Two hands holding dirt

The Bokashi Method: A more efficient way to compost

Nick Kiss was involved in Metro Vancouver’s waste industry for 14 years prior to starting Bokashi Living in 2013. 

“I was part of the change and the effort that Metro Vancouver was implementing in trying to create diversion strategies for the waste stream,” he explained.

He and his wife have been visiting Cortes Island every summer for years and now hope to find a home here. In this morning’s interview NIck explains why he believes in the Bokashi method of composting. 

NIck Kiss – submitted photo

NK:  “What always bothered me when I was in the waste management industry, was the amount of food waste that was being produced and nothing was being done with it. It was going to the landfill mostly, which  is a terrible thing to do with food waste  because when they rot they turn into methane which is a terrible greenhouse gas contributor.” 

“Any homeowner who does have a garden that they care about can stand to receive a great benefit if they deal with their food waste properly, and have a simple way to get it back into the soil.”

“I met up with two other individuals who were in a similar position, both with lots of experience and a little bit of time on their hands and a keen desire to try to affect change on a larger level  than our own personal lifestyles. We collectively decided  to make it our mission to try to educate North America on a new way of dealing with their food waste.” 

CC: How is the Bokashi method different from the way that millions of people are already composting?

NK: “When we’re composting, any kind of composting really, we’re just trying to be a steward of microbes. We’re trying to create a home that’s as attractive as possible so that the correct microbes that we want to encourage will come to it, thrive and do the work of composting. Composting is really just microbes at work.” 

“When we’re dealing with traditional composting, it’s the outdoor pile or bin or cone that most gardeners have in their garden. They’re feeding that pile with organic material. The microbes  in that pile are aerobic, meaning that they want oxygen.”

“Our composting with Bokashi is anaerobic, meaning we want no air. It’s a fundamental difference in the set of bacteria and the microbes that are involved doing the process. Anaerobic is also known as fermentation, which many people are keenly aware of nowadays, and its inherent benefit of generating probiotics, fermented foods and such. What we’re doing with Bokashi composting is fermenting all our food waste.” 

“There’s a number of advantages that come with that versus traditional composting.”

“The number one advantage in my mind is that you can ferment all of your food waste. No longer are we sorting or separating or high grading our food waste into just the vegetable waste, which most people are familiar with composting. When you’re fermenting, if it’s food waste coming from your kitchen it can go into your Bokashi bin: whether it’s meat, dairy, bread or cooked food. If you can eat it,  if it comes from your plate: then you can put it into your Bokashi bin and ferment it.” 

“The fermentation process is really just microbes doing their thing, which is inoculating that food waste thoroughly multiplying, taking it over even though we don’t see them. That’s what’s happening.” 

“When we ferment our food waste with these microbes, that food waste becomes very attractive to the soil ecology.  The biota that exists in our healthy soil, we dig it down into our gardens and the organisms that are in the garden will thrive off it and very quickly assimilate into the soil structure.”

“It’s quite foolproof. It’s quite easy,  non-technical, and it’s very fast, even though it’s a mouthful  The fermentation process in the Bokashi bin takes about 2 to 3 weeks for your foods that are in the bin, and the Bokashi bin is really just a bucket with an airtight lid. It becomes fermented, and then we dig it into the garden. After another 2 to 3 weeks in the garden, that food waste is completely assimilated and gone into the soil web. The food waste from your kitchen is absorbed into the food web, and is helping the soil ecology of our gardens after 4 – 6 weeks.” 

CC: How fast would it normally take with composting? 

“There’s a number of ways that I can answer that question.”

“Many people are not getting great results from their composting and it’s not because it is bad or not as good or anything like that, but normal composting is more challenging. Those microbes are a bit more picky and they demand better conditions. If we do it correctly, which means working well in the normal composting, we can break down our food waste  in as little as several months. But most homeowners aren’t able to generate the perfect conditions for their piles, so it takes longer.  What I found, even in my trying to be a perfect home composter, certain items,  like avocado peels for example, in a year to a year and a half, they would come out of my compost pile looking exactly the same. They didn’t break down.”

“With the normal composting process, there are three key requirements to keep those microorganisms happy.  We need a certain size pile, which will help with heat.  If the pile is too small, it’s not going to get the heat that it needs to encourage these microbes to come and do that breakdown.  We also want to see a certain moisture level in that pile. If it’s too wet, it won’t thrive and if it’s too dry, it won’t thrive.  Also those microbes want air. So we need to toss and turn and poke that pile from time to time to give them air.  That’s probably the key area where in my experience most homeowners fail on their home composting, they don’t aerate their pile enough.”

“Their compost pile just becomes a go-to place to dump into, but with no attention on aerating it, the pile can quickly collapse onto itself and become airtight: which will greatly deter those microorganisms from coming to it.”

“What happens when they don’t come? Rotting will occur, the negative microorganisms take over and putrefaction is the result. The pile will start to smell bad and not break down properly either.  It’ll become really, really messy, a yucky mess, which is not the goal of that type of posting.” 

“So, a long-winded version of answering your question is that food wastes in the normal home pile probably takes 6 to 18 months to see that breakdown happen.” 

“A further issue with the home pile is that you won’t be putting all of your food waste into it. Yes, you’re capturing your uncooked veggie waste, but the rest of the waste is going into the garbage in most cases. The cooked foods, meat, dairy, pasta and bread don’t perform well in the compost pile. Also, they attract rodents, pests and animals, which many people don’t want to encourage in their gardens.” 

“What I do in my workshops is to educate people not just the value of composting, but why composting helps.” 

