Category Archives: Bokashi kitchen

Drain your scraps before they land in the Bokashi bin!

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One of biggest frustrations people have with their Bokashi bin, it seems, is that now and then it smells.

Not just a bit, but really, really off. Not good for goodwill in the family or recruiting friends and neighbors to the cause. Mostly, people try to solve the problem by tossing in more bran. Gradually getting more disillusioned as it fails to make a big difference. Sadly I think a lot of bins have ended up in a corner of the garage because of this. A great idea that just didn’t quite make it.

The reason a Bokashi bin starts to smell is, nearly always, that it’s simply too wet in there. No amount of bran will help, you simply ha

ve to get rid of the excess moisture. The easiest way to do that is to simply put a newspaper inside the bin for a few days, it will absorb the humidity and most of the smell will disappear.

How do you know when it’s too wet in your bin? You’d think the drainage tap would take care of all liquid issues but for whatever reason not all liquid goes down to the bottom. Some goes up and hangs in the air pocket over the food waste. Some forms condensation droplets on the inside of the lid. And this is the point at which your bin starts to stink.

Next time you open your bin, check the underside of the lid. Condensation? Then it’s too wet and it would be worth tossing in a newspaper. If it’s not a big problem it could be enough just to add a toilet roll or two, or an empty  egg carton, something along those lines that will take up the moisture.

Usually the newspaper will be

quite soggy after a couple of days, then it’s done its work. You can leave it in there if you like, but if you think it’s just taking up a lot of valuable space you could remove it — just add another paper if and when needed. When you’ve got a newspaper in there it’s also a good chance to push down the contents of your bin, at least your hands won’t get icky in the process. And the more compact it is in your bin the better the Bokashi process will work. I suspect this  also helps squeeze down moisture towards the drainage tap too, and that’s always a good thing.

So then you’re standing there with a soggy newspaper in your hand, wondering what to do next. Don’t just toss it! By this time the paper is soaked with nutrients and good microbes, just the thing to use in your garden. If you’re into mulching, these newspapers are g

reat to lay out under bushes (especially berry bushes if you have them), in garden beds or veggie patches. Admittedly, they look a bit silly and will blow away as soon as they dry out, but you can always cover them with some bark, leaves or soil so they look a bit better. Have a peek under the paper after a few days, most likely it will be a full-scale worm party right there under your nose.

Another option is to toss the nutrient/microbe newspaper in the garden compost and cover so it doesn’t blow away. The carbon in the paper is nea

rly always needed in a standard outdoor compost to compensate all the leaves and other green stuff. And the microbes and nutrients just help it all along.

Or you can tear it into shreds and simply dig it down into your soil. The worms will love it, and after all it’s the worms that feed the plants so why not?

Just realized I’d posted a picture here before starting to write and completely lost my thread. The little white gadget is something I brought home from Ikea the other day and plan to have on the kitchen bench (or maybe in the cupboard under the sink) to store my

food scraps in during the day. That means they can run off for a few hours before landing in the bin. Especially useful if you’re fighting with a bin that is always too wet, or a family that is hard to train. Kids can always find their way to the little white box and put in their apple core. Once or twice a day, probably when you’re cleaning up after a meal, it’s just to take the drained-off bits in the white box and add them to the Bokashi bin.

Here in Sweden people drink enormous amounts of coffee for some reason, and it’s nearly always brewed at home (or in the office) in filter brewers. That means that after each brew you have a dripping wet filter of coffee to deal with. It’s really worth letting it run off first, coffee dries up quite quickly (and is a brilliant nutrient!), and it’s much better to add it your Bokashi bin after it’

s stopped dripping. Especially if you brew a lot of coffee at home! So a neat and tidy drainage solution is not so silly. Previously I’ve used a terra-cotta plant pot with an extra drainage tray as a lid. Works well, and the lid is not so silly if you have banana flies in the summer.

And, if you’ve got a Bokashi bin in the corner of your garage somewhere, would some of this be the reason you lost interest? May be time to have another go — your garden will thank you for it!

Photo: Jenny Harlen

Photo: Jenny Harlen

Just another thought: if you have a lot of loose tea leaves to deal with or make coffee in a french press you’re probably tearing your hair out with all the wet mess. At home we have one of these nylon coffee filters lying around in the sink, it gets in the way a bit, but as there’s always some tea or coffee slops to deal with we put up with it. They dry out really fast then you can dump them in the Bokashi bin. Also works well if you end up with a lot of wet, slimy rice in the sink. Just scoop it up and drain if off in the filter for a while.

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Bokashi — Keep it dry and it won’t smell. Promise.

