In March of 2012 I was living in town trying to get past the hard times of the housing bubble. I was micro managing my four rentals, taking 16 calls a day from Banks and cutting every cost possible while performing the maintenance work myself. Six months earlier I had sat on the ground in the backyard of one of those rentals, looking back at the house and thinking “is this all there is? Me landlord, you renter, I take your money, you wreck my house and on and on we go”. The renters I had been able to get had been backsliding in quality for two years and seemed to be a trend but I didn’t know why and I was starting to ask the question: could these properties provide more to both my renters and myself. Things like Food, Community, Positivism, Connectivity?

That’s when I started to pay attention to the dirt. Then the climate. It became a scientific obsession, an effort in part to keep myself positive when everything else was falling apart. I tracked the movement of the sun during 2011/2012 and took the weather and climate seriously in my plan to grow my own food. I tore up the sod I had layed down 5 years earlier (to give the house curb appeal) built raised beds, started seeds and began to grow a garden. I donated pounds of tomatoes to the food bank and truth be told I got some food from the food bank – an act that would have been unimaginable a year before.  It was those visits to the food bank that showed me just how many people in a tiny town of 1200 were in poverty. Many of them seniors and single mothers.

I became the first person to bring fresh fruit and produce vouchers to the town. During that process I learned how deep seated the pathology of this town was and is. In many ways a microcosm of a much bigger picture of the nation. Two dominant forces had coalesced to form the societal structure for what is now Ritzville. My lawyer and real estate agent, from whom I had purchased the housed explained that for low income persons in need of housing on the west side, the rents were simply too expensive and in efforts to overcome this predicament hundreds of persons were shunted off to smaller eastern Washington towns to find more affordable rent. At the same time a very small tight nit group of wheat farmers, clannish, influential and very wealthy, had made sure that the town would reject every effort of new business to move to their area, thus “promoting limited growth”, thus no jobs. Any person on the dole who wanted up and out simply could not find the employment means to do so.

Like many prospective home buyers from the west side, I and many other idiots of our time were initially fooled by the fresh faced smiles, early 1900 brick buildings on main street, route 90 nearby, well kept lawns, massive police presence (safety?) incredibly cheap houses and the fact that Ritzville is the county seat for Adams county.

I learned what it’s like to launch an all organic farm store that accepts vouchers in a town that considers you very much to be an “outsider”. It’s ugly.

This same month – March 2012 – I wrote a letter to Starbucks requesting the ability to pick up all of their used coffee grounds because the plan was to give away the grounds to anyone in town who wanted to start a garden, or wanted the grounds to improve their soil. Although located in the desert, raised beds in Ritzville were appropriate for a number of reasons. Ritzville (like several E WA towns) sits in a bowl slightly protected by the wind, the houses are tightly clustered and the Weed Board is the agency with a heavy hand. This produces a micro climate of higher humidity, yards of limited space and the very real fear of being fined for having weeds. Growing in raised beds takes advantage of small spaces, reduces water input and the weed issue is reduced to near zero by applying 3″ of chipped wood. In the last two and a half years two people have asked for those coffee grounds.

Life is about change.

My (now) significant other has made use of  those 2.5 Tons of grounds, those houses are long gone, dragged under in the tide of the housing bust and I have turned to pursue my original career in Natural Resources aided by a PDC.

One of the tenets of Pc is to remain aware of Energy as it enters and exits any property in order to make thorough and best use of as much of the energy entropy will allow before it leaves the borders. As we move from the larger aspects (sun, wind, water) to elements (structures, animals, plants..) we can begin to ponder the smaller sub-sets of resources and how they work themselves out in this scenario. Coffee grounds is one of those sub-sets.

Humor is a tool we can use to soften the recognition of the horrific challenges we as a species are facing at this time. It’s a tool I try to use when I can.

will someone kick that sausage over here

Did you know that people who drink more than 10 cups of coffee per day are 100 times less likely to kill themselves? I’ve been putting that to the test for years now and since 2008 I’ve been doubling up. With all those grounds to get rid of and plenty of energy to do it we’ve become Zen Masters of converting coffee grounds into major gold – soil.

Here’s how it’s happening.

First we start with a 1970’s Retro Orange Kitchen counter top motif…add a couple rooster accents…

Will buys Folger’s coffee in the Red Plastic Containers like this

Making Coffee

  • I buy Starbucks A++ whole beans from the local Starbucks location – the last remnant of Middle Class luxury I’m still clawing to in my “crash early, avoid the rush” life style.
  • During the non-Winter months we pick up used coffee grounds from Starbucks twice per week. We do not make special trips to do so, rather we pick up grounds when we are already picking up and dropping off the truck for the Biomass program. Stacking Functions and all that.

100% of all coffee that enters the property stays here.

100% of all coffee containers that enter the property stay here and are reused and re-purposed.

In permaculture terms think of this as an Energy Audit for how resources are utilized on the property. This isn’t an exercise in  hording – that’s when you have lots of stuff you’re going to “get to” and never do. This is about identifying functional subsets then organizing them in a way that supports the overall design. 

Next the grounds are dumped into an empty Folger’s coffee container.

Used Coffee Grounds phase one

And sit here by the side of the kitchen sink.

