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Vermicomposting vs Bokashi

Vermicomposting or Bokashi? You decide!

I received an interesting e-mail query from a reader yesterday and it has inspired me to write a post comparing worm composting with bokashi. You may recall that I’ve previously written about ‘Hot Composting vs Vermicomposting‘, so it only makes sense that I throw bokashi into the mix, now that I’m becoming such a bokashi pro (ha ha)!

Ok, here are some bits and pieces taken from the emails I received from our reader, ‘JBB’ (second blurb is from another email they sent after I replied)

i read some of you articles, and i can’t find a comparison between
bokashi and vermicomposting.
I mean, i want to do home composting (without a garden), but i don’t
know which one to choose between bokashi and vermicomposting.
.
.
.
What makes me ask questions is the article about bokashi composting on
cityfarmer, where it say :
“that stuff does break down very fast in the soil, and that when I dig
in the area a month or two later it is absolutely WRITHING with earthworms.”
So maybe the two process are complementary, and bokashi is just the
start of a complete composting solution, where the worms are needed to
end the process …

This is an excellent question and I’m very glad JBB decided to e-mail me. I’m sure there are a lot of people trying to decide what waste management strategy (or variation thereof) will work best for them.

Let me start by saying that I am a firm believer in the notion that there is no one ‘be all, end all’ strategy out there – especially when we are talking about subjects relating to ‘sustainability’. The more I learn about all these various fascinating ways that ‘wastes’ are converted to resources (composting, vermicomposting, bokashi, aquaponics, recycling etc), the more I believe that they should all play a role, as part of a larger integrated whole.

Dr. John Todd’s various ‘Eco Machines‘ provide an excellent demonstration of this idea. I still remember vividly my first encounter with Dr. Todd’s work – almost certainly one of the turning points in my life in terms of the direction I wanted to head. It was a video I found online (sadly it is nowhere to be found now) that featured a system Dr. Todd set up in Burlington Vermont. It all started with brewery waste which was used to grow gourment Oyster mushrooms. The spent mushroom substrate was then fed to Red Worms, which were in turn used to feed Yellow Perch. Small (edible) shrimp helped to clean up fish waste, which was further assimilated by a wide assortment of plant (edible and ornamental). Multiple marketable ‘products’ were produced – all from a material that is considered a waste product!

It’s funny how the only ‘waste’ happening is the misuse of all these amazing resources (ie. dumping these materials in the landfill is a real ‘waste’, when they can be used for something else!).

Wow…ok, that ended up being WAY more of a tangent than I had intended!
😆

Back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The point of my blathering is that I’ve learned that there doesn’t always need to be a ‘best’ strategy. In fact the best approach often involves combining multiple different approaches. I think this definitely applies in the case of composting/bokashi/vermicomposting, and I get the feeling JBB was onto the same idea by the time they sent me the second e-mail.

OK, with that brain dump out of the way, let’s now talk about each of these techniques in more detail, and see if we can’t at least come up with some sort of comparison for JBB’s benefit.

You can learn more about bokashi in my ‘Bokashi Basics‘ post, but let’s quickly review the process. Bokashi is a primarily anaerobic waste management technique that involves the use of a microbially-inoculated bran mixture (called bokashi), combined with a wide assortment of organic waste materials in some sort of sealed container (typically a bucket).

Here are some of the advantages, once again:


Vermicomposting (a.k.a. ‘worm composting’) is the breakdown of organic wastes via the joint action of earthworms (those specialized for the task) and microorganisms. It involves the setting up of some sort of ‘worm bin’ containing bedding and of course worms. Food wastes are added and the worms process them as they decompose (feeding primarily upon the microbes that have colonized the materials).

Here again are some of the advantages of worm composting:

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18 comments

Read the comments left by other users below, or:

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com jbb
#1. January 8th, 2008, at 7:10 PM.

Well, thanks for the “little post” about it :p
You are conforting me in the idea that vermicomposting is what i need.
I only have to build a wormery and find some decently priced worms now.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Fumblina
#2. January 9th, 2008, at 9:05 PM.

Hi,

I have to admit I’m not a knowledgeable composter but I would advise JBB to go for the bokashi. Although technically I could keep my can-o-worms indoors its not half as practical as a bokashi bin. Also bokashi has the benefit of composting pretty much anything: unless you are a wholefood vegan (and I am sooo not that!) there will be plenty you have to chuck in the waste if you go worm route.

Also as for needing some place to put the bokashi end product – what do you plan to do do with their worm casts if you don’t have a garden? I would have thought both methods need somewhere to deposit the end material… but I have to admit that worm casts is MUCH more ‘user-friendly’ than bokashi left-overs! lol 🙂

I have have a garden so I bokashi, then add that to the worms, and hope for compost at the end. I am yet to find out how well it’s digested by the worms, but I been told it should be fine.
Cheers Fum 🙂

PS.. be careful about ‘overpriced’ worms JBB… it can be a real pain getting the barcode labels off them. (Sorry :S)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Karen
#3. January 10th, 2008, at 9:15 AM.

