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  • Writer's pictureMiri M

Bokashi Composting - composting method for urban homes

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Urban Composting

Do you know that you can turn kitchen scraps into nutritious compost soil in your urban home?

Yes! It is absolutely possible and it is very rewarding. It took me about 6 months to finish this composting experiment and I am finally proud to tell you that "I Nailed it!"

I know composting is not for everyone, but if you have ever thought of trying it, I hope this post can give you some confidence. If you do it right, your compost will come out nicely. I will also tell you exactly what to do in case something seems off.

Composting brings many benefits. Most importantly, you are giving back to Mother Nature for the survival of mankind.

Composting creates new topsoil and brings essential nutrients back to nature

The world needs top soil to grow 95% of its food, but it’s rapidly disappearing (Click here to read about global topsoil shortage). Soil is eroding 10 times faster than it can be replenished because of farming practices and lack of organic materials on the soil to prevent erosion.

Topsoil is essential for all species' survival, as it is like a sponge where water, nutrients, mincro-organisms are accumulated. Due to the depletion of top soil, our crops have already seen a drastic decrease in important nutrient such as protein, Vitamin B, phosphorus, and iron.

Nature thrives in a cycle where organic matters get turned back into soil through the marvellous work of microbes, breaking waste down into the most basic but crucial elements - nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, that are often missing from artificial fertiliser. Composting is helping nature to keep nutritional in soil, where it’s supposed to be.

Prevents harmful gases from entering the environment - reduces global warming!

When food waste decays in landfill, it releases destructive methane gas into the air – a green house gas which is much more harmful to the planet than carbon dioxide. Food waste is one of the main factors behind rising greenhouse gas levels and a significant contributor to climate change. If all households are able to turn food scraps into soil, we are preventing methane gas and carbon dioxide from releasing to the atmosphere, the environmental impact would be the equivalent of taking almost one in five cars off the roads!

Turns your waste into free nutrition-rich organic soil and fertilizer

Putting our organic waste into a place with the right microbes, grubs, fungi and bacteria, is nature‘s way of bringing “waste” back into “resource”. Composting is letting us relearn how to work together with nature, to create organic and rich soil for our consumption again. Your plants will be thankful, and will reward you with blooming flowers and nutritious fruits.

Compost Makes You Happy (No Really, it’s Science!)

Mycobacterium vaccae has been found “to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide.” (Click here to read more)

Basically, as you are working with compost or soil in the garden you inhale this bacteria which stimulates serotonin production, making you relaxed and happy. But it gets even better; the effects of this bacteria can be felt for up to 3 weeks after it is inhaled.

It is time we take a new perspective on waste. There is no such thing as “away”, because the earth is one big closed ecosystem - when we throw anything away it must go somewhere.

Here are some plants that are enjoying my fresh compost: Aloe vera, purple flowers from my climbers, tomato plants that I grew from seeds.

Introducing Bokashi Composting

There are many ways to practice composting, you can dig a hole, bury heaps of food scraps into soil and let nature slowly decompose them. If you don’t have land, you can also get help from insects (vermicomposting, or black soldier flies), or use a rather simple method that I talk about today - Bokashi composting.

Bokashi Composting is a method created by Dr Teuro Higa of University of Ryukyus, Okinawa Japan, using an anaerobic process that relies on inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste, including meat and dairy, into a safe soil builder and nutrient-rich vinegar like acidic fertiliser (bokashi tea) for your plants. The healthy bacteria used in bokashi composting is very similar to those in our yogurt, Japanese Natto (fermented soy beans) and Korean Kimchi (fermented cabbages).

Tools and supplies that you will need:

For fermentation process:

  1. Two 15L-20L Bokashi Bins (a bucket with drain tap and mesh to keep liquids down and away from food scraps)

  2. Bokashi Bran or EM solution (EM = Effective Micro-organism). You can find it from bokashi composting suppliers and online shops

  3. A plate to put on top of the scraps to keep it airtight

  4. A big planter pot with drain holes plus gardening soil for the second step composting process

This is how a bokashi bin should look like. It should have a tight lid, a draining spout for collecting bokashi tea. One 12L - 15L Bokashi bin should be enough to keep veggie and fruit scraps for a family of 4 for 2 weeks. The other picture is my soil planter pot which I use in Step two of the composting process.

Other useful tools:

  1. An airtight box to keep food scraps in the fridge

  2. A gardening spade

  3. Small glass bottles for keeping bokashi tea in the fridge

Here are the basic steps:

1. Prepare scraps: Cut up your scraps into small chunks and keep them relatively dry, store in an air-tight box for a day or two inside the fridge until you have time to handle it.

