How to make your own bokashi bin

DIY Bokashi bucket

A big challenge of growing in containers is keeping the soil fertile without having to buy new bags of compost each year.

Adding home made worm compost is one of my favourite solutions. But what if you don’t have space for a wormery or you’re not very fond of worms?  (Worm phobia is pretty common, I’ve discovered, since talking about worms in my workshops!)

Bokashi is another option worth you considering. It requires little space (the size of a bucket), can be done inside or outside, and only takes two weeks. What’s more, you can recycle ALL your food waste in a bokashi bin, even onion skins and cooked food, meat and fish.

What is bokashi?

Bokashi is a method of composting invented in Japan. It uses bran inoculated with EM (Effective Microorganisms) to rapidly break down food. “Bokashsified” waste can then be used to add fertility to your pots – mix it into your old compost (or put a layer at the bottom) and leave it for a couple of weeks to ‘settle’ before growing in it.

Or you can use it in conjunction with a wormery or compost heap – simply add the product of your bokashi bin to your wormery a few handfuls at a time.  I’ve started to put all the food I can’t add to a wormery into bokashi, then move this into the wormery or the bottom of a pot when ready. I also add things that are slow to break down in a wormery – like potato skins – to bokashi first. They decompose a lot faster that way.

Any drawbacks to bokashi?

The main drawback of bokashi is that you have to buy a special bran to make it. Buying a large sized bag is the most economic option for most of us. (There are recipes to make your own bran on the net but you need a large space to dry the bran.)

Bokashi is also, in my opinion, a bit less flexible and pleasant to use than worm compost. But it works well, and is still an excellent solution for many situations (and also great to use in conjunction with a wormery). Do give it a try.

How to make your own bokashi bin

To make bokashi, you’ll need a bokashi bin or two. You can buy these or it’s easy to make your own. Bokashi expert, Woody, from Bubblehouse Worms shows you how to make a low cost and effective one in the video below (check out her and Ken’s website for more info on bokashi and wormeries – and supplies for both).

If you want to compost all your waste food in bokashi you’ll need two bins. Fill one, then, while you are leaving that to pickle for two weeks, fill the other. Obviously if you just want to bokashi some of your waste food, one bokashi bin will do the job perfectly.

Your Turn

If you’ve tried bokashi, I’d love to hear how you’ve found it in the comments below. Or if you try making your own bin following Woody’s instructions, do let me know in the comments how you got on.

23 comments… add one

  • We live in a flat with a balcony and have been using the bokashi system for a number of years. You have to be a bit more organised when you don’t have a garden to bury the waste to finish the composting process. Once the bin is full and has had a few weeks / months to pickle I transfer it to a large dustbin (with holes at the bottom and a large saucer underneath for drainage) I also intersperse the bokashi with sawdust (animal bedding) because I understand this helps to balance out the high levels of nitrates in the bokashi. This stays in the dustbin for a couple of months and the material composts down, this always happens faster in summer. Then the material comes out of this and into an old open litter bin, also with holes in the bottom and a saucer underneath. At this stage make sure you put a layer of sawdust on the top. After it has been in this / these for a few weeks (again it’s quicker in the summer) then it is ready to mix with organic compost and coir (I use Traidcraft), you will get some lumps but these break up easily with your hands and you will probably find the odd fruit label or elastic band that has made it through unnoticed! It takes a bit of time to find a system that works for your space but it makes you think about the amount of food waste you are creating and saves a lot of money on compost. I get the bran from bokashi direct and have found it to work very well, just keep it dry!

    Reply
    • Very interesting, Justine – brilliant to learn from your direct experience of doing this and making it work in a small space. Thanks very much for sharing.
      If you have a moment, I’d love to hear if there was any reason why you chose to use bokashi rather than a wormery? And how have you found your plants have grown in your mix of bokashi and coir?

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      • Our balcony gets really hot as it gets direct sun for quite a few hours, any worms would be cooked in a wormery! Also we like that a bokashi has more flexibility in terms of what you can put in. The plants seem to love it!

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  • I was intrigued until I read that the food doesn’t look broken down, so how can that be used on plants then? It will just look like garbage. It sounds like it has to go into something else to be regular composted if it still looks like food, so then what’s the point?

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    • You add the pickled veg to the bottom of a pot or mix it in with the compost. You then need to let it settle for a couple of weeks, but then you can grow in it. The pickled veg rots down very quickly once in the soil. Basically, bokashi vastly accelerates the decomposition process – so although you don’t get ready made compost out of it, it is well on its way. Personally I prefer to use worm compost, but bokashi is a useful alternative. I now use both – the bokashi for food that I can’t traditionally compost (eg onion skins, meat) and the wormery for everything else. Bokashi also works very well in conjunction with a wormery. If you add some of the pickled food from bokashi to a wormery it accelerated the speed of composting in the wormery.

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  • I have found that Bokashi is an excellent source for speeding up composting. I always cut my veggies and fruits into little pieces. The bokashi bucket leachate is absorbed by expanded clay. I collect these in a separate bin. Making bokashi is easy. Experiment a little to see what works best, start of small and expand if your comfortable producing a couple of bins. When you apply bokashi straight in your garden, be sure to stay away from the roots of your plants and trees. Bokashi is a very potent fertilizer and may cause damage when in direct contact.

