I hate to take out the trash. It actually makes me sad when I see all the stuff I send (or used to send) to the landfill. That’s because I know the place I send my trash is in the middle of a rural, residential zone.
Property is cheaper over there. I suspect that’s because most people don’t want to live near a landfill. So, there tends to be a lot of young families just starting out and retired folks on fixed incomes in that area. Sending my garbage off to their neighborhood just feels inconsiderate.
Luckily, homesteading is a way of life that can lead to zero waste in the long-term.
Making compost is one of the easiest and most beneficial ways to immediately reduce your landfill load. Starting a vermicompost bin and using that to grow a compost-driven garden, is something you can do in just a few simple steps.
Unfortunately, people who are new to composting are often told to only compost certain things. In particular, they are warned to keep dairy, fish, meats, oils, fats, and prepared or processed foods out of their compost bucket.
Doing this cuts down on potential problems like bad smells or houseflies invading your compost bucket. However, it also severely limits the amount of compost you can make. Plus, you still end up sending a lot of unnecessary waste into other people’s backyards.
Overcoming the Limited Approach to Composting
Quite frankly, you don’t have to limit what you compost – indoors or out – as long as you use compost methods designed to deal with potentially stinkier and more pathogenic compost materials.
We’ll get into outdoor methods of composting everything in future posts. Today though, I want to tell you about a simple tool called “bokashi”. This process allows you to prepare all your food waste so that you can safely compost it using your indoor vermicompost bin.
Benefits of Bokashi
The word bokashi is Japanese for “fermented organic matter”. This fermentation process minimizes harmful bacteria in higher risk foods like meat and dairy. It also fast tracks the growth of beneficial bacteria to expedite composting later.
It can even improve the rate at which your worms generate compost because it makes your raw compost materials even healthier for them to eat. Like humans who enjoy lacto-fermented sauerkraut, worms who eat bokashi materials may be better able to digest those fermented foods. They also ingest beneficial bacteria which may improve their health and productivity.
Bokashi is done “anaerobically” which means without air. So, it limits the potential for bad smells in the early processing. Also, flies, gnats, and such can’t survive airtight containers. So, even if they get in, they don’t get out!
How to Make Bokashi at Home
Bokashi is very simple process. Well…it is once you establish a simple system for doing it. Here are the basics.
1. Fill Your Bokashi Bucket with Layers
Bokashi involves putting a few inches of compost materials (e.g. kitchen scraps and leftovers) in a container, covering them with a light dusting of inoculated bokashi bran or splash of bokashi liquid.
Then you add a few more inches of compost material with another sprinkle or splash of bokashi inoculant. You repeat this layering processing until you have filled your container.
2. Compress Your Materials and Limit Air Flow
Because this process is anaerobic, you also need to compress your scraps to push out the air between your layers. I use the bottom of a mason jar as a tamper to squish everything down.
You keep your container tightly closed between each application of compost materials. Then, once your container is full, you close it up tight for 2-3 weeks to keep all air out while the fermentation happens.
Side Note: Incidentally, this process is very similar to making fermented foods like sauerkraut. Instead of compressing compost materials and sprinkling with bokashi bran, you compress shredded veggies or herbs and sprinkle with salt.
I’ll get into more details on fermenting foods later. But, as I explained at the start of this series, homesteading is all about simple skills. Once you know the basics, you’ll start to discover lots of different applications around the homestead!
3. Strain Out Fermentation Liquid Often
Bokashi works best when moisture levels are about 60%. Most of the food scraps we collect have more than 60% moisture. So, there is one more trick to bokashi.
You have to remove the excess moisture during the fermentation process, without letting in air. To do that, you need the right kind of container.
That container is usually called a bokashi bucket. When you buy the pre-made versions, they are about 5 gallons in size with an airtight lid.
The bokashi buckets usually have a spigot at the bottom that allows you to drain the moisture without opening the lid. Better versions also have a strainer over the spigot opening inside the bucket to keep it from clogging up.
I’ll include buying options at the bottom of this post if you are interested. But you can also make your own bokashi buckets at home for much less than you can buy them.
DIY Bokashi Bucket Systems
Here are some simple container ideas to help you get started making bokashi for very little investment.
– Bucket with a Drain or Spigot
If you have a hole saw or a spade drill bit kit, you can make a hole in the base of your bucket and insert a 3/4″ PVC bulkhead or a 1″ to 3/4″ PVC male adapter as a drain. Then, you’ll also need a threaded PVC end cap to close the drain.
