Bokashi Composting

In Chinese traditional medicine, there are twenty-four solar terms that are guided by the seasons. One spring term, grain rain (guyu), appeared to me in a dream after venturing into a cave-portal bursting with mushrooms. I learned about Bokashi composting shortly thereafter, attempting to find a small-scale composting solution for my rental apartment.

Bokashi is a composting method that uses wheat bran inoculated with lactobacillus (the same genus of microbes that ferments yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.) and as a result, can break down items that other compositing methods cannot (ie. meat, cooked foods). The process is anaerobic, meaning the bacteria work without oxygen, and it takes only a few weeks rather than a few months to break down food scraps. It’s also a lot more feasible in urban spaces without yards. Here is how to make the culture from scratch.

Making a Concentrated Lactobacillus Culture

Ingredients & Supplies

First we gather wild microbes. Rinse rice in a few cups of water then drain into a glass container or jar, reserving the rice for cooking. Leave the jar somewhere warm for 3-7 days, like the oven, closed with the light on, and loosely cover.

As it ferments, the water will separate into layers, leaving solids at the bottom and a film on top. Separate the cloudy middle layer, full of native bacteria, from the top and bottom layers (solids, some mold perhaps).
To help lactobacillus take over the culture, combine 10 parts milk to 1 part bacteria culture. Leave a bit of headspace and seal with an airlock (a tool that seals but allows gas ventilation, if this is unavailable to you, be sure to seal and burp daily to avoid potential explosions). Leave at room temperature for 5-10 days.
The mixture should bubble and curdle as it ferments, separating into a liquid layer and a more solid cheese layer. This liquid layer is what you want to keep. (This solid layer, essentially cheese, may be integrated into the soil–although not immediately before planting–or composted. Separate the cheese layer from the liquid using a strainer and/or cheesecloth. It may smell strong, like old feta.
For preservation and stabilization, sterilize a glass jar with boiling water. Mix equal parts organic molasses and lactobacillus liquid by volume to provide a long term food source. It should be good to leave at room temperature for a year although it’s probably viable for longer.