How to do bokashi

Bokashi is a two step process. First, fermentation in a barrel. Second, dig down into the ground or into a container and make soil.

It’s very straightforward once you get started, but there are some basic steps to follow.
Here you can learn how to do bokashi and use it to make great soil!

Photo: Jenny Harlen

PART ONE. FERMENT THE FOOD WASTE.

An airtight barrel, bucket or container is needed along with a supply of bokashi bran (half kilo per 60 liter barrel, 100 grams per 10-liter bucket).

A second barrel, bucket or container is needed while the first one is fermenting. 

1. Put a layer of absorbent rice husk in the bottom of the airtight barrel, bucket or container (5-10% of the volume). This is to absorb moisture from the food/organic waste. Sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of bokashi bran.

If rice husk is not available, use some other form of absorbent material such as coconut fiber or charcoal. Shredded newspaper or office paper can also be used. Use tissue paper if you have it. 

2. Add food scraps and other organic waste from the kitchens and garden. Sprinkle with approximately two tablespoons of bokashi bran for each liter of food/organic waste. You can use every type of food waste. The only thing to avoid is liquids, as you want the contents to be reasonably dry.

3. Continue filling until the container is full, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Press down the food scraps to create more space (you can use a bottle or a plate to keep your hands clean). If you have a lot of one particular type of material, layer it with other material.

4. Top the barrel with something absorbent (more rice husk for example, or a shredded newspaper). 

5. Leave the barrel to ferment with the lid on tightly. We recommend one week in Myanmar temperatures (around 30 degrees) or two weeks in airconditioning.  

6. Start a new barrel in the same way while the first one ferments.

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We have made a video here showing you how to fill a bokashi barrel with market waste! You may have a smaller barrel, or some other type of airtight container, but the principals are still the same as shown here. Hope it helps!

 

PART TWO. MAKE SOIL.

The basic principle is to mix the fermented bokashi with some kind of soil and wait for it to change from food waste to fertile soil. This will take from two to four weeks in “real” soil but the speed depends on how much microbial life there is in the original soil.  Try adding some brown leaves when you dig down your bokashi – they add valuable carbon and structure to the soil.

Note that your bokashi will still look much the same when it has finished fermenting. It will only turn to soil once it is mixed with soil in the ground or in a container — you won’t get soil in your bucket.  

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There are a number of different methods, but all involve mixing bokashi with soil in some type of hole or container. 

1. Dig a trench in the ground and empty the contents of the fermented bokashi barrel. Mix with soil/sand and cover with a 10-30 cm layer of soil/sand. 

OR

2. Create a raised bed using planks, logs, bricks or other materials on top of the ground. If there is grass or weeds on the location, cover them with of a thick layer newspaper or cardboard (not plastic) before making the bed. No need to dig. Empty the contents of the bokashi barrel and cover with soil/sand.

OR

4. Use any form of planting container to make soil in. Layer soil/bokashi/soil in this. 50:50 bokashi:soil is ideal. You will need a drainage hole. Ensure the mixture is reasonable well mixed and add a layer of soil/sand to the top of the container. Water only as needed to keep the contents moist but not wet.

 

In all cases, it makes sense to cover the soil factory loosely for the first couple of weeks to protect from heavy rain and curious animals. Some animals love the smell of bokashi and will dig! The soil needs to be able to breathe, so should not be covered tightly. 

Check after a couple of weeks and see how the process is going. When you can no longer see the food waste, it means it has been absorbed into the soil and the soil can be used, either for planting or as a fertilizer.  

If you wish, you can add another layer of bokashi and soil on top of the first layer.

You can plant at any time, but make sure no plant roots will touch the bokashi in the first two weeks after it is buried down. During this period, the bokashi is quite acidic and will burn the roots. If you are sowing from seeds into a top layer of soil, you can probably sow on the same day you bury your bokashi as the seeds will take a couple of weeks to grow deep roots.

 

Anything else that’s good to know?

– Bokashi is an anaerobic process, which means it works without oxygen. Keep the barrel closed at all times, and try to fill it just once or twice per day.

– Do not add plastic or any other type of inorganic waste. Only things that have once been living should be added to a bokashi barrel.

– Food scraps are often wet. If you can, let them dry up a bit before adding them to the bokashi container (wet tea leaves and coffee grounds especially). Avoid adding liquids such as soups or milk to the container; you can strain them if you like and add the solids).

– The contents of your bokashi barrel shouldn’t smell (other than a slightly sour fermentation smell). If you think it smells stronger than it should, check for condensation on the underside of the lid. If you see moisture droplets there, it’s too wet in your container and this is causing the smell. Just add something absorbent (like an egg carton, toilet roll, rice hus, charcoal) to take up the moisture. Maybe some extra bran. The smell should disappear quite quickly.

– You can add any type of food scraps to your bokashi container. Meat, fish, cheese, cooked foods, vegetables, tea, coffee, dead flowers. If you have a lot of the same type of food, try to layer it with other scraps. If you have food scraps that are high in protein (meat, fish), use a little extra bokashi bran to help them get started. 

– If you can, chop your food scraps into smallish pieces. This will help you fit more into the container and speed up the fermentation process making it easier to make soil later. 

– Any kind of airtight container or bucket can be used for bokashi. Any form of absorbent material can be used in the bottom as long as it is natural (shredded paper, crushed charcoal, rice, coconut fiber). 

– The container can be stored indoors or outdoors, wherever is convenient. 

– It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to fill the barrel or how quickly you fill it, the process will work anyway. If you are going away, just leave it as is and continue filling it when you come back, no problem. 

We’ve made a list of frequently asked questions here!

Good luck with YOUR bokashi project!
/The Bokashi Myanmar team