OK, let’s get honest for a moment. We have probably all shared the disappointment of opening our first bokashi bucket. After 2 weeks of religiously adding your food waste and carefully sprinkling on the magic bokashi bran. We have then waited patiently for two more weeks. During which time we are torn between wanting to have a ‘quick peek’ and not wanting to harm our bokashi microbes by letting air into the bin. So, after four long weeks we are finally allowed to open our bokashi bucket and marvel at the compost inside…… but, wait a minute! The food waste looks almost exactly the same as when I put it in. Maybe a bit mushy round the edges and a bit of white mold on the top. But, other than that, not really anything has changed. Is that all you get? What have my bokashi microbes been doing???
Don’t despair. It may look like not much has happened but in fact there is a whole heap of changes that have happened to your food waste. It’s just that these changes aren’t visible to the naked eye.
What happens in your bokashi bucket?
What you have in your bokashi bucket is not soil. You do not get soil or compost directly out of your bucket…. it doesn’t work that way. What you have in your bucket is fermented (or pickled) food waste (also called pre-compost).
Fermentation is the process that allows us to throw anything into our bokashi bucket without worrying about foul odors, flies and other pests. The bokashi fermentation process is great for us, but it is also great for our plants (win, win!). The bokashi process is dealing with your food scraps in a way that produces the best possible results for your plants.
What do the bokashi microbes do?
The bokashi microbes in our premium bokashi bran are hungry and ready to work. Once added to your bokashi bucket they will start to multiply. And if the conditions are right (as they are in our specially designed bokashi composters) they can multiply quickly. So you can quite rapidly have a bin full of bokashi microbes munching away on your food waste.
Great, so now you have a bin full of hungry microbes. But how do they help your garden? Food waste is made of lots of complex proteins. These proteins are of no value to your garden in their current form. As the bokashi microbes get to work on your food waste they break these proteins up into amino acids; the small parts of the complex protein chains. Plants, with the help of the bokashi microbes, are able to take up the nutrients in the amino acids.
A great analogy I once read compared bokashi composting to a summer BBQ. Imagine turning up to a BBQ and being presented with two tables. One table had a chicken, pig and an assortment of freshly dug up (unwashed) veggies. The other table had a fantastic assortment of cooked chicken wings, burgers and prepared salads with all of the cutlery, plates and napkins that you could possible need. The first table is your untreated food waste whilst the second table is your bokashi pre-compost and the bokashi microbes are the knives and forks! I know which table I would choose to eat from!
So, it is the microbes in our soil that convert the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace minerals into a form that plants can use to grow and produce food and flowers for us. Why do the microbes do all this work for the plants? In exchange for a treat! A plant’s roots give off substances that the microbes can use such as sugars and amino acids; a crucial (arguably the most crucial) symbiotic relationship in nature.
Does the fermentation process make a difference? What would happen if you just buried your food waste?
If you put your food scraps into a traditional compost pile or buried them straight into the ground they would (eventually) become soil. However, the process takes longer. During this time many of the nutrients could be leached out and much of the carbon in the compost could be lost to the atmosphere in the form of methane and carbon dioxide. And don’t forget, those bokashi microbes allow us to be a bit lazier and throw everything into our bokashi composters without risk of attracting pests. Putting all of your food waste into your traditional composter is often an open invitation to local pests.
By fermenting your food waste, the bokashi microbes produce a variety of beneficial substances including enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, trace minerals, some plant hormones, and organic acids. In addition, the acidic environment created during the fermentation process helps control pathogens and damages seeds.
So, even though your food scraps may look pretty similar after 2 weeks in your bokashi bucket, your bokashi microbes have been hard at work. Your thriving garden and healthy plants are testament to the benefits of bokashi microbes and fermentation.