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The science behind bokashi composting

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As with anything in life, there is always more to a process than what meets the eye. This statement, although fairly broad, remains true for composting with bokashi. If you are interested in helping the planet and playing your part in the great carbon battle, you should consider the science that makes it all possible. So let’s dive in and unpack the magical process that you’ve come to know as bokashi composting.

Anaerobic Composting

Before we get into bokashi, we must break the stereotype behind anaerobic composting. The decomposition of organic waste without oxygen can cause some implications if handled incorrectly and we can all agree that we want to avoid putrefaction, and its associated smells and gasses. However, there is a perfectly safe way for organic matter to ferment anaerobically, which is utilised in Bokashi composting. Adam Footer addresses this stereotype in his book Bokashi Composting: Scraps to Soil in Weeks: “When we anaerobically ferment food waste with bokashi, we are providing the conditions for the beneficial bacteria to dominate and outcompete the putrefactive anaerobic bacteria, thereby removing the reasons for the stereotype.”

What makes up the active agent in Earth Bokashi Mix?

As many microbiologists would agree, microbes carry out some of the most important functions on earth. Therefore it is with no surprise that bokashi composting solely relies on a select group of microorganisms to carry out the anaerobic fermentation of organic waste. As a bonus, Earth Bokashi makes use of beneficial and indigenous microbes which eliminates any risk to South African soils. According to scientists Yrielle Roets-Dlamini and Ghaneshree Moonsamy, the microbes used in Earth Bokashi are assessed on their ability to degrade food waste, formulating a multi-strain cocktail that uses only the top-performing organisms. This cocktail is then inoculated into the carrier mix in your Earth Bokashi packet.

“The Earth Bokashi system utilises a unique formulation of specially selected microbes from the Bacillus genera. These strains form part of a database of organisms that are indigenous to South Africa and were isolated from niche environments. The organisms were selected based on their ability to produce enzymes of interest such as amylase, cellulase, protease and lipase as well as reduce odours. The functioning of these enzymes are crucial in a bokashi system as the food waste that is generated by households carries a high nutritional load which contributes to protein, carbohydrate and fats, oils and grease (FOG) concentrations in the system.” Yrielle Roets-Dlamini and Ghaneshree Moonsamy

These organisms work through a fermentation process that produces beneficial by-products which contribute to the nutritional value of the bokashi compost.

Why were these particular microbes chosen?

In today's modern food processing industry, it’s no surprise that we face some challenges when decomposing food waste. Therefore, it was important to test the efficacy of the microorganisms chosen for the Earth Bokashi mix.

“Considering that fats and grease are a big problem in kitchen waste as they are responsible for blocking and clogging drains, the Bacillus spp were tested for their ability to produce bio-surfactants and emulsify fats. The strains that were considered the most effective were then assessed using simulated kitchen waste and food effluents.” Yrielle Roets-Dlamini and Ghaneshree Moonsamy

From there, three different Bacillus spp were selected based on their varying abilities to successfully carry out the decomposition of the simulated kitchen waste. These specific microbes were formulated into the final product: Earth Bokashi.

How does Bokashi work?

The main principle behind bokashi is to enhance the chemical and physical quality of soil through the use of beneficial microorganisms while also reducing green waste. This process can be referred to as zymogenic fermentation as the active microbes involved in bokashi composting assist in producing multiple by-products that improve the nutrient value of the soil.

To start off the process, kitchen waste is placed in a bin and inoculated with the Earth Bokashi mix. The Earth Bokashi bin is sealed creating an anaerobic environment, allowing the fermentation process to begin. During zymogenic fermentation, the microbes produce alcohols, amino acids, organic acids, sugars and esters. However, it is the products that are produced in the secondary metabolic reactions that are the most beneficial to plant growth. Various biogenic substances, hormones, vitamins and antibiotics are produced in the secondary metabolism.

Throughout the fermentation process, the concentrated liquid that is known as “Bokashi tea” is strained into the bottom of the bucket and should be tapped off bi-weekly. Simply put, this tea is the juices that are produced as a by-product of the fermentation process. Bokashi tea is rich in nutrients and microbes that can be used as a fertilizer once diluted. The tea contains many of the microbes that are found in the bin which are good at breaking down grease and fats. Therefore, pouring your bokashi tea down the drain can assist in unclogging and cleaning out your drains in a natural, more eco-friendly way.

A filled Earth Bokashi bin should be left sealed for two weeks to allow the microbes to complete the fermentation process of the recently added food waste. The contents of your bin can be composted with yard waste, fed to composting worms or placed in a soil trench to create bokashi compost. After a few weeks, you would have created a zymogenic soil that promotes optimal plant growth and development. The soil now has an established microbiome and it is ready to be used in and around your garden.

How is bokashi composting carbon neutral?

Reducing our carbon footprint is a key priority for everyone and every nation. Carbon emissions are a type of greenhouse gas and contribute to global warming. Many everyday human activities contribute to the greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere. Therefore, we should be looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint by utilizing carbon-neutral methods of recycling and reducing green waste. Bokashi composting is one way to help reduce your carbon footprint.

The Earth Bokashi composting solution is carbon-neutral as its formula includes carbon and nitrogen-rich waste products which otherwise would have gone to waste in landfills. Additionally, the biological processes that take place in anaerobic fermentation conserve carbon. This means that the carbon is recycled and little energy is lost through heat or gas production. There is very little carbon dioxide released in the fermentation process and most of the energy that was fixed in the initial food waste is returned to the soil, therefore, making the process carbon neutral.

As you can see, that little Earth Bokashi bin in your kitchen is a lot more than a bin for your food waste. Earth Bokashi solutions can be applied to high volumes of food waste and are user friendly! Making it perfect for any budding composter. The science isn’t too complicated, we’ve just taken a page out of mother natures’ book and utilized natural organisms to carry out their natural processes in order to ultimately contribute to the greater good.

Works Cited Footer, A., 2013. Bokashi Composting: Scraps to Soil in Weeks. s.l.: New Society Publishers.

Higa, T., n.d. Effective Microorganisms: A Biotechnology for Mankind, Okinawa, Japan: s.n.

Pro-Soil, 2015. Soil Classification: Zymogenic Soils. [Online] Available at: https://pro-soil.com/soil-classification-zymogenic-soils/ [Accessed 17 May 2021].

Cycle, B., 2019. Want to Improve the Environment? Bokashi Ferment!. [Online] Available at: https://bokashicycle.com/bokashi-fermenting-environmental-benefits-and-impact/ [Accessed 17 May 2021].

Australia, B. C., 2021. Bokashi Juice. [Online] Available at: https://www.bokashi.com.au/Bokashi+One/How+it+Works/Bokashi+Juice.html [Accessed 17 May 2021].

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