Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

MI Free Compost

 Need an idea about how to amend your soil cheaply?  Here are the 4 ways that I obtain compost, as well as some additional suggestions:

My 4 Free Compost Sources:

1. I make my own compost in bins from a mix of waste kitchen scraps, egg shells, weeds and fall leaves. I punched holes in the sides of 2 old trash cans and add my scraps to these. This is a slow composting method, because the piles are not large and do not get turned often, but it works!

2. I also compost in a worm bin. The "300 Hermans" munch on shredded paper and food scraps to produce nutrient rich worm castings. Check out my post to learn how to start your own worm bin:

3. The staff at Brighton Rec Stables have been kind enough to let me recycle their horse/goat/alpaca manure. I shovel it into garbage bags and bring it back to my garden. Gregarious animals are the ultimate compost factories if you think about it.  Plant matter goes in one end and compost comes out the other!  It is best to let manure rot for a while to avoid "burning" plants with excess nitrogen.  A few weeks in the hot sun is usually long enough to wait.  The manure should be crumbly and dry before use as the urine moisture is the main source of nitrogen -- nitrogen is what may "burn" the plants.  This "burning" is not as big a concern as some people think, however.  Manure has a nitrogen level around 10 to 12 when fresh. Farmers use fertilizers with nitrogen levels up to 15. People often buy 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 fertilizers for their lawn.  So, unless you have a very nitrogen sensitive plant, or you bury your plant in an overly- large pile of manure, you should not have a problem.  Simply let the manure dry, and add an inch or so to the soil surface, an inch or two distance from the plant stem ( to avoid stem rot). Or, work a couple inches of the manure into the soil before planting.

4. Starbucks gives away free coffee grounds to anyone who asks for them. Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK: 2.1-0.3-0.3) as well as magnesium, copper, calcium, zinc and iron.   For pracitical applications, I recommend adding about 1/4 inch or so to the soil surface as top dressing, or working up to an inch or so into the soil before planting. Contrary to popular belief, coffee grounds will NOT acidify your soil. They actually have the same pH as ordinary bagged garden soil from your local big box store (approximate pH of 6.8 -- remember pH 7 is neutral).  If you want to acidify your soil, I suggest adding sulfur and/or peat moss. If your soil is too acidic, I suggest adding lime or a limited/careful amount of wood ash. Fertilizing with coffee will not make much difference unless you bury your garden in the stuff.

Other Free Compost Suggestions:

1. Live near or work in a restaurant? I bet they have a ton of waste food scraps and/or coffee grounds that you could ask for.

2. Live near or work in a hair salon? Hair makes great compost! Just make sure to avoid dyes or processed hair scraps - those contain chemicals.

3. Got chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs or other veggie-eating pets? Their pellets and waste bedding make great compost. 

WARNING: Do NOT use dog or cat poop. Their stool carries diseases such as toxoplasmosis and others that can be a risk to humans. Unsure if your pet's stool is safe to compost? Ask your veterinarian for advice.

4. Live near a lake or ocean? Washed up seaweed makes good compost. But please, only take what is already dead. Do not harm plants living in the environment.

5. Is your neighbor throwing out fall leaves? Take them home with you! Leaf mold makes great mulch and compost.

6. Generally, grass clippings should be left on your lawn to fertilize the lawn. But if you are knocking down a thick, over-grown field, save the grass clippings! They make a nitrogen-rich compost.

7. Some cities, counties and trash dumps make free or cheap compost as part of their recycling program. Google your local municipality to see if this is available to you.

8. Are you a fishmonger, or do you live near one?  Fish skeletons and left over bits make good compost once they rot. Just be sure to compost these in a bin that you can secure against raccoons and other vermin that may enjoy fish.  Also place your bin downwind, as it may stink!

9. Human urine is also high in Nitrogen.  It can be diluted and poured on the soil.  This is generally safe as long as the person producing the urine does not have a urinary tract infection. 

DO NOT use human stool! Human stool contains e-coli, cholera and other nasties that spread disease.  It takes over 10 years for human stool to break down enough to be safe as a manure - so just skip it, okay!?!

Remember: Compost is best to apply in late fall to help protect over-wintering plants (like mulch) or early spring.  It can also be added to any new garden bed as part of preparation for planting.

I hope that these ideas are helpful. Now get out there and dig!

Make hay while the sun shines!


  1. cattle manure must be aged 2 - 3 yrs, so must horse.
    did you do a ph test to coffee grinds, they are acidic and I use sparingly in composting.
    In containers make sure you have drainage in it on the bottom and side vents, to get air and drain excess water, if you dont turn it.
    I compost in a trench instead of piles or bins.

  2. Your point about horse manure is well taken. It should indeed be allowed to rot. Fresh manure should not be used.

    Coffee grounds have a pH of around 6.8 when tested. pH of 7 is neutral. So they are actually only slightly acidic, and are no more acidic than ideal garden soil or garden soil from a bag. To learn more please see:

    I agree about the compost bin. MIt does need holes for air to circulate. As you can see from the picture, and my text, I did indeed punch holes in the compost bin that I am using.

  3. Also, I did note in my text that manure should be allowed to rot. 😃