Bokashi composting – aka indoor composting – isn’t technically composting at all. It’s a fermentation process that’ll turn your food waste into black gold for your garden. I’ve been giving this process a test run for four months, and am here to give you the review. The good, the bad, and the smelly of Bokashi composting.
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What Is Bokashi Composting?
The process commonly referred to as Bokashi Composting is actually not composting at all. It’s anaerobic (without air) fermentation. Basically, you put all your food scraps in a sealed bin kept right in your kitchen, top with a Bokashi bran, and repeat. Of course, there’s a little more to it, but at the end of this process (about a month once the bin’s full), you have compost for your garden and you’ve kept a whole bunch of food waste out of the landfill.
What Can I Compost In the Bokashi Composter?
Here’s the magic. All that stuff that you can’t throw into your backyard tumbler? Pitch it into the Bokashi Composting bin. Do you declare week after week that the food waste in your house has got to stop? You should probably still buy less food, but this indoor composting set up will keep all that waste out of the trash. Meats, dairy, eggs, cheese. Challenge it.
Here’s a more comprehensive list:
- Dairy products
- Paper towels (even if they’re greasy)
- Fruit scraps and fresh fruit
- Vegetable scraps and fresh vegetables
- Foods cooked in oil
- Coffee Grounds
- Other prepared foods
- Compostable plastic (like those biodegradable k-cups)
- Any organic material (flowers, etc.) that you’d put in your backyard compost pile
So What Can’t Be Composted Indoors?
Sure, everything has its limits. Here’s a list of things you should avoid dumping in the Bokashi Bin:
- Large amounts of liquid
- Anything already moldy
- Large bones (though things like dainty fish bones are fine)
Supplies Needed for Bokashi Composting
Are you interested? Great.
How to Do Bokashi Composting
I purchased this particular two bin set although there are plenty to choose from.
- Assemble bin as instructed
- Add 1/3 cup of Bokashi bran to bottom of bin
- Add food scraps from the day. Note: Bokashi Composting is actually an anaerobic fermentation process (meaning air is not required) so the less air, the better. If you can save your scraps from the day to add at one time, this will work best.
- Sprinkle bran on top of food scraps. Note: You can’t add too much bran, but you can add too little. The bran is key to making this food ferment, and not just rot and stink up your kitchen. Experts agree that 1 Tablespoon for each cup of food is a good rule of thumb, and be extra generous when you’re adding scraps with a lot of protein.
- Press down/compact the pile with a dinner plate, potato masher, or newspaper
- Tightly close lid
- Repeat until bin is full
- Top pile with a liberal sprinkling of Bokashi bran (I usually do 1/3 cup for the final layer), and put the lid on. This will sit for about two weeks.
- Prepare new, empty bin
- Drain full bin of compost tea (through spout) every other day
- After 10-14 days, bury fermented food scraps or add to your outdoor compost bin (details below)
- Rinse your bucket throughly using only water.
Some of this may require some explanation, which I’m happy to offer.
Breaking Down the Bokashi Composting Process:
The setup consists of the large bin and lid, an inset piece with holes for drainage, and a spout to let out the compost tea. (More on that in a minute.) The separate components come wrapped in plastic (you’ve been warned) but do not require assembly outside of dropping the tray into the large bin.
I tried this a few different ways, and found that it makes cleanup easier if you line the bucket with newspaper before placing the tray inside. It’s not an absolute must, but the newspaper is compostable and makes sliding out the fermented food a little neater at the end of the process.
Okay, so your bucket is lined (or not) and the tray is inside the bucket, yes?
Add 1/3 cup of the bran that came with your set to the bucket – on top of the inset tray. If you didn’t get a kit, or are trying a DIY bucket set up, I use this All Seasons Bokashi bran and have been happy with it.
This is all you have to do to prepare for Bokashi Composting. You’re ready to add your food scraps.
Do you want to know more about traditional composting, too? You’re our kind of person! Check out this post on what exactly you can throw into your outdoor compost pile.
Adding Food to Your Bokashi Bin
The hottest tip I can give you is to only open your bin once a day. The more air that gets into your fermentation process, the more likely it is to rot, rather than ferment. So have a small bin or bowl on your countertop or in your sink to collect food scraps from the day. This is easy at my house, as we have minimal scraps from early meals, then require a large fill after dinner. If this just isn’t possible for your family, that’s okay. Do what works for you.
