Troubleshooting: What to do if you bokashi bin goes bad

By following our 4-step how-to guide included for free with our bokashi starter kits, most people will enjoy successful results every time with their bokashi composting.  But if problems arise, don’t despair!  This page will answer and address the most common problems that might occur.

Bokashi composting is all about creating an optimal environment for the healthy bokashi microbes to thrive, and in doing so to convert your food scraps into nutrient rich pre-compost.  Remember that every climate is different, and not everybody creates the same type of food scraps, so there are no hard and fast rules for any composting process.  But after a couple of tries, most people will easily find the rhythm that works best within their kitchen.

How do I know if my bokashi compost bin has failed?

If you open your bokashi compost bin and you smell a foul, putrid odor or you see lots of blue/green mold, then something has gone wrong. A successful bokashi bin will smell pickly and/or yeasty and may have white mold visible (no visible white mold does not mean that it has failed).

Most common reasons for bokashi compost bins to fail

CHOPPING:

Make sure you chop up your food scraps before putting them in the kitchen composter.  Large items will compost, but will take longer to ferment than smaller items.  2 inch pieces are acceptable, but 1/2 to 1 inch in pieces are even better.  Remember that as vegetable and fruit skins are a natural protector, they will limit the bokashi microbes from entering as well.  Items like lemons should be chopped into quarters before putting them in the kitchen composter.

AIR:

Excess air is bad for the bokashi process.  The kitchen composter should be opened and closed as little as possible, and for as short a time as convenient, while you are loading it and until it is full.  Do not leave the lid open unnecessarily.  It’s best to collect your food scraps in a bin or bowl on your kitchen counter, and just once a day, or better yet every other day, load them all at once into the kitchen composter.  And try not to open the kitchen composter at all during its sealed two week fermentation time.

COVERING PLATE:

To keep excess air away from the food scraps within the kitchen composter, its ideal to place something to act as an air barrier on top of the food scraps.  Use a plastic bag (recommended), piece of cardboard, or even a kitchen plate placed on top of the food scraps, as you are working to fill the kitchen composter. And leave the item there once the bin is full during  its two week fermentation process.  Be sure to PRESS DOWN hard on the covering barrier as you add food layers, as this will help squeeze air out of the food scraps in the kitchen composter (the covering plate will also serve to keep your hands clean while doing this).

AMOUNT OF BOKASHI BRAN:

You can never add too much bokashi bran to the kitchen composter.  In fact,  more is better, especially when dealing with food scraps that rot easily (like meat).  At a minimum, at least be sure that you have a dusting of bokashi bran mixed evenly throughout the food scraps that are in the bin.  As you add the food scraps, sprinkle the bokashi, and mix slightly to ensure even coverage.

TEMPERATURE:

The kitchen composter should be kept away from extreme temperatures.  Room temperature is ideal for the microbes to thrive.  Keep it inside during cold months, and out of direct sunlight in the warm months.  Colder temperatures will not stop the microbes entirely, but it will slow them down.

TIME:

Inside the kitchen composter:  most food scraps should successfully complete the precompost process in two weeks.  But some might take longer, especially if they are not chopped well enough.  Try leaving the food scraps for an extra week in the kitchen composter.  Longer fermentation time in the kitchen composter is always beneficial.

In the ground:  Once your precompost has been transferred to your garden, two weeks is usually all it takes for the majority of the items to be assimilated into the soil web.  However, if the temperature is cooler, or the food scraps are not fully precomposted, it might need longer.  An extra week in the soil should finish it off.

Further help and troubleshooting

Rodents are finding my buried pre-compost!

Rodents are curious and hungry.  They will often dig around anything that looks or smells new in your garden.  Bokashi precompost is acidic, and should not taste good to them.  If rodents have dug up your first batch of precompost, even after following the steps above, very often they will realize their mistake and not return.  However, if they dig it up more often, then you can easily solve the problem by ensuring the following:

  • let the precompost ferment in the kitchen composter for an additional week before transplanting to the garden or compost heap.  This will ensure complete fermentation.
  • bury the precompost deeper.  At a minimum, for rodent protection the precompost should be buried 6 inches below the surface. At that depth, the smell should not be inviting to them.  Bury deeper if you have particularly aggressive rodents.
  • try placing a piece of netting on top of the soil where the precompost is buried.  You can secure the corners of the netting with stones.
  • and remember that once an animal realizes that bokashi precompost is not easily available to them as a food source, they will move on.

