Bokashi Expert’s Guide Part 1 of 3 – Fermenting Food Waste, Apartment and Condo Use, Commercial Applications, and more.

In a 3 part series I want to help you understand much more intimately how to bokashi ferment waste material.  Maybe you’ve been fermenting waste material and wonder how to get rid of the bones, hard apricot pits, or materials that didn’t seem to disappear as fast as you had hoped they would.

I’ll show you how to get rid of stinky food waste and make great soil for your plants.  You’ll save time and money.  You can feel good about doing it efficiently and in the process eliminating much of the carbon dioxide that would have been generated had you not adopted this valuable way of processing waste materials.

Maybe you’re just curious and heard about the term “bokashi” and wondered what it is all about.  Or someone mentioned you could “compost” using the bokashi method which is easier than traditional composting and you wanted to find out more about it.

Some of you have already started using bokashi to process your food waste and know a lot about this process.  You may be a rabid addict insisting there is nothing better or a novice wondering what will happen next.

I want to provide some expert advice to all who are curious.  I will certainly admit I am addicted………biased if you will and advocating everyone should be using this process.

I base this recommendation on scientific facts and experience.  I will provide a lot of information and photos to document my findings and hope all of you who are curious about this process will take the time to study the facts.

One of the attractive features about bokashi “processing” of food waste is that it is simple, almost effortless, very efficient and rapid, and gives something of value back to the user.

Anyone can do it.  You don’t need a lot of space and you don’t need a lot of land.  You can do it easily in your apartment or condo.

If you want to reduce your “carbon” footprint, it is certainly the right choice and far superior to all other forms of food waste processing.

We produce a lot of waste at home and in industry.  Bokashi can be used industrially too where there are great economic benefits.  I’ll briefly touch on some of those examples in my discussion.  Let’s get started.


What is Bokashi?

Ask a master gardener and you will most likely get a blank stare.  Even though this method of treating food waste and feeding nutrients to the soil for your plants is so well known and established world-wide, in the US most master gardeners have never heard of it.  Why not?

They are very familiar with composting and will advise you on how to make your compost bin work.  But they know nothing about the “acidic” anaerobic fermentation process that breaks organic waste material down into nutrients that soil microbes then rapidly convert to rich nutrients for plants.

The master gardeners are only allowed to talk about processes they have been told about in their courses on master gardening.  They take their training from “experts” linked to universities and colleges that have established a master gardener curriculum.  They are certified.  But if the curriculum is traditional, outdated, or not brought up to date, a master gardener just doesn’t get that part of the education.

Most “experts” in the agricultural departments and soil programs in the US are simply unfamiliar with this process.  They may have heard about it, but they have been too busy to investigate or document its value. That is sadly why it takes so long for new, even superior technologies to come to the front.  “Experts” are frequently too busy to investigate.

Why haven’t more scientists investigated this method?  It is a puzzle.  However if you carefully review the history and literature around bokashi methods, you will see it has never until more recently gotten much attention.

It has been a method passed on from generation to generation by non-scientific individuals and farmers outside the US who applied their knowledge to improve soils and plants but didn’t publish or run control studies in their countries.  Enthusiastic amateurs have spread the word and the subject has the smell of a cult or hobbyist project that couldn’t possibly work as promoted.  But it does work!  And it is simple.

Simply stated the term bokashi means (in Japanese) “fermented organic matter”.  It is the opposite of composting and 10 times faster.  It involves the use of microbes to break down organic matter under specific conditions.

Why do we say composting is the opposite of bokashi processing?  Composting is done in the open with microbes found in the soil.  It requires frequent turning, watering, and depends on oxygen to make it work.  Composting takes months to reach its end point where the organic material has broken down to the point where it can no longer be degraded by the microbes.

Bokashi processing involves fermenting (pickling of the organic material) in a closed container and then feeding that fermented product to microbes in the soil.  It is a method of pre-treating the waste material so it can then be rapidly taken up by soil microbes.  With bokashi processing you exclude oxygen.  The fermented organic matter does not get turned and is left alone.  It is fast because the microbes are highly specialized and use enzymes to degrade the organic matter quickly.

An important difference between these two methods of treating waste material, composting versus bokashi fermenting, is microbial populations at the end of the process.  Bokashi fermenting results in a rapid increase and restoration of soil microbes that are needed to feed plants.  Composting results in a depleted number of microbes.

When you compost, there are few specialized microbes that can thrive and survive the heated conditions needed to break down the pile of compost.  The level of heat ( 110 F to 150 F) is insufficient to truly sterilize a pile but it is hot enough to select out and thus skew the population of microbes in the pile.  In the end the population of microbes in the humus is far from a natural diverse population that would be present in normal soil.

Both methods take the organic matter being processed back to the soil.  However, the composting process wastes a lot of this matter sending it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.  Bokashi fermenting puts virtually 100 percent of the carbon back to the soil along with all of the other nutrients that are then fed to soil micobes.  The mass of material returned to the soil is nearly double that of composting.

So now you are becoming an expert in understanding how organic matter can be processed.  You understand there is a difference between oxidizing organic material by the composting process that chemically is different from fermenting it.

In the fermentation process oxygen is excluded and waste material is allowed to rapidly be broken down to processed waste that is then fed to the soil microbes.  The processed waste takes about 1 week for the soil microbes to finish it up leaving a soil rich in nutrients and microbes.  You have simply restored microbial diversity and populations to the soil and put virtually 100% of the organic matter to good use.

Here is another plus for bokashi fermenting.  You can process virtually any kind of organic waste material with the microbes in the bokashi system.  Dairy, meat, fish, bones, fats, fruits and vegetables are all easily processed in a bokashi system.  The odors, flies, rats, and animal attraction to garbage rotting is eliminated.  You can’t do that by composting.

Decomposition Time ~ 6 months ~ 20 days
Waste (Biomass) limits No dairy, fats, meat None
Release gases to atmosphere CO2, NH3, CH4 None
Requires Energy Tending Yes No
Nutrient value end product to plants Moderate High
Contributes to global warming Yes No
Simple to implement and maintain No Yes
Attracts pests Yes No
Reduce Landfill biomass Yes Yes

You will learn that it is just as easy to process your food waste material in a container as it is in the garden.  And you can have wonderful plants feeding off of this material without smelly soil or garbage.  You can also ferment your yard waste and get the weeds and grass waste converted rapidly to soil in a matter of a couple of weeks.  You’ll no longer have to send it off to the curbside where it is then carried away to oxidize.  Wouldn’t you rather keep those nutrients at home instead of letting them out of site be oxidized?

In the next blog I’ll get into more detail on how to tell if all is well and show you how easy it is to dispose of all organic waste.

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