HARDCORE Composting

Let’s talk about composting. I started to get hardcore into composting about June of last year and have already used two large piles of “brown gold”. I decided to call around and see what a yard of compost would cost. In the Dallas/Ft Worth area it’s about $35. At first I thought that wasn’t a bad price until I was told that it was 60% compost and 40% sand. Not what I was looking for. Plus I found out that the “greens” were trash from landscapers with no regulation on what chemicals maybe mixed into it.  I decided it would be much better to make my own.

Hardcore composting

What Are You Throwing Away?

Before I go any further let me give you some background on my experience with compost. Another reason I wanted to get into composting was because I started to look at what was being thrown away every week at my house.  I realized that maybe I would be able to use some of that to improve my hard red clay soil, with very little cost. I have lived in my home for 30 years and have never had any success at growing grass in my front yard.

“New” Way of Thinking

In all of my research, looking for ways to change my ground situation, I came across an article/video/movie about a man who has started a “new”way of thinking.  He lets Mother Nature naturally change the landscaping conditions. The man’s name is Paul Gautschi and his website is BacktoEdenfilm.com. The film is almost 2 hours but I highly recommend it and it is free. After watching the film I decided that it sounded like the easiest way to improve our unsightly conditions.

Starting Backwards

I didn’t have the money to spend for compost to cover everything that needed covering so decided to do this backwards. I called a number of tree service companies asking for their tree chippings. Within two weeks, I had 10 yards of ground up tree in my yard. It only took my wife, my 23 year old son and me about 4 hours to move all the pile. Don’t get overwhelmed by the pile, the first time you see it. A couple of tools that will make the job go easier: a long handled manure fork, a good wheelbarrow and a sturdy garage broom.

Mulching

Many websites talk about mulching almost as if was a separate part of gardening. I have noticed that the natural mulches are almost considered an “after the fact” of the natural organic program. I would like you to think about a forest floor and how the trees drop their leaves to protect the soil, all the while, breaking down to feed the soil.

Ground UP Trees

When you are putting out all the wonderful free mulch you can pile it on high. We piled it 4″ to 6″ deep everywhere. Within 3 months it has settled to about 3″. One important note, if you put this around trees make sure you pull the mulch back about a foot.  This prevents damaging your trees from insects and fungus.

Moist Soil

You will notice that the soil will begin to stay moist. As the wood begins it decompose, the soil will become easier to work. As I said earlier I did this backwards. A couple of months ago I was reading about coffee grounds being a great “green” material for composting.

Coffee Grounds

I started to look for a source for for the used coffee grounds. The first place I checked was a Starbucks in a local grocery. I was told that company (grocery store) policy would not allow the giving away of the coffee grounds that Starbucks has been known for.  I continued looking for a source that had a large enough volume to make it worth my time to use it. As luck would have it, I found a coffee store 10 minutes from the house that was more than happy for me to pick up the grounds.

After talking to them about the best way to do this, I picked up four- 5 gallon buckets with lids (our name and phone number neatly written on them) from our local mega hardware store. You want to have buckets that look good at all times, because they may be in view of customers. I leave two buckets with them at time and pick them up every other day.

Doing a quick calculation, this averages out to be about one cubic yard of coffee grounds per month, free of charge. From what I understand, some municipalities refuse services charge by the pound for trash.  This helps keep a great compostable product out of the landfills and may help a local coffee store save some money on their trash bill. 

Some things to consider before embarking on a coffee ground hunt.

1. Will you be able to pick up the grounds in reasonable amount of time on a consistent basis. If not talk to them about your needs so that you can set the proper expectations.

2. This is a lot of coffee grounds each month make sure you have a place to store or use them. Remember you will be getting wet grounds if they sit in the bucket they will mold.

3. Remember to leave the pick up area better than you found it.

4. You will find coffee filters mixed in. Great, if you are using this in a compost pile just mix your filters in and they will become part of the “browns”

5. Coffee grounds are a great source for nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus

6. Coffee grounds will not acidify your soil. The acids in coffee are water soluble and leach out into your cup of coffee. That being said this will compost down to very close to neutral pH in your compost pile.

After I used up my first cubic yard of coffee grounds mixed with leaves I needed another usage area and that is where I decided to spread the grounds out on top of the mulch. This will help breakdown the wood chips and turn it into easy compost for my yard. I spread it around and then rake it out to make a thin layer so that it won’t mold. I will see if this helps keep the snails and slugs this spring.

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