Thursday, September 25, 2008

Baby Batches of Bokashi Bran

Making EM bokashi bran a quart at a time

The EM America recipe for EM bokashi bran produces vast heaping quantities of the stuff, and requires fifty pounds of wheat bran!!! Even the smaller retailer-provided instructions begin with eight or ten pounds of bran. Bran takes up a fair amount of space for its weight: At seven plus cups per pound of bran, ten pounds is something like five gallons—which is a larger volume than my trash can, apartment-dweller that I am. And that’s before you consider mixing space or the way bran expands as it absorbs fluid.

It is, however, perfectly possible to make EM bokashi bran without first clearing enough space to raise a barn. (Or even a garden shed. -G-)

My wheat bran, I think I mentioned, came from the bulk section at Sun Harvest. $0.69/lb. list price. That’s a much better deal than the small packages in the cereal aisle, at $2.19/10 oz., and even if you’re only fermenting occasional small buckets, you might as well make at least a pound of EM bokashi bran at a time.

Why? This is why I write about “practical minimum volumes” instead of simply minimums: sometimes, while smaller is possible, it doesn’t make much sense. You could make EM bokashi bran a pint at a time, but why bother? It takes the same amount of time and effort. Cost? Bran is cheap! And bokashi bucket fermentation is far more likely to be successful if you’re generous, even profligate, with your EM bokashi bran.

My current bucket is 3.5 gallons. It’s just about half full, and there’s already more than a cup of EM bokashi bran in there—more than recommended, but not by much. If you only have a pint of EM bokashi bran on hand, you may be reluctant to add a scoop for luck. To toss in some more because those leftovers had cream sauce. To pre-apply in a holding bucket...

By all means, go ahead and ferment EM bokashi bran in smaller containers if you can’t spare a big bucket for the month or haven’t anywhere to put one; but you might as well mix up as large a batch as you’re likely to need. The make-at-home instructions include drying the post-ferment bran for storage; assuming you have the space for that, you could make enough EM bokashi bran for the year, all at once.

Me, I’m not so into the drying, and it’s not actually required if the EM bokashi bran will be used soon. Sources differ about just how long the undried product can be held without spoiling or losing effectiveness, and I’ll post about it if/when I manage to spoil some, but it won’t be a baby batch that happens to! One pound of EM bokashi bran at a time is right for my needs: it’s enough for at least two apartment-sized buckets, can be mixed up in the kitchen in a single container, without fuss or any need for odd utensils, and gets used quickly enough that there’s no need to worry about drying it.

To make one baby batch of EM bokashi bran:

Mix 1 tablespoon molasses into

1 cup warm water. When thoroughly blended, add

1 tablespoon EM-1 inoculant fluid.

Pour into 1 pound wheat bran or other inert carrier and mix well. Seal container and set aside three to four weeks before using; ready when coated with an even layer of white mycelium. DO NOT OPEN TO CHECK ON EM BOKASHI BRAN until at least two weeks have passed (warm season in zone 8b, add time for colder seasons/climes).

*Note: for my bulk bran, 1 pound = 7.2 cups dry. I’m not that precise, seven to seven and a quarter cups works just fine. Mix it in a container that looks about a third again too large for the dry bran, as it will expand as it absorbs water. (One of those plastic 34.5 oz coffee canisters is pretty much ideal.)

Thanks to Scott I, who, in the comment section of someone else’s blog-post on bokashi, was kind enough to post an apartment-sized recipe conversion.


Jo-Ann said...

Thanks so very much for this info. The only recipes I could find were for 25 or 50 pounds. I just didn't want to mess with that much wheat bran: both having to mix it & then store it. This saves me a lot of calculations. I'm about to make my first batch right now. I think a 1 pound batch will last several months. I'll let you know how it turns out.

D. S. Foxx said...

Happy to have helped, and happy fermenting!


kateygirl said...

I just made my first batch of 2 pounds and have it fermenting to use. I can't wait to get started!

Bokashi Man said...

Hi there,

Nice read. I like Bokashi a lot, since it is a good way to compost when living in a small apartment, which is the case for me. Good to see you're spreading the word about this, that's really awesome.


D. S. Foxx said...

Why, thanks--always happy to be read, and happier still to know others are doing this!


Anonymous said...

I want to join Jo-Ann to say thank you very much for this info.
I have couple questions to you.
What to do if i don't have EM-1? Can it be substituted with yorgurt or something else?
Wheat bran - i have some old fashion oatmeal that went bad. Can i do bakashi bran using oatmeal?
I prefer to utilize things that i have on hands instead of buying.


D. S. Foxx said...

Gail: good questions!

There's lots of folks out there with recipes for "homemade bokashi" or "indigenous micro-organism (IMO)" cultures; my own experience with them hasn't been repeatable enough to post much, but based on a whole lot of available evidence, yes, it's quite possible. For a non-vegetarian container housed indoors, I highly recommend a culture containing certain rhodobacters, soil-borne microbes that serve to deodorize bucket contents (among their other decomposition tasks). One of the advantages to retail EM is that I know those odor-eating rhodos are in there, but in many parts of the world, you can acquire them just by scooping up some once-dried leaves allowed to rest under a tree on earth until after it rains, or digging up a scoop of certain fresh garden soils. Yeasts can come from the items you're adding to your bucket, in many cases, and as you probably already know, yogurt whey has lactobacilli.

