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Bokashi - The modern way of „Composting“

Bokashi Anleitung - Bioabfall fermentieren | Bokashi instructions - Ferment organic waste

You have plants on the balcony that would benefit from compost? But unfortunately you don’t have a garden where you can build a compost heap? And even if you did, your neighbors would never tolerate the „stench“ anyway? You don’t like the idea of keeping worms either? Besides, worms require too much care for you? And actually, you would like to be able to travel without having to worry about the little animals? You have a bad conscience every time you throw your organic waste into the residual waste? (But why is there also no organic waste garbage can in your house complex?!).

I have a solution for you that addresses all these problems: Bokashi!

What is Bokashi actually?

Bokashi (compost) is an alternative to conventional garden compost, in which kitchen waste is fermented with the help of Effective Microorganisms (EM) and turned into valuable humus. Fermentation takes place in an airtight bucket, which makes „composting“ possible even in a city apartment. The byproduct is bokashi juice, a great liquid fertilizer.

„Bokashi“ is derived from the Japanese verb „bokasu,“ which means „to shade“ or „to tone down.“ In the context of bokashi „composting,“ the word refers to the toning down of the finished, „sharp“ bokashi through mixing it with soil. In the German-speaking area, the translation „fermented all kinds of things“ has stubbornly prevailed, but it is wrong.

The key players in Bokashi are Effective Microorganisms, or rather EM-Active. EM-A(ctive) is an activated and ready-to-use solution made of water, Effective Microorganisms primary solution, and sugar cane molasses, among other things. In contrast to EM-A, the primary solution is inactive. It consists of a mixture of over 80 different aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms, of which yeast, lactic acid bacteria and photosynthetic bacteria form the largest groups. The microorganisms live off each other’s metabolic excretions and thus maintain a balance.

Where does Bokashi (or EM) come from?

EM (or EM-1, the original EM mixture) was developed by the Japanese agronomist Prof. Teruo Higa in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Teruo was born in 1941 and studied at the Faculty of Agricultural Science at Ryukyu University in Okinawa. For his doctorate, he devoted himself to the cultivation of mandarins. Back in the 1970s, agriculture relied heavily on pesticides and mineral fertilizers. Teruo also used the chemicals for his mandarin trees, convinced that they were a necessary evil in agriculture. Until they made him sick and gave him skin rashes. The effects on his own health made him realize how harmful the chemicals actually were. He then switched his research to microorganisms, which he believed at the time had great potential for agriculture. Teruo experimented with single strains of microbes, as was commonly done in research. He collected the remains of his experiments in a bucket and usually poured them down the drain. One evening, however, he disposed the microorganisms on a piece of grass near his laboratory. Later, when he noticed a conspicuously lush growth of grass in the same spot, he realized that it was not the individual microbial strains that were important, but their combination. Teruo continued to research to find the optimal microbe combination. After many experiments, he obtained reproducible results in the early 1980s from a stable mixture of 80 different microorganisms, which he called Effective Microorganisms (EM). EM have been in use internationally since 1982 and have also been gaining popularity in Germany since the 2000s.

What are advantages of Bokashi?

Bokashi Eimer Inhalt | Bokashi bin content

„Permaculture“: Holistic, sustainable concept of agriculture that goes beyond the principle of an organic garden. A permaculture garden takes advantage of cycles of nature and intervenes only where necessary. By maintaining the natural ecological balance, a larger and tastier harvest can be achieved with less effort.

What do I need for DIY?

