Bokashi / Composting / Traditional Composting

Bokashi vs Compost: 7 Reasons That’ll Convert You!

As more and more people look for ways to reduce their household waste, the question of bokashi vs compost has become a popular one. By the end of this article, you’ll have learnt the pros and cons of bokashi vs compost and everything you need to know about how to use a bokashi bin.

Warning, once you’ve finished reading this article you’re likely to become a bokashi composting convert!

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What is Composting?

Traditional composting is the process of layering nitrogen-rich green waste (lawn clippings, organic kitchen waste, leaves) with carbon-rich brown waste (paper, dry leaves, sticks, small branches) in equal parts, then allowing time for it to break down.

After approximately 6 months this will produce a dark, nutrient-rich compost. This can be mixed through your garden to boost the health of your soil and plants.

picture of a compost bin in a vegetable garden
Example of a typical compost bin

What is the Bokashi Method of Composting?

Bokashi originated in Japan and translates to ‘fermented organic matter’. Where composting allows organic matter to break down and decay, bokashi essentially ‘pickles’ your kitchen scraps to bring it to a pre-compost state.

Bury bokashi in the ground and it will begin to break down into compost. It creates the most beautiful, rich soil in as little as 4 weeks!

Best bokashi composting system to buy – bokashi living

How does Bokashi Work?

Bokashi involves first collecting kitchen waste in a sealed container and sprinkling with bokashi bran once a day. The bran contains beneficial effective microbes that ferment the food and do wonders when added to the garden!

Once the bin is full it’s left to sit for a week before being dug into the soil. 2-3 weeks later the bokashi has turned into compost and the soil is ready to be added to your vegetable garden.

Continue reading to find out exactly how to use a bokashi bin and set one up at home.

closeup of hand holding a pile of rich compost full of worms and nutrients
Bokashi vs Compost – the compost produced in the end is the best possible outcome for your soil

The Differences: Bokashi vs Compost

1) Anaerobic vs Aerobic

I promise I’m not about to get all technical on you here! Anaerobic and aerobic are different types of composting. They’re simply the terms used to describe the process involved in breaking down organic matter.

The bokashi system breaks food scraps down through an anaerobic process meaning ‘without air’ or moisture. This in contrast to a compost bin that breaks down through an aerobic process ‘with air’.

For this reason, a bokashi bucket needs a well-sealed lid and the contents pressed down regularly to remove any pockets of air.

On the flip side, a compost bin breaks down faster with more airflow. This is why ‘turning’ the pile regularly can speed up the composting process.

Garden Tower Project

2) Time Taken to Create Compost

The time it takes to produce compost for your soil is radically different between the two methods. For compost to break down it requires the right amount of moisture, heat and airflow. This process can take an average of 6 months (less if turned regularly).

The time taken to produce compost in a composter is also helped by selecting the right location for your compost bin.

The bokashi fermentation process is a lot faster due to the addition of effective microbes. These beneficial microbes work to ferment organic waste very quickly. The whole process from start to finish can take a matter of just 4 weeks.

3) Compost vs Pre-compost

A lot of people also have both! If you don’t have anywhere to bury your bokashi once it’s full, there’s always the option of adding bokashi to compost bin. This gives the compost a great boost of microbes and will actually help it break down faster.

For a comprehensive guide on selecting a composter to suit your space, have a read of my guide to choosing a composter.

It’s important to realise that bokashi is pre-compost. It will start to look like compost similar to what you would yield from a compost bin once it’s buried for 2 weeks.

During these 2 weeks, the soil is very acidic. Therefore, it’s advisable not to plant anything in this area until this time has passed.

4) Odour & Pests

One of the major benefits of bokashi vs compost is the lack of unpleasant smells and pests.

I’m sure we can all recall the smell of a compost pile, but you’re probably unfamiliar with the smell of bokashi. Because it’s essentially a fermentation process, bokashi has a sour smell a lot like vinegar. Not unpleasant at all in comparison to a compost bin.

It also makes it a lot more pleasant to keep a bokashi bin under the sink or on the kitchen bench or laundry.