Great post. It’s a question that we get asked all the time. The only observation that I would make is that with bokashi you do need some outside space to either dig the waste directly into the ground or add it to a conventional compost heap. If space is at a premium, or you live in a flat/apartment a wormery is probably a better option as it can sit on a balcony or in a porch and you can use the compost in your pots or window box.

Karen, Wiggly Wigglers

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Compost Guy
#4. January 10th, 2008, at 10:54 AM.

Thanks for chiming in, everyone! Great to get opinions from both sides.
8)

I guess my take on it is that worm castings as an end product seems more desirable than fermented bokashi. The former would be highly stabilized, and thus could be bagged and stored in your apartment, used in potted plants, or simply given to friends/family.

I definitely appreciate the ‘ease-of-use’ advantage of bokashi, as well as the expanded range of compostable materials though!
Anyway, I can’t wait till my own bokashi is ready for use! It’s going to be fun testing it out for myself.

B.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com jbb
#5. January 10th, 2008, at 6:52 PM.

In fact, i don’t have a garden.
The compost made would be use for indoor plants, or to be given to relative with garden.
This is why, as Compost Guy mentionned, vermicomposting makes more sens because the end product take much less volume and is directly usable.

I will definitevely give bokashi a try, but that would be when i’ll own a garden, which may not be tomorow 😀

Thanks for your input !

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com GRAHAM
#6. January 13th, 2008, at 2:39 PM.

HI BENTLEY
I HAVE BEEN READING ALL THE POSTS ETC. ON BOKASHI, VERMICOMPOSTING ETC.
HAS ANYONE ACTUALLY FED THE PICKLED END PRODUCT TO THE WORM BIN?? WOULD THE WORMS BREAK IT DOWN ANY FASTER THAN IN THE GARDEN?? WOULD THE WORMS BENIFIT FROM THE PROCESS??
GRAHAM (junior worm guy/Bojashi guy)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com jbb
#7. January 13th, 2008, at 5:34 PM.

You can have a look at http://thegreenfingeredphotographer.blogspot.com/2007/07/bokashi-and-wormery.html, where i saw that vermicomposting and bokashi can be used altogether 😀

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com jbb
#8. January 13th, 2008, at 5:35 PM.

the address was bogus, it is http://thegreenfingeredphotographer.blogspot.com/2007/07/bokashi-and-wormery.html (without the “,”)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Compost Guy
#9. January 16th, 2008, at 10:02 PM.

Hi Graham,
I’ll definitely be trying this out myself once I have a finished bokashi bucket to use!

Thanks for sharing the link, JBB!

B.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Holly in Detroit
#10. January 22nd, 2008, at 8:00 PM.

Graham,

I have recently began using bokashi and vermicomposting in tandem (I’m new to bokashi, but have been vermicomposting for a couple of years). The worms definately eat the food waste much faster, and though I haven’t had the finished castings formally tested through a soil lab (yet)…, (insert completely unscientific observation HERE) the resulting castings- so far- look, feel, and smell better. Who knew worm castings could actually smell *better*, since castings already smell like heaven…

Oh yeah, and I seem to have a bit of a breeding rally going on- since I’ve been adding the bokashi, I have many more worm casings/ baby worms. My worm bin is makin’ babies like crazy.

Oh yeah– and Comopst guy, I really love your site.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Compost Guy
#11. January 23rd, 2008, at 4:21 PM.

Thanks for sharing, Holly.
I can’t wait to try this out myself!

Thanks also for the compliments! Hoping to develop the site a lot more in coming months!

B

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com graham
#12. February 9th, 2008, at 4:48 PM.

Hi Al
my worms are doing really great, lots of little guys showing up.
I have two buckets of Bokashi working. I tried putting some Bokashi on top of one of my worm bins and the whole top of the bin became quite firm and covered with white fungi. I didn’t wait to see what would happen, thinking of harm to the worms, so I cleaned off the whole top layer of the bin. There was no sign of worms in this area.
SORRY I HIT THE TAB KEY AND I THINK IT SENT MY COMMENT TO SOON.
As a result I’m a little hesitant to add the finished product from my bokashi bin to the worms because of the fungi.
In regard to the Bokashi bins. The juice from the bin is good to use on the plants etc. but if I leave this in a container in undiluted
form white fungi growth appears on top. This apparently is actomycetes which are natural antibiotics. This liquid is volatile and can turn pathogenic if kept for extended periods.
So my question is how can you keep the juice on tap to be used on the garden or for watering plants? Also I was told not to spray the juice on the plant foilage.

