Day 8 Update

A full week has passed since I started my Bokashi project. Today there was finally enough juice to drain from the spigot (I would estimate a pint or less).

I directed the spigot at my bathroom sink, which has been known to drain very slowly. It had gotten so bad recently, my landlord had to call a plumber. I had already tried home remedies, including baking soda and vinegar chased by boiling water, as well as a small hand plunger, to no avail. The drain was like this when I moved in a couple months ago, and I'm hoping that now that it's been cleared by a pro, I can use Bokashi juice to help prevent another clog.

As I started draining the juice into my sink, I got so carried away I forgot to save a little of the liquid to dilute and feed to my potted plants! Oh well, maybe next week.

The Bokashi juice was dark reddish brown, and slightly viscous. The closest analogy I can think of for the smell is soy sauce.

Additionally, I added another 2 layers of frozen food scraps to the bucket, and when I opened the lid, I was pleased to find that the smell inside the container was also inoffensive.

There was a fuzzy layer of white mold growing on the surface of last week's scraps, but I have been reassured this is normal. So far so good!

The bucket is still less than half full, and that's with 3 weeks worth of scraps. This means it will probably take about 6 weeks to fill it to the top - and I've read that the retail Bokashi buckets hold about 2 weeks' worth of scraps.

I'm not sure if my homemade bucket is just way larger than those, or if I just have less food scraps than what is "typical". That would be remarkable, considering we were just marveling at how MUCH food waste it seemed like was accumulating! One week's worth of food scraps takes up more than a quarter of the space in my freezer.

And yes, when I have food scraps from meals and snacks eaten at work, I do pack them up in plastic tubs and take them home! My coworkers already know I'm a nutty re-user/recycler (I'm the only one in my department who doesn't buy cases of bottled water to drink at my desk), so I haven't gotten any weird comments yet.


Day 5 Update

So, theoretically you are supposed to drain the juice from your Bokashi bucket every couple days.

My Bokashi pile has produced only a very tiny layer of juice in the bottom of the bucket that I can see through the side - probably 1/4" or so - not enough to drain through the spigot.

I'm not too concerned, because my friend had mentioned that her Bokashi system also produced less liquid when she began storing her food scraps in the freezer.

Another thing to note is that there has indeed been NO odor!

If I put my face very close to the bucket, I get a faint whiff of bananas, but that's about it. I saw a fruit fly hovering over a pear core that was laying in the sink the other day - but none near the Bokashi bucket, which is out in the open just a few feet away.


Bokashi Bucket DIY - Part III

Over the weekend I finally got my Bokashi bucket up and running!

First we drilled holes in the bottom of the inner bucket for drainage. We made the holes fairly small so that bits of food don't fall through. The bucket with holes fits snugly inside the other bucket with the spigot, so I think the set-up with be relatively air-tight.

Below you can see the containers of food scraps I had been saving in the freezer for about two weeks, as well as one of the 1-KG bags of Bokashi mix I had ordered.

As I had outlined previously in a post about
basic Bokashi how-tos, the first step was to sprinkle a layer of Bokashi powder in the bottom of the inner bucket.

I then began adding food scraps and more Bokashi powder in layers. In total, we had three layers of frozen food scraps with a handful or two of Bokashi powder covering each layer.

Then, I used a plastic grocery bag to compress and cover the top of the pile before putting on the lid.

In case you decide to build your own Bokashi bucket using the same components I did, just know that the lid is very tight. It took a lot of effort to pry off the lid and push it back on, so I will probably continue to save food scraps in the freezer and add to my bucket weekly, not daily.

Lastly, I transferred the unused Bokashi powder to an empty plastic container, which is easier to use and keep airtight than the original ziplock bag. Below is the finished set up - ta da!


Bokashi Bucket DIY - Part II

My buckets arrived on Tuesday, but I've been so busy I didn't open the package until last night (and haven't had a chance to research any of the topics I outlined last week - but will, I promise!).

When nested, the inner bucket indeed rests above the spigot, as I had hoped. However, the end of the spigot itself is level with the bottom of the bucket. I decided to twist it so it's angled to the side instead of straight up and down, or else it will be touching the floor.

Here are some photos of the preliminary set-up. A friend lent me a drill, so I am going to put holes in the bottom of the inner bucket tonight.

I've been storing food scraps (mostly banana peels and egg shells) in the freezer for about a week, and it's getting surprisingly crowded in there! When my Bokashi mix arrives, I'll have plenty of material to start composting.

By the way, I heard a rumor that Whole Foods carries Bokashi mix. I went to the Glendale location and spoke with associates in both the house cleaning and gardening departments - no one had any idea what Bokashi was.


In the Meantime

While I wait for my Bokashi equipment to arrive, I've been saving my food scraps in a container in the freezer.