The trick to enjoying life with your Bokashi bin is to keep it dry in there. Honestly, it’s that simple. Yeah, you have to have an airtight bin and sprinkle on the bran regularly but if it smells in your bin chances are it’s just too wet. The process is probably doing fine but it’s just nicer if you don’t have any smell to worry about.

The easiest way is just to avoid putting really wet food in the bin. If you have a bin with a tap a lot of the moisture will find it’s way down to the bottom and you can drain it off. But quite often there’s a condensation process going on in parallel and you find you have moisture gathering up on the top of the bin. A simple trick is just to lay a newspaper in the top of the bin, it will absorb most of the dampness and take the smell with it.

But it’s not so silly to drain off as much of the external moisture as possible before you put things in the bin and let the Bokashi juice come on it’s own in due course from the moisture in the food itself. The pictures show a couple of things I picked up from Ikea recently, here in Sweden they were in the kitchen hardware section, by the recycling bins and the place where they sell kitchen sinks and cupboard doors.

The black one is brilliant to have over your sink. You can peel your potatoes straight into it and let them run off for a while. Let your coffee filters and tea bags stand a while before they go in the bin, makes all the difference if they can dry up a bit.

The white one is also excellent. The two parts fit inside one another, the upper one has drainage holes and the lower one catches all the runoff. Nice and neat.

Obviously you can use any old strainer that you have lying around or invent something out of what you have, it’s not the meaning this should cost a lot of money. But from experience I know you tend to get a bit annoyed with most things which is why I fell for these. A flower pot with a drainage hole and dish isn’t so silly either.

Here’s another idea on the coffee front, in all simplicity. We drink a lot of press coffee here (or whatever you call it where you are!). I have a nylon coffee filter handy that I tip the coffee grinds into afterwards. You can just let it run off into the coffee maker or a cup or something. Dries up quite quickly and is easy to deal with.

Shrimps are another thing — dry the skins off a bit first and you’ll have no trouble with them in your Bokashi bin. It’s when they’re dripping wet that they cause problems. You could always put in something dryish on top of them in the bin, serviettes for example, bread, rice or whatever you’ve got handy that will help pack them in and dry them up so the Bokashi can do it’s work.

Anyhow, that’s my two-cents worth on the subject. Not exactly glamorous writing about how you dry up old coffee grinds and shrimp skins but that’s our reality here in BokashiWorld :-)!!

Love to hear your ideas, tips, the simpler the better. The more we can share our tiny daily inventions the easier we’ll make it for more people to get involved and like what they’re doing. So thanks!

/Jenny

Bio-bags. Dead easy and a great way to do Bokashi.

I keep talking about bio-bags. And to be honest I’m not completely sure what they’re called in different countries. But they are basically these — a roll of bags that work just like plastic bags but that are made from corn starch. Organic in other words, and they will break down in the soil.

We use them here in our Swedish “green bucket” system. The bucket itself is a super standard plastic bucket with tight fitting lid. You can whatever you have handy as long as it fits the bill. Pizzerias and bakeries usually throw out tons of similar buckets. Not necessarily green, but white will work just as well 🙂

Step one is to put the bag in the bucket just as you would a normal rubbish bag. Then put in some newspaper to take up the liquid that the food waste will produce. You’ll learn pretty quickly how much you need, I usually tear the local paper in two and just plonk it in. If you have wood pellets, hay pellets, cat litter or anything like that on hand you could test it. Anything will work as long it’s cheap and easy to get hold of, will absorb a lot of liquid and you’re happy about having it in your soil.

A sprinkle of Bokashi bran on top of the newspaper layer then you’re ready to tip in your days food waste. Just as you would with any other bucket. A little more bran, some extra paper if it looked like it’s going to be wet. Serviettes are ideal if you use them at home. Otherwise kitchen paper, egg cartons, dry bread. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

How much paper (or whatever) you use will depend partly on how wet your food waste is and partly on how long you plan to store your biobag. Let the food drain as much as possible before you put it in and you’ll save yourself some trouble. If your bag is going to wait a few months before going into the soil I’d say be a bit generous on the absorbent front. Food waste just goes on getting wetter as time goes on (unless you have it frozen out in the snow, but one day it’s still going to thaw). The quality won’t be particularly better or worse if it’s wet or dry but there will be a big difference in the smell. Wet = smelly. No way round it. So aim for damp or dryish if you can. It’s usually worth squeezing in an extra section of newspaper before you tie up the bag.

