Bokashi + leaves = a bucket full of soil!

Leaves are something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Quite possibly because I have a hell of a lot of them to rake up. FINALLY we’re free of snow here and after nearly six months of being covered in white stuff a hopefull green-brown lawn has appeared.

But winter surprised us last year (doesn’t it every year?!) and the leaves were left just lying where they fell. Normally I shuffle them up into garden beds and under bushes, paradise for worms and even, unfortunately, for snails.

But probably leaves are one of our greatest unseen resources. We all have them, even in the city. But the focus is always on getting rid of them. Yesterday I drove past a guy who was cleaning up his footpath and sweeping leaves and gravel down into the stormwater grate. Bizarre!

So what if were to do more with leaves and Bokashi in combination? Together they make fantastically good soil. We encourage people here to fill a number of standard-issue sacks with leaves in the autumn and toss in their bokashi buckets during the winter. Put them out in the sun when spring comes and sooner or later you’ll have soil.

These guys have been doing fantastic work with the concept. Real hands-on projects on a bit bigger scale than we have at home in the kitchen. First, a standard fermentation in the bucket. Then the bokashi is layered with leaves and left to turn to soil. The end product is therefore a batch of great soil rather than a batch of half-icky fermented food waste.

So smart and so down-to-earth. It seems to me like this has to be the way to go in the future. There are sure to be a million possible variations on the theme — but the basic idea is to work with what you have instead of work against it.

Imagine a super soil factory like this at the back of every garage, apartment building, shop and office block. Takes a little bit of imagination and a bit of planning and reschooling but the outcome can only be good. Local communities producing the one thing they just can’t get enough of — good fertilising soil, using a couple of the things that they just can’t get rid of fast enough — food waste and old leaves.

Exciting, isn’t it? And the really good thing is that there’s nothing to lose by giving it a go.

10 thoughts on “Bokashi + leaves = a bucket full of soil!

  1. I’m an extremely new bokashi-composter, and I like this idea very much. I also love the things you have written about composting in thick gardening bags over the summer. I have been looking for a way to produce great compost with having barnyard manure, and this seems to be working great — and above all easy.
    My compost bin is not working out for me. I cannot layer the things as they come. It’s a little difficult, and it’s not that practical for someone who is constantly at work or extremely tired (I’m a doc who is on call at least 2 times a week). So this seems like a great thing for me. I have started my very first “newspaper bokashi” bucket, and have been reading your blog very intensely. I’m not sure where to ask this on your site, but I do have a few questions regarding the things that I can put in the bokashi bin:

    1.) I’ve read on various bokashi sites, including yours, that you can compost pet-feces. I have a cat, and he uses the litter box (filled with clumping bentonite) very often! He is solely an indoor cat and in his 8 years of life has never caught anything more than a fly or mosquito. Is it safe and advisable to use the urine clumps and the feces from the litter box for my flower bed? What about using it in veg gardening? There is no risk of toxoplasmosis or any other toxin that outdoor cats might have. How does the bentonite affect the use of the EM-bran mix? Do I need to use more? less?

    2.) Are pickled products okay to use? I’m referring to the brine in pickled cucumbers mainly. I like to can my harvest in the summer when/if it’s a bumper crop all at once.

    3.) How does bokashi work with animal hair? Or human hair for that matter? I have always added it to my (failing) compost bin, but not sure if that’s something I should use. The feeling I’m getting is that it should be okay, but just wanted to make sure.

    4.) How is the use of bokashi bran/em mix to use on an existing compost bin that is just not doing the job as it should? I have a 1 m x 1 m x 1 m aluminum mesh compost bin (just one) that I have tried to layer correctly that is just not doing it’s thing. It is, however in the shade and in the far end of the garden. Do I need to/shoud I bury the bokashi there, or would it be wiser to dig it directly into the soil. The problem with that is that I have a mainly perrenial garden, except for the veg garden (raised bed that has a few spring bulbs in it). The question I have is: Would the active culture of bokashi be harmful to the existing plants that are growing now?

    5.) A note to how I “bokash”: I would be trying out the method without a spigot — so lots of paper products would go into my bokashi fermenter as well (rougly 1.5 gallons, ca 8 l). I understand that the tea is quite potent. How does this affect everything? Since my life is mainly spent in the clinic and not at home, and when I am home, I rarely cook anything. So, I’m trying to find alternative “waste products” that might add to the few scraps that I have.

    6.) I love this site. It is by far the most informative (without trying to sell you something) and it’s really innovative. I love all the ideas you are giving about making, storing and using the compost you are making. Your site made me try this, and I’m sure to tell my mum about it (she has the same composting problems) if it works out for me.

    7.) Ooh, another question, sorry that it’s up to 7 already! But what is, in your opinion to quickly rot down grass clippings using bokashi? I have a ca 45L garbage bin that I could fit in (most likely) a week’s worth of grass clippings in. In the spring months (starting probably next week!) I could easily fill this container to the rim with my garden waste. (The city-owned wheely-bin usually can’t accomodate 2 weeks worth of it). How much of the bokashi bran should I add to it, and how quickly do you think I can incorporate it into my beds? This container would also not have a spigot, although I could add layers of newspaper to absorb the tea. And, as an afterthought, could I also add “hard to kill” plants (such as ivy, bindweed) to it and be certain that there will be no future growth?

    Thanks so much for the wonderful site. I’m so sorry that I’m bombarding you with questions, but as I said before, I find this very wonderful, and I’m very excited about it….



