A Guide to EM Bokashi


August Weather Event 2022

Information relating to the recent weather event in Marlborough

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A Guide to EM Bokashi

All about EM

EM means effective micro-organisms. EM consists of mixed cultures of beneficial, naturally occurring micro-organisms such as lactic acid bacteria, yeast, photosynthetic bacteria and actinomycetes.

What is EM Bokashi?

The most effective method of composting kitchen organics is done in an air tight container using Bokashi as a compost starter. Bokashi is a Japanese term that means “fermented organic matter”. It is a bran-based material that has been fermented with EM liquid concentrate and dried for storage. Bokashi is a pleasant smelling product which you add to your bucket and aids in the fermentation of the organic matter. Always store EM Bokashi in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight. A kitchen cupboard is ideal.

How to use the EM Bokashi system

The key to making good quality Bokashi kitchen compost requires a little patience and a good understanding of the process. Please read the instructions supplied carefully and keep them in a safe place for future reference.

Location of the EM Bokashi bucket

In a warm situation is best. In the hot water cupboard, under the bench in the kitchen, in the laundry, somewhere handy for you to use. Keep the bucket out of direct sunlight. The bucket can also be kept in a garage.

Setting up the system

  • Begin by sprinkling a little Bokashi into the bottom of the bucket.
  • Place your food scraps or meal leftovers in the bucket and coat them evenly with some more Bokashi.
  • Use approximately one handful of Bokashi to every 34 cms of food. Use more Bokashi in the summer when adding high protein foods such as meat, fish, cheese and eggs.
  • Repeat this layering process until the bucket is full, then top up with a generous coat of Bokashi.
  • Press down to remove air on every application of kitchen organics. A plastic bag can be used for this.
  • Try to keep the material as dry as possible as excess moisture in the bucket may cause odours during the fermentation process.
  • Break up extremely large pieces such as cabbage stalks to assist fermentation.
  • Drain the liquid frequently from the bucket. For use of this liquid see the section “Using EM Bucket Juice.”

The bucket

Make sure to close the lid tightly every time you add food to the bucket. Remember EM Bokashi needs an air tight environment to do its job!

Once the bucket is full store it away from direct sunlight in the washroom or shed. Let the material ferment for a minimum of 48 hours or preferably for up to 7-10 days in the summer and 10-14 days in winter. A second bucket is recommended to avoid breaks in collection and composting but not essential. Remember to drain the EM juice regularly during the fermentation period.

The contents of a bucket can be buried in the garden for planting or dug into existing compost to further enhance the process as it heats up and of course adds extra microbes etc. NB: The compost process is not fully activated until it comes into contact with the soil.

The signs of a successful fermentation

Once your chosen fermentation period is over, open the container and you will see that the bucket has been a success:

Smell: Well fermented food organics should have a smell similar to that of pickles or cider vinegar.
Visual:Occasionally, particularly for longer fermentation periods a white cotton-like fungi growth may appear on the surface. This shows that a good fermentation process has occurred.

The signs that all is not well

Smell: A strong rancid or rotten smell indicates a poor batch of compost.
Visual:The presence of black or blue-green fungi indicates that contamination has occurred and the process has not fermented but putrefied.

Foods you can compost

Any kitchen organics including:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Prepared foods
  • Cooked and uncooked meats, and fish
  • Other foods: cheese and eggs, bread, coffee grinds, tea bags, etc
  • Wilted flowers
  • Tissue paper

Foods to leave out

  • All liquids such as milk and orange juice and oils
  • Paper and plastic wrap, meat bones.

Why the fermentation process goes wrong

  • Not adding enough Bokashi.
  • Not replacing the container lid tightly after every use.
  • Not draining the EM bucket juice frequently from the bucket.
  • Prolonged and direct exposure to sunlight and extreme temperatures (too hot or too cold).


The EM bucket juice cannot be stored and must be used within 24 hours after draining from the bucket. Check out below to see how to use the juice from the bucket.

Using EM bucket juice

The amount and colour of the liquid drained will depend on the type of foods you have put into the bucket. Fruit and vegetables tend to release more liquid than other foods. The colour of the liquid may vary, depending on the materials put into the Bokashi bucket. Do not be concerned if little or no liquid is produced. The liquid can be used for:

The garden

This liquid contains nutrients from the food organics and is alive with EM. To fertilise an existing garden or house plants use 1 teaspoon to 2-3 litres of water and apply directly to the soil. For trees and shrubs use 2 teaspoons to 2-3 litres of water. Do not apply directly to foliage.

The house

Pour the concentrated liquid directly into your kitchen and bathroom drains, toilets or septic system. The EM will help to prevent algae build-up and control odours.

How to use your EM compost

In Existing Gardens

Dig a hole/trench approximately 20-25 cms deep, add the fermented food organics and mix with some soil. Then cover with the remaining soil. The EM fermented compost is acidic when first dug in but neutralises after 7-10 days. Bacteria in the soil and compost will start to break down the food, and after about 2-3 weeks all the food will have decomposed.

Alternatively you can add it to a bottomless bucket with a good lid that is buried up to its neck in the soil. Mix a little soil to each batch of compost that you place into the buried bucket.

Be sure plant roots do not come directly into contact with the compost as it may burn the roots particularly if the plants are very young.

Around trees

Dig deep holes 25-30 cms deep at 60 cm intervals around the tree drip line. Bury the fermented food in the holes as before. The compost will supply your plants with a great food source and inoculate your soil with useful microbes for good plant health.

Final step

Wash the bucket thoroughly with water at the end of each batch. Do not dry in the sun as the lid may warp.

Q: Can I Use EM Bokashi elsewhere?
Yes if you have a worm farm, add a handful of Bokashi to help condition your can and improve the performance of the worms. We hope you enjoy using your EM bucket composting system. Remember the more you compost the better it is for the environment and for your garden too.
Q: Where can I get the bucket and Bokashi from and how much do they cost?
EM Bokashi bucket - $40.00 (small), $45.00 (large), and EM Bokashi bags are $7.00. A discount applies to the EM system. This can be redeemed from Council Offices.


  • Good system and easy to use.
  • Rotted well and no sign of what was buried. Planted strawberries on top.
  • Used liquid on compost bin and pot plants.
  • Good process and no smell.
  • New garden with poor soil now has worms after using Bokashi.
  • Simple system and easy for women to handle.
  • Used compost for tree planting and for growing beans in.
  • Took two weeks to disappear after burying and only tea bags and egg shells evident.
  • Bokashi used in flower garden for tomatoes and cucumbers. They were huge.
  • Liked convenience. Good form of recycling.
  • Rotted quickly and only outer skin of corn left.
  • Clean and easy. Great way to treat waste.
  • Easier than worm farm. Amazed how quickly it broke down to a humus level.
  • Great not having to go outside to compost in wet/cold weather.
  • Bokashi looks after itself. Easy system.

Bokashi hints

  • Bury Bokashi with a good layer of soil. Make sure it is not exposed to the air. Vermin can be attracted to it.
  • Also hens love digging it up.
  • Use ice cream container, put Bokashi in the bottom of container. When it is full with food waste add to bin in laundry or garage wherever you have a suitable space.
  • If you want longer term storage use a strong plastic bag. Put a good layer of Bokashi into the bag then tip in processed Bokashi. Cover again with more Bokashi and seal. This should be still quite useable when garden is cleared and you have space to plant.
  • For a quick and easy system - just dig a hole and put a handful of Bokashi in the bottom. Just add your organic kitchen scraps and cover with a sprinkle of Bokashi. This will take longer, but will still work effectively.