One of the reasons why meat, fish, eggs & dairy products can’t be added to a traditional compost bin is because they attract pests such as mice and rats. Because it’s a sealed environment, it’s possible to add these food scraps to a bokashi bin

5) What to Include: Bokashi vs Compost

Compost is particularly useful for garden waste which wouldn’t fit in a bokashi bin – lawn clippings, hedge trimmings, small branches and sticks. Of course, it’s also very useful for organic kitchen waste (no dairy, meat or fish).

Due to the size of a bokashi bin, it can’t handle garden waste and is better suited to fermenting the likes of your banana peels and carrots tops.

As a general rule of thumb, ALL kitchen waste can be added to a bokashi bin with a few exceptions; rotting food (especially anything with green or blue mould) and any liquids (to maintain a dry environment).

For a complete list, check out my helpful guide on what can go in a Bokashi bin vs what not to put in Bokashi.

6) Space

For the most part, where you live will influence which compost method will suit you best.

In a larger garden, you’re likely to need a way to dispose of your garden waste so a compost bin is ideal. Whereas gardening in an apartment or smaller garden where there is little to no garden work to be done, a bokashi bin is all you’re likely to need.

7) Cost

With both compost and bokashi composting, there’s an initial cost of purchasing a bin. After that, with bokashi, there is an ongoing expense of purchasing bokashi bran every 9-12 months.

In saying this, the by-product of a bokashi bin is a liquid that drains during the fermentation process and is ‘liquid gold’ for your garden! Effectively it replaces the cost of purchasing other plant fertilisers so the cost does balance itself out.

Spoon sprinkling bokashi compost bran into a bokashi bin to start bokashi composting
Start your new bokashi composting bin by sprinkling 2T of bokashi bran in the base; then add food scraps

How to Use a Bokashi Bin

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve realised how great a bokashi bin is and are itching to start your own! So let me walk you through the steps on how to set up and how to use a bokashi bin.

How Can I Make my Own Bokashi Compost

Best bokashi composting system to buy – bokashi living

Step 1 – What you Need for Bokashi vs Compost

Bokashi Bin Composting System

After looking at bokashi bin reviews you’ll notice that they’re often sold in sets of two. The reason for this is because before transferring bokashi into the garden your bokashi bin will need to sit for 2 weeks. So in the meantime, you can continue storing your organic material in the second bin.

With the bucket system there are two buckets that nest on top of one other. The inner bucket has holes in the bottom that allow for the fermentation liquid to drain into the outer bucket. The top bin is lifted out of the bottom one and the liquid tipped into a container. This liquid can then be used as fertiliser for the garden.

There are also bokashi bin options with a tap; handy for draining liquid as there’s no lifting required. These tend to be more expensive than the bucket system but can be worth it for the added convenience.

Bokashi Bran/Compost Zing

The bokashi bran is sprinkled over your bokashi bin waste after each addition. Inoculated beneficial effective microbes is what the bran is comprised of (natural occurring organisms that have a reviving effect on the environment).

It is also possible to make your own bokashi bran if you’re up for it!

Trying to decide which Bokashi Bin system is best can be confusing, so I’ve done the hard work for you! The button below takes you to my comprehensive bokashi bin review of four great bokashi products. There you’ll learn the pros and cons of different systems as well as where you can buy them online.

bokashi living bin in a bokashi composting review
Zing Bokashi Composting system in this bokashi bin review

Step 2 – Choose a Spot

The ideal place to store your bokashi kitchen composter is at room temperature away from direct sunlight. The most important thing though is that it is accessible; whether that be on the kitchen bench, under the kitchen sink, outside or in a laundry.

Step 3 – Fill Her Up!

Add Your Kitchen Waste

Begin adding your kitchen waste to your bokashi compost bin. Chopping scraps up to golf ball size or smaller will hasten the fermentation process (read on for a more detailed outline on what to include and what not to include in your bokashi bin).

Ideally, you want to open a bokashi bin as little as possible throughout the day. A good idea is to collect your food scraps in a separate container then add to your bokashi bin once a day.

