The Book to Amp Up Your Compost

This book takes a look at an Asian style of composting that allows you to convert even more food waste to black gold.

by Cory Hershberger

Book Review: Bokashi Composting

At A Glance

Title: Bokashi Composting
Author: Adam Footer
Publisher: New Society Publishers
Release Date: January 2014
Cover Price: $16.95
Target Audience: Gardeners looking to rapidly amend their beds and plots with healthy compost; ecologically minded growers who want to minimize their food waste as much as possible

By now, most gardeners and growers know that composting is an excellent way to improve soil structure, provide a wide array of nutrients to growing plants, and “recycle” your kitchen food waste back into the garden. (And if this is the first you’re hearing about composting, no judgment: We have the perfect article to get you started.) We’re all pretty familiar with the greens (nitrogen suppliers) and the browns (carbon suppliers) and how important the ratio is to allow the piles to reach the proper temperature and decompose correctly.

But, as with most things in agriculture, there’s another way to compost that allows you to maximize your food-waste recycling even further: bokashi composting, a technique originating in Japan and Southeast Asia that uses specific microbes to anaerobically ferment—aka ferment without oxygen—organic matter. In light of the recent back-to-the-land movement of the past decade or two, bokashi composting has started to gain traction with sustainably minded growers all over the world, and now, Adam Footer has written Bokashi Composting, a complete DIY guide to starting the practice on your own farm or homestead.

In a nutshell, bokashi composting takes place in a closed system—in this case, usually a sealed 5-gallon bucket—where organic food waste is inoculated with beneficial microorganisms and fermented. This closed system has a number of benefits, including a smell-free composting process, the ability to compost all food waste (even meat and dairy, which would normally attract flies and rodents to a traditional compost pile), no loss of nutrients, enhanced composting speed, and an end product teeming with beneficial microbes. The inoculation process consists of sprinkling food wastes with either a dry or wet starter, called bokashi bran in its dry form, and then basically sitting back and letting the process take control.

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I know what you’re thinking: You have way too many garden beds or plots to amend, and that composting in a 5-gallon bucket will never suffice. You’re probably right, but you can either scale up the system—there are some great ideas in the chapter on making your own fermentation vessel—or use bokashi composting alongside your traditional compost pile, using it for the food waste you wouldn’t throw into the pile normally.

Footer agrees with that sentiment, too: He’s not out to badmouth or disparage all other forms of composting while acclaiming the value of the bokashi method; rather, he acknowledges that bokashi composting is not for everybody, and that traditional, windrow and vermicomposting all have their role to play.

“Each form of composting has its appropriate place and time, but there are also times where one form or another may be problematic given the user and their specific situation,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “Each form of composting also has its specific set of disadvantages, so given our own unique situations, it is important that we have a variety of ecological methods to choose from so we can recycle all of our organic wastes.”

It may sound overly scientific, but Footer’s conversational tone and accessible research puts the potential power of the bokashi system in your hands. He offers commercial purchasing options for most of the necessary supplies, including the fermenting vessel and bokashi bran, but he also provides DIY solutions wherever possible. There’s also an excellent chapter on using the end result in your garden that will appeal to growers of all garden sizes.

Some of the greatest fun agriculture has to offer is experimentation, so give bokashi composting a try this year: Footer has written an exhaustively researched starter guide to the practice, and it’s an excellent place to begin.

The Final Word: Any ecologically minded growers who want to maximize their food-waste recycling and make their gardens look better than ever should give Bokashi Composting a try—it’s low-cost, high-yield and easy to begin.

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