I'll be researching and writing about the following topics in the meantime until I begin my own Bokashi project.
  1. Why should anyone compost, anyway? Why shouldn't food scraps go to the dump? Don't they just break down and disappear anyway?
  2. Why do we care about the end product - what does compost do to enrich the soil? What if I don't have a yard or garden?
  3. What exactly is "EM" - how does it work?
  4. How do you make your own Bokashi mix?
  5. Why do you want Bokashi to "pickle" your food, anyway? (What does "pickling" really mean?
  6. Similarly, why don't we just bury plain food scraps in the yard - why does it need to be fermented by Bokashi first?
  7. Does composting attract pests?
  8. Related topic - septic systems.


Bokashi Bucket DIY - Part I

Okay, the parts for my DIY Bokashi composting system have been ordered!

I had a glimmer of doubt about not ordering the prefab Bokashi bucket, but after pricing out everything including shipping, I found that the most cost-effective combination was to order the bucket components from "
More Beer!" (a home beer-making supplier), and the Bokashi mix from Gaiam.

The complete Bokashi starter kit is $65.99 from
SCD, but including standard UPS Ground shipping, it's $81.03, since SCD calculates shipping rates by weight.

The same starter kit is $75.00 from
Gaiam, and with standard UPS Ground shipping (charged by order value instead of weight), it's $86.99.

Even though Gaiam's price per 1-gallon bag of Bokashi is $3.00 more than it is from SCD, Gaiam charges shipping rates based on your order value, and not the weight. Plus, they ship from Colorado instead of Missouri, saving my Bokashi mix 600 miles of travel (in addition, the beer-making equipment ships from the San Francisco Bay Area, which is only 300 miles from Los Angeles).

With this combination, I was able to save about $20 and get an extra bag of Bokashi mix in the process! (Well, I had to order at least one more bag since it was $5.99 for shipping whether I ordered 1 bag or 2). Not bad at all!

Bokashi Buckets

Online retailers offer pre-made plastic Bokashi buckets that are cute-looking and handy. These buckets have a false floor inside that allows liquid to drip down and stay separate from the fermenting matter, as well as a little spigot on the outside so you can drain away the juice.

  • Al Pasternak, a dealer of "Biosa" brand EM, sells the above kit for $45.00 - but without a spigot - and only in Canada. His Bokashi refills are $15.00 a bag.

You can also make your own Bokashi buckets for a lot less. Click here to see an awesome DIY project by a man named Jay, who made his own Bokashi bucket out of a square tub that some kitty litter came in. Instead of nesting two buckets, he built a false bottom out of a piece of acrylic, and also added a spigot.

I don't have the tools to make such a fancy Bokashi pail, but after a bunch of digging around online, I came up with a very affordable source for buckets with a spigot already installed - from a home beer-brewing hobbyist site!

My plan is to drill holes in the bottom of a plain 6-gallon bucket, then nest it inside a bucket with a spigot.

My only worry is that if I nest the plain bucket inside the bucket with the spigot, the bottom of the plain bucket may sit lower than the spigot. I hope that's not the case! From eyeballing the photos, I think I'll be okay.

Bokashi vs. Vermicomposting

Here are the pros and cons of both methods, as I see it for my particular living situation:
  1. Space - at first, it seemed like a tie. A worm bin is roughly 2'W x 1.5'D x 1'H. A Bokashi Bucket is roughly 1' in diameter and 1.5' high - but in order to keep your system going (since a full bucket needs to sit for 2 weeks), many people recommended buying two, which would increase the footprint to 2' x 1'. However, both the Burbank recycling coordinator and my friend in Chicago advised that you can store your scraps in the freezer in the meantime - meaning I would only need one Bokashi bucket. Bokashi wins on space constraints.

  2. Container Price - The price of a pre-made worm bin ($100+ online, but $5-$50 from local recycle centers), can be lower than a prefab Bokashi bucket ($60+, from retailers only) - especially if you have more than one Bokashi bucket. However, the DIY price for making a worm bin or Bokashi bucket is about the same, so I'd call this one a tie.

  3. Organism Price - Once you buy your worms (about $20 for 1 lb.), they will reproduce and you should not have to buy more if you maintain your farm correctly. However, with Bokashi, you will need to buy or make your own Bokashi mix as you run out. If you purchase ready-made Bokashi powder, it's $9-12 for a 1 gallon bag. If you make your own, you will need EM culture and the base ingredients (molasses, wheat bran), as well as room to spread the mix out while it dries. Worm bin wins on the price of keeping your system going.

  4. Food Scrap Restrictions - With a worm bin, you cannot include meat, dairy, or anything oily (so no cooked foods). You are also supposed to avoid citrus fruit scraps, as the acidity is unsuitable for the worms. On the other hand, since the worms need fibrous bedding, a worm farm is a convenient way to recycle your newspapers. With a Bokashi system, you can include ALL food waste, including meat, bones, oily scraps, and citrus fruits. Although I eat very little meat, I often cook with oil. Bokashi wins on flexibility.

