Friday, November 22, 2013

Scrambling for coffee grounds

I don't drink coffee, but by the smell of the inside of my car, you'd think I had a more than a little coffee problem. Well, you're right, but not the problem you're thinking.

Sometimes I wonder if the coffee odor inside my car is so strong it's permeating the fabric and other materials and long after this coffee jag is over, my car and I will both continue to smell like a rude mix of dark roasted vanilla hazelnut espresso.

Here's the story in a nutshell:

  • I'm in a race against the first significant snowfall to collect coffee grounds from cafes across Madison's east side to turn wood chips into organic matter by next spring.
Why coffee? What's the rush?
Coffee grounds are an excellent source of nitrogen. Great compost organic is created by mixing the proper amounts of carbon (in my case, wood chips) and nitrogen (all those coffee grounds).

There are many ratios depending on what goes into the compost mixture, but typically, it's a Carbon:Nitrogen ratio of 20:1. Too much carbon and it stays a dry heap. Too much nitrogen and it gets too hot and kills all the good organism OR it turns into a sloppy, smelly mess. Get the ratio right and it warms up, decomposes and results in a lovely compost for the garden.

Killing grass with wood chips
In our back yard and on the terrace between the sidewalk and street, Jay and I put down a heavy layer of wood chips to kill the grass in preparation for garden beds next year. The wood chips alone will kill the grass but won't be a great medium for planting next year. 

Enter the coffee grounds. I pour them on the wood chips, rake them in and let the two work it out.

So, before the snow covers up the wood chips, I want to cover and rake in a lot of grounds so the wood chips have time to decompose over winter and into next spring.

I'm currently collecting from seven different places, and have a morning and an afternoon route to collect grounds, swap out 5-gallon buckets and take them home to spread out. I can't reveal my route or my sources, but I'll share them with you AFTER my coffee mission is complete :)