PHOTO: Boozysmurf/Flickr
Cherie Marcel
January 18, 2016

Clinging to the sliver of bed that I’ve managed to secure from the invasive sleep-sprawl of my 5-year-old son, I begin my waking process, which generally includes the five stages of grief. I lay still, steeped in denial until the inevitable beckoning of my spawn transports me to the hybrid stage of angry bargaining. This stage proves futile 100 percent of the time, which explains the ensuing depression. By this time I have made my clumsy way to the kitchen to beseech the mercy of the one device, which I believe to be responsible for the preservation of mankind: the coffee maker. As the dark magic percolates, I am comforted by the promise of the aroma. And then, with my first, life-sustaining sip, I arrive at acceptance (or some variation of it).

Aside from the obvious benefit of coffee consumption—consciousness—caffeinated coffee boosts energy, awakens and clears the mind, and wards off depression. Green coffee beans contain about 1,000 antioxidants, and 300 more antioxidants are added by the process of brewing. Hundreds of studies have linked coffee consumption to benefits like a reduced risk of type-2 diabetes, prevention of certain cancers (e.g., colon and liver cancer), reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, enhanced mental and physical performance and protection against Parkinson’s disease.

But the goodness of coffee is not confined to the morning mug!


Coffee In The Garden

Coffee grounds are a soil amendment rich in nitrogen, calcium and magnesium.
Coffee grounds are a soil amendment rich in nitrogen, calcium and magnesium. Photo Neil Hunt/Flickr

Used coffee grounds make a nitrogen-, magnesium- and calcium-rich contribution to the garden. Coffee grounds make a profitable “green,” or nitrogen containing, addition to the compost. They can also be tossed directly into the garden as mulch or tilled in as a soil amendment, improving soil structure and increasing the availability of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Contrary to popular thought, coffee grounds do not have to be restricted to hydrangeas, blueberries or other acid-loving plants; soil testing has shown that coffee grounds provide a relatively pH-neutral effect as they decompose. Tip: Limit the coverage to a 1-inch thickness in order to prevent mold from forming.

If scattered onto the surface of the soil, the gritty coffee grounds can serve as an effective slug and snail barrier for susceptible plants. Worms, on the other hand, love coffee grounds! Add about a cup a week into your worm bin for some very happy creepy crawlers and rich vermicompost.

If, for some unfathomable reason, you aren’t an avid coffee consumer, you can drive to your nearest coffee shop and ask to take their used coffee grounds. Many coffee shops (Starbucks, for example) have them bagged and ready to take.


Coffee In The Coop

Coffee chaff, a byproduct of roasting the beans, can be used as a soft coop litter.
Coffee chaff, a byproduct of roasting the beans, can be used as a soft coop litter. Photo by Cherie Marcel

Got chickens? What about bunnies? One of my favorite uses for coffee in my little urban farm is in the chicken coop and rabbit hutch. First, let me be clear, chickens and bunnies should not be fed coffee grounds! In this case I’m referring to the lesser-known coffee roasting byproduct, coffee chaff.

Coffee chaff is the lightweight, pale brown skin that is shed from the coffee bean during the roasting process. Similar in nutrient value to the grounds, coffee chaff can also be added to compost or garden soil. However, there is debate in cyberland about whether the chaff is a “green” or a “brown” contribution to the compost. While coffee chaff does contain nitrogen, many urban farmers claim to have used it as a brown component, much like dried leaves, in their compost with great results.

I have tried straw, wood chips, wood shavings and sand as litter in my chicken coop and run with varying degrees of success. I found the straw to be difficult to contain, with stray strands of straw traveling throughout the yard. Wood chips are a chicken favorite in the open portion of the run, as the wood chips invite grubs and such as they decompose, but they’re a definite no in the nest boxes. Pine shavings are soft to walk on, easy to scoop and provide a heavenly scent to the less-pleasant aroma of poultry poop. Unfortunately, when it comes to composting the coop litter, the straw, wood chips and shavings all take a significant amount of time to breakdown. Sand has proven to be an easy-to-clean method in the run, provides a great opportunity for the flock to indulge in dust baths, and has no breaking down to do when composted with the poop; but, sand alone isn’t very soft for nest boxes or warm for cold winter nights.

Enter coffee chaff. Coffee chaff is soft, smells great, is easy to scoop, and breaks down beautifully in the compost. Because it can be used directly in the soil, doesn’t have to be completely broken down for the compost to be ready to use. Best of all, coffee chaff is free. Most coffee roasters throw the chaff into the trash. I simply call them up and ask them to save some chaff for me to pick up. They are usually more than happy to do so.

When cleaning out the coop, you can add your coffee chaff litter into the compost bin.
When cleaning out the coop, you can add your coffee chaff litter into the compost bin. Photo by furtwangl/Flickr.

I use the chaff in the nest boxes and sleeping quarters of the chicken coop. I also use coffee chaff as bedding and litter box lining in the bunny hutch. This makes for very easy bunny litter cleaning. I just take the litter box out and dump it directly into the compost or garden soil since bunny poop is a great fertilizer and doesn’t require aging prior to use. So, as I savor my morning salvation, I feel a sense of satisfaction in knowing that my dependence on the almighty coffee bean is actually a pretty great thing. To recap, coffee:

  • helps one to accept morning awakeness
  • provides countless physical and mental health benefits
  • makes a valuable contribution to compost and garden soil (less landfill, more veggies, happy planet)
  • keeps chicken and bunny feet clean and warm

Some might even say people who drink coffee are heroes. And yet, with all of its goodness I must admit that the last sip is always a little bittersweet.


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