Coffee grounds: solution to life’s problems or devil dirt?


Coffee grounds are probably the most redneck solution to growing plants.  I have some sort of spider plant growing by my windowsill at work.  Its previous home was a plastic cup perched on top of the office microwave.  It was being given away for free.

Someone came by, saw the plant, and suggested, “I get great results when I add coffee grounds!”  Oh, people and their suggestions.  So, of course, I abscond to the coffee pot when I get the chance and use it to recycle some coffee grounds. The streaks of brown you see are some of the unadulterated coffee grounds that I just dumped into the pot.

The organic Colombian-based soil is a hit with fruit flies.  A tiny ecosystem has developed in the dirt, and flies love to live there.  The activity has slowed down somewhat, what with flies maturing and heading off to college and they grow up so quickly these days.

But… are coffee grounds good for plants?

According to one site, coffee grounds improve drainage and attract microorganisms.  Given the colony of fruit flies that lived here, I can attest to the last part.  It also acts like some sort of fertilizer.  Plus, apparently some pests like slugs and feral cats are put off by coffee grounds, perhaps for religious reasons.  Sprinkle some coffee grounds around and they’ll stay away.  Allegedly.

The downside?  Apparently, coffee grounds are acidic.  Fresh grounds are more acidic than used grounds… so put that thought in your head the next time you drink that cup of joe and down some BOILING ACID down your throat.  There are some studies that show that used grounds are pH neutral (which means NO acid).  The link I posted, though, mentions some flaws in the study. The pH neutral batch was mixed in with regular soil and compost, which dilutes the potency.  My method —- and I’m guessing a lot of folks methods — is just layering the coffee grounds right on top of the soil.  So perhaps there is some acid lying up there.

There are plants out there that don’t like acidic soil, so you have to be careful whom to feed the coffee grounds to.

At least from my experience, the plant growing on my windowsill is looking great… but I have no idea if it was going to look that great even without its caffeine injection.


Cut for life

Some people like to plant new tulips every year, treating them as annuals. As I am lazy and don’t want to particularly buy new bulbs each year when the current crop will do, I try to keep them.  This means chopping the dead flowers off.

Why? Why do something so barbaric and reduce a once brilliant plant into something that looks like a bad piece of green pottery?

Have you ever wondered how water travels up a plant’s stem? It’s a combination of several factors. A big one is something called — say it with me, class — “transpiration”.  In laymen’s terms, this means that the water in a plant evaporates upward.  Trees do this; water vapor goes out the leaves.  In the case of plants, the vapor goes out the flower.

Chopping off the flower is like turning off a faucet.  The valve closes off, and the water doesn’t leave the bulb.  This is good for the tulip; it stores the water in the bulb, which keeps it alive for next year.

I imagine in nature, this happens when local animals chomp down on the flower (which contains delicious spices in the stamen, I’m sure).  Since deer don’t hang around our subdivision, the flower chomping is done by a pair of Office Max scissors.  I’ll leave the stamen on the ground; maybe some hungry raccoon will need a midnight snack tonight.

Atomic Gardens

I love listening to the 99 Percent Invisible Podcast, and their more recent one dovetails with this blog: Atomic Gardens. Atomic science was all the rage in the 50’s. Not all of it was directed to war. One such project was atomic gardening, which implored curious gardeners to grow gigantic mutant plants. To solve world hunger of course. One of the adopters was an English gardener named Muriel Howarth, who founded the international Atomic Gardening Society. Its goal: plant irradiated seeds and record the results.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you read it) we never got mutant veggies. We do regularly consume some of the products created from these experiments, though. You might think “irradiated plants” and imagine that you’re getting a healthy dose of gamma rays. In reality, the mutants plants are offspring from the original mutations. Genetic anomalies carry over, but not the radiation itself.

Though I probably won’t be growing any of these plants anytime soon. I probably still have to contend with the possibility that they become ambulatory and steal packages from the neighbors. That will not stand.

Why do I garden?

So why do I garden? There’s so much to be done in our new house, but I’ve been expending all my energy putting plants in the ground. In the middle of February of all times. Why do I do it? The answer is two fold.

1.) My wife gets to do all the stuff inside the house. That’s her domain to decorate.

2.) The new development is so… cookie cutter. All the same plants bought at discount and distributed to every new house. We all have the same trees, same shrubs, same patches of grass that I am sure were bought in bulk. I cannot be part of the pack. I need to stand out. And I need color. So while everyone else is styling in their drab green and browns, I am going to fill my yard with shocks of blue, red, and yellow. It’s for my mental health… and it’s to inspire others to do the same. I love my new neighborhood, even though I don’t know anyone there yet. And I want that neighborhood to be a place that people don’t see as real estate investments. I want them to see their yards as something to love. If I’m the first the truly make the garden sing, then let me be an inspiration to all.

A tale of two tulips

Around the same time I planted two sets of tulips.  One set was inside and on the windowsill.  The other set was outside, braving the rains, frost, and winds.

Here are the outdoor tulips now:

Here are the indoor tulips (which I placed outside).

By my little experiment, it seems tulips would rather be outside.

Currently listening to…

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben on  There’s some great out-there theories on how trees are more complex than we think they are. Are they sentient life forms?  Compelling evidence: did you know that when a tree gets chewed on a giraffe, it secretes a scent that not only is unpleasant to the giraffe, but also signals to other nearby trees to do the same thing?

There’s some cool stuff on how trees might actually practice parenting, and how they and fungi have a symbiotic relationship that allows trees to share resources and information.  I truly believe that we have only the most surface level knowledge of plants, and the book does a great job explaining how there is still much to learn.

Some critter done ate my crocus

These crocuses used to be pretty dang pretty.  They bloomed in the winter and the purple bloom looked great in the snow.  Unfortunately, one night I took a look at the crocus pot and the blossoms, as well as some of the leaves, were gone. What could have done this?

What’s this?  Looks like there’s a clue.  Enhance!

Aha! Critter tracks.  It could be a raccoon. Or a monster!

Apparently crocus is where you get saffron from.  So I really can’t blame the raccoon (or monster) for getting at that tasty treat. Still, sad face for no longer having a nice purple bloom that unraveled in the sunshine.  I had thought of planting some more crocuses, but am a little hesitant if they’re just gonna get ate.

Fun fact! Crocus is named after a character from Greek mythology.  He was unhappy with his affair with the nymph Smilax. As punishment for not being in love enough, I guess, he was transformed into the plant that bears his name.  And now he’s in the belly of some wild raccoon (or monster).

Also, Smilax is apparently not the name of a Pokémon.

RIP sweet crocus you were too good for this world.