The first batch of Bokashi compost that I completed has made it all the way to nourishing plants at last - but not without a few glitches along the way!
The online tutorial that I referenced had advised that after one month, the compost would be finished. After four weeks, I uncovered my planter and stuck a trowel into the soil/compost mix and discovered that the planter was still dominated by substantial chunks of food. Now, the website I had referenced indicated that the planter should be covered for 2 weeks, whereas I left the plastic on the whole time. I'm not sure how much of a difference this made, but I will experiment with future batches.
This photo is actually from the second batch of Bokashi compost, which has been outside for a few weeks and has now settled to about 2/3 of the original volume. Many of the food scraps still retained much of their original structure before they met with my trowel.
In any case, I chopped up the chunks with my trowel and mixed everything thoroughly once more. The soil/food mixture had indeed settled quite a bit, to about half of its initial volume. After another couple weeks, it appeared noticeably different once more, with a much more even, crumbly consistency.
I scooped it all into a lidded plastic Rubbermaid container and took it over to my gardener friend's house to have her take a look. I was nervous that I had messed it up, since it had been about twice as long as I thought it should take, but my friend said the compost looked beautiful! We sifted it through a slotted plastic tray to separate out the largest chunks. Well over 90% of the material seemed to have broken down quite well. We threw the bigger chunks (corn cobs stand out in my memory as having been particularly stubborn) into the Tumbleweed composter.
In order to make the sifted compost into potting soil, we mixed in perlite, which according to the ever-handy Wikipedia, is used to "prevent water loss and soil compaction." Perlite is a volcanic glass that to me looks just like small styrofoam beads.
My friend then used our fresh potting mix start seeds indoors. Gardeners often plant seeds indoors, especially in climates less mild than ours here in Southern California. That way they are protected from temperature and weather extremes, as well as from pests, and gardeners can get a head start on the growing season even before the last frost. The seedlings are transplanted to the garden after they have established a few leaves and roots. Seedlings that already have a few inches on them won't have to struggle as hard to push up through the soil and mulch (which we lay over the ground to discourage weeds from growing).
My friend also started some seeds in regular commercial potting soil, and labeled the seed trays with the source of the soil - regular or mine. Unfortunately, I lost the race! After a couple weeks, all of the seeds planted in the regular soil had begun to sprout, while only a couple of the Bokashi-soil seedlings had struggled to life. We began to fear that the Bokashi compost was too raw, and might have killed the seeds!
Fortunately, I got so behind on updating this blog that I can happily report that Bokashi is not poison after all! My seedlings were off to a slow start, but nonetheless eventually sprouted, and as of last weekend were transplanted to the garden as 3" tall little butternut squash and watermelon plants!
Stay tuned for photos of the Bokashi-nourished plants as they grow this summer!