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Bokashi Composting

 
pollinator
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We are finally rid of chickens and I am far too lazy to make compost piles or worm bins work well enough in our climate to efficiently absorb all of our houses kitchen waste. So I am embarking on another experiment to see if I can turn this steady waste stream into an asset. I have two 10 gallon, food grade, plastic buckets with rubber gaskets and clamping lids that get really airtight. The plan is to layer the bottom of each with several inches of bokashi (a fermented bran if I remember correctly, several garden stores near me make it and I bought 5 gallons for 40+$) and then empty our ~1 gallon sink side compost pail into the bucket every few days when it is full. I then cover the fresh waste (which includes anything that the dogs don't get, coffee grounds, veggie bits raw and coooked, congealed fats, yogurt bits, etc) with a handfull-ish more of bokashi. When one bucket is full I will tuck it away in the corner of the kitchen and fill the other. If they fill too fast for the process to happen I will probably just dump the first one into the compost pile or possibly start filling a 55 gallon barrell. My hope is that the bokashi organisms will devour the food waste fast enough and I will be able to pull finished bokashi out of the first when the second is full. Here's a picture of the first bucket after having the last pail of kitchen scraps and last handfull of bokashi added.

Has anyone else experimented with this technique? Can you use the finished bokashi to eat another tub of scraps?
full-bokashi-bucket.jpg
[Thumbnail for full-bokashi-bucket.jpg]
you can even see some of the white mold moving in along the edges
 
s. lowe
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So I finally filled both of the 10 gallon buckets with kitchen scraps, apparently it takes about a month to fill one. So I opened up the first one so that I could empty it and see where it had gotten to. Basically it was far from completely composted, but it had broken down a lot. The smell was a bit on the sickly side of sweet, but by no means putrid or disgusting. I ended up opting to dump the contents into a 45 gallon barrel where I will collect buckets for a few months and see if the bokashi continues to 'eat' the scraps or if I am just delaying actually composting this stuff. My main observation was that I think I need to make some sort of drainage because it seems like too much liquid is building up so that the bottom of the barrels is not doing well and probably contributing any bad smells.
bokashi-bucket-after-one-month.jpg
[Thumbnail for bokashi-bucket-after-one-month.jpg]
Just opened and you can see the heavy colonization (white stuff) on top
settled-bokashi.jpg
[Thumbnail for settled-bokashi.jpg]
With the angle view you can see how much the stuff settled, it was to the brim when it was closed up
 
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My understanding of this type of composting (which I have used to spectacular result) is that you don't need to see it looking broken down; after two weeks of composting, you can bury the compost into your beds to amend the soil. it won't look like ready soil, but it is fermented to a degree that it operates very differently from regular compost. I have seen my soil go from hard-packed clay to fluffy soil growing giant potatoes with one application of this method. I dig the bokashi into the soil two weeks before planting. I have used this for perennial and annual beds, and also for sandy and clay beds. In both cases, the soil receives an incredible health benefit. the reason you want to wait two weeks before planting (after digging in the compost) is that there is come acidifying effect, but it resolves itself.

It may be that none of this sounds correct to the scientists and technicians on this board, but this is what I was told by my bokashi-dealer and it has worked amazingly well for me.

For the moisture problem: yes, I use a two-layer bucket system with holes punched into the top bucket, and a drainage spigot- and I feed my beds with the compost liquid drained off.
 
Hilde Alden
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You're looking for a sour-pungent smell, maybe slightly alcoholic but never sceptic. To me, it always smells somewhat like kimchi. My understanding is that for optimal use, you use the compost after only two weeks fermenting in the bucket. I usually store my foodscraps, then assemble garden waste, etc, enough to fill a bucket, layer it with the bokashi and set the bucket to ferment all in one go, then take it out and bury it in my garden in exactly two weeks.
 
s. lowe
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ah thanks for the tips both of you. I didn't mention this in the first post but my entire knowledge base for this experiment came from reading the back of a book in the grocery store so I am sure I have a lot to learn. The smell was not quite sour-pungent, maybe more sweet-pungent, possibly with that alcoholic tint. Certainly far from septic. Do you guys do anything to drain off excess liquid? That is the main issue I observed after opening my first bucket, it was surprisingly wet. Also, do you think it would benefit anything to add this to my very slow continual compost pile? It is basically green waste from our yard and some neighbors yards that just keeps getting layered with moldy straw/hay that I try to get in bulk from local farmers. I usually just let it build up and it composts down and then once a year or so I spread it around the garden. Or do you think just putting it straight into the soil is the way to go?
Also, do you think I am just wasting time/making a mess by putting into a larger container to sit for longer? thanks for the insights.
 