My precompost smells rotten, and there is blue/black or green mold in it:

This is a sure sign of a failed batch, and it should be discarded (note that white mold is good and is a sign of a successful batch and very healthy microbes).  Be sure to follow the steps above, and in particular see that your lid is tightly sealing itself, the kitchen composter is not cracked, and that the drain spigot is kept closed.  As well, it’s likely that not enough bokashi bran was added to the food scraps, or mixed evenly enough throughout the food scraps.

My drain spigot leaks:

The drain spigot works with simple rubber washers.  For closing:  A simple and light finger tighten is all that is needed to seal the bin.  Over tightening can cause the inside washer to ‘roll off’ the sealing thread.  By disassembling the spigot, you can fairly easily reposition the washer if it has rolled off.  For opening:  half a turn is all that is needed to open the drain spigot.  Over turning it can cause it to become unthreaded, and possibly remain in the ‘open’ position.  If your spigot is draining by itself, then this is likely the scenario.  Simply push in on the spigot handle while tightening, and the thread should re-engage itself properly.

 

Remember, the bokashi composting system relies on a natural, living process and sometimes problems occur for not particular reason. If your bin goes bad, don’t despair simply pencil it down to bad luck and try again.

Further help and guidance? Simply contact us

14 thoughts on “Troubleshooting: What to do if you bokashi bin goes bad

  1. Thanks, this is a really helpful post. Over the winter, I was concerned that the bin wasn’t getting any mould, so I thought is wasn’t working and was thinking of stopping. Having read this I realise that it was working fine and I will carry on bokashiing. Its really a good way of getting rid of smelly food waste.

    1. Great to hear it! As long as there is no blue/green moldy or foul, putrid smell then you can be confident things are working well.

      1. So. What do you do, exactly, if it goes bad. I forgot to drain the leachate out of my home made bokahi system made from home Depot buckets for a couple days and the whole thing smelled putrid. No amount of washing seemed to fix the problem. Should I throw out what is in there? Or bury it? Any thoughts on cleaning the buckets?

        Thank you

        1. So you’ve drained the leachate and buried the pre-compost but the bin itself still smells? If so, have you tried leaving the open bin out in the direct sun; sunlight is amazing! Also, have you tried setting up your bokashi bucket again. The bokashi microbes and the anaerobic conditions will also help to kill the bacteria associated with rotting and the putrid smell.

          On another note, I’m surprised that leaving the leachate for a couple of days caused the whole bin to go bad. Was it starting to smell beforehand?

          1. Not that I noticed, but it’s possible. I think the scraps I put in there were too whole to get digested appropriately. Could that have been the problem?

  2. We recommend that you cut food waste into 1-2″ pieces. The larger the pieces the longer it takes to break down. If you are adding larger pieces then be more generous with the amount of bokashi bran that you add, and expect it to take a little bit longer to ferment and to break down after you bury it. And remember, skins and peels create natural protection for fruits and vegetables. Make sure to chop up any whole fruits/veggies before putting them in the bokashi bucket so that the microbes can get at the flesh inside.

  3. I don’t have a garden only my patio, would I be able to make compost just leaving it in the bin? If so how long roughly would that take?

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for the question. The food waste in the bin is fermented and you need to add it to garden soil for the final stage. However, this does not mean that you need a garden. Many people make a soil factory to finish off their fermented food waste. This (put simply) is a rubbermaid container in which you mix your soil and bokashi fermented food waste. Read more here: http://bokashiliving.com/make-simple-soil-factory/

      Hope that helps 🙂
      Nicki

  4. Hello,

    We are trying to start a Bokashi composting system for our small guesthouse/B&B. We produce a lot of food waste/plate scrapings during breakfast service and need an efficient way of dealing with it – will it harm the process if the bin is left open during service (around 2 hours) as waste is added gradually, and contents then squashed, sprinkled and sealed at the end of each morning? It will take approximately 2-3 days to fill each bin, so we are thinking that the contents will not have time to putrefying in that time, even though bins will obvs be exposed to oxygen? Keeping a separate bin that needs decanting into the Bokashi every day will simply not be practical. Many thanks in advance for your advice.

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