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Microbes are everywhere.


Terms: bokashi, EM Bokashi, EM-1 Bokashi, bokashi method
Origin: Japanese (bokashi - fermented organic matter). See also bokashi in the glossary.


what is bokashi

A Japanese term, bokashi means 'fermented organic matter'. EM Bokashi is organic matter fermented with EM. On this site, we will use the term 'bokashi' and 'EM Bokashi' interchangeably, and 'bokashi' on this site will mean bokashi made with EM (even though other microbial solutions can be used to make bokashi). Bokashi usually looks like a dry powder or small bits of flakes or granules, but can also be damp or wet and take on other textures. The color is generally light to dark brown, which is due to the blackstrap molasses that is used to make the bokashi, in most cases. Bokashi is made by fermenting some organic material using EM-1, molasses and water. After the mix of material and ingredients is fermented (usually two weeks), it is dried for longer shelf-life. Different kinds of bokashi can be used for different purposes.

history of bokashi

There is no clear indication as to when bokashi was first used by farmers. While EM was discovered in 1982, some say that bokashi has been used since the 1940's while others indicate that it may have been around since during the early Edo period in Japan (mid 1600's).

Before EM, bokashi was made by farmers by collecting several different kinds of organic matter (where the main source of the microbes were), mainly mountain soil, or soil and moss from prestine valleys and forests or wooded areas, and some say by placing rice balls under a layer of leaves in the mountain.

The farmers would then mix the collected materials with their post-harvest residue and other plant waste materials (cut grass, weeds, and leaves), and keep them under a covering in order for the mix to ferment. From there, there may be various methods to manage the mix in terms of moisture and temperature. After the material has fermented, the farmers would then use it as a soil amendment to add nutrients and organic content matter to their farm. What they may not have known was that it also added beneficial microorganisms to their farm soil.

With the discovery of EM, it became easier to make bokashi and make it consistently (no question on whether the collected material together comprised enough of a microbial mix for proper fermentation). So "EM Bokashi" would mean bokashi fermented with EM. [Throughout this website, the use of 'bokashi' will refer to EM Bokashi, unless otherwise noted.]

what is bokashi used for

Bokashi can be used for a wide variety of purposes, and different materials can be used to make bokashi for specific applications. In certain cases, bokashi is simply used as a carrier of the microorganisms. Therefore, it only acts as a housing material, which is why almost any kind of organic material can be used to make bokashi as a fermentation starter. When bokashi is used to directly add to soil as a soil amendment and a fertilizing source, then it not only acts as a source or microorganisms, but also as a source or nutrients and organic matter content for the soil. Bokashi as a soil amendment can be made with specific kinds of materials combined to provide various nutrients, including minerals. One example combination of materials is rice bran, oil cake and fish meal. Bokashi can also be used for bioremediation purposes, including soil and water bioremediation. ...

bokashi buckets

Bokashi buckets are basically any kind of airtight containers that are used for fermenting food waste or fermenting any kind of organic matter, including yard waste, garden clippings, and dog waste. The containers can be of any size as long as they have an airtight seal when closed.
Plastic bags that can be tied or bound airtight can also be used, but they should only be used as a last resort. Double-bagging or even triple-bagging may be necessary since the microbes, rich in the liquid that accumulates at the bottom, will eat through the plastic bag creating microscopic holes large enough through which the liquid will eventually leak.

using bokashi

Bokashi as a fermentation starter is used to ferment food waste and other organic matter. The bokashi is usually sprinkled on (in layers) or mixed into the food waste in an airtight container. The adding of the bokashi to the food waste is so that the food waste will ferment instead of rot. The optimal ratio of bokashi to food waste is 1-to-33 (1:33). Generally, when sprinkling bokashi without measuring the amount, the bokashi should be salt-and-peppered touching as much of the food waste's surface but without having to cover the food waste competely. More bokashi should be used when including meats, bones and any food waste other than fruits and vegetables since such foods (meats, bones, etc.) don't have enough sugars to feed the microbes in the fermentation process.
It is definitely possible to ferment fruits and vegetables without using bokashi or EM since the fermentative microbes are already inside or on the fruits and vegetables. For example, the reason why it is relatvely easy to turn cabbage into sauerkraut is because at least one of the bacteria (Lactobacillus plantarum) is in the cabbage naturally. However, fermenting fruits and vegetables in an airtight container without bokashi or EM may take longer and it may not consistently ferment. On the other hand, by adding a fermentation starter like EM Bokashi, the food waste can be made to more quickly with more certainty and consistency ferment.
Food waste that may already be rotting or molding, can be reversed in a bokashi bucket by completely covering it with bokashi, and optionally, by also adding more sugars (fruit peels, sugar or molasses).
For dog waste, use a separate dedicated bokashi bucket for dog waste only. Use more bokashi, generally covering the dog waste with bokashi each time. The ratio of bokashi to dog waste could be from 1:10 (10%) to 1:2 (50%), or even 1:1 (100%) especially if there's an odor. If enough bokashi is used, there should not be any dog waste odor.
Bokashi can also be used to mix in with kitty litter or used instead of kitty litter. To add to kitty litter, with each new fresh box of kitty litter, add 2 cups of bokashi. Add an additional cup when the litter box has started to smell again.

bokashi types

In terms of the material(s) to make the bokashi, it will depend on the purpose of the bokashi. For generally using the bokashi as a fermentation starter, almost any kind of organic material can be used: wheat bran, rice bran, coffee husk (chaff), brewery waste, autumn leaves (dried out and shredded), saw dust and wood shavings (certain woods can be difficult to ferment.

making bokashi

The recipe ...
See also PDF file which includes how to make bokashi, "How To Recycle All Food Waste booklet" or see other bokashi related files in the reference section.

fermenting bokashi

After making your bokashi (mixing the materials and ingredients), it needs to ferment for about two weeks in an airtight condition. To be airtight, it should be packed tight in an airtight container, or it can be double-bagged in trash bags (squeeze out as much air as possible before tying it closed).
Airtightness, seal
Fermentation period,
White mold-like appearance, if it should appear, is not a problem.
Avoid direct sunlight.

drying and storing bokashi

After the bokashi has fermented (about two weeks or longer), it should have a strong fermented smell (sour, alcohol) and it should still feel damp. You can start using it while it's still damp,

bokashi workshop materials

When holding and preparing for a bokashi workshop, ...

materials for setting up bokashi system in a garden

To set up a bokashi system to recycle food waste at your garden, use the following checklist of materials that you may need (all or in part or additionally to what you already may have):
Materials List for a Bokashi System in a community garden (PDF, 1 page, 55KB)