Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The History of Bokashi & How It Works

Bokashi composting is not only an ancient practice, but it is also an excellent alternative to traditional aerobic composting. No one is 100% sure exactly where bokashi first originated, or the precise steps in its evolution that brought it to the system we have today, but there are respected theories that tie this tradition to northeast and central Asia. One thing is for certain: bokashi composting is ideal for modern society.

Bokashi is a powder made from bran used in anaerobic composting. This type of composting has several key benefits for the average Joe. A traditional compost heap is a requires a significant amount of work to keep properly maintained. Compost needs to be monitored, turned, aged and sifted... not to mention the pungent smell of compost is off-putting for many people.

Today's EM Bokashi compost eliminates the work, pests and smell associated with decompostion based composting. The practice is believed to have its earliest roots in ancient Korea. Through Korean composting traditions and new scientific research, compost engineers were able to design what we know as bokashi today. Korean natural farming encourages the growth of certain natural indigenous microorganisms (IMs). These IMs are generally cultivated in cooked rice, milk or another media. Surprisingly similar to the way yogurt is created and maintained, a single culture can be kept alive and producing starters for compost heaps for generations.

EM Bokashi is made with Effective Microorganisms®, or EM•1® Microbial Inoculant. EM•1® is mixed with molasses, water and bran and fermented. The EM•1® ensures a consistent finished product. Effective Microorganisms® was discovered by a man named Dr. Teruo Higa in Japan. Dr. Higa has a doctorate in agricultural research and fruit tree cultivation from Ryukyus University in Okinawa, Japan. Like many great discoveries, EM® came about through an accident -- Higa threw out some waste from his experiments with microorganisms and found the surrounding plants began to flourish.

The EM® that Dr. Higa found in his waste pile was not the EM® that we see today. The current batch of EM•1® took a degree of refining before becoming the product sold today. The current EM•1® Microbial Inoculant mostly consists of lactic acid and phototrophic bacteria as well as yeast.

EM Bokashi came shortly after the EM® concentrate in 1982 and was combined with a special airtight bucket to be easily used in homes and schools. Since that humble beginning, Bokashi has spread to over 120 countries around the world.

Bokashi requires a high carbon media on which the microorganisms colonize. The media of choice today is wheat bran or rice bran. Bokashi starters are sold in a dried form and are mostly used in home composting. The method does not produce the smell of normal composting. The sealed container encourages a pickling process, preventing the materials from rotting, and keeps out pests such as insects.

Because EM Bokashi can be used in tight quarters and in sealed containers, it is ideal for people who want to compost in a small living space. The most common application is using an EM Bokashi bin in a household kitchen. The homeowner can dump kitchen scraps and vegetable matter into the bin and spread a layer of EM Bokashi mix over top of the scraps.

The EM Bokashi awakens in this nutrient-rich environment and the microbes quickly begin to grow. While they grow, they ferment and break down the organic (lignin and cellulose) components of the kitchen scraps in the bin. This causes the food scraps to pickle, mainainting their original shape, but preparing them to final breakdown in the soil. A liquid can be drained out of the Bokashi Bucket Fermenter and used as compost tea, which is a liquid fertilizer useful for growing plants. If the user has no desire to make use of the compost tea, the material is perfectly safe to be drained down a sewer line.

Once the Bokashi bin is filled with alternating layers of bokashi mix and food scraps, is full it is then left to ferment for a couple of weeks. When this time is up, the contents are then buried six to eight inches under the soil and left to finish breaking down. Microbes, worms, and insects in the soil digest the materials into humus in as little as two weeks. This is all done without the tools and work associated with traditional composting!