“Composting is simply nature’s natural process. It’s the end result of everything that’s ever lived and breathed and died above it. It all falls into place and becomes a healthy living ecosystem for plant roots to thrive.”

“Our home gardens are anything but natural. They may be pretty, but remember a lot of our activity is spent raking, pruning, cutting, removing and eating all of that material that in nature was designed to fall to that floor,  refeed the plant  and build the soil ecology and the soil biology. Plant roots over millions of years have evolved to depend on microbes in order to thrive and feed themselves.  In fact, plant roots without microbes in the soil – if it’s just, let’s call it non-living soil – they won’t be able to access the nutrients and minerals that are in the soil.” 

“Much like our own bodies are relying on microbes in our systems, the plant roots are relying on microbes in the soil in order to thrive and be healthy.” 

“Factory farming over the last 60 years or so has done a fantastic job of killing off the biodiversity, ecology and the biology that’s in our soils. These attractive products that have made it onto the store shelves, which were once used mostly and exclusively by factory and large farms, are now available to the homeowner. These are fertilizers or plant foods that are synthetically based chemicals, will feed the plant. It’ll give it the basic food that the plant needs to live, but they dry out and kill off the microbes that are in the soil. We’re creating dead soil by feeding our plants these store-bought chemical and synthetic fertilizers.” 

“The result is that to continue growing in that soil, we need to keep using that product because the plants cannot feed themselves without it.” 

“When we compost, we’re rebuilding living soil and introducing that biology back into the soil.  We’re actually feeding the soil and in doing so, providing  a structure in the soil web for it to thrive.”  

“As a result, earthworms will move back in, the macro-organisms will move in, the bugs and  even the ants and all of these visual organisms that we see in healthy soil. When all of that is there, the plant roots will be able to thrive and the plant will be getting everything it needs all on its own from the soil.”  

“An interesting fact is that for many years we viewed plant roots  as a one-way highway, where water and nutrients were simply sucked up.”

“In fact, a plant root is a two-way highway and a plant sends incredibly about a third of the energy it receives from photosynthesis from the sun down into its roots. It’s sending its energy there with the intent of building what are called exudates across the plant roots, which  are sugary carbohydrate type structures with this specific goal of attracting microbes to the plant roots. The plant is hoping that there’s microbes in the soil. It’s expecting them to be there. So it’s releasing exudates across its root zone so that these microbes will come to feed on those exudates.  A symbiotic relationship, a harmonious relationship is established where the plant is helping the microbes, but the microbes are tremendously helping the plant. When the plant needs food,  it is getting it by those microorganisms, processing the nutrients and the minerals that are in the soils and releasing them in a plant-available format. That will result in a plant that gets everything it needs including the ability to fight off pests and diseases.”

“If  your plant is unhealthy for some reason, it can fight for itself because it’s getting what it needs. We don’t need to go to the store and buy products for it.” 

“That is why we’re composting and why we’re trying to feed the soil. I find that knowing that and understanding that, makes the chore and the work, and perhaps even at times, the yuckiness of composting become entirely worthwhile and acceptable, and in many cases even enjoyable. A good farmer really should be a good composter.”

 CC: Do you have any customers here in Cortes? 

NK: “When we started in 2013 we created a website. We were waiting to see where people came from. In Canada, it sort of took off. I don’t remember how long it took, but we had a little celebration ourselves once we saw that every province and every territory in Canada had bought  and used effectively our Bokashi system. Soon after we noticed that every one of the United States and even some of its territories like Guam and Puerto Rico were using the Bokashi system that we were providing. When we became familiar with Cortes Island, I noticed that actually there were some people on Cortes doing it. I don’t know if they know me in any way, but they’re obviously switched on to the idea of using their food waste  and reaping the benefits from it. 

CC: How long have you been coming to Cortes Island? 

NK: “We’ve been coming to Cortes Island for six years. We come here in the summers and, we actually became familiar with Cortes Island through a book that was written by Cortesian lady and it was called ‘This Crazy Time.’” 

 He’s referring to the book by Tzeoporah Berman.  

NK: “It wasn’t about Cortes, but the little bits that were about it made me keenly aware that Cortes seems like someplace I need to visit. So we came to this beautiful Island and had a great visit. We heard about your radio station, CKTZ, went back to our home and followed your radio station. A few of  your contributors to the station really resonated with us and we started to listen to their programming and in doing so, feeling connected to your community from a distance, but feeling intimately like  we were sharing your concerns and becoming interested in them and wanting to know more.”

“We’re living in North Vancouver at the moment, and the program that most caught us was Dancing Wolf’s program, Gaia Grooves. Through that we actually became quite close friends with Dancing Wolf to the point now that I consider him among my most valuable and cherished friends. ‘In the Muses Garden’ is another one, again by Dancing Wolf, that we follow.’

NIck later emailed, “My wife Robyn was listening in the background. She reads and listens to Cortes Currents every week. This, along with the CKTZ shows ‘Gaia Grooves,’ ‘From the Muses Garden,’ ‘Pranayama Pachamama’ and ‘Folk University all introduced us to the Cortes community and we are very grateful for that.” 

Cortes Radio has always had a strong following in Vancouver. In fact during the year’s I (Roy Hales) was CKTZ’s President and website administrator, from 2017-2021, we had almost as many visitors from Vancouver as Campbell River. I suspect this trend has grown stronger under my successor, Bryan McKinnon, who is a former President of Vancouver Co-op Radio.  

NK: “Through that process,  we started to visit the island more often, and now we’re in the process of trying to move here. So we’re actually looking to put down permanent roots and bring our lives here.” 

Top photo credit: Dirt in hand – Photo courtesy Bokashi Living

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