FAQ

Frequently asked questions

Will my bokashi turn to soil in the bucket?

No, you will never get soil in your bucket. Your food waste is fermented in the first step (in the kitchen) and will look roughly the same as it did when you put it in. Later, when it comes into contact with soil, it will start to transform into soil.

Nothing is happening in my bokashi bucket!

While it seems that nothing is happening in the bucket, there’s a lot going on that we can’t see. The bokashi microbes are breaking up the proteins in the food waste into smaller amino acids; this then makes the nutrients more available to your plants. This is also the reason why the process goes so quickly in the soil later, the job is already half done.

How long does it take to fill a bucket?

It’s impossible to say, every household is different. A “normal” family (2-3 people) typically produces around 10 liters of food waste per week. It makes no difference to the actual bokashi process if you fill your bucket more quickly or more slowly than this. The two week fermentation period is counted from the day you stop filling your bucket. If you want to get more into your bucket, press down the contents (the less air the better, so this is always helpful).

How long can a bokashi bucket be left for fermentation?

Two weeks is always a good guideline, although it’s no problem to leave it longer. If it’s taken you several weeks to fill your bucket, a one-week fermentation is probably sufficient, as most of the work is already done. Your bokashi bucket is then stable and can be left for up to a year if needed, although it’s best to use it directly if you can. If you leave it longer, keep an eye on the moisture — if it gets too wet it will probably start to smell.

White fluffy mould, is that ok?

No problem. White fluffy mould is a sign that your bokashi process is working and is not dangerous. It usually occurs in a bucket that is airtight enough, but not super airtight. Watch out for mould that is green, black or blue however — your bucket has probably been too wet and the process hasn’t worked as it should. If there’s just a little, scrape it away and carry on. But if the whole bucket is mouldy throw out the contents and clean the bucket, or dig down the contents somewhere out of the way. Sometimes you even see the white fluffy mould on the surface of bokashi soil, it’s no problem at all. Your soil is alive and well.

The contents of my bucket smell, what do I do?

The reason is nearly always that it’s too wet in your bokashi bucket; it is the humidity that smells. Check the underside of the lid. Condensation? Add some shredded newspaper, an egg carton or something absorbent like old bread; exchange if necessary. And although the smell is inconvenient, it doesn’t affect the process in the end. You may want to add some extra bran.

Can the contents of my bucket be too dry?

Yes. Bokashi microbes will have a moderate amount of moisture, roughly the same amount of moisture as good soil. If it’s too dry in your bucket, nothing will happen.

How frequently can I open my bokashi bucket?

Preferably not more than once or twice a day. It’s usually a good idea to have a small container on the bench for the day’s scraps, this makes it easier for the family to join in and makes it less likely someone will forget to put the lid back on properly.

What is the right temperature for a bokashi bucket?

Room temperature is always good, somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees. It’s usually good to have your bokashi indoors, in the kitchen or laundry for example, to reduce extreme temperature variations (or in a shady place if you live in the tropics). Avoid direct sunlight. Maintaining a reasonable temperature like this makes it easy for the bokashi microbes to multiply and do their work.

What can I put in my bokashi bucket?

Everything. If you’re a beginner, you may want to leave meat and fish until you get used to doing bokashi. Divide up bigger things before you add them. Use a little extra bokashi bran if you have leftovers high in protein (cheese, meat, fish). Things like bones, avocado stones and coffee filters take longer to become soil, so make up your own mind how you want to handle them.

Can I put orange peels in my bokashi bin?

Yes, you can. If you have a lot of them it’s good to layer them with something else. Orange peels are quite acidic, but that’s not an issue as the bokashi process itself is also acidic. How you handle non-organic orange peels is up to you, some people include them and others don’t. The bacteria in bokashi bran are good at dealing with chemical residues so you can assume the soil quality will be good in the end.

Will my soil become acidic where I’ve dug down bokashi?

No. It will be acidic during the two first weeks (and therefore you shouldn’t plant directly into newly buried bokashi) but the pH will soon become the same as the surrounding soil (generally 6.5-7).

How much bran should I use?

Two tablespoons (a small handfull) per liter of food waste. A liter of food waste often weighs around a kilo. Use a little extra bra on protein-rich scraps such as meat, fish, cheese and egg. Otherwise, use as little bran as you feel does the job, the bokashi microbes will multiply free of charge anyhow.

