Ground to Ground

The History of Used Coffee Grounds for Gardening

A History of Coffee Grounds for Gardening, Compost, and Fertilizer

Coffee has been served for hundreds of years, from the earliest coffee houses of Istanbul and ‘Penny Universities‘ of London, to cafe tables filling Melbourne city laneways, it is hard to imagine life without it.

You can find out just about anything about the history of coffee, but one thing that is not so well known is that for as long as coffee has been served, the spent coffee grounds have been used for compost and fertilizer. As green living becomes increasingly popular, this age old practise is being rediscovered by a new generation of home gardeners.

So what historical evidence is available about the use of this delightful resource? Let’s take a tour…

holding a pile of used coffee grounds

Title Southern cultivator, Volume 11
Publisher J.W. & W.S. Jones., 1853

A correspondent of the Western Horticultural lie view recommends the use of coffee grounds for the destruction of the peach worm, or borer Aegeria exitiosa.) He says:

“In the last ten or fifteen years much has been said and done on this subject, and after all nothing has been gained. I have experimented for two or three years with great success, by the application of coffee grounds to my trees.

My method is, to take away a little of the top soil from around the body of the tree, putting the coffee grounds its place, in the proportion of a quart to a large tree, and pint to a small one. This I do twice in the year – the first week in June and the first in September. I will venture to say, that if properly attended to, this will prove a sure preventive against the ravages of this relentless destroyer.”

Title Once a Week
Editor Eneas Sweetland Dallas
Publisher Bradbury and Evans., 1868

A few years ago a new species the Naples mushroom Agaricus Neapolitanus was accidentally discovered or probably we should say produced and has since spread rapidly. The nuns in a certain convent at Naples were in the habit of throwing their coffee grounds after each meal into a shady corner of their garden. A new mushroom sprung up from the fermenting mass of decaying coffee and it was found when tasted to be excellent. It is now customary in many parts of Italy to cultivate this mushroom by collecting coffee grounds in a common flower pot which is kept always moist and in the shade. In about six months the young crop commonly makes its appearance.

Title House plants and how to succeed with them
Author Lizzie Page Hillhouse
Publisher A.T. De La Mare Ptg. & Pub. Co., 1897

COFFEE. – This plant is only mentioned in this work, from the circumstance, that the refuse of the coffee pot is found to have a singularly powerful effect as a manure; of course, it can be of very limited usefulness, but it may be applied in the garden. This refuse (coffee grounds) is used to a large extent on the Continent, with the most favourable results. One cause of this is, that it contains a notable quantity of nitrogenous material (caseine), which aids the large quantities of alkalies and phosphoric acid present in the bean. The analysis of the coffee bean shows such an amount of fertilizing ingredients, as to render it advisable to save for manure the enormous quantity of coffee refuse now thrown away:

Potash 50.4, Soda 14.76, Lime 4.33, Magnesia 10.90, Oxide of iron 0.66, Phosphoric acid 13.59, Sulphuric acid trace, Chlorine 1.24, Silica 3.58

Title A Cyclopedia of Agriculture, Practical and Scientific: In which the Theory, the Art, and the Business of Farming are Thoroughly and Practically Treated, Volume 1
Editor John Chalmers Morton
Publisher Blackie and son, 1855

One would think that with the various uses to which all kinds of
foodstuffs may be put that there would be little left for the yawning
garbage pail. But the Secretary of the United States Department of
Agriculture is responsible for the statement that $750,000,000 worth
of food has been wasted annually in the American kitchen. Undoubtedly
a large part of this wastefulness was due to ignorance on the part of
the housewife, and the rest of it to the lack of co-operation on
the part of the employees who have handled the food but not paid the
bills.

According to a well-known domestic scientist, the only things which
should find their way to the garbage pail are:

Egg shells–after being used to clear coffee.
Potato skins–after having been cooked on the potato.
Banana skins–if there are no tan shoes to be cleaned.
Bones–after having been boiled in soup kettle.
Coffee grounds–if there is no garden where they can be used for
fertilizer, or if they are not desired as filling for pincushions.
Tea leaves–after every tea-serving, if they are not needed for
brightening carpets or rugs when swept.
Asparagus ends–after being cooked and drained for soup.
Spinach, etc.–decayed leaves and dirty ends of roots.

Title Popular Science, Vol. 92, Jan 1918

Bury the Coffee-Grounds in the Garden. They Fertilize the Soil.

The question of what to do with the coffee-grounds has at last been satisfactorily answered. Just pour them out into the sin-strainer and dump them into the garden. They contain some valuable fertilizing properties, including a large percentage of nitrogen and a fair amount of potassium and phosphorus.

Title Overland monthly and the Out West magazine
Author Making of America Project
Editor Bret Harte
Published 1909

Page 356

…coffee grounds and tea leaves can be put to good use in enriching the flower beds.

Title American fertilizer, Volumes 20-21
Publisher Ware Bros., 1904

Page 26

Coffee grounds exert a remarkably beneficial effect of carnations, producing enormous flowers, reports a French authority.

A Long History of Coffee Grounds Usage

So keep in mind the good company you are in when using those coffee grounds for the garden for composting and fertilizer, or whatever it happens to be. In this post we have articles going back 150 years on the topic, and there are many more out there, waiting to be brought out to a modern audience.

What other evidence is out there I wonder? Coffee has had a place in society for many centuries, and the use of the spent grounds was discovered not by a single person.

I’m very much looking forward to finding out more!

What is your history of using coffee grounds for gardening? Share it with us.

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23 thoughts on “The History of Used Coffee Grounds for Gardening

  1. Pingback: How to make Money from Used Coffee Grounds – Part 1 | Coffee Grounds to Ground

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  5. Nice write-up, good historical tidbits. We’re in agreement with your recycle-it point-of-view and do our part to minimize what goes to the land fill by recycling and renovating our custom espresso machines. Cheers to greener growth!

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  6. Pingback: A Cup of Coffee for Me, A Cup of Coffee for the Garden… | Halifax Garden Network

  7. is your website supported on safari browser.because i tried using it through safari but the sidebar goes out of the page.

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    • Can’t say I know the answer to that Ozone?? This is the biggest (and perhaps only) website dedicated to collecting used coffee grounds for gardening, plus other cool stuff I do around the place.

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  8. Thank you for taking time to put this together. Have been through your articles and there is more here about used coffee grounds than any other website I’ve ever seen!! Do you know if a book has ever been written about using coffee grounds in compost and gardening? If not maybe you want to do it :)
    Keep it up – Duncan.

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  9. Great post Shane. How far back do you think they were using the coffee grounds?? This only goes back to the 19th century.

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  10. Well done for getting this information out to a bigger audience. Thought I was the only one that collected coffee grounds and seems that it has been going on for ages. In good company anyway you know all those gardeners throughout history that have been making compost with coffee grounds for all that time. Cheers – Trevor.

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