By D. Mallen, for Let's Talk Plants! November 2023.
Boost your compost with microbial magic! By using the Bokashi method of pre-composting your kitchen scraps, you can save yourself multiple trips to the compost bin while your super-starter is creating itself in your kitchen (or wherever you choose to keep your Bokashi bin, indoors or out).
Our October speaker, who is a Master Composter, as well as an avid practitioner of Bokashi composting, gave us a very in-depth introduction to this valuable technique that is probably unfamiliar to most gardeners.
The method is simple and fast, with no odors to worry about. You need an airtight bin, some inoculated bran, and the food scraps - including meat, fish, dairy products and oils, raw or cooked - that would have been mandated by SB 1383, to be recycled, anyway. For meat or bones, add a little extra bran to accelerate the decomposition, and you will be successful.
A surprising advantage of this method is that the resulting product is highly acidic, consequently being unattractive to rats and helping to balance your soil pH.
In your Bokashi bin, your food waste is fermented anaerobically, with new layers of scraps added as they are generated by your family meals, alternated with a sprinkled with a layer of the inoculated bran over each layer of added food, and is finished in about 2-4 weeks. You only open the bin to add a layer of scraps and a layer of bran (1-2 tablespoons) once per day. When the bucket is full, sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of inoculated bran over the contents and leave the bucket closed for 2 or 3 weeks (or more if you wish). The leachate (liquid produced during process) should be drained weekly.
Once the contents are ready to be dumped outside, you must allow this composted material to age outdoors for about 2-4 weeks to reduce its acidity. You can leave it in a mound, or dig a hole for the compost, covering it with 6” of soil. You can speed up the process by wetting the mound with a little water. (DO NOT ADD IT TO A WORM BIN.) Test the pH level to determine when it is ready to use without burning your plants or their roots.
Then you can use it in a planting mix, add it directly to your raised beds or soil around existing plants, or add it to your compost bins as an accelerant. For raised beds which are already planted, it is advisable to dig a shallow trench between the plant rows, and add the Bokashi compost to the trench.
The leachate (the liquid that is drained from the Bokashi bin spout) can be strongly diluted to make a “tea” (like compost tea) to use as a fertilizer or possibly to kill white flies. Research the percentage of dilution before applying the tea near your plants. It can also be sprayed undiluted onto weeds to kill them.
To launch your Bokashi experience, you can find Bokashi bins with special lids and spigots to drain the leachate, bags of inoculated bran (a 2 lb bag is enough to start with, EM-1 is the formulation created by the inventor of this technique, but many other options exist) online, or you can find the equipment Bokashi information locally at Solana Recycling solanacenter.org Bokashi is a hot topic among organic gardeners these days, and many blogs and websites on this subject can be found online.
If you were unable to attend the October Zoom meeting, or even if you did, be sure to watch our YouTube replay for a wealth of information beyond what is covered here.
D. Mallen is the SDHS board member in charge of programs such as this great presentation.
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