Bokashi + vermiculture = Zero Waste composting

How do Bokashi and vermiculture work together? Very well! Read on for how I’ve incorporated worm farming into my apartment composting regimen to create a zero waste composting system. 

I got worms.

Actually, my partner got worms. He ordered 1000 red wigglers from the council. The worms are for composting, or vermiculture, and the local council subsidizes them as well as various composting equipment to encourage home composting.

One of the reasons councils are taking this approach is to avoid the steep levy increases that are the byproduct of landfills reaching capacity in the Sydney region. Yep, trash is expensive to truck around to hours outside the city. Maybe we should make less of it?

They came in a plastic bag with a hole poked into it inside a cardboard box.

Why worms, why now?

I’ve wanted to try vermiculture for a while, but limited space and harsh elements in our last place meant sticking to un-screw-uppable Bokashi method composting. We recently moved to a place with a larger and more sheltered outdoor space and I had been thinking again about getting worms.

My partner is normally tolerant and supportive, but not necessarily enthused about compost, so this worm purchase surprised, delighted and confused me. Then I found out he wanted to set them free in the open air garden bed on our patio.

Intervention time.

My philosophy is that if you want people to board Spaceship Earth, you don’t always be telling them they’re wrong. In the end we made a compromise wherein he let 250 worms go free range, and left me to care for the 750 that remained. Is this preparation for having children, or what?*

But where will they live?

Since he ordered worms but no worm farm, I assembled a temporary structure for them with the essentials: darkness, moisture, drainage, and shelter from both wind and sun. What this means in practise is an upcycled reusable plastic mesh bag sitting in a salvaged milk crate with cardboard around the sides for protection. Just call me McGyver.

worm farm hack
Needs must.

This will have to do until I find a second hand worm farm or give in and buy a new one. I’m kicking myself for not taking the one I spied on the nature strip some months back. It’s not hoarding if it’s eventually useful, right?**

But I’m not giving up my Bokashi bin. I’m going to use both. Because while there are advantages and disadvantages to both, they actually work best together.

Bokashi v. worm farms

Let’s start with the fact that I heart Bokashi. It’s easy and did I mention, next to impossible to screw up? It takes just about anything, thrives on neglect and can be done inside your apartment. Bokashi is ideal for people who want to start composting in an apartment and need something low maintenance..

Worm farming is slightly advanced, in my opinion. You need to keep your new pets alive and comfortable, which means considering their habitat and diet. Worms are basically gluten free raw vegans who love coffee. A little more effort invested to accommodate them will reward you with gardeners gold – worm castings.

Worm treats.

Which method to choose? If you regularly kill houseplants, go with Bokashi. If you feel confident, try vermiculture. And if you have the room and the inclination – do both. Why? First, let’s get pedantic.

Bokashi is not really composting

Bokashi is not composting in the traditional sense, mostly because when you empty the bin, it still needs to process in the ground or a compost heap before you can use it on plants. So while I call Bokashi bin contents ‘compost’ for simplicity’s sake, it’s not quite the same thing as what a proper compost system produces. It’s more like pre-compost.

Burying the Bokashi bin contents. Mix in and cover with soil.
Burying the Bokashi bin contents. Mix in and cover with soil.

Worm castings, the solid waste produced from worm farms, are actual compost that can be used directly on the garden. If you don’t have or want a garden, don’t worry, they are easy to give away – just find a gardener nearby. The reason gardeners love worm castings is that when worms digest food, the process results in better nutrient bioavailability for plants. Which means healthy, productive plants and more food from the kitchen garden.

vermiculture in focus
Reg wiggler worms in a thin layer of compost, pre-feed.

Fun fact – there are many animals that help to compost, including soldier flies and salamanders (sort of). Why is worm farming better known? My guess is that worms> flies for most of us.

Benefits of a combined Bokashi + vermiculture system:

Back to why I’m going to keep my Bokashi bin along with starting vermiculture.

Learning by doing

We moved recently to a place with a larger outdoor space, so we’re not being forced to pick one system. I’m keen to know more about worm farming in general and the best way to learn is by doing, seeing and experiencing.

Better soil

Since we’re still south facing, my plants can probably use all the help they can get to grow lush and strong. Healthy plants start with healthy soil. Worm farms produce better fertilizer. This is a vote for the worms.

Landfill diversion

My primary motivation to compost has been diversion of material waste from landfill. Bokashi lets me divert the most, since worms don’t like citrus, onions, garlic, spicy food, cooked food, meat or dairy, all of which happen in my household. This means the Bokashi bin remains a key part of my Zero Waste practise.

Managing volume

I have yet to see how much volume the worms can handle, but since I make most of the food we eat at home and from scratch, we produce a decent amount of organic food scrap (even when taking pains to avoid food waste). The worms will get what they like best, the Bokashi bin will get the rest plus any surplus volume, and eventually, the worms wil get the pre-digested Bokashi contents (see my next point).

Moving toward a closed loop system

The best reason of all to use a Bokashi bin and a vermiculture system for composting is to move toward a closed loop system, which is what Zero Waste is all about. Instead of taking the Bokashi bin contents somewhere offsite (via the compost exchange) I’ll be able to feed them into the worm farm, and then use the worms’ output to feed my own plants. Worms will eat the stuff they typically don’t like, but only after a bit of fermentation happens in the Bokashi bin. This means a thriving kitchen garden without external fertilizers, and the scraps from the food I grow can go back into the compost – full circle.

Next up, aquaculture?***

Now your turn….

If you want to get started, look up your suburb via The Compost Revolution, a council sponsored initiative throughout Australia that subsidizes the cost of composting equipment for residents. Discounts of 25%-100% on retail costs are available.

Not sure about Bokashi? Have a peruse through my bokashi posts to see what I compost with this method and ways to dispose of the solid waste that results (if not setting up a dual system like I’ve just described).

Happy composting friends.

 *I’m not referring to the worms
**My infamous dry wit. Did you know I’m hilarious? Not as hilarious as my cousin Shelley though.
***Not kidding

2 thoughts on “Bokashi + vermiculture = Zero Waste composting

  1. I’d read that you can’t put bokashi “pre-compost” directly into a vermi-composting system because it’s too acidic to start with for the worms (they’ll die). Did you run into this and how did you solve it?

    1. Hi Ashley,

      I should update this post, because I never got to the point of feeding my bokashi bin contents to the worms in my worm farm. A few reasons for that. I realised it would be tricky to feed the full volume from the bokashi bin. It’s also a bit smelly to leave bokashi uncovered, so out of respect for my upstairs neighbours, I bury it under a layer of dirt instead. I have a small built-in garden bed on the patio where I do this. What I found from doing this is that bokashi attracts tons of worms, and they process the scraps pretty quickly. So I don’t think bokashi would kill them from acidity, but I suspect a large volume would overwhelm and possibly throw off the balance of their habitat in a regular sized worm farm. If you put a small amount in a worm farm, as long as they have some area to escape to (such as the ‘living room’ floor), they will be able to move away from the mixture if it’s making them uncomfortable. Sometimes I think it’s worth just trying things. For a long time I was giving my houseplants full strength bokashi liquid and lots of it. Turns out you’re supposed to dilute it, but the plants thrived in spite of it 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.