How much bran will I need for a year?

2-4 kilos is reasonably normal. One kilo is generally enough for some 100 liters of food waste.

Do I have to keep on buying bokashi bran?

EM microbes are needed for your food waste to become bokashi. You can make your own bran using EM-1 and molasses, which is the “mother culture” used for making bokashi bran. There is a recipe in English on the US-based Teraganix website. You can also activate EM to make EM-A and use it as a spray instead of bran. Another alternative is to take the leachate from a bokashi bucket with tap and use that instead of bran. If you do this, though, start each bucket with “real” bokashi bran in order to retain a good balance of bokashi microbes in the process; otherwise there is a risk you will end up with a less than optimal combination of microbes.

When will I get bokashi liquid from my tap bucket?

It may take some time, the liquid often comes during the second or third week. It depends on what you have in your bucket; fruit and vegetables generally produce more liquid. If you have a lot of absorbent food such as rice, pasta or bread, you will get less bokashi liquid. If your bucket is too dry, you can add a little water so it will produce more liquid fertilizer for you.

How often should I drain off the liquid fertilizer from a tap bucket?

A couple of times per week, or more often if you wish. It depends on what you have in the bucket.

How long does bokashi liquid keep?

Drained off into a cup, it has a short life length and should be used more or less the same day. Store it in a plastic water bottle with lid to reduce oxidation, it will keep for several days at room temperature or better still, put it in the fridge. You can also freeze it.

How much should I dilute bokashi liquid?

Bokashi liquid is too acidic and strong to use directly. Dilute it 1:100 for normal pot plants and garden plants (1dl bokashi liquid in a 10-liter watering can). Use a weaker dilution for seedlings and sensitive plants, 1:1000. After a while you’ll get a feeling for what works best for your plants.

Anything more you can do with bokashi bran?

You can add a little bran to commercial compost to increase the microbial activity if you don’t want to use nutrient-rich bokashi liquid. Test sprinkling a little bokashi bran on newly sown seeds. Vacuum up a couple of tablespoons of bran in your vacuum cleaner to reduce the odor when you operate it. You can even sprinkle bokashi bran in sneakers and shoes to improve their smell.

How deep should I dig down my bokashi?

At least 10 cm. But preferably more if there’s any chance of dogs, crows and other animals and birds disturbing it. Or cover it for the first couple of weeks with fiber cloth, a metal grid, some planks or whatever you have handy. Think too about what you will be planting, at what depth will the plant roots be looking for nutrients?

How about rats and mice?

Usually rodents consider bokashi to be too acidic, they prefer rotten food if they can get it. However, if they are hungry they’ll eat anything, even bokashi. If you’re concerned about rodents, dig down your bokashi 40-50 cm deep or secure it with a fine-mesh net. Another solution is to put a bottomless barrel in your garden with a fine-mesh net; add layers of bokashi and soil to the barrel and let the nutrients soak down into your soil. Empty the barrel now and then and start again.

I’ve just dug down a bucket of bokashi. When can I plant?

As a rule, you should wait two weeks. The reason for this is that bokashi is acidic when you dig it down, not the best for your plants. After two weeks the pH has normalized and you can plant any time you like. If you are planting seedlings or sowing seeds that will take a couple of weeks to reach down to your bokashi layer, you can plant the same day you dig down the bokashi.

What should I do in the winter in a cold climate?

There are many different solutions, depending on where you live and what your grow. In an arctic environment where the ground freezes in winter, you can of course pause your bokashi during the winter and start again in the spring (but then you won’t have any on stock to fertilize with in the spring). When the fermentation step is complete, bokashi can be stored at any temperature until you are ready to use it. It’s no problem if it freezes. You may want to consider making a soil factory during the winter, it’s perfect to have some good soil on hand for repotting plants in early spring (more info below).

How much bokashi should be used in a raised bed? For container growing?

A good rule of thumb for pots/buckets/urns and other containers is to mix approximately 30 per cent bokashi with 70 per cent soil. If you’re using commercial compost, you don’t need to buy an especially high quality (check however whether it is fertilized or not and compensate accordingly). You can either mix everything in a wheelbarrow before filling your containers, or else layer the bokashi and soil directly in the container. Spread a layer of nice soil on the top so it looks nice and to make sure no bokashi is exposed.