As for the carrier, if by "old fashioned oat meal" you mean rolled or cut oats, with no additives, it might work, depending on what you mean by bad. -G- Molded or contaminated, no; stale, certainly. As oats are a whole food rather than an inert husk, you won't be able to store it as long--it will begin to break down as soon as it's fully fermented, and it's hard to dry it enough to stop the breakdown without drying it too much for the microbes to quickly reactivate when added to a bucket--but a small batch should remain usable long enough to seed a bucket. Or at least such has been my wholly individual experience with non-bran carriers. YMMV.

Hope that helps!


Anonymous said...

Good, will try to do one batch.
This sounds interesting for me.

Anonymous said...

I made a 1 lb. batch according to your recipe about two weeks ago. I'm keeping it in a room-temp dark place. So far, I'm not noticing any mycelium forming at the top, so I'm not sure it's actually taking. Can the bran be used if the mycelium don't form? How long should I wait before deciding it's a failed batch? Thanks a lot. I'm really new at this.

D. S. Foxx said...

May Anonymous:

Does it smell right?

Mycelia aren't at all necessary--they're a sign it's time to use or dry the stuff, but EM bokashi bran can be used fresh, so don't worry if you haven't seen any white beards, just so long as you can smell the vinegar over the bran muffin scent.

Want to test for readiness? Simplest way is a teeny-tiny mini "bucket": a yogurt cup or something with a bit of paper or sawdust in the bottom, half a teaspooon of your fresh EM bokashi bran scattered over that, then a ripe to overripe but not molded or spoiled strawberry or berry-sized bit of melon or other soft fruit, topped with a full teaspoon of bran and tightly covered. After twenty-four hours, if your bokashi bran is ready for use, there'll be a very strong smell of vinegar in your test unit. A weak vinegar aroma means in-progress but not ready (usable if absolutely necessary, but you'd have to use whole bunches and be very careful to limit moisture); smell of rot means you don't have vibrant microbes and should call that batch a failure.

And if you're not drying your bran, it will continue to strengthen so long as it's kept in an airtight container away from light.

Welcome to bokashi!


Change One said...

Have you ever tried using the "bokashi tea" that you drain from your container as the inoculant for your bokashi bran? It seems to me that this should work, but I haven't been able to find any information on it.

Thanks for the recipe you provided!

D. S. Foxx said...

Change One:

Thanks for reading, and for the question! Short answer: no. Much wordier one follows. -G-

If all you're after is something to improve breakdown rates versus, say, small-batch cold composting, you could do that. Outside and carefully, please. If you're considering a bokashi bucket because, like me, you're in a setting where odor is a major concern, that's really not an option. Two concerns: first, bokashi juice (generally known as leachate; not sure why the retailers decided it needed its very own too-cutesy name) is not a pure culture. Second, cultures change over time.

If you were to add bokashi juice and molasses and water to bran, you would probably get a fermentation going. But it wouldn't have the same combination of microbes in the same ratios as you'd get starting with EM-1. There could be, for instance, more lactobacilli and yeasts but fewer rhodobacters. This would be unacceptable to me--the rhodobacters in EM-1 like sunlight, so I'm not sure how healthy their population is in the leachate, and they are odor-eaters, so they're important in my setting. But of even more concern than how many of my favorite phototropics might be in your culture is the other microbes it might contain. Anything you put into a fermenting bucket is going to have microbes. Bokashi bucket fermentation works on a dominance principle--lots of healthy microbes in a setting designed just for them will out-produce and out-perform any undesirables. But those undesirables won't necessarily die; they may just go dormant, waiting for conditions to change. If they're in the leachate, and you then feed the leachate, they may wake and reproduce faster than the ones you want.

Was the question just curiosity, or do you have a specific need I might be able to help you address?


Meredith said...

Hello--I would like to make my own bokashi bran using your recipe, but I am having trouble finding EM1 locally in Austin. Can you tell me anywhere I can buy EM1 in Austin? If not, where do you buy it? Thanks, Meredith Thomas

D. S. Foxx said...

Welcome, Meredith!

Microbial Earth is our local bokashi retailer; you can find them at most of the larger farmer's markets, though it's a good idea to e-mail them beforehand to make sure they'll have what you want. These days, there doesn't seem to be an in-store option, though Sun Harvest will order it for you if you'd rather go that route.


Anonymous said...

Hello-Was wondering if you need to dry the bokashi once it is ready or just mix into compost as needed? Thanks so much for the info!

D. S. Foxx said...

November Anon:

It can be used fresh--undried--and there's no need at all to dry it if you're using it quickly, but it will spoil eventually if left wet.

White hairy growth, mycelium, is not a concern (rather the opposite), but can be used as a sort of low-tech timer; in cool weather, I've kept fresh bokashi for about a month past the first sign of mycelia. Black or blue molds = spoiled. And anything that looks like a mushroom should be taken as a sign that the batch is no longer usable _IN A BUCKET_, though I've had some lovely results using it in vermicomposting bins and to speed up slow trad-composting piles.

Happy bokashi-ing!

Christi said...

How did you get all the clumps out of the dried bokashi bran?

D. S. Foxx said...

Welcome, Christi!

I don't usually bother to dry my bokashi bran at all; small batches get used up fast enough that it isn't necessary. But the last time I dried a batch, I upended the great white-haired lump of fermented bran onto a screen and hit it with a potato masher until it crumpled into small bits, then stuck a second screen over that and left it in the (indirect) sun until it dried out. The bran-bits declump pretty easily when it's dry enough to store; if it's still sticky, give it more time in the air.

A very low temperature oven or commercial food drier would also work, on the lowest setting to avoid killing any sensitive microbes and--more importantly--to keep your home from smelling like cooked bokashi bran.