Tip: Keep a dinner plate in your bokashi bin to compact and protect the top layer of material from the air in the top of the bucket.

Minimise the Oxygen

When adding your kitchen waste, press the contents down (a potato masher is a good tool for this) to press out any air pockets. Then as it fills, add 1-2 tablespoons of bokashi bran for every 6cm of food.

Leave to Ferment

Once the bin is filled, ensure it is fully sealed then leave in a warm place for 10-14 days (still remembering to drain the bokashi liquid-see below). Don’t worry if you start to see white mould appear; this is actually a good sign as it means the process is working well.

The fermentation process occurs as carbohydrates in food are converted into lactic acid. After two weeks the waste is preserved, creating pre-compost that can then be buried underground.

Step 4 – Collect the ‘Liquid Gold’

Every 1-2 days empty the bokashi compost tea from the bottom bucket and use it the same day if possible. Here is how to use this fabulous fertiliser:

  • Dilute 1: 100 (2-3 tablespoons to 5 litres of water) as a liquid fertiliser for your garden. Regularly water at the base of your plants and they will love you forever!
  • Dilute 1:200 (1-2 teaspoons to 5litres of water) to spray the foliage of your plants.
  • Pour undiluted bokashi liquid directly into drains. Pour down sinks, showers and toilets. The microbiology will work wonders to clean your pipes and is especially beneficial for septic tanks.

Step 5 – Add to your Garden

Once the bin has been sitting for 2 weeks, it’s time to add it to your soil and learn how to use bokashi compost in your garden.

Choose a spot where the contents won’t touch the roots of existing plants (as it is very acidic and can burn the roots). Dig a trench. As a rule of thumb, dig the hole as deep as your bokashi bin and twice as long as the height.

Add the fermented material and mix through with soil, leaving 25-50cm of soil to cover the top.

Wet the soil if it is dry so the composting process can begin.

The food will continue to decompose and should be barely recognisable after 3-4 weeks. Plants can then be planted in the soil.

If you’re feeling a bit lazy or don’t have anywhere to dig in your bokashi mix, it’s also beneficial to compost bokashi by adding it directly to your compost bin as a green nitrogen layer.

Step 6 – Rinse and Repeat

And that’s it! Be sure to thoroughly rinse out your bokashi bin then the whole process can start over.

If you have two bins you’ll have a consistent supply of bokashi and bokashi compost tea so your garden will be humming!

full bokashi bin with lid off resting beside a bag of bokashi bran in the bokashi vs compost debate
A full bokashi bin ready to be sealed and left for two weeks to ferment

How to do Bokashi Bin Composting in an Apartment

One of the key things in the bokashi vs compost debate is that a bokashi bin can be used no matter if you live on a farm or a small apartment. The bokashi liquid is also beneficial for indoor plants. Any excess can be tipped down drains as the organic acids help to control algae.

What do I do with my Full Bokashi Bin?

The big question you’re likely to be asking if you live in an apartment is; “what do I do with the bokashi once it’s full?” Good question. Here are a couple of options:

  1. Container Planter Method – A great option if you’re growing veggies in pots inside or outside on a balcony. Start with a large container or pot. Fill the pot with 1/3 potting soil then tip the contents of your fermented bokashi bin into it. Lightly mix through the soil. Finally, fill the remaining 1/3 of the pot with more potting soil. (Optional: cover the pot with a lid or plastic bag to maintain anaerobic conditions). Wait two weeks before planting in the soil.
  2. Compost Pickup Program – Check online to see whether your area has a local organisation that offers compost pickup.
  3. Advertise Bokashi for Collection – Advertise on Craig’s List or your local community social media page to see if someone would like to pick up your bokashi for free.
  4. Add to a Compost Bin – If you don’t have the option of digging your bokashi directly in the ground, it’s totally fine to add it straight into a compost bin. Find out if there are any community gardens in your neighbourhood or if any neighbours have a compost bin you could add to.