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Hilde Alden wrote:My understanding of this type of composting (which I have used to spectacular result) is that you don't need to see it looking broken down; after two weeks of composting, you can bury the compost into your beds to amend the soil. it won't look like ready soil, but it is fermented to a degree that it operates very differently from regular compost. I have seen my soil go from hard-packed clay to fluffy soil growing giant potatoes with one application of this method. I dig the bokashi into the soil two weeks before planting. I have used this for perennial and annual beds, and also for sandy and clay beds. In both cases, the soil receives an incredible health benefit. the reason you want to wait two weeks before planting (after digging in the compost) is that there is come acidifying effect, but it resolves itself.

It may be that none of this sounds correct to the scientists and technicians on this board, but this is what I was told by my bokashi-dealer and it has worked amazingly well for me.

For the moisture problem: yes, I use a two-layer bucket system with holes punched into the top bucket, and a drainage spigot- and I feed my beds with the compost liquid drained off.



That sounds exactly right Hilde, I like the two layer bucket system myself (same as a worm bin setup). Yes indeed, the liquid is just as potent as the compost material.
If you also have a "standard" compost heap, you can use some of the liquid as a booster infusion of microbes to the compost heap or add some to a brewing compost tea and that too will be boosted in organism counts.

Redhawk
 
Bryant RedHawk
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You can do a twice fermented system Stephen, no worries there.
When doing a double ferment you might want to make some addition in the second fermenter setup.
For excess liquid (it comes from the vegetable and other plant materials giving up their water) just set up like Hilde said, double bucket system.

Redhawk
 
s. lowe
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Thank you guys for the input. I will probably go with the double ferment for now, just for my own amusement and experience.
 
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Very interesting method. Thank you for sharing; perfect timing for me too as I have been looking to add another small-scale system for my scraps.
After reading this thread & doing a bit of searching, I found a couple of things that you all may find interesting & I'd love to hear what you think about them:
The Compostess, Rebecca Louie, teaches that one can easily make large quantities of their own Bokashi "starter" mix on the cheap with EM-1, wheat bran, & molasses. Check out her recipe at: https://thecompostess.com/2015/04/22/how-to-make-bokashi/
Also, Robert Pavlis has an interesting spin he calls The Instant Soil Factory:
"Take your Bokashi ferment and homogenize it in a blender to make a smoothy out of it. Then pour it into the soil. Mix it up and you are done. Instant fortified soil with no waiting period.
The ferment homogenizes very easily in the blender since the food scraps are already mushy and contain a lot of water.
You can also replace the soil with coir and produce a product free of insects and plant diseases. The coir is quite dry and easily absorbs all of the liquid in the ferment. The result is a fairly dry, soil-less mix that has no odor. The ferment will continue to decompose over time and help feed plants. I call this new method the Instant Soil Factory." - https://www.gardenmyths.com/soil-factory-using-bokashi-ferment/
Robert also advocates referring to the Bokashi method as Bokashi fermenting, which -according to him- is a more accurate description of the process than "composting".
BOKASHI-DIY_starter-EM-1-_wheat_bran-_molasses-_TheCompostess.com.jpg
[Thumbnail for BOKASHI-DIY_starter-EM-1-_wheat_bran-_molasses-_TheCompostess.com.jpg]
Bokashi DIY starter: EM-1, wheat bran, molasses - TheCompostess.com
 
Hilde Alden
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Yes, I completely agree, it is fermenting, not composting!