    1. Hi Martina! Thanks for all your great questions! I’ll do my best to answer them :-). Where do you live? If it’s Germany you have a climate somewhat like ours, but a fair bit warmer (!!!).
      1. The pet faeces thing. Works fine! But I’d be on the safe side and put the mix in your flower beds rather than in your veggie patch. I’m not sure what bentonite is, but if it’s a good thing to have in the soil then fine! Just test your way forwards and see what works, after all there’s nothing much to lose.
      2. Picked products are fine, pretty much everything works in moderation. And I guess you eat most of your fantastic pickled cucumbers, right? The brine you could pour out as you don’t want too much liquid in your bucket anyhow.
      3. Hair. I don’t know to be honest. I don’t put any in because I just don’t like the idea (silly isn’t it?). I assume it would take a long time to break down but other than that I can’t imagine it would be a problem. Does anyone else know?
      4. The best way in the world to get your compost going is to put a bucket of bokashi in the middle of it. Take a garden fork and lift up a layer of whatever you have in your compost, tip in your bucket and let the old stuff down over it again. Or if it’s more solid than that, dig a hole in your compost and put the bokashi in. Definitely worth doing, you’ll kick start the whole pile.
      Then you could think about moving the compost to a sunnier spot or lining it with building plastic or something, mesh composts tend to get quite dry and pathetically slow. If you have some juice left over (from a bucket that produces juice) then by all means throw it on the compost. Everything helps!
      If you use the “green buckets” with newspaper, you could add the wet newspaper from the bucket to the compost. Tear it up a bit. The paper is soaked in nutrition and microbes and will do a good work for you. (Also helps with the famous nitrogen-carbon balance as newspaper is a good source of carbon).
      You can dig in bokashi anywhere and it’s not the least harmful to anything. BUT the first two weeks after you dig it down it is acidic as anything so you don’t want any roots coming near it. After that it balances out and you’ll have no worries.
      5. With a “green bucket” (newspaper solution) you won’t get any tea obviously, it’s all soaked up into the paper. But I see your point about getting hold of more organic stuff. Can you bring some home from work? Coffee grinds are always good to have. Any neighbours that would want to be in? The local cafe? Potplants thrown out by friends and family?
      6. Thank you for the compliments!!!!
      7. Grass clippings are way too valuable to compost. Put them straight onto your flower beds and into the veggie patch. Grass is a fantastic source of nitrogen, the best plant food you can get, and when when the nutrition is released the worms will take it all down in the soil and improve it no end. But you could use the 45l bin to process dry leaves (if you still have some?) or other bits and pieces from the garden. Layer the garden waste with bokashi from the kitchen and the whole thing will become a bokashi bomb. If you have mainly green stuff in there be sure to add something “brown” — leaves, egg cartons, newspaper. Rather than doing it with bran (although of course you could) I’d use bokashi food waste from the kitchen to get it going. Cheaper and faster.
      The “hard to kill” plants. Hmm. I would put them in a plastic bag of their own, tie it tight and leave it in the sun for some weeks. Longer rather than shorter! You’ll get a slimy sludge which is well and truly dead! Of course you could do a bokashi thing with that too. But go for a quarantine system!!
      Hope I’ve answered everything here! Your questions were great. But I’m sure other people have other ideas — these are just my thoughts on the subject. Feel free to hop in anyone out there if you have an opinion (or several!) on the subject!!

  2. That’d be really cool! That website doesn’t seem to work, though (manic gardener). I live in an apartment and I started making soil with bokashi + potting soil mixed in a container. Do you think mixing bokashi + dried leaves (I have a lot of pineapple leaves) in a closed container will do the same? Or does it have to be open in the sun?

    Love your site!

    1. Hi Clare! Pretty sure that would work fine! A lot of the soil bacteria you need to kick start the process of Bokashi turning into soil are also found on leaves, bokashi + leaves usually works well. Closed is better, warm in the sun if you can (depending on how hot your sun is, don’t want to cook the poor little microbes!). You could always throw in a bit of soil here and there in the mix to help it along. Good luck!
      ps I think Kate at the Manic Gardener is taking a bit of a break, hope she comes back online again as her posts are excellent.

      1. The ratio: hmmm. You just take what you have! Depends what your focus is. If you have a lot of leaves and need a lot of soil improvement you could do a “weak” batch, say 1part bokashi to 10 parts leaves. If you want a really powerful brew go for 50:50. The more you mix them up the faster it will go — how long it will take depends pretty much on the temperature (warm=fast) and how well blended it is. If you’re not in any great hurry you don’t have to be so fussy about how you mix it.
        Good luck! /Jenny

      2. Oh, sorry, and do the leaves have to be completely dry? I’m drying some pineapple leaves and corn husks. Are they OK?

      3. No worries if they’re not dry! Just keep it simple and use what you have. The reason for using dry leaves is that the Bokashi itself is often quite wet and the leaves help take up the excess moisture. Usually it’s just a matter of raking them up on a dry day rather than a wet day! Common sense, no more scientific than that!
        Good luck there.

  3. Excited to read about leaves and bokashi!

    My out door compost bin is frozen solid for 4 months of the year so I’m trying to find a way to proses our food waste in the house without taking up too much room.

    We have lots of food scraps each week…about a five gallon bokashi bucket per week. I’m going to try mixing a full fermented buchet of bokashi with equal amounts of dry leaves in a Rubbermaid (in the house) to help break down the leaves and even out the ph of the bokashi. Ill leave it to compost for 2-3 weeks, keeping it moist. Then feed the whole mess to my compost worms…a bit at a time. They should be able to proses it in no time!

    1. Hi Anita. So you’re another one of the long-suffering winter composters? But if nothing else you feel rich when spring comes and you have so much good Bokashi on stock! We got going now in the weekend after a never-ending winter, there’s a couple of inches of topsoil thawed out and ALREADY the worms are in business and the soil is thriving.
      Sounds like a good plan! Just give it a go and keep testing till you find what works for you. And PLEASE share any good ideas you might have with the rest of us here!
      Enjoy your spring!

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