Bokashi: The Pros and Cons for Urban Composters
I’m regularly asked about bokashi composting and its benefits in the urban jungle setting. What is it? How does it work? Is it the magic solution to all your composting needs? This post attempts to answer all your questions.
What is bokashi composting?
Bokashi is a method of breaking down your organic kitchen scraps. Like composting, it reduces your organic waste so you don’t have to commit it to landfill. That means you’re helping to save the environment in the process and like compost, you can (eventually) use it as fertiliser on your garden.
How does bokashi work?
Bokashi is a fermenting process, rather than a composting process, so it’s more akin to pickling your waste than composting it. Still, it serves the purpose of reducing your organic waste and it’s small scale so potentially a good option for those of us in the urban jungle looking to do our bit for the environment.
Like a compost pile, you throw your food scraps on the heap and wait for them to break down. Unlike a compost pile, you need to add an accelerant to activate the process. The accelerant is a microbe enhanced wheat bran that you can either buy commercially or make yourself.
Because it is a fermenting process, bokashi relies on an anaerobic system (no air) rather than an aerobic system to break down your waste. This is the opposite of regular composting, which demands an aerobic environment to work effectively.
The whole process takes about two weeks to become the final pickled product, which is incredibly quick by traditional composting standards.
A big advantage of bokashi is that you can break down pretty much everything, including your meat and dairy waste, which is something traditional composting methods struggle with (and in the urban environment I recommend against).
Commercial Bokashi systems are small units designed for the urban environment, so they work well in small spaces. You can keep it under your kitchen sink, for example, which is super convenient .
The downside is that because bokashi doesn’t technically compost, the ‘finished product’ is more like a pickle than the compost of your imagination. For composting purposes, it’s not a finished product. This means that you need to feed it into another composting system or bury it in the garden before you can use it as compost (which means in reality it takes much longer than the suggested two weeks for the process to be completed). And in the city, most of don’t have the space to be burying bokashi pickles on a regular basis.
On top of that, like other pickles, the product is acidic so you need to take some care not to bury near plant roots, because its likely to kill your plants pretty quickly.
So how can I make bokashi work in the city?
Because city dwellers don’t have the space for burying bokashi ferment, in order to make bokashi effective in the city, you need to use bokashi in conjunction with another composting system. You could add your bokashi ferment to a worm farm. You will need to be mindful of the acidity factor here, but balancing the requirements is manageable. Alternatively, add it to a tumbler or hot composting system, and in this case, note the effect it will have on your carbon/nitrogen balance. Either way, this means operating two systems simultaneously (which requires space), but if you do have the space it also means you have the best chance of reducing your organic waste (meat, dairy and all) to zero.