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What is bokashi?

Bokashi is a Japanese word that translates to 'fermented organic waste'. It is a process of fermenting or ‘pickling’ food scraps. It involves adding food scraps to an airtight container and then covering food scraps with granules containing beneficial bugs (microbes) that ferment food anaerobically (i.e. with no oxygen). 

These microbes are pretty easy to please. Provided the food is not too rotten or mouldy they can pickle any food material with little no oxygen present. When the pickling process is complete, the pickled solid needs to be broken down either in a home compost bin or buried in soil which in turn helps condition your soil.

What type of bucket / container do I use to pickle (Bokashi) my food scraps?

There are a few options! Remember you will need at least two buckets or two sets of bokashi bins so that once you have filled your first bucket, another bucket can be started straight away.

OPTION 1: Using airtight buckets are your basic and cheapest option! These are normally food grade plastic buckets with a lid that seals airtight. A food grade bucket (or paint bucket) volume size between 10 Litres - 30 litres is generally suitable for household use.

These are available from your local hardware or department stores.

Also check out the Pickled Starter Kit as an option.

OPTION 2: Invest in a purpose-built Bokashi Bin. These normally have a spigot and/or a perforated plate that sits inside the bokashi bin to allow for the liquid to drain to the bottom of the bucket. This liquid needs to be drained every 2-3 days.

These are available at local hardware stores around the country such as Mitre 10 or Bunnings.

OPTION 3: DIY a bokashi bin with drainage. Check out how to upcycle paint buckets as bokashi bins here:

Why is a two bucket system recommended??

Having another bucket available means when you have filled your first bucket, you can use another bucket straight away. Once you have filled your first bucket, let it sit for at least 7 days to fully pickle before emptying into a home compost bin or burying in the soil.

What foods can be pickled?

All solid food scraps! This includes cooked and uncooked foods such as leftovers, meat, fish and seafood; fruits, vegetables as well as dairy products, eggs, bread, coffee grounds and tea bags.  However if foods have a large amount of blue/black/green mould on them or are too liquid based, keep these out.

What foods can't be pickled?

While a healthy bokashi system can include most solid food items, please do not include:

- liquids (such as milk, oil, orange juice etc.). 

- too many mouldy or rotten foods. 

The occasional mouldy bread slice, lemon, apple or grape is fine but adding these in large amounts can disrupt the pickling process. 

Can I add non-organics to my Bokashi? i.e. paper, compostable plastics?

Brown paper, cardboard, toilet paper rolls, newspaper is totally fine to add. however, it's not necessary to pickle these items plus they might fill your bokashi up faster than you'd like!

it is best to keep these aside to use as a 'brown' to mix with your finished Bokashi when emptying into your outdoor compost or burying in your garden.

In terms of compostable plastics. Keep all 'commercial compost' packaging out. These can only be processed in a commercial compost setting.

Home compostable packaging products are not necessary to make quality compost so these can be left out of your Bokashi and compost. There is also a chance that the chemical additives in home compostable packaging (even if certified) are harmful to the soil when they breakdown. Kaicycle have a great explanation on their rationale for not accepting any forms of packaging in their compost services.

What are Pickled Composting Flakes? Why do I have to add and how much at a time?

The Pickled Composting Flakes contain beneficial bugs (microbes) that ferment or ‘pickle’ food material.  To start the pickling process, first add a small handful of flakes to the bottom of your bucket. Once you have added a layer of food scraps (2.5 litres) and squashed this contents down (to remove air pockets) add 1-2 tablespoons of flakes.

The pickling process increases the acidity of your food while producing a sweet vinegar odour; deterring any pests that normally hang around in a regular compost system.

Remember to ensure there is an even coverage of flakes and to double this amount when adding high protein rich foods that break down slowly such as meat, dairy, fish/seafood and bones/shells.   

How long will a 75g bag of Pickled Composting Flakes last?

If you are using 1-2 tablespoons once a day, a 75g pouch of Pickled Composting Flakes can last about 4 weeks.

If you are adding more high protein based foods such as meat, dairy, fish/seafood and bones/shells; you will need to double this amount as these tend to break down slowly.

How often should I open my bucket while it is pickling?

The beneficial bugs pickling your food scraps prefer as little air exposure as possible. 

Try to aim for just once a day, and make sure the lid is sealed airtight after opening.

It is best to collect your scraps in a kitchen caddy (such as a small 5 litre bucket or an ice-cream container) that sits on the bench or under the sink.  This way when you empty your haul of scraps into your pickling bucket, you’ll only be opening and sealing your bucket 1-2 times a day.

Help! I feel like I’m filling my bucket too quickly! How can my household reduce the amount of food scraps we are wasting?

Great question! According to Love Food, Hate Waste NZ, the average New Zealand household throws away 3.15 kg each week with just over half of our food waste falling under the ‘avoidable’ food waste category.  This means, we throw out food that could have been eaten.  For great tips on how to store, and reduce food waste in your household check out great tips on the Love Food, Hate Waste website

Pests such as flies and rodents - will they be a problem?