Also, I dont' usually use bokashi, I use straight expanded EM in the sprayer, and I stretch my EM by expanding it on itself for several months. I spray a heavy dose of EM every couple of inches of packed food. This works very well, in terms of how the food scraps are fermented, though is less elegant than bokashi.
 
Mike Kenzie
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Hilde Alden wrote:Also, I dont' usually use bokashi, I use straight expanded EM in the sprayer, and I stretch my EM by expanding it on itself for several months. I spray a heavy dose of EM every couple of inches of packed food. This works very well, in terms of how the food scraps are fermented, though is less elegant than bokashi.


Cool! Mind sharing your recipe?
 
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As I understand it, bokashi is basically lacto-fermentation. Since I'm on a 0 budget I decided to experiment with it using the lacto-fermentation process rather than buying expensive additives and whatnot. So I use old dry milk and layer it with the stuff in the bucket.

It worked well. We don't create enough food waste to do this every two weeks (it takes more like a month or two during the winter) so I use a pile of ice-cream buckets under the kitchen counter and just rotate them. When one fills it goes on the bottom of the pile and the top one goes out in the garden.

I've let it ferment for months with no problems. I see no reason why a larger bucket wouldn't work just as well since it's primarily an anaerobic process.
 
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Lauren Ritz wrote:As I understand it, bokashi is basically lacto-fermentation. Since I'm on a 0 budget I decided to experiment with it using the lacto-fermentation process rather than buying expensive additives and whatnot. So I use old dry milk and layer it with the stuff in the bucket.


That is great to hear!!! I have been interested but the starters/etc are not available here. Even with the rabbits eating my kitchen scraps I have a LOT of scraps, maybe this will be the year I get it sorted.
 
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What I would love to know is how the anaerobic/aerobic thing is worked out.

The fermentation is all anaerobic, but when making compost extracts, we often oxygenate because the organisms we wish to encourage thrive on oxygen. How does this work out?

To be clear, I am looking for the mechanism, not doubting the efficacy of bokashi. Is it that the anaerobic organisms die off after being removed from the anaerobic environment of the bokashi bin, leaving food for the aerobic organisms in the soil to eat?

Lastly, is there a benefit, when making oxygenated compost extracts, to adding excess liquid from the fermenter to the barrel, or to adding fermented scraps?

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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During any fermentation of vegetative matter that has not been cooked there will be a number of different microorganisms thriving, including ciliates, the one type of microorganism we don't want in our soil since they tend to be voracious good bacteria and fungi consumers.
Many who tout the Bokashi method will say that what they use in the soil is anaerobic but they have not realized that the act of pouring the Bokashi onto the soil is an act of aeration, the O2 contacts the Bokashi and is adsorbed by the organisms and decayed organic matter.

Lacto bacillus is so easy to acquire (it is in everything dairy) that the only reason to make a purchase is probably lack of knowledge or expediency.

Adding fermented Bokashi to soil will force oxygenation by it being adsorbed on contact, the problem I have with direct addition is that this leaves all the undesirable organisms alive for the moment, this can create a loss of good organisms prior to the undesirables dying off from the O2 environment.

Bokashi liquid is great stuff, you can use it several different ways, foliar spray, soil spray or simply use it in place of watering, it does quite well at adding organisms to a working compost heap too.

Most of the ciliates do die in the presence of oxygen, and the good bacteria, amoeba, nematodes and others along with fungi thrive only in the presence of oxygen.
This is good for you to know if you plan on using Bokaski or KNF type methods, oxygen is needed by plant roots and all the supporting microorganisms, there isn't any situation where plants grow in an absence of oxygen.
Even in stagnant, oxygen depleted swamp the plants that grow there have adjusted to taking more O2 from the air, that is the function of Cypress Knees, they suck up O2 and provide it to the roots. Cypress even harbors the microorganisms it needs in the network of knees, providing them with the necessary O2.

Redhawk
 
s. lowe
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I recently took my big barrel of bokashi fermented kitchen scraps and mixed it into my compost pile. It heated up extremely quickly and when I turned it again about 10 days later there was an amazing amount of visible colonization by fungi throughout the middle layer of the pile. The center had literally burned some things to ash, then there was a sphere that was thick with hyphae, and then the outer layer (the most done compost from the center of the original pile) was full of worms and bugs. Even a bunch of redwood saw dust that I added is breaking down quickly.
 