For a raised bed or similar where you will be planting vegetables that like a lot of nutrients, a good guideline is 20-30 liters of bokashi per square meter. This of course depends on what kind of soil you have to start with, so it’s largely a matter of testing and common sense.

If I use newspaper in my bokashi bucket or in my garden, is the printing ink safe?

Check the situation in your country; in most European countries the printing ink used in newspapers is harmless these days. It’s another story with color magazines and brochures, or packaging materials made in countries like China; think twice before using these.

How long does it take for bokashi to become soil after it’s dug down?

It depends on the temperature in the soil and also on how active the soil bacteria are in your existing soil. In colder climates, it may take up to six weeks for bokashi to become soil during spring and autumn. In summer it can take as little as two weeks. The warmer the climate, the faster the process. But you don’t need to wait for the bokashi to become soil before you plant, anytime after two weeks is ok even if some of the bokashi is still visible in the soil. Another factor is the soil bacteria that is needed for bokashi to be transformed into soil. The more soil bacteria in the existing soil, the faster the process will go. In very poor soil, or particularly sandy soil, the process will go much slower until you build up a stronger microbial community. If you can, add in some brown leaves (these usually carry soil bacteria) or some good soil.

How long do bones take to break down?

Bones break down faster with bokashi than without, but they still take time. Sometimes a few months, sometimes a couple of years depending on their size. If you find bokashi bones in your soil, you can break them up with a hammer or stone, the nutrients are valuable and they are generally quite brittle. Or you can push them back down again, out of sight. Or simply throw them out.

How do I dig down my bokashi?

Consider what you will be planting. Plants with deep roots need access to bokashi at a deeper level than plants with shallow roots. Bean trenches? Spread out your bokashi in the trenches and cover it with soil. Trees and bushes? Prepare a hole with bokashi, reasonably sized (but as always, wait two weeks before planting). Flower or vegetable bed? Spread your bokashi over the surface and cover properly with soil, and possibly even fiber cloth or similar for the first couple of weeks to keep birds away. Bokashi should never be exposed; it will lose its fermentation and start rotting if not covered.

How long do the nutrients in bokashi last?

Surprising long, up to a couple of years if it is not used up. One of the valuable things with bokashi is that nutrients are stored in the soil in a semi-permanent manner due to a process called mineralization. The bokashi microbes will however continue to increase in numbers as long as there is plenty of organic material in the soil. The soil will become increasingly alive as time goes by.

Do worms like bokashi?

Yes! They love it. They’ll probably avoid it for the first couple of weeks due to the acidity, but find their way in very quickly after that and reproduce rapidly.

Is it safe to work with microbes like this?

Completely ok. There are five different groups of microbes in bokashi bran (the same as in EM) and they can be described as normal “European” microbes. The valuable thing with EM is that the microbes in this particular consortium cooperate particularly well together to improve the soil. They are completely harmless to work with (actually, they’re rather healthy for us to have contact with), and they don’t disturb the eco-system in a negative way. As always, nature makes sure there is balance in everything.

How do I make a soil factory?

You can make an indoor or outdoor soil factory to convert your bokashi into soil instead of digging it down directly. An indoor soil factory is really only needed if you live in a northern climate with frozen winters and need ready soil for repotting during the early spring.

Indoors: Find a plastic tub with or without a lid and put it somewhere warm. Mix 50:50 soil and bokashi, mix so most of the bokashi has soil contact. This is a good chance to reuse the soil from old pot plants. Cover the mix with 5-10 cm of soil, a sort of “soil lid”. The soil factory needs to breath, so no lid is needed. You can put a newspaper or old towel over to regulate humidity, or use the lid partially open. The mixture should be not too wet and not too dry, about the same moisture content as good soil (if your soil factory smells it’s most likely too wet). Mix it now and then if you want the process to go faster, but if you have time to wait it’s better to do that. Mixing introduces oxygen and starts an oxidation process that creates heat. Heat is an energy loss, it’s better if the energy can be retained in the soil for the benefit of future plants. The process will take from 2 to 6 weeks depending on the temperature and how small your food scraps are.

Outdoors: Basically the same as above but outside. Protect from rain. You can also use a raised bed or corner of a non-weedy garden bed to make soil instead of planting. Dig down your bokashi buckets in the same spot so you have a constant supply of good soil. When you need ready bokashi soil for a project, it’s just to fill a bucket or a wheelbarrow with what you need.

/Jenny Harlen

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