Food scraps with Bokashi bran sprinkled on top, in a fermenting bin

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic process that relies on inoculated bran to ferment organic material in a tightly closed container.

June 2017 Update: I first posted this on December 26, 2016. Since then. I’ve added food scraps and some other biodegradable materials into my Bokashi bin, let it sit, drain off the liquid—all the things one should do to maintain the fermentation. During this time, I saw a white, fluffy mold grow on the edge of the bin in quarter-sized spots. It never got out of hand, just something I hadn’t expected.

My verdict after 7 months of use: the waste didn’t break down as much as I had hoped. Most of what I’d added remained visibly discernible (I could still tell what was the sweet potatoes, rinds, and other foods). I also need to think about the next stage for this fermented waste, as I don’t have a lawn to bury it into to further decompose. As I learned, this is not something you can add to vermicomposting, as the worms RUN AWAY from the fermented shlosh (I ended up getting worms to add to my GT2 tower). In other words, this might be a good idea for someone who has a backyard, or has gardener friends, but not for someone who lives in apartment. I’ll keep the remainder of my original post for those interested in the basics.

If you’re a longtime reader, you’ll know that part of my green lifestyle involves composting and gardening. I just moved into an apartment without a patio or outdoor space, but I still want to compost and grow some of my food. After doing some research, I decided to get a Bokashi composting bin (this one, if you’re curious) and a Garden Tower 2 (GT2) gardening system. The Bokashi bin helps breakdown food scraps through fermentation, which I then put in the GT2 to finish decomposing and feed my veggies, eliminating the need for a large compost bin and worms.

I’ll make another post about vermicomposting (which I did before I moved and recommend if you can maintain it), and can even talk a little bit more about my gardening plans. Today’s post, however, is really to introduce the concept of Bokashi composting.Planet Natural Research Center has a nice primer on the who, what, and how of Bokashi composting. Basically:

In Bokashi composting, kitchen scraps of all kinds — including meat and dairy products banned from aerobic systems — are mixed with some of the inoculated bran, pressed into the Bokashi bucket, covered with another handful of bran, and tightly covered. When the bucket is full, it is sealed shut and set aside for ten to twelve days. Every other day during that time, the leachate that is an inevitable by-product of anaerobic composting needs to be drawn off. That’s the only care required. (This is very easy with a commercial Bokashi Bucket which has a spigot for this purpose.) When the bucket is opened, the contents, though recognizable, are thoroughly pickled. At this stage, the “pre-compost” as one company brochure terms it can be buried in a fallow spot in the garden. One Caution: It is still so acidic that plant roots should not come in contact with it for two to four weeks.

You can read the full article here: Bokashi: All You Need to Know

I’ve had the bin for about 2 weeks now, still adding material since I don’t produce much food waste. So far, I’m liking it. It has a smell, technically, when you open the bin to add more scraps, but otherwise, it’s out of sight, out of mind. If I could describe it, I’d say it is reminiscent of beer or wine or some kind of semi-sweet fermenting smell. It’s not unpleasant at all.

My diet is plant-based, so there’s no decaying animal parts or excretions in there, but my understanding is that even if you add those materials, it should not smell awful. Planet Natural’s primer explains that a “foul smells indicate that something has gone awry. This diagnosis is a bit trickier than usual because Bokashi does not smell like spring roses even at the best of times. The literature talks about the difference between a ‘sweet and sour odor,’ indicating fermentation, and a ‘foul odor,’ indicating decay.”

I’m looking forward to seeing it progress. I’ll update with pictures when I get the chance.