Essentially, you open the bin, dump your scraps in, add up to 1/3 cup of Bokashi bran on top, and smash the pile down with a potato masher, a plate, or anything that’ll flatten your pile. Close the bin tightly. Another hot tip: if you’re using the same set I have, make SURE to go around the edge of the lid a few times, pressing repeatedly. It’s a tight seal, and requires pressure on all sides. Make sure that sucker is tight. An askew lid will ensure your scraps will stink.
We use our bin after dinner; here’s what this looks like in our house: We clean up after dinner and scrape everything onto one plate, with the scrap bowl from earlier in the day nearby. (Don’t forget coffee grounds and the junk from your sink strainer, if you too are garbage disposal-less!) I grab our bag of bran, a scoop, and scrape everything into the bin. I’ll scoop out the bran and sprinkle it over the top of the food, and press down on the pile to smush (technical term) it down. (See “How Much Bokashi Bran Should I Add?” below for more details on this.) To finish, I put the top back on the bin, making absolute sure it’s closed tightly. I pat myself on the back and move on with my evening.
The whole process takes just minutes, if that. You’ll continue to do this – layer food and bran, and smush – until the bin is full.
How Much Bokashi Bran Should I Add?
Glad you asked. The company suggests adding 1/3 cup every time you put scraps into the bin, but really, this varies, and you’ll start to get a feel for it before long. Remember, you can’t add too much bran, but you can add too little. The bran is key to fermenting the food, and ensuring you’re not just hosting a rotting, stinking pile of food in your kitchen.
Experts agree that 1 Tablespoon for each cup of food is a good rule of thumb, and be extra generous when you’re adding scraps with a lot of protein. I’ve found that I can smell the Bokashi cooking when I open then lid and have been chintzy with the bran, but a heavy hand fixes it quickly.
Waiting for the Food Scraps to Ferment
Once your bin is full and you have a generous sprinkling of Bokashi bran on top, you just let that baby sit for 10-14 days. This is where the two-bin system comes in handy, as you’ll want to prep your second bin to use while your first one is cooking (or fermenting, if we’re being technical).
It’s a pretty hands-off process during this time, but you should open the spout at the bottom of the bin and drain the liquid (called compost tea) either daily or every other day, depending on how much moisture your food scraps contained. This isn’t an exact science, and I’ve had batches that put off very little compost tea, and batches that let off liquid daily. The lesson is, don’t judge a batch by its liquid.
As we’ve already mentioned, this is an anaerobic process, so no peeking! Don’t open the bin’s lid during this period – drain the tea only!
How Do I Drain Compost Tea?
It’s a reasonable question. If you’ve purchased an Bokashi bin, there will be a spout toward the bottom. Just turn it as directed to drain the liquid. You may have to tip the bin to get it all out.
If you’re using the All Seasons bins that I have, the spout isn’t the hardiest part of the system. Be gentle with it, and don’t over-turn it. If it’s too late for that warning and your spout isn’t closing properly, I fixed mine by twisting the spout as far open as it would go, and then pushing the knob in while turning it to the right (left-y loose-y, right-y tight-y, and all that).
I found the tea is the smelliest part of the whole operation, so a broken spout is definitely something you do not want to deal with. It’s also recommended as a drain cleaner and (in very low concentrations) a plant fertilizer, so you don’t want it messing with your floors, especially if they have a finish on them.
Emptying Your Bokashi Bin
Congratulations! You’ve saved an entire bin of food scraps from the landfill, have waited 10-14 days, and are now ready for the next step. Keep in mind that the waste in the bin is not yet compost, it’s just fermented food scraps. You’ll need to bury the scraps for another 14 days before they’re ready to be used in your garden.
It will look something like this. Please note the white mold on top of the pile is a good thing! It’s a fungi, and it means your scraps are fermenting healthily, and not rotting.
When emptying your Bokashi bin, you have options.
Here are the most common ways to compost your fermented scraps:
- Empty the bin into a compost tumbler or pile that’s been cooking for a while
- Bury the scraps in an empty trench in your garden
- Bury the scraps in a hole
The first two options are best if you’d like to reuse the scraps as compost. The third is typically used by folks who don’t necessarily need a garden supplement, but would just prefer to keep food waste out of a landfill.
You’ll have to decide what works for you. I’ve tried both of the first two ways, and each has its pros and cons.
When I added the fermented food scraps to my compost tumbler, (I’ve had this one for years and it’s still going strong!) I found they broke down very fast and were ready to incorporate into the garden in the least amount of time (right about two weeks). However, the opening of my tumbler is too narrow to dump the product from the bucket with ease. It was a messy process.
