Subgroups exist among gardeners, and one particularly fervent branch is made up of those who follow the Way of Compost. An earthy lot, we spend our time lovingly tending our compost heaps and admiring the worms and other insect inhabitants as they work their magic, turning waste into treasure.
But while a compost heap can handle yard waste and even the occasional fruit or vegetable peel, there’s always kitchen waste that can’t go in there, like meat, dairy, and other hard to break down stuff. How then to turn all your food waste into something useful, short of learning how to consume it all yourself? Enter the bokashi composter.
Depending on who you talk to, bokashi composting is either ancient or relatively new. In essence it is an airtight container that you put the food waste into, along with handfuls of wheat bran that has been inoculated with anaerobic microbes. Once full, the container is allowed to sit for several weeks, and then the matter is dug deep into the soil in order to break down further. Something like this process has been used in Asian countries for centuries, but the inoculant used in the wheat bran of today’s composters was developed by Dr. Teuro Higs in 1982. It is the inoculated bran that keeps the composter from becoming smelly.
Recently, the bokashi composter has become more prominent as people realize that food waste is an issue, and one place where we need to turn to greener practices when possible. The matter produced from the composter can be used in combination with vermicomposting (worm composting) by feeding the matter to the worms rather than burying it.
I wanted to try the composter because I’m in the process of setting up a vermicomposter and this seemed like a logical part of that, but so far I am in the early stages of using the composter and the worms are yet to come. Here’s what I’ve found so far.
This practice is (relatively) low cost to set up. I picked the model that I did based on a combination of price ($40 on sale) and reviews. It came with a one-kilogram bag of wheat bran that, right now at the point where the composter is almost completely full, is at the point where about two-thirds of the bran has been used. I suspect I might have been overenthusiastic with it at first, so probably that bag is good for two cycles of use. (If you’re doing this, you’re probably going to want at least two composters in order to rotate them.) You can make your own bokashi bran, which is definitely the cheapest option; bags of bran run 10-15 dollars per kilogram.
At 18 inches tall, this unit has a five gallon capacity, fits nicely under my kitchen sink, and has a handle that makes it easy to lift in and out when adding new food waste. A tap at the bottom allows the user to draw off the liquid generated by the process, which can be diluted to use on plants or used straight in order to clear drains.
It’s this tap that makes me suggest buying a manufactured composter like this one may be better than going the DIY route. Depending on your skill level, it’s certainly feasible, but if you do it wrong, you’re going to end up with a pool of garbage juice under your sink. I drained some liquid from my composter for the first time this morning, and it ended up being about a cup and a half of brown liquid that smelled not unpleasantly like a yeasty beer (and foams like one). Diluted with ten parts water, it went on some recently-planted primroses.
So far any odor has been a mild and pleasant one, but different people are sensitive to different smells. It’s definitely not odorless when you open it up, but it’s a sweet smell mainly composed of decomposing bran. My verdict so far is highly favorable, to the point where I’m buying a second composter now that the first is nearly full.
Is bokashi composting right for you? Here’s some things you will want to think about when contemplating purchasing one.
What’s the rate of food waste produced by your household? If it’s pretty large, the composter may have trouble keeping up. On the flip side, it certainly makes one more aware of food waste and mindful of using things up rather than throwing them away.
Where will you store it during the fermentation phase? You’re supposed to put it somewhere out of sunlight; I’m reluctant to do that outside because the raccoons of our neighborhood are bold little MFers for whom the plastic lid would pose little problem. I’ve opted to save a storage closet corner for bokashi purposes.
What to do with the end product? This is great stuff for someone with a worm composter or garden ready for the matter to be dug into it, but it’s not going to be so great for the person whose gardening venue is restricted to balcony or porch planters, where you cannot dig it deeply enough into the soil. It would be interesting to see if some sort of city-based service could be set up to pick up people’s containers and use them in agriculture elsewhere; I’m working on a short story right now where a similar effort occurs.
How comfortable are you with garbage, overall? The composter will work better if you use something to mash it down every once in a while. For some people that’s an easy task, for others it may be more traumatizing. And at some point, that food will end up having to either be transferred to a worm bin, dug into your garden, or disposed of in some less wholesome fashion.
As far as tweaking one’s day to day life to be more eco-groovy, this is about a medium level effort in terms of work, set-up, and daily maintenance. I’ll be curious to see what the results are and will be providing some progress reports of that over on my blog.
SCD Probiotics, 2019