Soil Factory Using Bokashi Ferment

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Robert Pavlis

I am seeing the term soil factory used more often, usually in discussions about Bokashi or Vermicomposting. I’ll restrict this blog to discussions about Bokashi, but most of the comments also apply to Vermicomposting.

It is claimed that Bokashi ferment, the material remaining after the fermentation process, can be used to make soil, which can then be used for house plants or in the garden. This would be quite a feat if true. It takes nature millions of years to make soil and now Bokashi enthusiasts can do it in a couple of weeks.

Bokashi Soil Factory, by GardenMyths.com
Bokashi Soil Factory, by GardenMyths.com

Soil Factory Using Bokashi

How does the soil factory work? The following description from the Bokashi Composting Guide is a good explanation of the process.

“Making Your Own Potting Soil: To create your own soil factory you will need a large open container or tub. First add a layer of used soil (20 litres), then dump in the contents of your Bokashi bucket and break apart the waste. Next add another 20 litres of soil and mix it into the fermented waste. Finally top off with another 20 litres of soil and ensure that all the contents are moist but not wet. After a few weeks you will have a good supply of an amazing nutrient rich potting soil.” (ref 1)

Soil Science for Gardeners book by Robert Pavlis

I wonder how much soil you produce? I’d guess it is just 60 liters, the amount of soil you started with. A pail of Bokashi ferment is mostly water. A small amount of organic matter would be added to the soil but would have almost no effect on the volume of soil.

Soil consists of dead organic matter, sand, silt and clay. A soil factory does not produce any sand, silt or clay so it does not produce soil. The term soil factory is very misleading.

Statements like “A soil factory is a place where you produce high quality nutrient rich soil”, are just plain wrong. It does not produce soil, and there is no evidence that the resulting product is ‘high quality’ or ‘nutrient rich’. The soil structure has not changed. The only thing that has happened is that it has a higher level of organic material, but this organic material has not started to decompose as explained in Bokashi vs Composting.

Benefits of a Soil Factory

The term Soil Factory may be a poor selection, but there are some real benefits to it. I first became aware of the procedure of adding Bokashi ferment to soil through social media; it seems to be a more common practice in Scandinavian countries. In a few weeks the fermented kitchen scraps plus soil are turned into something that looks like soil. You no longer see the pickled scraps.

I gave the method a try and sure enough the fermented material falls apart fairly quickly and seems to dissolve in the soil.

The benefit for the home owner is that they don’t need a garden to get rid of their Bokashi ferment. They can do it right in their home and the resulting soil can then be used for house plants or planting containers. This certainly makes Bokashi more appealing for people living in apartments.

What Does the Soil Factory Produce?

The stories I heard from Finland and Sweden claimed that the Bokashi ferment decomposed in a couple of weeks after being added to soil. I haven’t found a single study that looks at what happens to the ferment once it is added to soil. To our eyes it seems to disintegrate into the soil, but decomposition is a chemical process and we humans can’t see it happening.

We do know that decomposition is a slow process that happens in the presence of both bacteria and fungi. Knowing this, it is almost a certainty that the soil produced by the soil factory does not contain decomposed material. It might look like finished compost, but it’s not.

Traditional bin composting takes months, and even so-called finished compost still takes years to complete the decomposition process.

The result of the soil factory consists of the added soil plus un-decomposed organic matter. There is nothing wrong with that. The real value of organic matter is that it decomposes slowly over time – that is a good thing.

A New Type of Soil Factory

While experimenting with this process I decided to try an improved soil factory method. The current method requires that the soil and Bokashi ferment sit for a couple of weeks. My new method eliminates this two week waiting period, making it much faster.

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.

References:

  1. Bokashi Composting Guide; http://www.greencalgary.org/index.php/download_file/view/493/343/
  2. What is Bin Composting?; https://www.gardenmyths.com/compost-what-is-compost/

 

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

53 thoughts on “Soil Factory Using Bokashi Ferment”

  1. Thanks to everyone for the information and idea exchange, I’m enjoying learning about composting, fermenting and I’m hoping to find a way to accelerate breakdown of organic matter, simply, for free. I happen to make kombucha and decided to try using leftover SCOBYs inspired by Bokashi system merged with the concept of compost tea. Moreover, I feel quite strongly that 1.) Bokashi sounds like garbage extortion, 2.) bran should be eaten, 3.) composting is about using what we have, not about purchasing more products, and 4.) I don’t want vermin in my yard or kitchen— I want this stuff contained and not right next to me. I started a liquid compost bucket with water, chopped food scraps, SCOBYs, and recently began adding partly decomposed leaves (instead of bran) which have abundant carbon and fungi. Once the smell becomes less evil, I’ll try it out! I plan to dilute it and use it like “compost tea” on an untilled area in my yard and add a few baby plants to see if they like it, also will add to a few bald patches in my yard to see if it makes them more/less bald. This evil brew has been fermenting & moldy for about a month now and still seems to need more processing but the mold and stank are abating. According to Bokashi I should not stir it and according to composting I should, so I let both processes happen: after it’s fermented 5 days or so, I stir it to aerate and to see/smell what’s happening. Then I add another SCOBY (follows my kombucha cycle) and leave it alone for another 5-7 days. I was hoping for Bokashi timeline but am still hopeful to have a bioavailable liquid that doesn’t kill my plants within a month. I suppose I’ll check it’s pH before applying it. If too acidic I could add some wood ash.

    Reply
  2. Would you say this is more like a soil recharger than a factory? It doesn’t produce new soil as you pointed out because the level of sediment stays the same or decreases. But does it seem to at least somewhat replenish in the soil what it consumed by plants? In this way it could be used to fertilize spent soil.

    Reply
    • Good point Ben. “Soil factory” was coined (by Jenny Harlen, Bokashiworld) to contrast with simply digging into target soil. The “factory” is a separate patch/bin/whatever from which regenerated soil is moved where and when needed.
      I use one and I include spent soil and compost from pots, etc, but it MUST also have good living soil to provide a full range of soil life to consume the ferment, bloom, release nutrients and die to add Soil Organic Carbon. (EM is just a fermentation starter and Mayer’s 4 year study – ref elsewhere in this blog – says it does nothing for the soil except add bran).
      Sadly people read more into ‘factory’ than Jenny intended.
      This here is closer to a factory: http://farmertofarmerblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/making-bocashi-fertilizer.html
      It seems to be what most of the world thinks of as bokashi. Our rich guys’ food waste process is a derivative.

      Reply
      • @Malcom
        OK that’s what I was thinking, that you’d need to start with garden soil that actually contains soil microbes.
        Appreciate the resource on “true” Bokashi!

        Reply
        • ” garden soil that actually contains soil microbes” – all garden soil contains microbes – even the most crappy soil.

          Reply

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