  5. Obtrusiveness - While a worm bin could technically be kept inside your apartment, and not just in a garage or patio, my particular apartment lacked the space. Even when the stairway alcove seemed secure (before my landlord cleaned it out), I was concerned with the possibility of a worm exodus. Apparently, if your worm bin becomes too wet or acidic, your worms will leave in droves to seek out a better environment. Now that could potentially be offensive to the other tenants in my building :) The Bokashi bin can be kept under the kitchen sink, and nothing will escape or bother anyone - Bokashi wins.

  6. Odor - Both systems are odorless when the bin is closed. As long as you cover food scraps with the bedding in your worm bin, there will be no noticeable odors. With the Bokashi system, the food scraps produce a sweet & sour, pickled smell, but not the decayed stench of rotting garbage. This one is also a tie.

  7. Finished Product - The worm castings are a finished product that will make your plants and the earth happy. The Bokashi product, however, still must be buried for a few weeks before it's done. My building does have a small lawn directly outside my window. Although it's not my own private yard, I can bury my scraps behind the bushes to finish the composting process. Others recommend keeping a tub or planter of soil to bury the pickled scraps. Vermicomposting wins on this front, as that method eliminates an extra step before final compost product.

Overall, although both methods had pros and cons, I decided that Bokashi composting would work better for my current situation, and this is the method I will be trying first.

Very Basic How-To: Bokashi Composting

  1. Buy or make a Bokashi bucket, to be used indoors. Bokashi buckets often have a little spigot near the bottom to drain out the liquid that is formed during fermentation. Or, they are made of nesting buckets, with the inside bucket having drainage holes to separate the liquid from the fermenting matter.
  2. Buy or make the Bokashi mix.
  3. Sprinkle a layer of Bokashi mix on the bottom of the bucket before adding food scraps.
  4. Every time you add food scraps (chopped up into small pieces), throw another handful of Bokashi mix on top.
  5. Then, cover with something (e.g. a plastic sheet or bag) and press down. This helps to keep air out of the fermenting material. Also, close the lid of the bucket tightly - keeping air out of the bucket is important in odor prevention.
  6. Drain the juice that accumulates in the bucket every couple days. The liquid can poured directly down the drain (supposedly this helps to clear out your drains by preventing algae buildup), or it can be diluted to a 1% solution with water and used to fertilize your house plants.
  7. When the bucket is filled to the top, let it sit for 2 weeks sealed. Continue to drain the liquid every couple days.
  8. After 2 weeks, it's time to open the container. The food scraps may still be the same size and shape as before - this is normal. There may be white mold growing - also normal.
  9. However, green or black mold is a sign that the fermentation did not happen correctly, and you need to throw your project in the trash and start over (try using more Bokashi powder between layers next time).
  10. Bury the pickled food waste in soil. This can either be done by digging a shallow trench outside, or indoors in a planter box or tub. This step is very important, as the food waste will not have decomposed yet - it is simply fermented.
  11. After another couple of weeks, the buried food scraps will have decomposed, and can now be used the same way worm castings or other compost would be used to enrich your garden.

Very Basic How-To: Vermicomposting

  1. Buy or make a worm bin, which can be set up either indoors or outdoors (in the shade, and protected from temperature extremes)
  2. Buy 1 lb. of worms (approximately 1000 worms)
  3. Soak your bedding material (e.g. coconut fiber or shredded newspaper) in water, and squeeze it out until the moisture level resembles a wrung-out sponge
  4. Place the worms in the worm bin, on the damp bedding
  5. Add a handful of soil to add grit, which will aid in the worms' digestion
  6. Begin adding food scraps (chopped up into small pieces) on one side of the bin, under the bedding. Hiding the scraps under the bedding will help limit odors.
  7. Add new food scraps in sections, working your way across the bin.
  8. The worms will begin to create castings, which fall to the lower layer of the bin.
  9. Collect the castings and continue adding new bedding and food.
  10. The castings can be combined with potting soil at a ratio of 1:2, which can be sprinkled on your garden, or used to pot new plants.

What is Bokashi?

Bokashi refers to a mixture containing "effective microorganisms" or "efficient microbes" a.k.a EM, which are contained in a base of water, molasses, and bran. The Bokashi mix is used in household composting when tossed in an airtight container with food scraps. The EM ferment the food waste through an anaerobic process, effectively pickling the organic matter (as opposed to allowing the food to simply rot).

Bokashi composting apparently originated in Japan, where much of the population lives in compact spaces within urban areas. Therefore, the Bokashi composting method seems inherently suitable for my tiny studio living situation.