Note: If you use the adapter not the bulkhead, you’ll also need to use silicone caulk to hold the adapter in place and prevent leakage.
This concept costs about $6 in parts at the hardware store. It takes about 5 minutes of work to make. You’ll also need to buy or free source a bucket with a tight-fitting lid.
You could also use a spigot as a drain. They cost more like $10 for a good one that won’t clog. But they make draining your bokashi liquid easy too.
– The 3-Bucket Systems
If you don’t have a a hole saw or spade drill kit, you can also just drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of a bucket just like you did for the vermicompost bin. Then you can set the bucket with the holes inside another bucket (with no holes) to catch the liquid that drains out.
When using this method, it’s nice to have two buckets for catching the liquid. That way to remove the liquid, you just lift the inner bucket from the outer bucket. Then you immediately put the inner bucket into the second outer bucket.
After that, you can then use the bucket that has the bokashi liquid to make fertilizer (see “Using Bokashi Liquid” below for details).
For this three bucket system to work, the inner bucket must have a very tight fitting lid to create the airless conditions for making bokashi. Also, the other two buckets (that catch the liquid) must fit snugly around your inner bucket. Similar to the lid, the snug fit between the buckets helps maintain an airless environment for bokashi.
Warning: If you don’t have a second outer bucket (e.g. you use 2 not 3 buckets), then you have to put the inner bucket on something else when you empty the catch bucket. Otherwise, your bokashi bucket drips out all over the place until you put the catch bucket back.
Multiple Bokashi Bins
Similar to vermicomposting, you really need at least two bokashi bins for this to be an effective tool on the homestead. That way while one bin is fermenting, you can be filling up the other.
Using the 3 bucket system, you’ll always need to keep one bucket under your bokashi bin to catch the liquid. However you really only need one extra catch bucket for transfers. So, if you wanted 3 bokashi bins, you’d need 6 dedicated buckets (3 inner, 3 outer) and 1 extra catch bucket for transferring. In that case, you’d have a 7 bucket system.
Side Note: As you can probably tell by now, buckets are a pretty incredible tool on the homestead. so free source and stash them whenever you get the chance.
Where to Keep Your Bokashi Bins
Bokashi bins, like your vermicompost bins, should be kept at temperatures suitable for human comfort, out of direct sunlight, and in a place that is convenient for you to access regularly.
Also, when using a bucket with a drain, you’ll want to elevate it (e.g. sit it in a phone book or stack of old magazines) so you can get a cup under your drain to catch your liquid.
Most bokashi instructions say it takes 2 weeks to ferment your scraps. I am not so great about cutting my scraps up into tiny pieces. Sometimes I put large bones, like poultry drumsticks and pork ribs, into my bokashi bucket. So, I usually just let the bokashi bucket sit for 3 weeks to make sure things are good and fermented.
When you open the bucket, if it is finished, it should have a slight vinegary, almost sweet smell. It may also smell a bit musty and sour. However, it shouldn’t smell like rancid, rotted meat. If it does, add a lot more bokashi inoculant and close that sucker up for another 3 weeks!
Using Your Bokashi Liquid
The bokashi liquid that comes out during fermentation can be diluted at a rate of 100 parts water to 1 part bokashi juice. Then you can apply it to house plants, non-edible flowers, your lawn, or mature perennial plants as a short-term fertilizer.
If you use the 3 bucket method, then just add the water to your bucket and use a jar or cup to dip out what you need for plants. I usually go for about a cup of diluted liquid per square foot of soil around the roots.
Avoid using this liquid directly in the vegetable garden as it may still contain some food-borne pathogens.
Vermicomposting Bokashi Solids
Once your bokashi is fermented, then you can add those solids from your bokashi bucket to your vermicompost bins and let your worms convert it to compost for you.
Feed your bokashi-ed goodies to your worms just like you do your un-fermented composting materials. Add a few inches to your vermicompost bin to start. When your worms eat most of that, replenish it with more bokashi solids.
Make sure you never overload your worm bin or you can suffocate your worms by creating an airless environment like your bokashi bucket!
Now, that you have the basics down, we must talk about the all-important bokashi inoculant. This stuff is basically like adding yeast to bread dough or wine must, except instead of yeast, it adds the bacteria that ferment organic matter in airless conditions.
Just to get started, I recommend you buy your dry bokashi bran ready-made. This will give you a chance to see how the inoculant is supposed to work. However, this stuff is pretty expensive to buy.
