Bokashi tips: Daily life on the kitchen bench

Modern still life: bananas and tomato with fresh herbs. Oh, and the Bokashi bench-top thingy.

What you’re really doing when you bring a Bokashi bucket into your kitchen is swapping one rubbish bin with another. ALL your food waste will go into the Bokashi bin and by the time you recycle everything else (you know, glass, plastic, metal, paper, all those damn batteries and light bulbs…) there’s more or less nothing else. So you can pop in a micro bin, a couple of litres or so, under your bench alongside the Bokashi bin and toss the old rubbish bin. Well hang on, we don’t just toss things any more, right? So recycle it into some sort of container for uh, recycling paper or something.

Anyhow, unlike your old toss-it-all-in rubbish bin that was always ready to receive, your shiny new Bokashi bin doesn’t like to be opened more than once or twice a day (microbes really HATE air). So the trick is to collect your scraps somewhere handy until it’s the daily Bokashi Hour. (Well, I’m joking, it doesn’t need to be the same hour every day.)

We use a flowerpot for this, the kind that doesn’t have a hole. It’s the white shiny thing in the picture. And we’ve plopped a standard terracotta pot saucer on top which keeps it vaguely airtight and keeps any visiting fruit flies out. This works perfectly, and actually I wish I’d done this years ago, even with the old rubbish bin system.

It’s much easier to throw an apple core or tea bag into the benchtop caddy than to open the cupboard door under the bench while trying not to get the cupboard door knob too icky and sticky while you’re at it.  A lot of bending and scraping during the course of an average day that, when you stop and think about it, really isn’t necessary. If this was the industry world we could do a productivity study on it and probably find out there’s time and money to save on having a mini-bin at hand for all the small stuff. Especially handy when you’re doing the vegies for dinner to be able to just scrape everything direct into the little Bokashi bin.

And let’s face it, what we throw more than anything during the course of an average day is bits of food — apple cores, potato peelings, a bit of smelly sausage from the fridge, leftover lunch sandwiches… You’d be surprised how it mounts up during the day and we always have one or two full pots that are transferred to the Bokashi bin during the day.

Which is a quick and easy job in itself — just lift off the lid of the Bokashi bin and toss in the contents of your benchtop caddy. You can give it all a bit of a push down with the pot while you’re at it, it’s not necessary to fuss and bother too much over chopping up your food scraps but it is worth compacting the contents of the bin a bit while you’re there anyway. Sprinkle over a handful of Bokashi bran (we store ours in a standard kitchen sprinkler to make it easy) and put on the lid tightly. That’s it.

Mission accomplished. Bokashi hour is fixed and it took all of, what, 60 seconds?

Getting going with Bokashi

So put up your hand if you’re an expert at resisting changes. (Hand going quietly up here…)

I like to think of myself as being open, curious, willing to try new things. In actual fact I’m probably quite cynical, jaded and treat a lot of new things with a healthy measure of suspicion. Until proved otherwise.

Bokashi is one of those things that rung a few hocus-pocus warning bells for me when I first came across it. Forget it. There’s nothing new age or even vaguely hocus pocus about Bokashi. In actual fact it’s as old as the earth and belongs under one category only: good old-fashioned, down-to-earth common sense. The sort of thing farmers have known for hundreds of years but we, in our modern wisdom, have lost sight of.

Bokashi is fermented organic material, a lovely Japanese word that works in all languages and will one day be an unquestioned addition to ours. These days the fermentation is done using Effective Microorganisms (EM), a mix of very natural, age-old “good” bacteria that do the work for us in this process. No hocus pocus there, but a lot more to say in future blogs.

There are two things “Bokashi” and that’s a bit confusing. First, you have Bokashi bran. That’s normal bran — organic of course — that is inoculated with Effective Microorganisms. Fermented quite simply, just like a lot of stuff you’d find in your kitchen, pickles, yoghurt, wine and the like. Then second, you have Bokashi compost, and that’s what you get when you add Bokashi bran to your food waste and leave it to ferment in an airtight bucket.

There’s nothing magic about the bucket, apart from the fact that using a proper Bokashi bucket takes some of the trial and error out of the process. Two things Bokashi microbes hate are being wet and having too much air around them. Which is why the bucket is air-tight and must be drained regularly.

What happens in the bucket then? A lot actually, far more than you’d ever think when you take a look inside and see that, well, nothing much seems to have changed. Every handful of Bokashi bran you throw in has billions of microbes living in it. They go to work on your food waste and eat, breed and generally live a good life. The breeding is no small business, microbes reproduce every 20 minutes and sooneä than you know there’s a hell of a colony in your bucket.

So what are they doing there other than having a good time? The process is symbiotic, that means it’s a give and take thing where all parts win. (Pathogenic bacteria on the other hand, the ones we definitely don’t want in our lives, are just take-takers.)

While they’re eating and breeding, the microbes are breaking down the food waste into another structure. And this is what makes them so valuable. They take the food and sort of split it up into its component parts — proteins, which in turn consist of amino acids and other stuff. Why is this such a big deal? Plants can’t eat our food. But they can eat the amino acids and stuff. So what the microbes are doing is the equivalent of preparing a buffet of goodies for the  plants and soil.

When you dig the content of your Bokashi bucket into  the soil it quickly “disappears”. Obviously it doesn’t disappear at all, it is converted to soil. Rich, nutrient-loaded soil that is like a 5-star buffet for your plants.

It does other great things when you add it to your compost, but that’s a story for another day. As is the story about why Bokashi works as a miniature carbon-sink in your yard, something great you can do for the environment without (hardly) lifting a finger.

Bokashi in a brave new world

Jenny Harlen
Photo: Jenny Harlen

First time I heard about Bokashi I wondered what the hell it was. And it made me very curious! Soon I was searching websites up and down for information and my curiousity only increased. This was definitely something we had to test. And assuming it worked (which of course it did, brilliantly), something that had to spread far and wide.

We’ve been composting as long as I can remember. Not especially well, just average drag-and-drop composting where everything ends up in a big heap and some years later you muck around in it and see what you’ve got. I always saw it as more of a storage place for stuff that should go back to nature somehow than for what it really is: a small scale soil factory that gives you everything you need to get your garden growing well.

Bokashi is far more than just a new-fangled form of composting however. And that’s what we’d like to take up here in this blog. Not only what is is, but how it works, why it works, what happens in your soil when Bokashi gets involved, and how to make all things Bokashi run as smoothly as possible.

We have lots of ideas and good information to share! And look forward to sharing it all.

This blog is something we do just to help spread the Bokashi word as far and wide as possible. In Sweden, where we live (even though I’m from New Zealand orginally), we run the EM Bokashi webshop. You can visit it on, soon there’ll be an English version but just now it’s only in Swedish.

Please feel free to get in touch if there’s anything you’d like us to take up or would like to know more about. Look forward to hearing from you!