Obstacles to the Worm Farm

After learning about vermicomposting from Lisa Harris of the City of Long Beach recycling program, I was very excited about starting my own home worm farm.

A few obstacles needed to be tackled first:
  1. Where would I get a worm bin?
  2. Where would I store my worm bin?

The City of Long Beach sells nice, tiered worm bins at a discounted rate of $45 for Long Beach residents. The City of Los Angeles offers an even more basic worm bin for only $5! Unfortunately, I am a resident of the City of Burbank, so I don't qualify for either.

The City of Burbank leads composting workshops and sells composting bins, but they no longer offer worm bins.

Online retailers generally seem to offer worm bins for over $100 (!). There are also many sites that provide instructions on how to build your own worm bin, so I was considering going the DIY route.

However, the second concern - where would I keep my worm bin - is what led me to choose Bokashi composting instead.

As I mentioned previously, my apartment is under 300 sq ft. The main room is about 10.5" x 14", and is dominated by my queen bed. The kitchen is about 8" x 10", which is generous for such a small unit. However, there doesn't seem to be a convenient place on the floor where the worm farm could live without interfering with traffic flow.

In my small apartment building, I share a stairwell with only two other units. There is a small alcove under the stairs that had been neglected for a while, housing an abandoned kitty litter box, an old bath mat, and other junk. I envisioned my new worm farm here - safe from the hot sun, and out of the other tenants' way.

However, earlier this week my landlord suddenly went on an unprecedented cleaning spree, and out went the kitty litter box and other orphaned items that had long called the alcove home! Now I wasn't so sure that my worm farm would be safe there after all.

I began researching Bokashi composting instead, which I had heard about from a very cool friend of a friend who lives in a Chicago studio. My next post will outline the pros and cons of vermicomposting and Bokashi composting for my living situation.

Getting Started

When I first became interested in composting earlier in 2008, I did a bit of online research, then checked out a couple books from my local library. Unfortunately, I came away even more confused!

I was interested in composting kitchen scraps in order to reduce the amount I was adding to the waste stream. My previous apartments had kitchen sink garbage disposals, so that was where much of my food waste was going.

Most books and websites I initially found seemed geared toward traditional composting involving large volumes of yard waste, like leaves and grass clippings - this was not applicable to me.

I shelved the idea for a while, and in the meantime moved to my current studio. My new studio lacks a garbage disposal, so I had been trapping food scraps with a plastic sink strainer, then throwing them in the trash. I also no longer have a parking garage or other private, shady spot, so I knew I would have to keep my composting container indoors.

Last weekend, on Sunday, October 5, there was a festival in Long Beach called "
University by the Sea," which had a series of workshops including an introduction to composting. The composting seminar was led by Lisa Harris, the (very enthusiastic) City of LB recycling specialist. It was so helpful to get an overview in person and to be able to ask questions. Lisa helped me clearly understand what kind of composting would be appropriate for apartment life.

Traditional Composting

As I mentioned, this system is great for homeowners who have a lawn or garden and end up with bags of yard waste that normally get trucked away. A large container (which you can make yourself or purchase from a retailer or local recycle center) is used to isolate your yard waste outdoors, where it decomposes naturally once you provide a balanced mix of nitrogen materials ("green" e.g. grass clippings) and carbon materials ("brown" e.g dried leaves), as well as water and air. This method was what many resources I had read referred to - and was not the method for me.

Worm Composting (Vermicomposting)

With vermicomposting, a small, multi-tiered bin (which again can be homemade or purchased) houses your worm farm, either indoors or outdoors. Different from regular earthworms, composting worms (e.g. red wrigglers) feed near the surface of the soil and create castings (i.e. worm poop) that are highly beneficial for your garden.

Since worm bins tend to be relatively compact, vermicomposting can easily be done indoors in a modest apartment. The worms live in a nest that can be made of anything from coconut fiber to newspaper shreddings (kept at the moisture level of a wrung-out sponge). When you add food scraps to the top of the bin, the worms feast on the microorganisms that decompose the organic material, and produce rich, fertile castings that fall to the lower levels of the worm bin. After speaking with Lisa, I became very excited about the idea of implementing vermicomposting in my apartment.

An Introduction

I'm a 20-something Midwestern transplant living in the Los Angeles area.

I've been in the process of trying to apply the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra to as many aspects of my life as possible.

For about 4 years I lived in various 1-BR apartments. While these apartments were great for throwing dinner parties and hosting guests, when I was by myself there was more space than I needed. Downsizing to my current apartment - a cozy studio that's smaller than 300 sq ft including the kitchen and bathroom - was one step toward minimizing my lifestyle.

My current project is composting kitchen waste in my apartment - specifically using the Bokashi system - which I am going to document in this blog.