Bokashi in  Japan

The word, “bokash”, in Japanese  means “obscuring the direct effectiveness”. In 1961, Japan enacted the “Fundamental Law of Agriculture” in hopes of increasing the poor rural farmers economic horizon. Soon afterwards the Japanese government began to teach these same poor farmers how to grow organically with inexpensive fermenting and composting techniques. By the early 1970’s  the farmers (on their own initiative) invented a fast method to decompose their organic feed stocks and at the same time have a slower nutrient release.

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Bocashi in the West

The  word “bokashi” has been slightly modified in the West to “bocashi”. The word “bocashi” comes up in conversations, recipes and literature concerning composting, quite often. I have noticed that the word is used loosely to signify some sort of Japanese compost making recipe. But there is really no knowledge of how it originated, it’s reasons why nor how. The bocashi making recipes normally refer to a compost to be used as fertilizer or  as an anaerobic, home, kitchen system which neatly composts your meals leftovers under the sink.  No method is right nor wrong. I take my hats off to the Japanese ancestors for working with composts a whole lot longer than us internet, newbies to organics.

Recently I was taking classes at INA (Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje) in Cartago, Costa Rica to see what variations they know concerning composting, microorganisms, bio-fermentation and organics in general. I found their longer standing faculty very knowledgable, energized and enthusiastic about teaching organics. During a field exersize one of the professors, Ing. Saolo Compos, mentioned Bocashi. I immediately jumped on the opportunity to get his tale on exactly what he was referring to when using the word. Here is what he said:

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Original Bocashi Recipe in Costa Rica

Bocashi making here in Costa Rica uses a special recipe introduced from Japan. The Japanese came here to Cost Rica some 20 years ago and gave microorganism use instructions to a few interested groups including Coopebrisa in the Zarsero area. To this day they thefarmers in Zarcero are still practicing what was taught them so long ago. In any case my understanding of the original bocashi recipe is the following:

Bocashi Components

  • 1 part- Semolina, rice bran or a component similar with plenty of carbohydrates for microorganism energy
  • 1 part- Powdered charcoal, or what is called Biochar these days
  • 2 parts- chicken or cow manure
  • 2 parts- rice hulls
  • 6 parts- virgin soil
  • 60% humidity- Plenty of water with a 30% raw sugar content such as molasses.
  • 1 part- Microorganisms (EM or MM)

Bocashi Protocol

In making bocashi, the general idea is to have all the components mixed evenly fro even fermentation. This is usually accomplished placing the rice hulls on the bottom first, then making consecutive layers of the other components, mixing them well at the end. The entire mix should containing a 60% moisture level. This level is usually understood to mean wetting the components as the layers are laid until they are evenly moistened similar to a sponge that is wrong out. The moisture lets the microbes move about and gives them a place to deposit their metabolites. The MM or EM microorganisms are prepared before hand and normally placed in a backpack pump and sprayed evenly over each layer as it is laid down.

The pile is covered with plastic and let to ferment. The temperature rises to 70C within as little as 24 hours. The pile is turned every day so as to keep the components degrading aerobically. Within 8 days the bocashi should be close to stabilizing and cooling off. This signifies the process is complete.

With so little time in compost mode, much of the nitrogen is still in the ammonium NH4+ phase of decomposition. But when it is added as an amendment to pots and crops, nitrosomonas and eventually nitrobacter bacterias convert it into soluble and usable nitrate, NO3- for plant uptake. These last decomposition steps release the nitrates little at a time to the potted plant. This creates, in effect, a slow release type of compost/fertilizer… called Bocashi in the west and Bokashi in the east.