Getting going with Bokashi

So put up your hand if you’re an expert at resisting changes. (Hand going quietly up here…)

I like to think of myself as being open, curious, willing to try new things. In actual fact I’m probably quite cynical, jaded and treat a lot of new things with a healthy measure of suspicion. Until proved otherwise.

Bokashi is one of those things that rung a few hocus-pocus warning bells for me when I first came across it. Forget it. There’s nothing new age or even vaguely hocus pocus about Bokashi. In actual fact it’s as old as the earth and belongs under one category only: good old-fashioned, down-to-earth common sense. The sort of thing farmers have known for hundreds of years but we, in our modern wisdom, have lost sight of.

Bokashi is fermented organic material, a lovely Japanese word that works in all languages and will one day be an unquestioned addition to ours. These days the fermentation is done using Effective Microorganisms (EM), a mix of very natural, age-old “good” bacteria that do the work for us in this process. No hocus pocus there, but a lot more to say in future blogs.

There are two things “Bokashi” and that’s a bit confusing. First, you have Bokashi bran. That’s normal bran — organic of course — that is inoculated with Effective Microorganisms. Fermented quite simply, just like a lot of stuff you’d find in your kitchen, pickles, yoghurt, wine and the like. Then second, you have Bokashi compost, and that’s what you get when you add Bokashi bran to your food waste and leave it to ferment in an airtight bucket.

There’s nothing magic about the bucket, apart from the fact that using a proper Bokashi bucket takes some of the trial and error out of the process. Two things Bokashi microbes hate are being wet and having too much air around them. Which is why the bucket is air-tight and must be drained regularly.

What happens in the bucket then? A lot actually, far more than you’d ever think when you take a look inside and see that, well, nothing much seems to have changed. Every handful of Bokashi bran you throw in has billions of microbes living in it. They go to work on your food waste and eat, breed and generally live a good life. The breeding is no small business, microbes reproduce every 20 minutes and sooneä than you know there’s a hell of a colony in your bucket.

So what are they doing there other than having a good time? The process is symbiotic, that means it’s a give and take thing where all parts win. (Pathogenic bacteria on the other hand, the ones we definitely don’t want in our lives, are just take-takers.)

While they’re eating and breeding, the microbes are breaking down the food waste into another structure. And this is what makes them so valuable. They take the food and sort of split it up into its component parts — proteins, which in turn consist of amino acids and other stuff. Why is this such a big deal? Plants can’t eat our food. But they can eat the amino acids and stuff. So what the microbes are doing is the equivalent of preparing a buffet of goodies for the  plants and soil.

When you dig the content of your Bokashi bucket into  the soil it quickly “disappears”. Obviously it doesn’t disappear at all, it is converted to soil. Rich, nutrient-loaded soil that is like a 5-star buffet for your plants.

It does other great things when you add it to your compost, but that’s a story for another day. As is the story about why Bokashi works as a miniature carbon-sink in your yard, something great you can do for the environment without (hardly) lifting a finger.

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