Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Difference Between Bokashi and Compost

I have seen a lot of discussion on the net where people are confused/wondering about the differences between compost and bokashi. Since Bokashi is a foreign terms (it's Japanese, meaning fermented organic matter), I can understand. Some visuals would help. Luckily, our sister company in New Zealand loaded a video showing how to use the food waste right out of the buckets. You can see it is quite different than compost. Here are some simple explanations that should help get people get the idea.

Composting is the aerobic breakdown of organic material. In order to make a proper compost, materials are turned, causing microbial activity to raise temperatures. During this process, temperatures can go above 160F degrees and, possibly, catch on fire. The heating process causes gases to release. These gases are mainly methane (CH4), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and Ammonia (NH3). As you can see, these gases result in a loss of both carbon and nitrogen (a major plant food). Finished compost is very good to use as a soil amendment and mulch for plants. It will not burn when mature as the nitrogen is mostly burned off or fixed during curing.

Bokashi, is a fermentation method, which preserves the nutrients in the organic materials, leaving more material to feed plants and build soil than compost. Fermentation does not cause dramatic heat increase, which pasteurizes the materials. During the fermentation, microbes begin to break down the lignin in plant materials and start to synthesize enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, and also make minerals bio-available. When Bokashi is fully fermented (which takes about 2 weeks in an airtight container), it makes a great soil additive. Since these food waste buckets contain various food materials that are pickled, they can't be spread on the surface of soil as they will begin to rot and attract pests. They can, however, be buried in the soil, in a compost pile, or added to planters and will add lots of nutrients, organic matter, and lots of live microbes.

Both items have their place. A combination of both at homes across the country would seriously get us all toward zero wastes. You can add meats and dairy products to bokashi without problems. In compost, they can attract animals, but since the bokashi process is done in a sealed container, this is not a worry. Schools around the world are keeping much of their cafeteria waste from being landfilled, growing veggies to supplement their school lunch, or selling the bokashi and the veggies for fund raising.

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