially, this means waste is placed in an airtight container with bran that has been inoculated with effective microorganisms (EM). After only a few weeks, the EM breaks down the organic matter. Instead of rotting and putrefying, however, the organic material in a bokashi system ferments or pickles, which produces a pleasant, sweet and sour smell.

One problem with starting a compost pile, though, is that it can take a long time to produce usable fertilizer. Another issue is the smell of rotting matter that wafts over your backyard. If you’re concerned about either of these things, then maybe bokashi composting is for you.

It’s pretty easy to get started with this method, and you only need a few basic supplies. Bokashi itself is actually the fermented bran that you will need to layer between your kitchen scraps. You can either make the bran yourself or order it online from Teraganix.com or Bokashicycle.com. You will also want two five-gallon buckets with lids and a small drain so that you can remove the excess liquid as the fermenting occurs.

Once you have your supplies, you’re ready to get busy pickling. First, place a small amount of bokashi bran into the bottom of one of your buckets. If you don’t have a drain in your bucket, you can place an inch or so of shredded newspaper in the bottom and then add the bokashi. The newspaper will soak up the excess liquid from the fermenting veggies.

Next, add small pieces of food scraps. The smaller the pieces, the faster the process moves along. The beauty of bokashi is that you can add almost any kind of food waste to the bucket; even meat, fish, dairy, bones and eggs are fine with this system. Food with white mold can be added, but leave food with green or black mold out.

Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of bokashi onto the top layer of food scraps, and press it down with a potato masher to eliminate air pockets. Remember, oxygen is the enemy of fermentation, so put a plate or some other barrier on top of the scraps to keep air out and put the lid back on the bucket.

As a rule you’ll want to drain off the excess liquid every other day or so. You should use the liquid by diluting it with water (1 part bokashi to 100 parts water) and fertilize your plants with it.

Each time you want to add veggie scraps, just repeat the process. Once the bucket is full, let it sit, sealed and undisturbed, for one to two weeks or more (during which time you’ll start the process again with your second bucket). But continue removing excess liquid during this time.

The next stage of the bokashi process involves digging a pit and burying the fermented material. If you are composting for a small family you will need to dig a hole or trench about 8 to 12 inches deep. Pour the contents of your bucket into the hole and mix with soil. Then cover with around 6 to 8 inches of soil. You can then plant into the bokashi-enriched soil about two to four weeks after it has been buried. This allows the bokashi to neutralize so it is not too acidic for the plants’ roots.

On a basic level, bokashi makes handling kitchen waste a much more palatable chore; instead of having a bucket of rotting vegetables under your sink, you have a bucket of compost that has a kind of 'fermenty' smell. Most importantly, you’ll sound cool just saying “bokashi.”

 
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