What actually happens in a Bokashi bin?

Do you remember the first time you looked in your first-ever Bokashi bucket? All the excitement of a sparkling new project on the go. Hopes and dreams about changing your life, changing the world.

So you open your bucket and… Nothing. Just food scraps. Sort of mushy, but still — food scraps. Is that it then? Doesn’t it get any better than this?

The thing is that there IS a lot going on in that bucket. It’s just that we can’t see it.

The first thing to face up to is that you won’t get soil in your bucket. Never. Ever. Just doesn’t work that way.

What you will get is pickled food scraps. That look exactly like the food scraps you scraped off your plate the other day. The “pickling”, or fermentation is a process that is really handy for us. It means we can be as lazy as anything, not have to go out with the scraps to the compost in the dark and slush and not have to put up with the slime, smell and flies you would quite likely have had otherwise if you’re a bit lazy with that compost bin trip.

You have to admit it’s quite comfortable having a no-smell bin in the kitchen that deals with everything.

But that’s not the reason for Bokashi, it’s actually all about dealing with the food scraps in the way that will give the best possible results for your plants.

So what happens in your Bokashi bin actually?

The microbes go to work pretty quickly on the food waste and do two things. One, they multiply. Every 20 minutes or so if they like the look of things. And soon you have a full bin of microbes munching at the bit to get out and do something in your garden.

And two, they go to work on your chicken bones, cheese rinds, macaroni leftovers. Food is made up of a lot of proteins and stuff and the microbes job is to break up those proteins into their component parts, which are amino acids. The tiny little bits of the protein chains.

If you bury a banana skin in the ground your average tomato plant won’t be able to get much out of it. But if that same banana skin had been through a Bokashi bucket first your tomato plant would be able to “eat” it directly. That’s because the plant can take up the nutrients in the amino acids with help of the microbes, it’s a kind of package deal.

I think you could sort of compare it to turning up at a big Christmas dinner. On one table is a pig. On the other is a beautiful array of turkey slices, meatballs, vegetable dishes and dessert. Complete with knives and forks and everything else you could ask for. Which would you choose?

What do the microbes add in all of this? A lot. As well as basically serving up the food in bite-sized portions ready for the plants they tend to do all the running around. Talk to the plants (through their roots) and ask what’s on their wish list for the day in the way of nutrients. Like little mini waiters they then scurry off and fetch the required dishes. And their tip? A nice dose of sugar from the plant, delivered in some way via the roots.

If the same food scraps had gone straight into a traditional compost they would also have become soil in the end. But in the process most of the nutrients would have leached away. Much of the carbon in the compost would have gone up into the atmosphere in the form of methane and carbon dioxide. And the nutrients that remained would have lost their valuable “fast-food” structure during the rotting process. Nothing against composting — but it is a very different process to fermentation.

Now I’m no biologist so I know this is ridiculously over simplified. If you can add something to the description or put it right I’d love your feedback. But all in all I think our buckets and their billions of microbial residents deserve a great pat on the back for a job well done. Over and over and over again.

So even if there’s nothing much to see when you empty that Bokashi bucket there’s a lot to be grateful for.

And the real thanks is the happy bouncing plants you get at the end of the day. It’s just that there’s more teamwork involved than you’d ever imagine!

Bokashi rules!

Well, I think it does! Bokashi is one of those few things in life that you know is really cool from the first second, then year after year just goes on convincing you even more. And I’m not alone. The world is full of us, Bokashi fans who are quietly spreading the word by word of mouth. Changing the world. One bucket at a time.

But what I really wanted to write about are Bokashi Rules. The most basic things you need to do to get it working. There’s just a couple and they’re surprisingly simple.

1. Keep it airtight.

Rule number one. You’ll need an airtight bucket. Bokashi (EM) microbes are anaerobic and work best in a tightly sealed environment. Try not to open your bucket more than one or two times per day and it will be fine.

2. Keep it dry.

Some buckets have taps/spigots, others don’t. You’ll get just as good an end-result either way but the key is to keep the moisture level right down in the bucket. And food waste is wet. If you’ve got a tap you can drain off the liquid a couple of times a week (great plant fertilizer!) and if you’ve got a plain old bucket you’ll need to absorb the liquid using newspaper, household paper, egg cartons or whatever you have handy. Squash it all down and you’ll find it doesn’t take as much space as you’d expect.

If you see condensation on the inside of your lid then the contents of your bucket are too wet. Thow in an egg carton or something dry. The reason: if your bucket is too wet it will smell. And that’s not fun.

3. Keep it warm.

Depends what part of the world you live in of course but room temperature is a good guideline. 20 degrees Celsius (sorry, what’s that in F?). Too cold and the microbes in your bucket won’t be able to reproduce quickly enough and there’s a chance your bucket will start going off before it’s fermented. But once it’s done its thing for a couple of weeks indoors you can do what you like with your bucket. Dig down the contents, put it on the porch for storage, tip it into a storage bag in the woodshed. No worries if it freezes during the winter. But heat during those first two active weeks is really important.

And that’s about it!

Keep it dry, airtight and warm and you’ll never have a smelly bucket.

Actually it’s hard to imagine anything much simpler. Not surprising there’s so many of us who really think Bokashi rules!