Final step: tie a good tight knot in the bag and carry it out to your storage spot. The bag will still need to ferment in a warm spot for a couple of weeks, just as in any other bucket. But the advantage is you don’t have to clean out the original bucket. In fact, you only really need the one bucket as you can remove the bag as soon as it’s full and use the same bucket again and again.

What you’ll need to think about:
– That the bio-bags you use are good and thick. We’ve tested a lot here and many are extremely flimsy. They will drive you nuts. The thick bio-bags will take time to break down in the soil (4 to 6 months even), but you can hack them up with a spade when you “plant them” to speed things up. At least you know they are organic so you don’t have to worry about getting plastic in your soil.
– That you have somewhere warm enough to store them for a couple of weeks. 20 degrees C is about right, depends of course where you live. Room temperature in other words. It can work in a coldish cellar but you’d want to make sure the bucket got going properly in the kitchen before it hit the cellar.
– That the bags are airtight — knotted tightly or with a good tight clip on. They are your “bucket” and the microbes just don’t like a lot of fresh air at this stage.
– That you have somewhere to store the “ready” bio-bags if you’re keeping them till spring or storing for someone else to carry away. One option is to load them into  black plastic rubbish bags, another is to keep them in plastic barrels or bins. Whatever, as long as it works for you.

I wrote a bit in the previous blog about how we collect Bokashi bags from a pre-school and an office building. It’s honestly so extremely easy once you get going. And the bio-bags do make it easy on a lot of fronts.

The three main advantages I can see are that…
– the process is a lot cleaner, especially valuable in an office environment where no-one wants to do the icky sticky stuff.
– it’s easy to hand over the bags to someone else for their garden. They don’t even have to see what you had for lunch!
– it’s easy to store the bags as long as you need until spring comes or you have some time to do some gardening.
and four,  it’s easy just to plonk a couple of bags in the wheelbarrow when you have a garden project on the go and plant the whole bag in the right hole in the right spot. You don’t have to deal with all your bags at the same time, just use them up gradually as you need some fertilizer in the garden.

So the way we see it, this opens up a lot of possibilities for the future. The key to making this whole Bokashi thing happen is that it has to be easy. Preferably nice and clean and preferably without a lot of digging involved.

So we’ll keep inventing things till we find the path of least resistance. Then it will be easy for everyone to start getting their food waste back into the ground and getting us back on track so we can grow the food we need in the future.

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!

DIY Bokashi buckets — Swedish “green buckets”

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Been meaning to post these pictures for ages! This is how we do DIY buckets in Sweden. It just doesn’t get much simpler than this! Plastic buckets with a neat lid and newspaper to take up the liquid.

The buckets are standard off-the-shelf buckets — local manufacture and you’d probably find one in every home here. The lids for this particular brand (Nordic Plast if you’re a Swede) fit well, nice and tight and are easy to peel on and off. You’ll need some Bokashi bran and some newspaper. That’s it.

The pictures pretty much give you the idea. Tear a newspaper in half and put the two bits in the bottom of the bucket. Aim for a thickness of a centimetre or so first time round, you’ll get to learn how much you need pretty quickly. Sprinkle in some Bokashi bran, layer your food waste as usual with a sprinkle of bran on each layer. This system is based on absorbing all liquid so use your common sense — wet food = more paper. Serviettes and kitchen paper are great, just toss them in when you scrape the dinner plates. Midway up the bucket you can add a bit of newspaper if you wish, it’s a good chance to give the whole bucket a good push down with your hand when you have a clean surface. A section of newspaper on top is a good idea too, takes up the condensation.

Yeah, I know, you’re probably a bit sceptical at this stage. We were and so have a lot of others been. But give it a go and find out for yourself! You may have to give it a couple of goes to get it right, but after all you haven’t got so much to lose. If you’re curious about how much newspaper would be needed you can do a simple test in a baking pan or something. Put in a section of newspaper and pour in a litre of water. Then another litre. Then another… I was really surprised how much liquid the paper takes up. But of course, how much you need in your bucket depends on what you’re throwing out. A lot of fruit and salad and you’ll get a “juicy” bucket, a lot of bread and pasta and you’ll get quite a dry one.

The process from then on is the same as in a shop-bought bucket with tap. Fill the bucket. Let it stand nice and warm for a couple of weeks to ferment. Take it out into the garden and do something good with it!

We have tested these buckets with bio-bags inside as a liner. Some people like the idea, others not. It depends quite a bit on what kind of biobags you get, the thin ones tend to be a bit flimsy but should theoretically break down faster. If you can get hold of slightly thicker ones they can make great winter storage, just tie up the bag carefully when it’s full and store in a barrel, box, crate or whatever till spring. (Be on the generous side with the newspaper and stuff if you’re planning to store your bags for some months.)

