Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2010
Regional Report

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Unusual chartreuse colored bracts on Euphorbia rigida lend stunning color to the garden.

Composting Alternatives: Part I

One effective way to "green up" your lifestyle is to reduce the amount of kitchen waste sent to overburdened landfills by composting it. However, what if you don't have space for a full-blown outdoor compost area, or perhaps you can't physically turn piles or deal with potential pest problems? Can you still reduce the volume of kitchen waste trucked to the landfill?

Absolutely. In my next few reports, I'll describe alternatives to traditional backyard compost piles and bins, including the advantages and disadvantages of each. I'll start off with an explanation of an indoor method known as Bokashi composting. Later reports will cover other options, including pest-proof outdoor composters and, one of my favorites, vermicomposting, where worms do the heavy lifting for you. If you can't wait to get started, pick up a copy of my latest book, Composting for Dummies, produced in conjunction with the National Gardening Association. Through April, the publisher is offering a $5 rebate. Find the rebate form at

Bokashi composting
Bokashi is a Japanese term that refers to a process of fermenting organic matter. Bokashi composting mixes scraps with an inoculant (called bokashi) of beneficial microorganisms that speed fermentation without oxygen (anaerobically), while avoiding the offensive odors typical of anaerobic decomposition. (Perhaps you composted a big pile of fresh lawn clippings that got matted and compressed. Lack of air circulation made the pile stinky. That's anaerobic composition in action.) Bokashi inoculant is usually sold as dry wheat or rice bran embedded with microorganisms and their food source, such as molasses.

The drawback is that Bokashi containers do not create finished, usable compost. The closed system ferments (pickles) kitchen scraps, starting the break down of organic matter. At the end of the fermenting period, food scraps are still recognizable because they are pickled, not decomposed. Final decomposition takes place outdoors after you bury the material in the soil or compost bin. Consider these advantages and disadvantages to help decide if a bokashi system works for you:

Initial indoor fermentation period makes food waste less of a draw for pests after transferring it outdoors.

After burying it in the soil, microbes quickly break down remaining organic matter.

Food wastes, such as meat and dairy, that are not recommended for traditional open-to-the-air (aerobic) compost bins, can be placed in a bokashi container.

Small area needed indoors for container.

Ongoing expense of purchasing bokashi inoculant.

Scraps must be chopped into small pieces.

Rotten or moldy scraps should not be composted because their microorganisms upset the balance of the bokashi microorganisms.

Material must be buried outdoors at least 8 to 12 inches deep in the soil or compost pile after initial fermentation.

Two or more containers needed to continue processing scraps while the first container ferments.

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