1. Bokashi bucket and accessories

  • Bucket made of recycled polypropylene (e.g. 16 l) with sieve and drain cock for removing the Bokashi juice
  • Collecting cup for Bokashi juice
  • Smoothing trowel or something to apply pressure
  • Spray bottle
  • Container to collect the organic waste before you put it into the Bokashi bucket

2. Effektive Mikroorganism (EM-A)

3. Bokashi ferment (optional)

  • Fermented grain; to regulate moisture, prevent odor and mold growth, and promote fermentation
  • Recommended when organic waste tends to be moist and one does not  want to tap leachate every day

4. Rock dust (optional)

  • Binds odors; provides valuable minerals
  • Binds pollutants and gives EM a large settlement surface (zeolite) in order to accelerate processes
  • Zeolite is recommended if you have non-organic waste as well that is treated for example with pesticides and insecticides

4. Biochar (optional)

  • Binds nutrients and later passes them on to the plant

„Zeolite“: Volcanic mineral with tiny pores, whose large surface area can bind pollutants well.

What is allowed in and what is not?

Mixing garden and kitchen waste provides a good C/N ratio.

„C/N ratio“: Ratio of carbon (C) to nitrogen (N) in an organic mass. The closer the C/N ratio, the more nitrogen is present compared to carbon and the faster decomposition proceeds. A good C/N ratio is 1:25.

Bokashi instructions - How do I make Bokashi?

  1. Shred larger organic waste to create  more settlement surface for the microorganisms.
  2. Collect your organic waste in a container.
  3. Add the content of the container into the Bokashi bucket collectively (1-2 times/week).
  4. Press the mass firmly to reduce air in the Bokashi bucket. You can also agitate the content of the bucket additionally with a bag filled with water or sand. However, it also works without.
  5. Sprinkle each new layer of organic waste with EM-A. The more leachate you want, the more EM-A you spray. Especially if you’re a regular coffee and tea drinker, though, your waste will tend to be moist. Use the EM-A liquid sparsely at first, so that you don’t have to tap bokashi juice daily.
  6. To further reduce the moisture of your contents, you can sprinkle ferment on the surface. Just experiment a bit with the amount of EM-A and ferment.
  7. If your organic waste includes treated non-organic vegetables and fruits or slightly moldy items, just add a little zeolite and an extra dose of EM-A and/or ferment.
    For ingredients, like pasta or rice, you can add more EM-A and/or ferment to reduce odors.
  8. When the bucket is completely full, let it ferment away at room temperature for 2-3 weeks, tightly sealed.
  9. Tap off leachate 2 times a week to keep the bokashi from standing in its own juice. The Bokashi juice can smell a little. Therefore, it is best to clean the collection cup after usage.
  10. The finished Bokashi smells slightly sour, but looks the same in structure as before the fermentation. If you have a white coating on your Bokashi, it is not mold, but a yeast mycelium, which is nothing to worry about.
  11. The finished bokashi is too acidic for your plants. Before you can use it, neutralize it by mixing it with soil.
  12. Clean the empty bucket and lid with hot water and a few splashes of vinegar. Rinse the spout with hot water until clear water runs from the tap.

How do I use the Bokashi juice?

As fertilizer

  • Bokashi juice is an excellent liquid fertilizer
  • Mix the Bokashi juice in a ratio of 1:200 with water, e.g. 10 l water and 50 ml Bokashi juice
  • For better mixing, add Bokashi juice first and then water to the watering can
  • For new plantings add less Bokashi juice

As a drain cleaner

  • If there is nothing to water, you can pour the undiluted bokashi juice down the drain and use it as a pipe cleaner that way

How do I mix Bokashi with soil?

  • Fill a bucket with 1/3 (unfertilized) soil substrate, 1/3 Bokashi and 1/3 (unfertilized) soil substrate
  • Make sure your Bokashi is not too wet (drainage holes are beneficial!)
  • Water with 1:200 diluted EM-A solution
  • Wait about 2-4 weeks before planting or sowing

„Substrate“: Usually industrially produced mixture of various mineral and organic materials used for growing and cultivating plants.

Hi, I’m Lisa from Permapot. I’ve been growing my own vegetables in my small urban garden and on my terrace for 4 years now. With Permapot I would like to make it easier for you to get started with urban gardening!

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