What to Put in a Bokashi Bin vs Compost

The simple answer is you can compost ALL of your food waste in a bokashi bin! It’s also possible to include:

  • Compostable plastic (it won’t add much in the form of nutrients but it keeps it out of the landfill)
  • Bones (although they will take longer to breakdown)
  • Garden waste (such as leaves, sticks, bark etc) can be added. Note they can take up a lot of room and take longer to breakdown
kitchen waste that can be put in a bokashi vs compost bin
Food scraps can be added to a bokashi bin or composter

What Not to Put in a Bokashi Bin

  • Rotting food (blue or green mould may overwhelm the good bacteria in the bin causing it to rot and smell)
  • Any liquids (incl oil and fat) to maintain a dry environment

For a complete list on what can and can’t go in a bokashi bin, check out my handy guide to what can go into bokashi.

Bokashi Problems

If you do notice a foul odour coming from your bokashi bin this is an indication that something has gone wrong. Try adding some more bokashi bran. If this doesn’t fix it it’s time to dump the contents, scrub out the bin and start again.

Remember, white mould is good, blue or green mould is bad.

Bokashi vs Worm Farm

Vermicomposting or worm farming is another method of recycling waste that has many similarities to bokashi composting. The main difference, however, is that like traditional composting, a worm farm is aerobic (no sealed lids) whereas bokashi as you know, works through an anaerobic process.

The reason I mention bokashi vs vermicomposting is that many people are starting to combine the two by adding their fermented bokashi to their worm farm. There appears to be no harm in doing this from the bokashi composting reviews I’ve seen, as long as it’s introduced slowly (bokashi is very acidic).

I can see the benefit of working both systems side by side because only certain food scraps can be added to a worm farm. For example they don’t like citrus, onion, cooked food or dairy. However, if you’re looking for a quick and easy waste-reducing option to start out with, I would definitely recommend bokashi as the preferred place to start.

If worm farming does interest you, my Ultimate Guide to Worm Farming for Beginners and review of the Best Worm Composters are great places to start.

Pros and Cons: Bokashi vs Compost

By-product bokashi liquid is an excellent fertiliser Initial setup cost
Pest freeThe ongoing cost of buying bokashi bran
Simple to setupLimited by the size of the bucket so not suitable for garden waste
Organic matter retains nutrients & nitrogen content
Much lower CO2 emissions
Can create compost in as little as 4 weeks
Can be done indoors
Larger bin makes it great for yard waste Need an outdoor space to situate the bin
Not costly to setupTakes up to 6 months to produce useable compost
Produces large amounts of compostCreates a strong odour
Can attract pests & flies
Large CO2 emissions

Summarising the Benefits of Bokashi vs Composting

  1. Easy to learn with little maintenance – no turning, not reliant on external factors
  2. Not reliant on space – possible to do bokashi bin composting without an outdoor area
  3. By-product makes an excellent fertiliser for the garden – outweighs the cost of buying the bran
  4. Great for the environment – less co2 than a compost heap.
  5. Takes as little as 4 weeks to create useable compost – compared to 6 months for traditional composting
  6. No unpleasant odour – can be kept indoors for added convenience

Final words: Is Bokashi Better Than Composting?

In summary, when if comes to the great bokashi vs compost debate, the bokashi composting method is a faster and much simpler process than composting. However, I still believe traditional composting has its place. If you have a yard to look after then you might want to consider both a compost and bokashi bin to help recycle your garden and kitchen waste.

For a beginner or someone living in an apartment or small space, I would recommend a bokashi bin. Not only is it an effective way of minimising waste but it has the bonus of a rich by-product for your plants. By using both bokashi and bokashi fertiliser in your vegetable garden your plants will surely reward you with a bumper crop!

profile picture of Gabrielle

About the Author

Elle Reed is a passionate gardener and advocate for teaching beginner gardeners how to grow their own food. Elle’s mission is to inspire and empower people to get back to basics, grow their own produce, and embrace a sustainable lifestyle. “Whether it’s a few herb pots in an apartment, a potager or a full garden plot, we can all ‘start somewhere’ to grow our own food, and in doing so, provide healthier food for ourselves and those we love”.

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Bokashi vs Compost; how to create compost in just 4 weeks! Find out why bokashi is superior & all you need to know to set one up at home