The bags themselves take longer than you’d think to break down in the compost or garden, whatever the manufacturers say. But on the plus side you can tie up the bag and drop it into a trench in the ground (or the compost, or a big planter…) and not have to see the food again, so the ick-factor is definitely lower. Bokashi buckets are not hard to spray out, but bio-bags do keep them cleaner. To speed things up a bit (a lot!) it’s worth slitting up the bag when you bury it. That way the process gets going immediately and you’ll have soil before you know it.

How about all this newspaper in the garden or compost or whatever? If you’re running a compost it’s actually a good thing. The trick to a getting a happy compost is a nice balance of carbon and nitrogen. Often referred to as brown and green. Your kitchen stuff is “green” — a nitrogen bomb. The paper is “brown”, pure carbon. The two things together will do great things for your compost.

If you’re digging down the buckets directly the newspaper can be a bit of a pain. The worms like it ok, but it does take time to break down. You’ll probably find yourself picking blocks of compact newspaper out of the garden now and then and tossing them in the compost. You can always lay them in a bed under some leaves or grass clippings as mulch, keeps weeds at bay and the worms love working away under the paper. The paper is also drenched in microbes, so it’s a good way to get a little colony going in a new spot.

Of course, you don’t have to have special green buckets to do this. Any bucket with a tight-fitting lid will work fine. Pizzerias tend to toss big white catering buckets out by the dozen. Free to a good home and no cost. They sometimes have lids that are a bit annoying, but what the hell — you can have as many buckets as you like and just stack them up until spring.

The only big minus with this system is that you don’t have a tap. Therefore you don’t get the marvellous Bokashi liquid. So if you’re a gardener you’d probably only want to use these newspaper buckets as a secondary system. Or a winter system. Or a system to collect in organics from your friends and family (this is a great solution for the office).

On the other hand, if you’re not a gardener it’s quite nice not having the tap. No buckets to drain, no juice to dilute and run around with. Much easier bucket washing. Much cheaper.

So this is just an idea. Tried and tested and ready to use. Anytime you’d like!

Bokashi in a bag! Perfect for Christmas leftovers

There’s something I’ve been wondering about for a long time: can you ferment Bokashi in a plastic bag?

So I’ve been testing it over the last months. And I have to say I’m quite excited about the result. Because it works every bit as well as a bucket once you get the hang of it. Perfect at Christmas if you get a rush on leftovers.

That means the up-front investment for getting started with Bokashi is zero. OK, you have to buy the bran but you have to buy that anyway, that after all is the magic of Bokashi. The buckets in themselves are very convenient but it’s the microbes that do the work not the plastic.

So how does it work? Take a plastic bag, a good thick one from a shoe store or something. I don’t know how things are where you live but the ones we get from the supermarket here are a bit thin and often have holes in them. You need your bag to be totally airtight. The thicker the better from an odour point of view as well.

You can put the bag in a bucket if you like or just put it in a cupboard or on the floor. You need a good thick newspaper, say half a centimetre thick in the bag. And you need a bag clamp of some sort: here I’ve used bag clamps from Ikea, they cost more or less nothing and everyone has them in their kitchen drawer here in Sweden.

Right. So you put the newspaper in the bag (a tabloid is usually the same width as a bag and slots in nicely with the fold at the bottom of the bag). Sprinkle in some Bokashi bran, tip in your food waste from the day, sprinkle over a little more Bokashi bran. Actually, just as you normally do in a “real” bucket. Clamp the bag.

And go on filling until the bag is full. It’s good to add a lot of serviettes, kitchen paper and the like into the bag as this all helps absorb moisture. If the bag feels too wet you’ll need to add another newspaper. Which isn’t actually a problem as the newspaper is good to have in your compost/soil later — the worms love fermented with EM microbes.

Keep the air in the bag to a minimum. Just give the bag a bit of a squeeze and a squash now and then before you clamp it.

That’s about it. Easy isn’t it? Leave the bag to ferment indoors for the usual two weeks. Then do whatever you usually do with it — into the garden, into the compost, into the woodshed or garage for storage until spring.

Once the bag has done it’s fermenting thing indoors it doesn’t matter if you store it cold outside. Which means you can stack up any number of bags in the shed through a long, cold winter and even if they freeze they’ll come back to life in the spring. For the sake of neatness you can store them up in big garbage sacks or barrel. One thing to think of if you’re going to store your Bokashi bags for some months is that they will go on generating liquid — be generous with the paper.

