Gardening Answers Knowledgebase
Knowledgebase record #43
I have a composting question: I work at a large hospital and would like to collect all of the used coffee grounds/filters from the countless pots throughout the hospital and use it (tons of it!) for compost. Could you create adequate compost with just coffee and probably straw to balance it?
The information below is quoted from an article by Bob Smith, Washington State University Master Gardener Program Manager, Thurston County, in The Gardener, Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter 1995-96):
"In 1995, three local coffee houses called WSU Extension in Thurston County [Washington] for advice on composting coffee grounds. With the exception of worm bin composting, we were unable to find much information. Our Master Composter and Master Gardener volunteers decided to experiment. They composted about 270 pounds of coffee grounds donated by local espresso bars. They fed roughly 60 pounds to worms while composting the rest in regular bins.
"If coffee grounds are not worms's food of choice, they certainly must be high on the list. In appreciation for a meal of ready-to-consume grounds, the worms produced excellent compost. Incorporate coffee grounds soon after brewing into your worm box. This reduced the possibility of the grounds souring and attracting pesky fruit flies.
"We also experimented by composting coffee grounds in three types of traditional bins:
"We incorporated the grounds over a four month period yet experienced only one problem: fruit flies showed up in the enclosed plastic bin almost immediately after we added coffee grounds. In open wire bins, the grounds tended to dry out quickly. Overall, though, we found coffee grounds easy to work with and satisfactory for composting.
"Coffee grounds have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 20:1, roughly equivalent to that of grass clippings. After brewing, coffee grounds contain up to 2% nitrogen. For composting purposes, consider coffee grounds green material similar to grass clippings. For brown material, we used leaves and sawdust. In these trials, we used a formula of one part green material (coffee grounds alone or mixed with grass clippings) to two parts leaves, or four parts green material to one part sawdust."
In the Winter 2009 issue of Master Gardener, WSU Extension Horticulturist Linda Chalker-Scott recommends using a thin layer (half an inch or less) of coffee grounds as mulch, topping this with a thicker layer (4 inches) of coarser organic material such as wood chips. She also says that the optimal percentage of coffee grounds in total compost volume should be 10 to 20 percent, and no more. The pH of spent coffee grounds varies, and one cannot assume they are acidic.
Need an answer to your gardening question? Ask us directly!