For the longest time, I thought worms were the love of my compost life. Cute, easy to care for, discreet when tucked in a cabinet or under the sink…
But recently, I’ve wiggled away from Red Wiggler earthworms (mostly Friend Zone now) to embrace my Bokashi Buckets — airtight containers in which I ferment food scraps before burying them in soil. Once buried (or mixed into an aerobic compost pile) they fully decompose and transform into lovely, luscious earth.
Bokashi, a Japanese word meaning fermented organic matter, doesn’t discriminate. As with worm bins, I can process fruit and veggie scraps in my bucket. BUT, I can ALSO process meat, dairy, cooked foods, ancient condiments and mysteries from the back of the fridge. All these latter items create chaos in a worm bin ecosystem and in general are best kept out of aerobic compost piles to avoid odor and pests. Bokashi is a food waste recycler’s dream!
Maintaining a bokashi bucket is mindlessly easy (keep your eyes peeled for a how-to, coming up in a future post). All the hard work of fermentation is done by a powerful trio of anaerobic microbes called Effective Microorganisms (lactobacillus bacteria, phototrophic bacteria and yeast). They are sprinkled onto food scraps via an inoculated material often called bokashi bran, as wheat bran is a popular ingredient. I prefer the more generic term “bokashi flakes,” as any easily spreadable plant-based carbon material that can dust scraps like snowflakes will do. I’ve known folks who have used coffee chaff, sawdust and dry, crumpled leaves with great success.
While bokashi flakes are readily available for purchase online, they are also super simple to make. If you’d like to save some cash, enjoy DIY projects, and have a few weeks to spare to allow your bokashi flakes to ferment and subsequently dry for long-term use and storage, follow the steps below to make bokashi flakes yourself!
The following recipe is adapted from the guidelines provided by Teraganix, a distributor of a liquid form of Effective Microorganisms called EM-1. Their base recipe calls for 10 lbs of flake material. I have adjusted it for 3 lbs of wheat bran, which is roughly the amount in the plastic bag pictured above, is easy to make in my apartment and lasts for several months for a household of 2 .
- 1.5 TB EM-1 Some people make their own microbe solution from every day items but it can be difficult to ensure optimized populations of each microbe group when collecting from the wild. I’ve tried it, with varying results. These days, I just stick to EM-1 for consistency.
- 3 lb. Flake material Wheat bran can be purchased from an animal feed store for about $15 for 50 pounds. Considering a 2 lb bag of finished bokashi flakes can cost upwards of $15, you’re in for some serious savings! If you’re a savvy scrounger, you can freecycle items like coffee chaff, leaves, and untreated sawdust as well.
- 1.5 TB Molasses This serves as fuel for the microbes. I’ve been using a bottle I got years ago during my ginger snap baking era which, come to think of it, I should resurrect.
- 3 cups Water
- Container for mixing Make sure it’s big enough to hold your flake material and then some, as you’ll be mixing the flakes around and you don’t want to spill them all over your counter.
- Plastic bag A reused grocery store bag or a trash bag will do. Make sure there are no holes in the plastic.
- Dissolve the molasses in the water.
- Add EM-1 to the water mix.
- Pour dry flake material into the mixing container.
- Add 2/3 of the water mixture to the flake material and mix it together. Use your hands! It not only feels good, but is vital to determining when you’ve achieved the ideal moisture level.
- Squeeze a handful of flakes together.
- If it sticks together without dripping, as seen in the picture below, it’s perfect! Continue to the next section!
- If it crumbles apart like dust, it’s too dry. Slowly add the remaining liquid to your flakes, pausing periodically to squeeze test it until it achieves the conditions described above.
- If liquid oozes from the flakes, it’s too wet. Add more dry flake material until it achieves the conditions described above.
- Once you’ve achieved the proper moisture level, put the dampened flakes into the plastic bag. Compress the bag contents to squeeze out as much air as you can from between the flakes and throughout the bag.
- Twist or tie the bag closed, sealing the flakes in a private, air-tight universe.
- Keep the bag in a warm, out-of-the-way corner like a cupboard or cabinet for a minimum of two weeks. In this quiet, dark, airless space, the microbes will ferment the flakes.
- After a few weeks have passed, open the bag. It should have a sweet, yeast-y smell to it. You may see white mold on it, which is totally fine. If you see green/blue/black mold, something went wrong and the wrong microbes cultivated. Compost the bad batch and start over.
- Dry your flakes for long-term storage and use. Spread your bokashi flakes out in a thin layer on the floor or on a table to air out. You can do this in a tray, on a plate, or any other surface you don’t mind spreading flakes on. Heat and sunshine help speed things up.
And that’s it! You’re ready to rock, roll and bokashi! 😀