No.  Provided your lid is kept sealed airtight and your food scraps are pickling nicely, pests such as flies or rodents are less likely to enter.

When emptying your pickling bucket into a home compost bin, usually rodents won't go for acidic foods like bokashi, but prefer foods that are going rotten. However if they are hungry, they will eat anything - even bokashi! So if you are concerned about rodents, make sure your home compost is rodent proof regardless.

Check out Predator Free NZ on tips to rat proof a home compost bin and how to set appropriate traps if rats are burrowing underneath your compost bin.

What do I do once the bucket is full?

Once the bucket is full, you will need to store the bucket in an area out of direct sunlight for at least 7 days until your scraps are fully pickled. When finished, either add it to your regular home compost bin / pile, bury it in your garden soil, plant pot soil or participate in a shared waste or local collection service to dispose of your pickled solid.

What do I do if my pickling bucket starts to smell unpleasant and there’s condensation on the underside of the lid?

If your bin is giving off an unpleasant odour and/or there is condensation on the lid, it is likely there is too much humidity. This means your food material is too wet and warm. The solution?

1. Store in a cool place, out of direct sunlight

2. Add material like shredded newspaper, an egg carton or old stale bread to absorb any excess moisture.

3. Make sure your bucket is sealed airtight.

What do I do if my pickling bucket smells rotten inside?

If your bin smells rotten, it is likely to not be pickling - but putrefying!  Usually a few things are at play including:  

- Too wet.  Solution: (see above)

- Not enough microbes.  Solution: Add more Pickled Flakes. 

- Too much air.  Solution: Seal your lid, make sure it’s sealed or clicked airtight; and squash / compact food material to remove air pockets.

How do I tell when my bucket has finished pickling?

After 7-14 days your pickling bucket should smell sweet and sour, kimchi, kombucha or sauerkraut like. You also might see white mould threads growing on top - which is a sure sign you've succesfully pickled your food scraps! Well done! :)

What do I do with the finished pickled food scraps?

When you know it has finished pickling you want to empty your bucket or bokashi bin either into an outdoor compost bin or pile, bury it in your garden soil or soil factory; or participate in a shared waste or local collection service to dispose of your pickled solid.

When adding directly to a compost bin mix equal parts browns (carbon sources such as wood mulch, shredded newspaper, leaf litter or garden soil) to the volume of bokashi / pickled soild. This will help break down the pickled solid faster in your compost!

Help! There's white mould growing on top!

This means your bokashi is working perfectly and is pretty much pickled!  We believe a congratulations is in order :)

Help! There's black/blue/green mould growing on top!

Ok.. so it's likely your food scraps are not pickling - but putrefying!  If it's also smelling rotten, it might pay to empty your bucket and start again. 

What is a kitchen caddy? Why is it recommended?

A kitchen caddy is simply a small container that sits on your kitchen bench or under the kitchen bench to collect your kitchen food scraps in. Having a caddy (like an ice cream container or 5 litre bucket) is recommended so you don't have to open your pickling / bokashi bucket more than once a day.

Opening your bokashi / pickling bucket a number of times may introduce too much oxygen and potentially disrupt the pickling process. Sealing the lid airtight each time your pickling bucket is opened multiple times a day may also become an ongoing issue.

Queries that might come up further down the track on your Pickled journey

Further frequently asked questions

Do I have to use a home compostable bin liner to line my pickling bucket?

No  - using a bin liner is not necessary. If you choose to not to use a home compostable bin liner, we recommend adding material such as wood chip mulch, wood shavings or egg cartons to the bottom of your bucket to absorb the pickled leachate (liquid).

What do I use to clean my pickling bucket?

Just rinse / scrub with water and leave in direct sunlight for a few hours; the longer the better.

DO NOT use harsh chemicals such as detergent or bleach as this will potentially disrupt your next pickling. If your bucket requires a thorough clean, soak in hot water with a tablespoon of baking soda to help remove any leftover contents.

I have a worm farm - can I give pickled food scraps to my worms?

Yes! They might take a few days to a couple of weeks to get use to it due to the acidity, so only give them a small amount at first (i.e. a tablespoon in the corner of the farm). It will mean checking in on the worms to see if they take to the bokashi. Because bokashi is high in nitrogen, it may pay to add extra paper or other carbon sources to maintain an appropriate carbon/ nitrogen ratio.

Help! I don't have a regular compost bin set up to empty my finished pickled scraps into - what can I do instead?

If you have access to a garden bed, or have plant pots available with soil, you can bury your pickled solid in either of these! Ensure you bury your pickled solid deep enough (minimum of 20-30 cm deep).

If you don't have any garden or pot plant space at all, we recommend signing up to ShareWaste or a local compost / organic waste collection or drop off service such as Kaicycle Wellington and Little Farms NZ.