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A friend recently sent me a Bokashi kit and quite frankly I’m a little skeptical.  How can promoting anaerobic organisms help the overall well-being of my plants? Won’t that just stifle the growth of the good stuff? I know you explained a bit Dr. R, but I could use a little more if someone doesn’t mind.
    My original question is actually about pigeon manure. Can using Bokashi kill pathogens in my pigeon manure, making it safe enough to add to my working compost, incase I don’t make temperature? Will the flush of anaerobic EM counteract the aerobic progress of my pile? And lastly, would a bucket of Bokashi be beneficial dumped into the center of my hugelkultur mound? Thanks in advance, I’m loving it here.❤️
 
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I'm also a bit sceptical. But the way I currently understand it is that the fermentation creates an environment that is uninviting to certain pathogens while also pre-digesting the food, thus making it's nutrients more bio-available. Microbes, insects, worms et al can then more easily digest the fermented food stuff.

I've yet to find out why someone would buy EM instead of just using extra sauerkraut juices. If you make sure the waste is under water (and has some raw, lacto covered produce), I dont even think you need a starter.

I'll soon be receiving a vermicomposting kit for my appartment, I'm thinking that fermenting my wastes before feeding it to the worms might be a great idea. I've even seen accounts of people putting bokashied meat in their worm bins, though I'm not sure that's the best idea with an indoor system.
 
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Not an expert, looking into this myself ...

My understanding is that the specific lactobacillus bacteria manage to push the pH of the mixture to a range or 2pH - 3pH.  This is acidic enough to kill human pathogens, at least those that might be hanging out in food.  I know its also used to digest cat box deposits.

That apparently happens in the first week or so.  Then the bacteria stalls out and the assorted myceliums take over and further break down the contents. What you end up with is sort of a proto-fertilizer, but it still needs aerobic bacteria to finish converting it into something your plants can use.  So you take the bucket and add to your compost pile, or dig a small hole in the ground and bury it there.

So ... should be good with pigeon manure, definitely add to your compost and I would certainly add to a hugelkultur (although perhaps on the perimeter shell, not using it to pack in between the wood).
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Leah Holder wrote:A friend recently sent me a Bokashi kit and quite frankly I’m a little skeptical.  How can promoting anaerobic organisms help the overall well-being of my plants? Won’t that just stifle the growth of the good stuff? I know you explained a bit Dr. R, but I could use a little more if someone doesn’t mind.
    My original question is actually about pigeon manure. Can using Bokashi kill pathogens in my pigeon manure, making it safe enough to add to my working compost, incase I don’t make temperature? Will the flush of anaerobic EM counteract the aerobic progress of my pile? And lastly, would a bucket of Bokashi be beneficial dumped into the center of my hugelkultur mound? Thanks in advance, I’m loving it here.❤️



All bird droppings contain high N and are fairly acidic from being a mix of urine and fecal matter. Bokashi method makes use of the anaerobic microbes for rapid breakdown of plant matter, that makes it great for small space composting.

The dual nature of the bokasi method means we can use all of the bacteria present, each working their part at the right time. To get the best use of tbe finished product we need to reduce the predators that grow during the process, cilliates are our prime concern, most of the bad guys can not live in an oxygen enviroment so when we add O2 to the finished product we remove most or all of the critters we don't want. EM are in the air as well as in the soil, they also live in the gut there is no need to purchase them except for speeding up the fermentation process.
Bokashi can help anywhere you place it in your gardens.

Redhawk
 
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Hello!!! How interesting. I’ve been doing bokashi for maybe the last year and usually have decent results (except once when the bucket putrefied quickly probably because I left it open too long). Anyway, I we just had our sewage hole flood and the landlord was cautioning us about our type of TP. I’ve been reading and thinking about how we pee and poop into essentially clean water (the dog is right to drink from the toilet bowl, haha). I’d try peeing and pooping in a bucket but that’s probably too controversial for the landlord and the city. But I wondered if I could just bokashi compost my TP instead. I’m a “primitive” bidet user (pre-COVID) so I don’t use as much TP, I think, as a non-bidet user. Has anyone tried composting TP???
 
