Coffee grounds. Free to a good home.

Photo: Jenny Harlen“Hello gardeners! Please take some coffee grinds for your garden!”

What gardener could resist that? Well, unfortunately I had to as I was just a tourist passing by. But I was seriously tempted to drag some home to the friends we were staying with.

Coffee grounds are just great in the garden. The nice thing is that they’re brown, so you can just spread them out under bushes and in garden beds. Smells nice while you’re doing it and pretty soon they just eat their way down into the soil where the nitrogen in the grounds is released to the plants nearby (with some good help of whatever microbes are in the vicinity).

The only disadvantage can be if you use a lot of coffee grounds in your veggie patch that the carrots start tasting like coffee. No, just joking. There can be a risk that heavy metals in the coffee build up in the veggie patch if you overdo it. My feeling is that it would take an awful lot of coffee to get you to that point, and the greater worry would be whether we should be running that much coffee through our bodies. However, worth checking out a bit more if you’re concerned.

The alternative is to dose up bushes, trees, flower beds, even a smallish lawn with coffee grounds — none of that is going to get into the food chain. It’s a cheap source of nitrogen and a cool thing to do, just swag home with a bag of coffee grinds when you pass your neighborhood cafe.

Unfortunately none of the cafes round us do this. I’m hoping that will change gradually, like so many recycling-related things. Common sense does seem to be kicking in all over.

A few years ago I did a deal with the local bakery/cafe to pick up their coffee grinds once a week. I kept it up for a few years until other priorities took over, hopefully they have now adopted a new coffee collector.

My original idea was to do bokashi of the grinds to increase their microbial value in the soil. Great idea, well worth doing, but for me at the time just too hard work. So what I did was just dump the buckets of coffee grinds under our multitude of bushes, one bush at a time. Sometimes the buckets were frozen because they’d been stored outside, I just dumped them under the bush as they were. Come spring the weird collection of coffee towers mushed together and I could rake them out a bit.

Given that we produce bokashi bran here at home it’s not something we have a shortage of. Each spring I’d go around with a wheelbarrow of bokashi bran and throw a handful or two under each coffee bush. The microbes could spend the summer doing their good work.

Obviously you could get the same result using bokashi juice (the runoff from a bucket with drainage tap) or using EM in activated form. Either way, pretty cost effective and hard to overdose.

In the autumn I usually pile up a lot of leaves under the bushes and rake a lot straight into garden beds. Partly because I’m lazy and it’s easy to shuffle them up into the first best spot, but mainly because with such an active soil the leaves are rapidly absorbed into the soil around the bushes. They also keep the worms warm and happy for a good while into the late autumn and that’s always a good thing.

People around here say that coffee grinds are a great way of stopping snails in their tracks. I haven’t tested it myself so can’t say for sure, but it seems reasonable. Tugging a slimy snail body over a barrier of coffee grinds is probably not the most pleasant of options for a snail. Have you tested it? (Not dragging yourself through the grinds, obviously, but spreading them in the garden.) Is it worthwhile giving it a go?

So, all up — a lot you can do with coffee grinds without it being such a chore. Great for the garden but the greater good is probably getting them out of their landfill destiny and into the food/soil loop. Well worth giving it a shot in other words.

And you can always reward yourself with a steaming hot latte the next time you’re there to pick up your grounds!


Some excellent EM recipes from in the US

If you’ve been into bokashi for a while, perhaps it’s time to branch out into some new zone for your experiments? Make your own activated bran, maybe — way cheaper and fun to do. Or activate the EM mother culture (EM-1®) and make your own activated EM to use in the garden. Does wonders for the soil and is a really cost-effective approach. Lots of microbes for very little work.

All credit to Teraganix for the following information, it’s thorough and professional. Unfortunately all the measurements are non-metric but that’s life. Drag out the calculator!

Teraganix by the way is the official manufacturer of EM in the US. Original. Authentic. Certified, as they say. Look for the logos and the EM registered trademarks when you buy your EM and bokashi supplies, whatever country you’re in. The real thing is available in every country of the world, just make sure you’re getting it.

Activated EM-1

EM•1® microbial products can be grown one time for economical purposes. This “growing” or “brewing” process is called Activation (it used to be called “extension”). It does not mean the microbes in EM•1® are not active; they are. It is just a term EMRO developed years ago. Activation involves taking one part EM•1®, 1 part molasses, and 20 parts water. Numbers can be rounded up or down a bit according to the size of the container and are not crucial to the outcome of the final product.
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EM bokashi bran

To make your own EM•1® Bokashi (in this recipe) you’ll need some bran (or some other dried plant material), some EM•1®, molasses, and fresh water. A 50-pound bag of wheat bran made into bokashi costs about $22 to make (including the EM•1® Microbial Inoculant, molasses, and bran). Rice bran costs about twice as much as wheat bran. This recipe takes about 20 minutes from start to finish to make a 50-pound bag of EM•1® Bokashi. It needs to ferment for a minimum of two weeks and then is dried for long-term storage (up to several years). If you choose not to make it, you can purchase it ready to use.

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EM5 natural pesticide

EM5 is often used as a type of homemade pesticide. The fermentation extracts properties out of plant materials and the alcohol and retains them in the liquid. The EM•1® in the recipe is the fermentation catalyst. EM•1® itself has no pesticide qualities at all. This is an all-natural concoction that can be made by anyone and is in no way harmful to humans or animals. It combines water, EM•1®, a distilled spirit, molasses, and vinegar. The most successful programs with EM5 involve alternating its applications with Activated EM•1® and EMFPE. EM5 is effective for reducing pest populations because EM5 contains esters formed by mixing acetic acid and alcohol, which provokes intestinal intoxication.
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EM fermented plant extracts

“Fermented plant extracts – most commonly done as a plain liquid manure or plant extract – is a dynamic practice gaining increased usage in India, Africa, Asia, and Central America where poor farmers need to obtain fertility and pest control from local plants and simple on-farm extraction methods.” Steve Diver, ATTRA*
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EM fermented foods

Fermented foods provide a number of valuable health benefits, not the least of which is introducing beneficial bacteria to the digestive system, improving digestion and strengthening the immune system. If you are interested in introducing more fermented foods into your diet, browse our collection of easy-to-make fermented food recipes and find the flavors that fit your lifestyle best. From kim chee (kimchi) to the best mango salsa recipe, we have something for every home and palette. All it takes is a little preparation and Pro EM•1® to get started!

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