Urban Farming: Bokashi Fermenting System

The Interconnected Way of Life in the Soil.
The Interconnected Way of Life in the Soil.

I learned of the Bokashi fermenting system last year on sabbatical while visiting the Edible Churchyard at Union Seminary (where all wonderful and dysfunctional things happen). Bokashi is a practice developed centuries ago by Japanese farmers. The farmers would cover food with nutrient rich, local soil full of microorganisms that would ferment the food waste. Bokashi is a ramped-up, high-speed composting type method. What's the difference between this and regular composting?  Think of the difference between wine and grape juice, and you've got it.

What does Bokashi create?


Mircoorganisms are vital for healthy soil. Healthy soil is vital for growing yummy veggies and beautiful plants. It's also crucial for the well-being of the planet. TRUTH.  These sometimes visible, sometimes microscopic organisms are part of the soil food web underneath our feet. These critters are needed to create soil structure, fertility, and eat the bad stuff that comes along.

With a diversity of organisms in the soil, there is a reduction in soil erosion, water runoff, sedimentation, soil compaction ( a condition that creates conditions for weeds), weed growth, and a rise in water quality, organic matter, carbon sequestration (capturing carbon from the air), and plant fertility.

Bokashi puts these microorganisms into your soil to do all the wonderful things above.

How does it work?

Typical composting needs oxygen as part of the process of breaking down veggies and brown stuff to create soil. Bokashi uses microbes that come to live without oxygen (anaerobic). This is the basic type of process that gives us pickles, wine, and kimchi.

Pink Peeps in Bokashi bucket.
Pink Peeps in Bokashi bucket.

Bokashi works really quickly--weeks instead of months (or a year, ahem) like compost. Bokashi is great for urban areas since you just need a bucket that's kept indoors rather than a compost bin that needs to be outside.

With Bokashi, ALL food waste goes into the bucket. With compost, I only put in veggies, fruits, tea bags, coffee grounds, etc. No meat, dairy, cooked food, etc.  By all food waste I mean everything, including pink Peeps leftover from Easter.

How to create Bokashi:

I bought a Bokashi "kit" online. It comes with a the Bokashi bucket and the Bokashi mix. The mix contains wheat bran, molasses, and EM1, the efficient organisms that drive the fermentation process.

Dump leftover food in the bucket--cereal with milk, meat, bread, scrambled eggs, peeps, veggies....you name it. After 1-2 inches of food in the bucket, sprinkle with the mix. Have another meal, take leftovers, dump in bucket, and add mix. Rinse. Repeat.

When the bucket is full, you close up the air-tight lid and let it sit for two weeks.

As the food wastes ferment, the microbes create a diverse array of beneficial substances: enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, trace minerals, and organic acids. The fermenting process controls pathogens and damages seeds (no more volunteer plants!)  in the container.

After two weeks, you dump the bucket of pickled food into a 1 foot deep trench in your garden or area with crap-ass soil. Dump food, cover with soil. Wait two weeks before planting. Worms, insects, and other beneficial microbes finish the process of digestion by gobbling up the pickled food waste in the soil.  The result---over a couple of weeks is increased microbe populations and bio-available nutrients supplied to the soil and plants.

From soil we have come, to soil we shall return says the Book of Genesis or New Beginnings. Bokashi is one way of tending to the soil in my eco-location.