On the other hand, I had open space in a raised garden bed and buried the scraps in a shallow trench. It was easy to dump in and cover, but it took longer than two weeks to decompose. Also, my dog got into it, and the story ends with the traumatic passing of an undigested corn cob. So depending on your gardening timeline and pet situation, this may or may not be the best option for you.
Rinse and Repeat
In order to keep your bin pure, you’ll want to rinse it out using only water. At our house, this typically means cranking the hose nozzle to “power wash” and getting the gunk off. Let it dry and sanitize in the sunshine, and you’ll be ready to sub your clean bin in when the other one fills up. The process continues, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Bokashi Composting Review Summary
I’ve been really happy with my Bokashi experiment and I plant to continue on – with a short break for winter. We live just outside Nashville, and while our winters aren’t nearly as treacherous as those in the north, we do disconnect our hoses and see freezing temperatures. Every (other) piece of Bokashi information you read will assure you this process is odorless, clean, and easy. And while it’s certainly better than wasting food, it’s not without some ick.
For one thing, there is definitely a smell. It is lessened by a larger scoop of bran, and it doesn’t linger after the bin has been closed, but it’s definitely there. It may be moreso for us because we eat meat, and use the bin multiple times a week for remnants of meat, poultry, and/or seafood dishes. I’d be suspicious if it didn’t smell.
The point is, after you’ve incorporated your fermented food waste into your compost pile, garden trench, or hole in the ground, you have to clean out that bucket. I didn’t want to attempt that in the kitchen of my small home during the winter. (As I’m updating this in December, though, I have to say we’ve seen a noticeable uptick in trash, and I think it might be worth it next year to continue on year-round. I’ll let you know!)
So yes, Bokashi composting is absolutely something you should try. The process is scaleable, so if you have a large family, you could get more than two bins, or larger bins at that. As long as you remember to keep its exposure to air at a minimum, the process really handles itself. It’s an easy way to give back to the earth, and get some kick-ass compost in the process.
Bokashi Composting FAQs
Is Bokashi Better Than Composting?
Bokashi and traditional composting complement each other, and one is no better than the other.
The Bokashi process breaks down things traditional composting won’t, like meats, dairy, greasy paper towels and more. (Scroll to the top for a comprehensive list of what can be tossed in the Bokashi bin.)
Bonus points if you’ve already got a traditional compost pile going, because your fermented food waste will break down faster during the second stage if you incorporate it into your pile or tumbler.
How Long Does Bokashi Take to Decompose?
About a month. Once your bin is full, you leave it to ferment for 10-14 days. (I always give it the full two weeks.) Once that timeframe has passed, bury the fermented food waste (remember, white fungi on top is a good thing!) in a trench in your garden, in a hole in your yard, or incorporate it into your traditional compost pile. Let that break down for an additional two weeks, and you should be able to rake your fresh compost into your garden.
I find the larger the pieces of food are in the bin, the longer it takes to decompose. If you’re lazy like me, you’ll likely see large pieces of fruit rinds, corn cobs, egg shells, and more hanging around for longer than a month. If that’s not okay with you, cut your scraps into smaller pieces before tossing them into your Bokashi bin.
Does Bokashi Composting Smell?
Yes and no. For the most part, there is no smell coming from your bin when it’s sealed. We keep ours out in the kitchen, and as long as the lid is securely on the bin, there’s no smell. However, when you take that lid off to feed your bin scraps and bran – yes, you’ll smell it. The odor isn’t a deterrent to using the Bokashi system, far from it. But I was surprised at this, as everything I’d read about this process in my research promised it wouldn’t smell.
Additionally, when you drain off the compost tea, you’ll smell that as well.
To be clear: Does it smell? At times. Should you still do this, despite the smell? Absolutely.
How Do I Use Compost Tea?
Compost tea is the liquid put off by the fermentation process. When your bin is in the two-week resting phase, you should turn the spout on your bucket daily or every other day to drain it. You can also drain it before this two-week phase if you’ve put in scraps with a high water content.
But what do you do with that liquid? It consists of beneficial microbes and bacteria, and many people swear it’s a plant fertilizer. Just mix the tea with water at a 1:10 ratio and water your plants. Because this is a little too much math for me, when I use my compost tea as a fertilizer, I just fill a watering can about halfway with water, and open the Bokashi bin’s spout into the can.
More regularly, though, I capitalize on the compost tea’s function as a drain cleaner and empty the bin directly into my kitchen or bathroom sink. The good bacteria in the compost tea attacks the bad bacteria living in our drains and water ways and makes for cleaner pipes.
Have You Tried Bokashi Composting?
Will you? Share questions and tips in the comments below, and we’ll all help each other navigate the Bokashi process!