So, just a little further down the homesteading road, you’ll want to make your own bokashi starter. (I’ll cover that in a later post, too.) By then, you’ll have made a few batches of bokashi using the commercial bran. You’ll know what the process is supposed to look like. And that will make it easy for you to confirm that your homemade bokashi is working equally well.
In the meantime though, you don’t have to bokashi everything. You can continue to put your “limited list” compost materials into your worm bins fresh. Then you can use your bokashi bran just for your meat, dairy, fats, prepared, and cooked foods. That way you won’t burn through your bran in a week.
Different bokashi inoculants have different application rates. So, I can’t tell you exactly how much to apply. You’ll need to read the instructions on your bokashi inoculant for exact measurements.
Personally, though, when I buy bokashi inoculant, I prefer to use dry bran. It’s easier to store and holds up longer on my shelf.
– Compost Base
I start my bokashi by putting some finished compost in the bottom of my bokashi bucket (about an inch). This helps keep my drain from clogging and acts as a kind of biofilter for the liquid that comes out at the start of the fermentation cycle. (It tends to be stinkier than the stuff that comes out later.)
-Extra Bran for Bigger Bits and Bones
I sprinkle on about a tablespoon of dry bokashi bran over the compost. Then, I add 2-3 inches of food scraps. I add another tablespoon or so of bokashi bran, and repeat. If I am adding primarily meat or lots of bones, I add 2 tablespoons of bran instead of just 1.
Also if I am putting in large chunks of stuff, I also up my bran input. It takes longer for the bacteria to work their way through bigger bits. So I figure by adding more of them, many bacterial buddies will make lighter work.
– Bone Meal Beginnings
Because I do put bones, large and small, in my bokashi, later after my worms have composted my bokashi solids, I pick those bones out of the worm castings. The worms eat up all the meat residue and leave me with just bones. Then, I air dry those bones and save them to use for bone meal fertilizer (more on that in later posts).
– Lacking in Liquid
Also, since I don’t bokashi all of my kitchen scraps, sometimes I even have to add some water to my bokashi to get to the 60% moisture level that is necessary for the bacteria to be active. If you aren’t getting any liquid run-off from your bokashi bucket, open it up and make sure your bokashi solids feel squishy but not oozy.
Bokashi is Love
We all learn to sort our recyclables, to flush the toilet, to put the seat up or down, to wrap up stinky stuff or take it direct to the outside trash bins, and so on. We take out the trash, haul it to the curb, etc. These are all habits that we have normalized in our society to keep things nice.
Bokashi and vermicomposting are no different. You are simply sorting a different way. Then instead of taking out the trash and sending it to someone else’s backyard, you are turning it into compost for your own.
Bokashi to me is an act of love. It’s love for my community because I am not sending my stinky mess away for someone else to live next door to. It’s love for my soil because the ultimate end product — more compost — will increase fertility for growing plants. It’s love for myself and my family because that compost ultimately grows things that nourish us and our planet.
Don’t let anyone tell you this is too hard, or too much work, or any other iteration of poo-pooing your efforts to do the right thing. This is easy, basic stuff that you can do with the same amount of effort as sending your garbage off for someone else to deal with. Yet, it is profoundly better for you, your family, our society, and our planet.
Also if you have cats or dogs, bokashi can make their poop useful for non-edible plants too. I’ll cover that in more detail in future posts. But, wouldn’t you love to not have to use toxic kitty litter? Or put your pup’s poop to good use making your homestead beautiful?
Just in case you need to buy some things to get your bokashi started, if you click the images below to buy, I’ll get a small percentage of your purchase price at no extra charge to you.
This is how I support this website. However, I totally understand if you prefer to make your own or find different suppliers.
Here is an easy to use dry bokashi bran. It costs $13 for 2.2 pounds. You can also buy larger batches if you want to have a supply for a while.
If you prefer a pre-made bokashi bucket, instead of making your own, you can get one that includes 2.2 pounds of dry bokashi bran for about $47 (first image). You can get also fancier version that includes a counter top compost bucket and cup for the liquid for $55 (second image).
Also note, your purchases will likely come in packaging. Save your cardboard for the garden or your worm bins as extra browns. Hang on to your plastic bags for use later to make a plastic quilt to use in the garden.
Also, if they happen to send you those puffy air pillows or Styrofoam, those are great insulation around plant containers. More on these ideas in later posts too!