Our passion for gardening is no secret. We joined the Master Gardener program in 2008 and became certified members in Nashville. We quickly began transforming our yard into a small farm by adding fruit trees, herb plants, multiple vegetable beds and a beehive and all along, we were composting everything we could to help enrich the soil as well as improve the heavy clay structure. It was a labor of love and at times, coffee. Okay, I know that did not make sense, a labor of coffee??? Yes, coffee. We discovered that a Starbucks store near our home in Nashville would segregate the coffee grinds and place them in a dedicated bin for composting. Anyone who wanted to go around to the back of the store could take as many bags as they needed and then use them in the garden to help improve the soil. It was a true win-win because as your garden flourished, Starbucks reduced the amount of trash from the store being land filled. Then almost as suddenly as we discovered the source of grounds, the program was eliminated. There was never a real explanation, we can only suspect that the property management did not care for the number of people rummaging through the trash in search of black gold.
Needless to say, we were disappointed and moved on to other sources of compostable items to support our growing need in the yard at home. Over the years, we would see the occasional poster advertising that grounds were available while we were out and about in the Nashville area. However, when we would question the employees about the actual availability, we were often met with blank stares, a clueless response or simply the declaration, “oh we don’t really do that here.” On a rare occasion, an employee would inform us that if we wanted to, we could bring them a bucket, they would happily save them but we would have to come and get them that day or they would be thrown away along with the bucket. Again, we moved on, it just did not seem like we could make it work without having to make multiple trips and phone calls and so on.
Then in September 2014, we relocated to Williamsburg, VA. It was a bit traumatic to leave our garden behind. All the work, the plants, the compost…Reality hit hard when we realized we would have to start all over again. Even worse was the realization that our new yard, while smaller, square in shape and flatter (a big plus in our book) was built on solid clay. The soil is so compacted that a small amount of rain turns the yard into a squishy mess that leaves you feeling as if you are walking on wet sponges. There was no way we could build beds in this soil without massive amounts of soil amendments. That was not only going to be a back-breaking amount of work, it was going to be expensive. We quickly realized we would have to do what we could with what we already had; truckloads of leaves from the trees in the yard. To prepare the beds, we first mulched the leaves by running them over with the lawn mower. Bag by bag, we formed piles of leaves all over the front yard so that they could begin the process of composting. Our front yard quickly began looking like it was covered in graves. We actually considered making a few fake headstones for Halloween and I told more than one person that this was what we did to the neighbors we didn’t like…
However, leaves alone are not enough and despite the fact that we had more than 20 large piles of leaves, once fully composted, they would not provide enough material to work with. To supplement the leaves, I began composting our kitchen scraps but in all honesty, two people do not generate that much to work with. While out shopping one morning, we stopped at Starbucks for a cup of coffee and lo and behold, a bucket with bags of coffee grounds greeted us as we stood in line waiting to place our order. Could it be that the program was not dead after all???? Apparently, it is not and we have been going back to this particular store on a regular basis for grounds. Sometimes, they are in the mylar bag that the beans are shipped in but mostly, they are in 13 gallon trash bags. The employees are quite used to gardeners coming in to retrieve the grounds and they have a small trash pail dedicated for the collection of used grounds. Now that we have a source, we make 3 or 4 trips to the store each week to pick up bags and at this point, I estimate we have used about 300 pounds of them in our beds and compost pile.
And because I am not stupid, I expect some people to criticize me for using non-organic materials in my gardens. Go ahead. There is always someone waiting to rain on your parade and I am sure I will hear a few negative comments about this. If not because of the conventional growing methods used in the coffee then it will be because I am giving a massive company free publicity. So let me just say this, I am not getting paid to say this, no where in this article to I mention a love of their coffee, just the availability of free used coffee grinds. As someone who is currently unemployed, I cannot afford to buy the amendments needed for the soil in our yard and I have to use what I can get for free. We are not the only ones in town collecting the grounds. On more than one occasion, another gardener has beat us to the store and we have walked away empty-handed which ultimately means that hundreds and hundreds of pounds of coffee grounds are going to be composted rather than land filled; that in itself is a big plus for the environment.
The plus of coffee grounds added to compost is simple, they add nitrogen and nothing helps heat up a compost pile faster than nitrogen. It doesn’t stop there, they also add much-needed minerals that can help your garden grow. Sunset magazine did some research on using Starbucks coffee grounds in a garden and they actually had them tested. It seems that adding them to the garden really is a good thing as long as they do not make up more than 35% of the soil content. If you would like to read the article, here is a link.
Since our garden is being built in our front yard, we are putting down sheets of cardboard to kill the lawn first. The coffee is being spread over the cardboard and then it is topped off with a thick layer of leaves. This first year, we will be using straw bales to garden in because the leaves are not yet composted. To do this, we will simply place the bales on top of the leaves. As the seasons progress, the leaves will continue to break down and by the time winter returns, the straw bales will also begin to degrade. At that time, we will simply cut the cords off the bales, spread the rotting straw over the leaves and continue the process of layering on top of the clay soil. Eventually, we will have some beautiful compost that we can turn into the clay to lighten the structure and allow for better drainage.
Right now, we are planning for the arrival of our hens. We ordered our pullets this week and will be purchasing the coop and the run next week. Once the girls have matured enough to live outside, they will not only provide us with eggs, they will be supplying the garden with fresh manure. But because the best compost has a variety of materials in it, coffee grounds from Starbucks will still be collected and added. So, do your garden some good, ask your local coffeehouse (whichever one you choose) to give you grounds for your garden and get out there and grow something!
If you are the least bit interested, read about Starbucks plan for sustainability and global responsibility here. If nothing else, it is food for thought and perhaps the start of some meaningful conversations.