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    • Cheers for sharing your tips and experience, Chris. I’m intrigued by the expanded clay. What do you do with that? I’ve also found it a great way to speed up composting, both in a composter and in a wormery.

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      • Expended clay pellets retain moisture levels and release the nutrients/moisture slowly. The leachate is nutrient rich and absorbed by the clay pellets. I mix the pellets before I put in the plant. The clay pellets prefent the nutrients washing away when I water the plants.

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  • I’ve just started using a bokashi bin and so far am very pleased. At first, I thought I wasn’t going to get any liquid but it has just started coming through (my bin has a tap on it).

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    • Ah, great, glad it is going well so far Helen. Will interested to hear how you find it in the longer term if you get the chance do come back and tell us!

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  • Like you I use a wormery, bokashi and a compost bin. I usually bokashi everything that comes from our kitchen, than alternately put it on the wormery or compost bin with a thick layer of shredded paper on top. My wormery couldn’t quite keep up with a new load every time my bucket needed emptying.
    My local council does a very good offer on wormeries and bokashi buckets – I was happy to try them out for a small cost and have kept going for many years! My garden thrives on the compost produced.

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  • I tried Bokashi but it didn’t work. I think I didn’t put enough Bokashi bran in but it is really expensive and I was buying small bags off eBay which just didn’t do the job. In the end I buried all the food waste and noticed that it had hardly rotted down at all. I was very disappointed as it seemed like the perfect answer for a small flat.

    Reply
    • Hi Philippa, thanks for sharing your experience – its always great to hear when things don’t work as well as when they do. Yes it might be that it needed more bran to work well. I bought a large 10kg bag which was quite expensive (about £20) but has lasted me three years so far. (Admittedly I don’t bokashi all the time – I probably do 10 plus large buckets a year). Other common reasons for it not working too well are if the lid is not airtight or the food is not squashed down well (it’s an anaerobic process) or the liquid is not drained off regularly. But apart from that it should be fairly reliable as a method, I think. The only other thing explanation I can think of is that the bran you had wasn’t very good quality. I’ll ask Woody and Ken if they have any other suggestions.

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      • Hi Phillipa, sorry to hear that you were unsuccessful with Bokashi. It could be that you weren’t using enough of the bran, you need to sprinkle a layer for every inch or so of food waste. It also helps if the food is chopped up, the smaller the chunks the greater the surface area for the microbes to get to work on. It works even better if you mix the whole thing up. As Mark said making sure the lid is airtight is also key. Bokashi works out cheaper if you buy it in large quantities, we sell 20 litre tubs which should last you 6 to 12 months depending on the number of people using it and you can then buy refill bags that are a bit cheaper.

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    • Hello Philippa,
      What may have caused the bucket to go bad? Did your bucket have a drainage?
      I suspect there was to much leachate in your bucket at the bottom. Once it starts going bad, there is no turning it for the better. Another issue might be the Bokashi bran was not innoculated properly. The bran provides the microbes to the bin. When the quality of the bran is bad, it will be hard to get proper Bokashi.
      My advise would be to try another batch of Bokashi bran, start two small buckets. Use the ‘old’ and the new Bokashi bran just as you did last time.
      Or did you mean that your Bokashi looked like the stuff you’ve actually stuffed in the container? Because that’s something not to worry about. Making Bokashi is fermenting your left overs. All the stuff in your bucket can be fermented and still look the same. Bokashi should not look like rotted down food. White fungi is good. Green/red fungi is bad and will cause faul smell. Most of my Bokashi smells a little sweet and sour. How did your Bokashi smell?

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  • Hi this was a great little video, I do have a question though.
    Could you add a tap to the bottom bucket so that you don’t need to remove the top one to remove the fluid?
    Pete

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    • Hi Peter, yes indeed, a tap would be a great addition to this set up I think.

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    • Hi Peter, a tap does make it easier to drain off the fluid, the video just described the most basic system
      Best wishes

      Reply
  • I once had a wormery but when the weather got really cold everything died. Any tips on how to keep it warm? I do not have a sheltered space.

    On another note. I need some advice please on how to grow beetroot sprouts (for salads) successfully.. Have you had success with growing these?

    Thank you,
    Noli

    Reply
    • Hi, making sure it is fairly full before winter comes (ie don’t harvest the contents for a month or two before cold weather) helps ensure there is a large amount of biomass that the worms can retreat into when it is cold. You can also wrap an old carpet round the wormery to reduce wind chill. Also, a layer of cardboard inside on top will give a bit more insulation. Also, if its possible to move it to a more sheltered position out of the wind that’s a good idea but not always practical. I just make sure the wormery is fairly full and – so far my worms have survived every winter for the last six years – I’m in the north of the UK, where are you?
      No experience with beetroot sprouts, sorry! But growing them as microgreens like I do fava bean shoots (see post and video on this) I’ve found works pretty well.

      Reply

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