ANY COMMENTS APPRECIATED (ALSO FROM HOLY IN DETROIT)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Compost Guy
#13. February 11th, 2008, at 9:08 PM.

Hi Graham,
I certainly don’t have Al’s bokashi expertise (hopefully he’ll see your comment), but let me offer my thoughts on the worm front. I’ve literally had mushrooms spring up in my outdoor worm bin, and plenty of other fungal growths along the way. Definitely don’t be afraid of fungi – don’t forget, composting worms actually feed on various fungi and other microbes.
That being said, excessive mycelial mats can be an indication of low pH conditions (unlike bacteria, fungi often thrive in acidic conditions) – which makes sense given the fact that bokashi is a fermentation (acid producing) process.
What I would personally do is add the bokashi in small amounts and see how the worms manage – but definitely don’t give up on the whole thing. You could be missing out on a serious worm delicacy!
😉

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Holly in Detroit
#14. February 12th, 2008, at 2:58 PM.

Graham, I didn’t have excessive fungal growth- a little, but nothing I was concerned about. CG was right, I only put a little in, and as well, I buried the waste rather deep under the surface and under a lot of damp top-bedding. I’m new to bokashi, so I proceeded with caution.

A few questions–
How is the overall health of your biosphere?
Do you have a lot of other critters in there?
If the bin is new, did you innoculate the bin with finished compost or garden soil?
Is the bin indoors or out?
Is the bin well-established- at least a year old or more?
Did the bin already have a lot of finished castings in it?

A well-established bin can handle almost anything is small amounts. it’s harder for a young bin to adjust to new methods or additions, especially if it’s a lot of “new” of anything at once. I don’t think I’d put a lot, or any, of bokashi’d waste in a young bin.


On my end, I’ve stopped feeding anything for now- I’ve recently upgraded to the Worm Wigwam (20 lbs of worms just to start the bin) and the bin needs to settle for at least a month or more. Scaling up my bokashi feeding in this giant bin should be really interesting, but I’m going to wait a while until it’s more stable in there.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Graham
#15. February 25th, 2008, at 5:51 PM.

HI Holly in Detroit and Composy Guy
Sorry for the delay in answering but I have Been away. The bin I added the Bokashi to was fairly new. There were food scraps in direct
contact with the Bokashi so I guess it just did the natural thing.
Since the removal of the fungi etc. the bin is thriving. I have a mixture
of shredded leaves, paper and cardboard (this I wet down with left
over tea) and worms of course. The bin is housed in my heated
garage. In regard to the Bokashi juice, I have some in a plastic
container in the fridge, after 1 week there is no sign fo any
fungi growth. Good luck with the worm wigwam Holly.
TNX FOR THE HELP

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Adam
#16. June 4th, 2012, at 11:06 PM.

I’m just now getting into bokashi. It’s very interesting and I’m curious if the meats and things will break down enough to throw into my worm bins. I’ll be doing a Bently-type experiment with one bin to see how they react when I throw bokashi with all foods in it. I’m really curious about meats, dairy, and oily foods, but also salty foods. If any experts know this information, please chime in.

Thanks,

Adam

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Yeti
#17. December 30th, 2012, at 4:34 PM.

Hey all,
I know this article is long dead but I’ve been surfing these very questions for some time. I have been using bokashi composting and just filled my second bucket, the first finishing now, and am excited to find a good way to mingle this system with the worm factory.

I believe that the white fungi are plenty good for decomposition and exist in parallel with worms in almost any sort of compost bin. They are very common in animal manure/straw mixtures. Surprisingly I used the juice every few days from the 3wk fermented bucket on a fresh built 4x4x4 compost pile of my garden waste and have never seen so much of this white fungi so immediately, and have also never seen a pile diminish so quickly. It was dropping inches every day in height. Generally I see inches/week on these sized piles.

My plan with the full bokashi bucket is to add an equal part to twice as much of a mixture of paper scraps/egg cartons/peat moss/coco coir/leaf duff/leaves/whatever I have around. I will also add my mixture of minerals that I add to my soil amendments, including basalt, bentonite, oyster shell powder, and glacial rock dust. To this mixture I will be experimenting with the quantity needed of oyster shell powder to balance the pH as I have read a fully pickled bucket will generally gives pH readings as low as 3.0, which is probably quite a bit lower than any worms would prefer.

Hope this helps and if anyone still cares, feel free to respond.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Yeti
#18. December 30th, 2012, at 4:47 PM.

Oh and by the way, my hopes are that with this formulation of sorts I can quickly blend a fermented bucket, establish a curing time for the bokashi to inoculate the bedding materials aerobically and for the minerals to bring the pH up a little(~1wk), fill worm factory trays and forget it. The worms will get to it when they are ready. My thoughts are that they will process it much more quickly than they would conventional kitchen scraps.

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