What you can put in:

Vegetable and fruit peels, flowers, leaves and stems, coffee, tea, egg shells, nuts. Some people also add meat and bones, but I prefer to keep it meatless to ensure success.

2. Add scraps and Bokashi bran: Add your compostable materials no more than once per day, to ensure the anaerobic process in the bin. Spread the scraps evenly in the bin, cover generously with bokashi bran. Press firmly down with the plate, keep the lid tightly covered, and keep it away from direct sunlight.

3. Drain the Bokashi Tea: After a week or so, you should be able to drain Bokashi tea from the spout. The liquid is acidic and rich in nutrients, and it should smell like soy sauce or vinegar. The smell of the bin could be a bit strong, but it shouldn't smell very bad. The color of the tea depends on the materials you put in and the bokashi bran you use. Mine is dark brown because I put in a lot of coffee powder. Clear the bokashi tea everyday, so moisture will not stay inside the bin.

Bokashi tea as natural fertiliser:

Dilute 2 teaspoons of Bokashi tea with 1.5 Litres of water, apply it to the soil of your plants once a week, avoid touching the leaves as it could cause burning.

Bokashi tea as disinfectant:

You can also pour bokashi tea directly into toilets, sinks and drain to disinfect these areas. Keep excess bokashi tea in the fridge (label it with date), or simply share it with friends and neighbors.

See my potato plant, gingers, and lime plants happily enjoying my diluted bokashi tea.

4. Fermentation

After the bokashi bin is filled up, leave it alone for 2 weeks to let the good bacteria continue to do their job, but still remember to clear the bokashi liquid everyday.

5. Put into soil for transformation

After 2-3 weeks of fermentation, the exciting time to clear your compost into the soil has come! At this point, you can still recognise the original compost materials, they should be soft and brown, but not dripping. You will need to dig a hole in the planter box, pour out about 2 inches of the contents, cover it up with shredded newspaper and soil, then do the layers again until you finish pouring all your contents into the pot. Last, cover it up with a thick layer of soil.

It could look, smell, feel a bit yucky at first, but it only takes 15-30 min to clear the bin so bear with it for now! Remember to rinse and dry your bin for your next use.

At this point, all your hardwork is done. You just need to wait for roughly two more weeks, and you will be rewarded with wonderful new compost soil. You can now use the new soil to plant, either by mixing it with a dryer soil (for example cactus soil) for better drainage, or adding to the soil of your current pots of plants.

Yay! Fresh compost soil!

What to do if......

There is black and blue mold in the bin and the bin smells really foul?

Bokashi composting should be very safe and easy. If you find black and blue mold in your bin, you will have to throw the entire batch away. The main reason for this is probably because you have put molded food in there, there is too much moisture in the bin, or bokashi bran is not enough.

I find white mould in the bin or my soil bin?

The white mold is actually a fungi and shows that the food waste is fermenting rather than putrefying. Fermentation is exactly what you want in your bokashi bucket. So, if you see white mold on your bokashi food waste, you can be confident that everything is going well in your bokashi bucket.

There are insects in my bokashi bin or soil bin?

Maggots in the bin: If you find maggots and flies in your bokashi bin, you can either restart it or bury the entire batch in soil. It is very common that you find maggots of Black Soldier Flies in the soil bin during the last composting stage.

Maggots in the soil: Maggots are very efficient in eating away the scraps, helping to speed up your composting process. Maggots do not climb out or appear on top of the soil to scare you unless you turn the soil, or when the soil is flooded. Black Solder Flies do not enter your home, so you won't have to worry about flies infestation. They only live for a day or two and die off very quickly. If you are courageous, you can use long chopsticks to pick out the maggots to feed to wild birds. They would love you.

Earthworms in the soil: Congratulations! These are lovely little creatures that can keep your soil healthy. They are your plants and soil's best friends.

See the maggots that I picked out from my bin for the birds, and the earthworms that are happily living in my soil (not for those who are afraid of bugs!) I tried to match the music to their movements!

Do you also know that nature works in a wonderful way? While I was worried that my soil bin has too many flies and bugs, this little guy came to my rescue. I spotted him lurking around after having a scrumptious meal in my garden.

Let's all try to work with Mother Nature! Write comments to me if you wanna ask me questions or if you are a composting expert who wanna share some great knowledge with more people. Thanks!

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