Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Secret Ingredient for Speeding Up Leaf Bin Compost


You know that feeling when you have found an amazing, tucked-away restaurant but you worry if you tell anyone about it, it won’t be so secret anymore. That is how I feel about this secret, but since I like you all so much, here it goes...

Coffee grounds and leaves make magic. They are a match made in heaven. I am not talking about the small amount of grounds you create with your home coffee pot. To really make an impact, you need to source your grounds from places that make enough coffee to caffeinate hundreds of people a day.

Your friendly neighborhood coffee house.

Recently, a friend of mine made a trip to a Starbucks for her daily sweet coffee fix and asked if they had any used coffee grounds. Instead of the usual neat package of grounds, they gave her a huge garbage bag full. Luckily for me, she was willing to share and dropped off half the bag for my leaf bins.

I’ve been thinking about “cheating” with my leaf compost bins for a few months now. I have mostly oak leaves and while they are showing a steady progression, I want to speed it up.

Coffee grounds just begging to meet up with my leaves.


Bulk coffee grounds add a condensed punch of nitrogen to very carbon heavy leaf bins and will speed up decomposition of the leaves. I layered the grounds in one leaf bin with leaves I moved from a smaller bin. Amazingly, there were enough grounds to also spread on my other leaf bin. As a side bonus, now my leaf bins smell like delicious coffee.

I added the grounds in layers with my leaves and weeds.
So, next time you want to give your leaf bin compost a boost, stop by your local coffee shop and politely ask it they have any used grounds they could give you. Just save some for me, please. J

14 comments:

  1. This is a great tip, and one of my favorites! At my local Starbucks, I go in and ask, "Do you have any used coffee grounds to go out?" when there aren't any bags sitting near the door. They typically ask how much I want, and I tell them I will take them all. This saves them time, because they just put another garbage bag around what they have instead of dosing it out in to a number of smaller bags. It saves them a ton of time and they are all smiles when I say I will take their garbage can full of grounds. The trick is to do this after the morning rush or at the end of the day, when they are not too busy.

    Also, if you want to learn more about coffee grounds and fall leaves, check out Mike McGrath's TEDx talk call "Everything You Know About Composting is Wrong: Mike McGrath at TEDxPhoenixville" (https://youtu.be/n9OhxKlrWwc)

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    1. Great tip about the time of day to go!

      I love that TEDx talk although I don't agree with Mike about everything. Food scraps rock in a compost bin. :)

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  2. Too many coffee grounds can make your compost acidic. Berries, azaleas, rhododendrons and other acidic-soil-loving plants will love it. Something to be aware of.

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    1. That is a good thought, Brenda. Used grounds are not very acidic, most of the acid goes into the coffee so grounds are close to neutral. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting/ingredients/coffee-grounds-gardening.htm

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    2. Interesting article. Thanks for sharing. It notes: "If you rinse your used coffee grounds, they will have a near neutral pH of 6.5 and will not affect the acid levels of the soil." I don't know anyone picking up from coffee houses that rinse the coffee grounds before composting. I do know at least one composter who handled a lot of coffee grounds from a cafe and had serious problems with the pH of the finished compost and couldn't use it as they had intended. Sounds like more testing or research could be warranted.

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    3. I think you're right, Brenda. I have heard many experienced gardeners say that used grounds are acidic. It sounds like a good experiment is in order!

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    4. Holly Utrata-HalcombJune 7, 2017 at 1:04 PM

      Our soils in Hamilton and Butler County tend to be above 7.2 pH. Most vegetables and flowers prefer a pH of 6.2 - 6.5. I doubt the amount of compost you plan to incorporate into you garden will make that big of a difference. To check you soil pH and fertility, you can get a soil fertility test kit at Hamilton Co. Soil & Water Conservation District - http://www.hcswcd.org/soil-fertility.html

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  3. Alberta Urban Garden does a whole series about challenging garden assumptions on Youtube. He takes stuff to the lab and gives real results. Here is just one example to get you to his channel, but there are other videos on coffee grounds if you click on the links or search for more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOIc5VzCMeY&sns=em

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    1. Thanks, Sean, those are very helpful videos. According to their research used coffee grounds were 5.4 or 5.5 which was on the low end of the suitable for most plant growth scale.

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  4. Help me, Michelle! I just dumped some old pitting soil into my bin, not remembering that it has non-soil ingredients in it (like those little white beads of styrofoam?). How big is this mistake?

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  5. Please help, Michelle. I just dumped some used potting soil into my bin, not remembering it has those non-soil ingredients in it (like those little white beads of styrofoam?). How big a mistake did I make? Should I try to get the soil out?

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    1. It is not a big deal, Kate. The little balls of Styrofoam will not hurt anything but they will also not break down. You will have them in your finished compost. I have thrown old potting solid into my compost bin before and never even noticed the Styrofoam in my finished compost (although, I am sure it was there).

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    2. Thanks, Michelle! I knew you would put my mind at ease. :)

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  6. I know some people who drink enough coffee to rival that of a coffee house haha! Ok, that was a slight exaggeration....

    This is a great tip though! I wonder if you're more likely to have success in gaining the coffee grounds from smaller, boutique shops rather than bigger chains?

    You know how it is, sometimes big chains have strange policies in place. It's great that your friend managed to help out her local Starbucks though!

    Thanks for sharing this secret Michelle :)

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