Saturday, February 19, 2011

Greener Bokashi

...that's “green” as in eco-, not mold, folks!

As such things go, bokashi's already pretty green. At-home bucket fermentation followed by composting, trenching, or use as animal feed diverts organics from landfill and reclaims nutrients that might otherwise be lost. The process uses no electricity and very little people-power, creates no waste beyond a bit of carbon dioxide if properly managed, and requires only a minimal investment in resources.

Minimal here being a relative term, of course. EM bokashi bran is a retail product, which must be manufactured (sort of), packaged (in packaging that must be manufactured), shipped, stored, and purchased. EM-1 and EM-Plus liquid inoculants likewise, though they require less packaging, shipping, etc. Some retailers use reclaimed bottles, others offer compostable plastic packaging for the EM bokashi bran, and my latest mail-order purchase came with cornstarch packing peanuts, so they're working on lessening the total environmental cost.

But every bokashi bucket I have ever seen for sale is plastic.

Some of them have EM mixed in, and those I'd really like to try some day, but for the most part, bokashi buckets are plastic because that's what cheapest, and there's just not that much money to spare in bokashi yet. Even so, the retail bokashi buckets aren't what I'd call cheap, just less expensive than hand-made porcelain with EM in the material.

(Which would be incredible. Any potters out there willing to give it a try?)

Among my circle of acquaintance are none of the uber-dedicated no-plastics folks, but several us of are trying to reduce the amount of plastic in our lives. We're giving up Tupperware for canning jars; have more fabric shopping bags than shirts (almost -G-), are dipping our toes into mesh bags for produce and have learned how to label tare weights on our reusable bulk-ingredient containers.

Bringing more plastic into our homes doesn't feel right any more. Personally, I make an exception for gardening since plastic containers are cheap or free and I really couldn't afford to grow as much of my food as I do without them. And bokashi is an integral part of my gardening these days, so it gets the same pass. But not all my friends are yet converted to the joys of bokashi—

—does that sound as cult-leaderish to everyone else as it does to me? Yikes!—

Anyway, I can't possibly ask my plastic-aware friends to give plastic buckets pride of place in their increasingly plastic-free homes. It's one thing to ask the gardeners if they'd be willing to foster a plastic bucket wearing a pillowcase hood out behind their garage, entirely another to insist they keep a cat litter bucket on their kitchen counter. With or without an industrial-sized spigot at the bottom.

So I've been playing with ceramic kitchen canisters. The white ones in the photo came from a local thrift store, and the set of three cost me $6.48. No spigots, so this isn't ideal for someone who wants a regular supply of liquid plant food/drain maintainer. But if you're not into bokashi juice... The clear plastic one was my trial, $1.08 from the dollar store, purchased so that I could make an informed recommendation about absorbent materials. (More than went in this batch!) Canisters can be purchased to match pretty much any décor, and they're much more discreet than even the commercial bokashi buckets, much less my home-cobbled versions. The gaskets prevent odor escape and insect entry, and as long as you're able to open them once a week during the two-week curing stage, don't seem to present any risk of re-enacting the Great Canning Disaster of '06 ™ . These don't offer much total capacity, but should be more than sufficient for the particular household; larger crocks are correspondingly more expensive, but a quick online search turned up several with prices comparable to the retail bokashi kits.

I have once or twice seen ceramic kombucha jars/vinegar jars/wide-mouthed ceramic beverage dispensers with non-metal spigots, and if I could afford a custom piece, I'd order one of those with a non-metal grate an inch above the bottom, plus an airtight lid in place of the filter-ring and cork. Though, actually, cork would work if the fit were sufficiently tight, you'd just have to be a little more careful about keeping the mouth clean.

Longer post than I intended. Takeaway message: bokashi doesn't have to be fermented in plastic containers. Ceramics work just fine. Strong glass can be used, with caution—I've taken to using a bubbler for AEM, and don't see any reason you couldn't use one for the bokashi as well. Metal won't work in the long run, since the acid will cause it to rust, but can be used for a few fermentations if that's what you've got. (I used a coffee can for a fermentation unit once, and have used metal sieves for false floors continuously for months before they rusted away. Presumably, metal sealed against oxidation would work even longer.) If you want to add bokashi to your life, it can be done even if you're avoiding plastics.

Ask your friendly neighborhood Cult of the Microbes representative today!

...who's obviously been drinking the Kool Aid EM-X water...


Al said...

Hi D.S.,

Libbey makes a 20L glass barrel which is about the same size as plastic bokashi buckets that are available. The price seems comparable too. You just need a sieve.

That said, plastic buckets are relatively inexpensive and have a fairly decent shelf life. In

The bokashi kits I make are from locally available suppliers and I do try re-purpose used buckets if they are clean enough. In addition, HDPE 2 buckets are said to be food safe, so you get less nasty chemicals leaching into your compostables.

Using a glass container for bokashi would be an interesting idea.



D. S. Foxx said...

Hi, Al! Thanks for the link--I'll be sure to pass that on to the more house-proud and plastic-averse folks.

The rest of us, you understand, being just fine with your standard upscaled food-safe plastic buckets.

Since you mentioned it: what is a "decent" lifspan for a plastic bokashi bucket?

Al said...

My HDPE 2 60ml buckets have lasted almost three years before someone called and asked me to replace the inner nesting bucket which acts like a sieve and gets the most pressure.

No one else has called since then.

Thicker plastics will last longer.

Anonymous said...

i'm toying with the idea of making a ceramic sauerkraut crock. this idea of a ceramic Bokashi has me thinking.

from what very little i know about Bokashi the Harsch Crock might be a good stepping off point.

maybe with a cork spigot in the bottom?

D. S. Foxx said...

Hi, Anon, and welcome to the joys of post-cooking fermentation. -G-

If you had such a crock you weren't using, it would certainly work--but those things are far too expensive to buy just for bokashi!

Having said that, I find the idea of that gutter rather intriguing...not sure how that would work for a bucket to which contributions were added repeatedly, but it's certainly worth a try.

Definitely with a spigot in my household, but some people get along just fine without. (I'm never sure if that's more to do with the sorts of fermentables we add, the types and quantities of absorbent materials we use, or differing tolerances for off odors. Whatever the case, successful fermentation can be achieved without a spigot, if you choose to go that route.)

Care to write up some test-results?

Anonymous said...

Hey D,

it seems this fermenting thing has a life of it's own at times ya? :P

i'm unsure what that gutter is called but i agree - it's something that occupies my brain....i'm thinking if a bokashi might look alot like a butter bell? you/anyone/me could figure a way to not get wet?

i've been known to garage sale a bit - 2nd hand coolers? with the drain spout seem like a convenient test subject?

the bokashi bug is firmly planted and i will certainly share any and all pitfalls/victories


D. S. Foxx said...

Coolers work if you secure your false floor very well. A number of people use hardware or shade cloth and glue guns, with or without additional support. (Remember that not all coolers are as airtight as you want; check and adjust as needed.)

Looked into the Harsch crock a bit more, and found a useful image at if I'm interpreting correctly, you could remove the lid and add more fermentables after the gutter was filled, though some minor spillage might occur. Which means that if you're using a crock without a spigot, you need either a false floor with sufficient space to allow drainage for bokashi juice and gutter-water, or absorbent material to handle it.

Not impossible, maybe not even difficult depending on your circumstance, just something to keep in mind.


Drain Maintainer said...

Greener Bokashi ...that's “green” as in eco-, not mold, folks! As such things go, bokashi's already pretty green. At-home bucket fermentation ...