Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2010
Regional Report

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This tender lettuce is sidedressed with coffee grounds to give it a boost.

Give Your Gardens a Coffee Pick-me-up

Composting is a hot issue these days, from worm composting to bin composting to sheet composting that is done directly in the garden. I have friends who are going to local grocers and asking for their green waste from the vegetable bins so they have enough green matter to make a healthy compost pile.

Collect Coffee Grounds
One of the most interesting questions I've had lately is exactly what to do with coffee grounds. With the surge of coffee specialty shops, there is a wondrous supply of the used grounds available, and some of the shops actually bag their grounds for the public.

Add Green to the Compost Pile
Coffee grounds are excellent "green matter" to add to the composting process, and actually have about the same carbon to nitrogen ratio as grass clippings. I've been looking into some other uses in the garden. We don't generate a lot of coffee grounds at my house with only one pot a day, but there are a lot of sources out there if you want to collect them.

Plenty of Sources for Grounds
Think not only of the coffee shops but also other restaurants, hotels, gas stations and offices. If you figure out a way to set up a bin and pick them up regularly, most commercial facilities will be happy to dump the grounds in the special bin. You can simply put an empty coffee can next to the coffee maker at work and empty once a week or as needed.

Add Directly to Compost
Now for a few ideas on how to use them once you have them. You can add coffee with filters directly to the compost pile. They add nitrogen which helps in the decomposition of other green matter.

Add to Worm Compost
Coffee grounds are also excellent additions to a worm composting bin. You can sprinkle the grounds around plants for a source of slow-release nitrogen, and they definitely make attractive mulch. Be sure to remove the filters before using the grounds in the garden, just for aesthetic purposes- white or brown papers blowing around aren't so great looking.

Mix with Potting Soil
Think about mixing them with potting soil when repotting your houseplants this spring. Use about a cupful to each quart of soil. They will help retain moisture and give you a gentle fertilization as well.

Make Coffee "Tea"
Make a big coffee "tea" bag to brew a gentle, fast-acting liquid fertilizer. You can mix about a half-pound can of grounds in a five-gallon bucket of water and let it let it sit for 24 hours. The grounds will settle and you can pour the liquid off. Or put a cupful in a coffee filter, staple it shut and drop it in a pitcher of water to steep.

Keep Slugs at Bay
Mix grounds with crushed eggshells to put around hostas as a physical slug barrier. The rumor is that the caffeine is toxic to slugs. There is also some promise for using a mulch of coffee grounds as a deterrent to late blight on tomatoes. I've not seen any scientific data on either of these claims yet, but certainly couldn't hurt to try using coffee grounds to combat these two garden problems.

Once you start using coffee grounds, I think you will find all types of uses for this wasted, plentiful source of green matter.

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