Kitchen Scraps

From here the kitchen scraps go into one of the compost piles or to the red worms, the container gets washed and returned back to the kitchen counter. Additional Folger’s cans are used in the following ways:

Chicken scratch container
Organizer for nails in Shop
Container for sunflower seeds & wild bird seed

Blue Oyster Mushrooms

Oyster Mushroom Spawn Run
Container for growing Blue Oyster mushrooms
Container for scrap metal when taking the fencing down around the barn or changing out the tree cages
Container for gathering seeds around the property just before they are dried and processed for winter storage

Coffee residue follows the path to the gray water system, when the containers get washed and rinsed, the water is carried away and exits near the new Hybrid Willow stand which is morphing into a desert wetland area. In between the orchard to the north and the large berm to the south I noticed a low lying 40 foot run on a 2% down slope that could potentially contain a water catchment and drain into a shallow bowl on the east side of the hugel bed (which runs north/south).  In 2014 I planted on either side of this run the following: Pacific willows, hybrid poplar, ninebark, buffalo berry, sitka alder, Austrian pine,  wood rose, golden current, and mock orange as the first set of over story, under-story and shrub guild. Here’s a photo of the Hybrid Willow stand from last year only 2 years old.

Gray Water Wetland System

Contrary to what some people think, the grounds don’t actually serve to “acidify” the soil as their main function. Most of the acidity is removed during the espresso making process but what your soil does benefit from is the kick of nitrogen and a few other elements. Here’s a write up of a lab test for SB coffee grounds:

 The Starbucks coffee compost test

Lab report: Those free grounds really are good for your soil!!!!!

Used coffee grounds make good soil amendments. That’s the buzz among gardeners lately. But what do your coffeepot’s leftovers really add to the soil?

To find out, Sunset sent a batch of Starbucks’ used coffee grounds ― the company gives them away for free ― to a soil lab for analysis. Turns out the grounds provide generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper.

They also release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade. And they’re slightly acidic ― a boon in the Western climate.

Dig or till them into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.


The following information was developed for Sunset by Soil and Plant Laboratory Inc., Bellevue, WA.

Summary: Use of Starbucks coffee grounds in amending mineral soils up to 35 percent by volume coffee grounds will improve soil structure over the short-term and over the long-term. Use of the coffee grounds at the specified incorporation rates (rototilled into a 6- to 8-inch depth) will substantially improve availabilities of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and copper and will probably negate the need for chemical sources of these plant essential elements.

The nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium “guaranteed analyses” would be as follows for the coffee grounds:

Nitrogen: 2.28 percent
Phosphorus: 0.06 percent
Potassium: 0.6 percent

Available nutrient levels: The pH or reaction of the coffee grounds is considered slightly acidic and in a favorable range at 6.2 on the pH scale.

Salinity (ECe) is a measurement of total soluble salts and is considered slightly elevated at 3.7 dS/m. The primary water-soluble salts in this product are potassium, magnesium, sodium and chloride. The potentially problematic ions in sodium and chloride are each sufficiently low as to be inconsequential in terms of creating problems for plants.

The availability of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and copper are each sufficiently high that there will be a very positive impact on improving availability of these elements where the coffee grounds are used as a mineral soil amendment. The coffee grounds will negate the need for additional sources of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and copper when blended with mineral soils.

In summary, the available plant essential elements which will be substantially improved where the coffee grounds are used as a soil amendment, include phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and copper.

Total nutrient levels: Each cubic yard of these coffee grounds contains a total of 10.31 lbs. nitrogen, of which 0.01 lb. (0.09%) are available. Thus, even though available nitrogen is considered deficient in this product, there still remains over 10 lbs. of total nitrogen per cubic yard of coffee grounds. Thus, nitrogen is primarily bound in the organic fraction and is unavailable to plants until soil microorganisms degrade the organic fraction. Through this process, the nitrogen is converted to plant available forms. Over the long term the coffee grounds will act like a slow release fertilizer providing long-term nitrogen input which can then be utilized by plants.

Nearly all potassium and all magnesium are in the available forms. This means that immediate availability improvements for these two elements will take place when the coffee grounds are blended with mineral soils. About half of the copper and calcium are in their immediately available forms.

All other plant essential elements are primarily bound in the organic fraction and will thus be subject to slow release over time as soil microbes continue to degrade the organic fraction.

Physical properties: Virtually all particles passed the 1 millimeter (mm) screen resulting in a product which is very fine textured. Each cubic yard of the coffee grounds will supply an excellent amount of organic matter, measured at 442 lbs. organic matter per cubic yard. At the use rates indicated in this report, the input of organic matter will be substantial and will result in considerable short-term and long-term improvement of mineral soil structure.

Carbon/nitrogen ratio: On the basis of dry matter bulk density (452 lbs. per cubic yard), organic matter content (97.7%) and total nitrogen (2.28%), the estimated carbon/nitrogen ratio is about 24:1. This means that there is more than sufficient nitrogen present in the coffee grounds to provide for the nitrogen demand of the soil microorganisms as they degrade the organic fraction.

Use rate: Based on the overall chemistry and physical properties of the coffee grounds, they can be utilized at rates similar to other organic amendments when used in amending mineral soils. These data indicate that 25-35 percent by volume coffee grounds can be blended with mineral soils of any type to improve structure of those soils.

We have collected 2.5 Tons in two years

We wanted to know exactly how much in weight we have been collecting so we kept a scale and notebook in the truck and recorded every pickup.

From March 2012 – March 2014 we added 2.5 tons of coffee grounds to the property. A management change occurred just after March 2014 which was not particularly friendly to the program, rather than force the issue we have stopped picking up and we have been told by employees that this very unhappy person will be moving to another location. We intend to commence the pick up after June of this year with clearance from the District manager.

thank you for reading my blog,

Happy Coffee Making makes great soil