Eliot Mason
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Not sure about TP, but I think I heard in this podcast on the topic that they treat cardboard pizza boxes.  I think that's a "yes".

https://www.thepermaculturepodcast.com/2020/reducing-food-waste-an-introduction-to-bokashi-matt-arthur/
 
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Cool. I read the thing on the link but will take a listen to the podcast. I guess my main concern if the bleach used to make TP white is okay to compost and bury. I don’t grow anything where the compost is buried (there’s not enough sunlight) although there’s this type of sapling that thrives there and then gets ripped out by the landlord.
 
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I've put about 750ml of fermented food wastes (including chopped onion and lemon peels) in my worm bin and I've not seen any worms running for the hills or strong odours. But then it's only been a few weeks. I'd like to put in two piles, one fermented, the other not, and see if one disappears faster than the other.
 
s. lowe
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Leah Holder wrote:A friend recently sent me a Bokashi kit and quite frankly I’m a little skeptical.  How can promoting anaerobic organisms help the overall well-being of my plants? Won’t that just stifle the growth of the good stuff? I know you explained a bit Dr. R, but I could use a little more if someone doesn’t mind.
    My original question is actually about pigeon manure. Can using Bokashi kill pathogens in my pigeon manure, making it safe enough to add to my working compost, incase I don’t make temperature? Will the flush of anaerobic EM counteract the aerobic progress of my pile? And lastly, would a bucket of Bokashi be beneficial dumped into the center of my hugelkultur mound? Thanks in advance, I’m loving it here.❤️


My experience has been that the fermentation with bokashi has two major advantages. The first is that it allows for a contained process to build up food scraps until they are at a volume that will compost instead of just attracting rats. The second is that I have found that I can compost everything from our kitchen including meat, bones after theyre made into stock, cheese, cardboard/to go packaging, grease, everything.
My observation is that when the fermented kitchen waste is put into our drainage barrel it is quickly colonized by what I believe to be actinomycetes. Then, when it is combined with the browns into the original compost pile it heats up really well and is absolutely swarmed by fungi (which often fruit prolifically once the pile cools a bit) and worms. When it is turned once there is still some larger chunks that aren't broken down but it is quickly swarmed by fungi again and I am left with a dense compost that my garden seems to love.
I don't know that it would be worth it if we had more space because I could make simpler compost systems, but the ability to compost animal parts does , I think, make for a particularly humus rich product. I also think that using bokashi could allow for a very easy no turn system. I turn mine because we have so little space that I often need to make more room in the compost system for incoming kitchen waste.

As for buying stuff, I don't think you need to. I've had great success by making my own bokashi (just seems to mean a fermented grain bran, basically a substrate to house the em and dose it into the food you want to ferment) and even buying organic wheat husks and commercial EM1 I could make a years supply for less than $100. Of course you can also source free options for the substrate, coffee chaff worked really well for me, I've also heard cocoa husks work well. Both can be found free from local places that make coffee or chocolate.
 
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I've made bokashi bran with LAB (lacto-bacillus serum) and spent brewer's grain. You can replace the LAB with whey, yoghurt drippings, sauerkraut juice or sourdough.

In my mind, the main advantage of bokashi is that you can  "pre-digest" meat and fat, which can't be processed in a worm bin. I once bakashi-pickled a whole Christmas Turkey carcass, the bones went soft! Put in the bottom of a tomato planter, covered with potting soil, no bones were to be found after the season was over. However, you can't add bokashi straight to a worm bin as it is too sour.
So if you have lots of meat/bones and fat to process, this might be a solution. I have chickens so I don't need to do this, sometimes I make up a bucket if I have a lot of bones at once.
 
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If anyone can post pictures of their set-up and info on where they keep their bins, how often they add whatnot and dump things, I would appreciate it. I'm hoping to set-up a system in the near future but I don't want to reinvent the wheel or spend an unnecessary amount of money on special bokashi bins...