Another benefit of plastic-bag Bokashi is that you don’t have any bucket to wash. Just empty the bag and toss it, or use it again. It’s a really handy way of dealing with kitchen waste when you’re away from home (caravan? tent? cottage? canoe trip?) or have too much for your regular Bokashi buckets to handle.

It’s actually no harder than regular Bokashi composting with all the expensive gear so it may be a good way of getting sceptical friends and neighbours to test the concept. Give them some of your Bokashi bran (in a glass jar for example) and show them the ropes. Help them through their first cycle so they gain confidence then they’re sure to be converted! And if they’re not gardeners themselves they could fill the bags then hand them over to you for your garden.

Bear in mind that this plastic bag approach is a new concept. And so it’s not tested so much further than in our own kitchen (as far as I know). So it would be great if you’d test it yourself, give it a few rounds to see what you learn, and let us know so we can share it. Pictures welcome of course!

By the way, I wanted to be really sure the process was working so I kept a couple of bags indoors in a warm kitchen close to the radiator for three months. No problems at all with smell (although the bags did get a bit in the way after a while 🙂 ). If you’re worried about rats and mice, don’t be: we have both in the vicinity as we’re close to farms (despite a hardworking cat) and they just aren’t interested in Bokashi bags. The fermented Bokashi is simply too acidic, too low pH. But test for yourself with a small bag in the woodshed or somewhere to be sure.

Good luck! Give it a go! And if you like the idea spread the word!!

ps If you’re really lazy you could put the fermented bags out in garden as they are. Make a couple of slits in the bottom and the worms will soon be in there working hard. In due course you can just shake out the bag and enjoy all your fantastic soil!

“I’m new to the Bokashi idea and want advice!”

Came across this cry for help on the Wildlife Gardeners forum and seeing as we have a number of Bokashi “gurus” in our numbers here, maybe there’s someone would like to have a go at helping out? I think you need to join the forum to post a comment, but the more of us that are out there spreading the word the better!

A posting like this is interesting because it takes up a lot of the questions we all asked in the beginning. It’s hard to see how it all hangs together and why it makes sense. Read on and I’ll throw in a few comments after the posting!
And please let us know if you join the thread and where it heads!

Thanks!
/Jenny

I’m new to the bokashi idea and want advice


Oh mighty bokashi gurus, please help a novice with some basic questions.I have read most of these threads, and have the general idea. However, a couple of things are not completely clear.

First, when you discard the fermented stuff to start again, how do you know it is ready? Is it decomposed enough to count as compost without odors and flies once it is out in the air, and is it decomposed enough it won’t attract my friendly raccoon family to start foraging for it?

Second, is it really odor free enough to keep in your kitchen? I would rather put it out on my deck, but it would have to be a metal bucket, well sealed, or my friendly raccoons and squirrels would be into it in a heartbeat.

Third, is the purpose predominantly to get the “juices” to use as plant food, or the solid decomposed product at the end? (I realize the overall goal is to keep the scraps out of the landfill, but what is the gardening goal?)

Fourth, several threads discussed spigots, several talked about nested buckets; was there any consensus on which worked better from those who have tried both?

Thank you for all of your help!

My two cents worth on these good questions:

First>> You can’t really see when a bucket is ready. If it’s been left to ferment indoors for a couple of weeks it will be ready. You may get some white mould, you may not. But the Bokashi should always be dug down (or otherwise submerged in a compost or planter), if you leave it open to the air it will start to rot and the point is lost. Can’t say I know anything about racoons but if it turns out they want to dig up your Bokashi you’ll just have to dig it a bit deeper! Or put a metal grid or other barrier over the soil for a couple of weeks.

Second>> No worries whatsoever about having it in your kitchen. It may well work outside too, depends on the temperature. The closer to room temperature the better. Not in direct sunlight though!

Third>> The gardening goal is that you’ll get the best soil you’ve ever seen in your life! The environment goal is of course enormous, not only do you keep the food waste out of landfill, the thing with Bokashi is that all carbon goes into the soil and stays there. Rather than sneaking off up into the atmosphere as it does in traditional composting.

Fourth>> Both buckets give you the same end result, it’s all a matter of convenience and what you prefer, how much money you want to spend and so on. You can also take a plain old plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid and put a torn-in-two newspaper top and bottom to take up the liquid. The newspaper goes into the ground/compost along with the rest of the Bokashi and will be popular with your worms. The only disadvantage with that is you don’t get the Bokashi liquid, which is every bit as good as people say it is.

I’m sure between us we have a lot of other things worth saying on the subject. What do YOU think are the most important aspects we need to make sure get spread?