Today I’d like to introduce you to my new roommates of eight months.
They came as a matter of necessity.
They are as yet unnamed and they pay no rent, however they don’t take up a lot of space and they’ve enriched and simplified life for us in many ways.
Organic waste containers in our community had long been overflowing and feeding a growing population of rodents.
Last year, our administration decided to remove the organic garbage containers altogether and we were left to throw our beautiful organic food scraps in with the regular waste.
We went hunting for alternatives.
Originally, I wanted worms.
There is a budding Austrian company, Wurmkiste, that sells handcrafted, top-loading worm boxes in shape of cushy chairs and fancy benches for indoor and outdoor use.
These are brilliant, colorful and affordable and not only kids will adore them for their exotic tenants.
You can even make your very own piece of furniture in one of the Wurmkiste workshops.
Still, my human roommate was skeptical, thinking of the proverbial can of worms and what might come creepy-crawling out of it.
Microorganisms it was.
A quick google search later, I ordered a bokashi set complete with two containers and a bag of bokashi mix—brown, granular fermenting agent.
Let the adventure begin.
What You’ll Immediately Love About It
It’s simple and it’s quick, requiring little maintenance.
It is perfect for indoor use.
You get started by sprinkling 20ml of the bokashi mix onto the grid at the bottom of your container.
The mix comes with your container.
It consists of bran and molasses enriched with beneficial microorganisms and serves to ferment your food scraps.
Make sure that the valve on the outside of your container is closed.
Cut up your food waste into small pieces no larger than a golfball, toss them in and spread them out evenly.
Anything goes: fruit, vegetables, yoghurt, eggs, tea bags, cooked and raw meat and fish, even small bones, flowers, clippings from the garden and the odd paper tissue.
Every time you have a soup bowl full of waste, in it goes.
When you’re done, push down firmly on the waste with the flattening implement that came with your container.
The waste should be compressed with little space for air.
Fermentation does not require any oxygen.
Sprinkle another 20 ml of bokashi mix on top of your waste and close the lid.
It must seal airtight.
Rinse off the flattening tool with hot water, not dish wash liquid — microorganisms don’t like cleaning solutions.
Depending on the number of people in your household and the amount of waste produced, this small ritual takes about five minutes and happens every one to three days.
We like to store smaller amounts of waste that don’t fill a bowl in the fridge so as not to attract flies and mold.
Before we add it to the container, we make sure it’s room temperature.
That’s all you’re going to do for the first week.
After the first seven days, use the small container provided, open the valve on the outside of your bin and check if there is any juice ready for use.
Keep checking every couple of days until the juices start flowing.
It may take two weeks and longer.
The bokashi juice in its undiluted form helps de-clogging sinks and keeps your toilet clean.
Alternatively, it can be diluted at 1:200 and used as a fertilizer for your plants.
A Word of Caution
We’ve briefly mentioned mold.
Keep your container clear of it — that means banning very moldy scraps from your container.
A little mold is fine, because the microorganisms will take care of it, but if something is properly moldy, it’s best not to add.
Also, don’t add any liquids: no milk or fruit juices are allowed, no vinegar, oil or water, and take it easy on runny sauces and dips.
Your First Batch
About four to six weeks into your experiment, your container will be full to the top.
Your first batch of compost is ready to remain sealed for two weeks.
While it sits, use your second container.
I do recommend ordering two or more, depending on the size of your household.
It took us two about five weeks in the summer until the first container was full and it took about a week longer during the winter months.
Continue to harvest your bokashi juice from your sealed container every three days.
Dig It, Baby
After two weeks sitting idly (but really very busy on the inside), your housemate number one will have finished fermenting your garbage to the point when it can be dug in.
Don’t be surprised if the waste comes out of your container in pretty much the same way as it went it — slightly softer, more mushy maybe.
The fermentation process will be ongoing.
Ideally, you’ll have access to a garden or a large balcony.
I do not recommend flower pots, even large ones, though some online sources will vouch for terracotta.
I placed some of the waste in a flowerpot 40 cm in diameter and about 50 cm tall and the waste, though sandwiched in between two thick layers of regular organic soil, came out reeking foul and full of maggots a couple of weeks later.
Fortunately, we have a big trough on the balcony into which we’ve introduced a few worms nicked from a meadow after heavy rain, as well as a bunch of decomposing branches from the woods.
This flower bed is quite alive and it certainly has become even more animated since the first load of bokashi went in.
The worms have been having the time of their lives since we offered them bokashi waste to complement their diet.
They are all over the compost and they reproduce happily.
Because bokashi waste is a product of decomposition rather than rotting, it retains all the vitamins and minerals inherent in the food.
Our plants love this natural delicacy.
So: Dig in the fermented waste deep enough and for starters away from your plants.
It should be covered by a good couple of inches of soil, otherwise it will smell and attract flies.
Wait two to four weeks before putting it with your plants, particularly younger ones, as fertilizer.
Straight out of the container, it’s highly acidic and would otherwise damage the roots.
During the winter time, it is helpful to dig a hole for your finished bokashi before the ground freezes solid and to have a heap of soil to cover it with.
Does It Smell?
Yes, it does!
But only if the container is open or when you let the juice leak out — that, indeed, we call the “bokashi fart.”
The juice smells quite strongly, so the procedure is best done at night when you are no longer expecting visitors.
I like to open a window on either side of the apartment and let the draft take care of it.
And guaranteed, while closed, the container smells of absolutely nothing.
Upon opening the lid, the smell is hardly unpleasant, in fact, it resembles that of fermented food: olives, sauerkraut, pickled things.
It dissipates quickly.
And nothing comes crawling out.
I have read reviews by people complaining that the lid of their container didn’t close properly.
It really should, otherwise return the bugger.
What’s The Upkeep?
Your bag of ferment will last you about 3-5 months and costs around 15 euros, much less if you buy directly from the supplier.
Your timely investment, besides your daily routine, consists of burying the waste every two months—or giving it to a gardener friend, for that matter, if you run out of space on your balcony, as we have.
The other thing that will cost a some time is cleaning out the container.
Hot water is allowed but no cleaning agent or soap of any kind, as that might harm the microorganisms.
Your container, once properly washed and dried, will continue to smell.
Store it with the lid removed, never closed.
If you can, put it outside (but away from the sun) and the smell is not a biggie.
We’ve come to love feeding our housemates and refer to the microorganisms as “our little friends.”
Where To Buy Your Bokashi Set
Just google what’s available in your area.
Our set is by Organico, a Slovenian company, and we purchased it via waschbaer.at.
It sells for 70 euros and includes two containers, a mini-container for your juice, a flattening tool and bag of bokashi mix.
Let The Magic Begin
Since our two new housemates have joined us, we’ve had a couple of very nice surprises.
No more fruit flies.
No smelly garbage.
And since we’ve worked three batches of finished bokashi into the large flowerbed on our balcony, the surprises have been never-ending.
Without consciously planning on planting a full-scale vegetable garden, fifteen pumpkin plants have come up, several tomato plants have appeared and many other plants as yet unrecognizable have begun to sprout.
Vegetables you never knew you planted!
For me, the most beautiful surprise was a couple of lilies on my small balcony out back.
These lilies were given to me by a group of students on our last day of class.
The lilies came up again and again for several years, then discontinued flowering.
This year, bokashi has provided me with a very special gift.
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- Vermicomposting and Worms by Giuseppe Tallarico
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Katharina: Thank you for contributing this article. I was not familiar with bokashi, and this article made me want to try the process out with my plants. Your plant pictures are compelling.