Supercharge Your Compost

A compost pile is essential to good gardening. The larger your garden, or the more serious you are about gardening, the more important good compost becomes. If you want to “supercharge” your pile, increasing its composting rate and heat, the essential ingredients could be very close by.

Two “secret ingredients” for supercharging compost are spent brewery grains (mash), and coffee grounds.

Brewery mash is probably harder to come by, as not many neighborhoods have their own breweries. We’ve been lucky—in Juneau, we had the Alaskan Brewery, and here in Haines we have the Haines Brewery. The former is a larger operation, churning out piles of mash each month. They regularly truck their waste to the local community gardens, where they dump it for anyone to use. The latter is a smaller brewery, and competition for its precious byproduct is intense.

Composting activity should reach a minimum of 140° to kill weed seeds. Adding brewery mash raises your pile’s temperature well above that! Mash also contributes considerable mass to your pile, which is important for holding generated heat.

Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen. Since most common compost is heavy on the carbon side, adding a nitrogen rich component speeds and heats up the compost. This is especially valuable if you don’t have grass clippings to add to your pile. Coffee grounds also raise the pile’s temperature significantly.

Another feature of coffee grounds is that they already look like rich garden soil before transforming into it—that’s hard to beat! Also, coffee’s odor-absorbing quality is useful, particularly in our outhouse compost pile.

Coffee grounds are seemingly everywhere if you look. The booming “Starbuck’s culture” creates enough grounds for tons of compost. All you have to do is ask, and maybe supply a bucket to collect the grounds—your neighborhood barista will be glad to help!

These ingredients are so valuable to us that we willingly gather and haul them to our homestead—by sea when possible, but by land if necessary. Any time we’re in town but not hauling home groceries, propane, or other essentials, we visit the brewery’s mash pile. If there’s mash, we scoop it into plastic lined barley bags, which the brewery gives away free, or into plastic buckets. If there’s no mash, we stop at our favorite espresso bar to get coffee grounds. They separate espresso from coffee, which includes brown paper coffee filters. We prefer the espresso, but the paper composts well also. We then haul home whatever we’ve collected tied to a pack frame. The load sometimes exceeds 40 pounds, a hard haul over the ridge, but the benefits far exceed the effort. Our compost “cooks” far past the autumn freeze, and revives early the next spring. Since both businesses operate year ‘round, we can build up our piles in the off-season to jumpstart the next growing season.

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