I'm thinking an old cooler with a spigot should work as an outer container for smaller perforated buckets to keep and dump the main mass. I can probably find one that someone doesn't really want to use for food anymore in the waste stream.

I'm not sure where I'd keep my spare rice bran for easy access if I do this inside... it seems to attract some little critters at room temperature.
 
Tereza Okava
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L. Johnson wrote: set-up and info on where they keep their bins


Hey Lew,
so here is how I do it.
I make the "serum" using rice wash water and then milk.
I mix that into bran, usually I can only get wheat bran (and it's pricey), so I will usually do 2 or 3 kg of bran with the liter or two of liquid that I have. I mix these together and leave it in a small plastic barrel with a lid, I top it with a plastic bag to keep it moist (don't confuse it with the barrel of miso! It's the grayish barrel with what looks like coffee grounds in the bottom). This is the "concentrate", and I use it to mix up the actual sprinkle. Using the concentrate, I can often go a year without mixing up the serum again.
I mix the bran concentrate with sawdust and keep it in another barrel (blue barrel). This current batch I mixed up yesterday uses wood pellets from my daughter's pet rats, which is an experiment. Usually I use sawdust I get from the nice folks who run our local lumberyard (paid for with baked goods). Sawdust is a much more realistic ingredient for me, so I was glad to see blogs recommending it. It's all different kinds of wood (pine, eucalyptus, semi-tropical hardwoods) and the mold clearly grows on it.
Both of these are kept outside on my back porch, and both close tight (I have lots of mice).

The actual compostables go into a large bucket with a lid that I drilled a hole in to put a spigot (black bucket, right now it is quite low and you can only see the bokashi sawdust on top of some eggshells). Between the acidity of the leachate and the strong sun here the spigots clog and then break so quickly I can't keep up, so at this point I have the barrel just draining directly onto the ground (here, onto Mr Miserable Moringa, who could use a pepup). I like having the spigot as opposed to continuous drain because it gets smelly, so my solution is to keep it down in the bottom of the garden where the smell doesn't bother anyone. Initially I tried keeping it closed, with no drainage, and I didn't see a difference in terms of final product, so if I were to do it again I might just keep the bucket intact. I keep the lid on tight, but with the hole in the bottom mice do venture in when the bucket is not full. When the bucket is full, the mice hang around under it.

Finally, when the bucket is full I take some old dirt (usually from containers that are done for the season) and put it in this old trash can I found and drilled holes into (top, bottom, sides). I put some roots or vines or something in the bottom and then add alternating layers of the bokashi and then the dirt, topping it with some dirty bedding from the rabbit cages. This is also in the garden, far from the house, again because of mice (the only time it smells is the day you initially fill it). After 2-3 weeks it is compost, and I dig it out for use.
During these few weeks, it also attracts lizards and birds, who are probably going after the bugs that climb in and out. When I dump this trash can I try to keep what it is in the bottom (sometimes in fact the bottom takes longer to rot, so I use part at a time) because it's just teeming with worms and their eggs. If I didn't have any worms to start with I might get some humus/worm castings to make sure they are there.

My suggestion to you, being in a place where bran is pretty easily sourced, is to only mix up as much as you can use (a barrel) and keep it in something that closes tightly.

Photos do not seem to want to attach in the right order; the order for my process is as follows:
gray barrel
blue barrel
black bucket
greenish trash can with led
20211001_143301.jpg
concentrated microorganism bran
concentrated microorganism bran
20211001_143355.jpg
bokashi bucket with compostables and bran sprinked on top
bokashi bucket with compostables and bran sprinked on top
20211001_143421.jpg
trash bin holding bokashi maturing with dirt
trash bin holding bokashi maturing with dirt
20211001_143332.jpg
bran mixed with sawdust
bran mixed with sawdust
 
L. Johnson
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Thank you for that detailed write up! The details about critters are especially enlightening.

Now I can begin to see the possibilities... And envision some future challenges. I think I'll invest some time in coming up with a good system design before I take the plunge.

I had been thinking about doing it inside, but only because I didn't realize outside was an option. But why not right? That certainly frees up a lot of placement options.
 
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