A Cup of Coffee for Me, A Cup of Coffee for the Garden…

Building Up Your Soil

I went to my local cafe for a cup of coffee to savour while sitting and writing this post. I have been going there a lot lately, picking up organic matter for the many gardens I work with, working away slowly to build up nutrients in the soil. This is the time of year when you learn what your soil is made of. You can look at the colour of your leaves, see how big they’ve grown and how many flowers are budding on their stalks, and compare it to your neighbour’s yard for one of the best soil tests around.

Tomato Plants Growing in One Location...

The Same Tomato Plants in Another Location!

If your garden is the one with the little plants, or the yellow leaves, don’t despair, it’s just your soil asking for a bit of love. If your garden is the one with big lush growth, deep green leaves and lots of buds, don’t take it for granted, and give your garden bits of love here and there when you have the time.

So what does loving your soil look like?

Compost is great, and you really can’t add too much of it to your garden soil. Mix it in at the beginning of the year, and add layers of it around your plants every month or every other month if you can. If that feels like a lot of work another great way to work on your soil is to add organic matter directly to your soil. This will act as a mulch and as they slowly decompose, they will add new nutrients to your soil. Mulching is also helpful to keep down weeds, keep the soil moist and creates a worm haven. You can use lots of different organic materials depending on what is most available in your environment. I have been adding layers of used coffee grinds (considered a green material, and a good source of nitrogen) with layers of  coffee chaff (the outside husk of a coffee bean that comes off in the roasting process, and would be considered a brown material).

Coffee chaff as mulch with coffee grinds underneath. This is a new garden and our soil building has only just begun!

There are lots of materials in our urban and rural environments that add nutrients to our soil. Pick a few that are easy for you to come by and try to mix it up sometimes to ensure you are getting a broad spectrum of nutrients. All the materials listed below can be used in your compost bin, or you can use them as mulch and allow them to decompose slowly into your soil. Just know that this will be a slow process, building your soil up over many seasons, so don’t look for those lush green leaves after a few days!

Some great things to add to your soil include:


A readily available organic matter in Nova Scotia. Use it as a mulch, in your compost bin, or add it to your soil. It is a good idea to rinse the seaweed, or allow it to sit for a while before adding it directly to your garden bed, but lots of folks put it straight on the garden without rinsing it. It contains many important nutrients for your soil. Kelp meal, a type of seaweed can also be purchased at gardening stores, which is rich in bioactivators, which wake up all the microbes in the soil to help break down organic matter and make it available to plants.

More info: http://ventnorpermaculture.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/using-seaweed-in-the-garden/

Grass clippings

A good source of nitrogen for your soil. You can use them as a mulch, although they do decompose quickly and so you need to top up your mulch regularly, or use them in your compost bin. Ask your neighbors to save their clippings for you, making sure they aren’t sprayed with chemicals.

Fallen Leaves

Leaves make a good mulch and you can also add them to your soil or compost. They are carbon rich, so if you add them to your soil, be sure to add a nitrogen source along with them (like coffee grinds or fresh grass clippings). It is a good idea to shred the leaves to aid in their slow decomposition and help prevent them from matting, but isn’t necessary.

Organic Gardening’s How-To Guide to make Leaf Mould:


Coffee Grinds

Are rich in nitrogen, you can add them to your compost pile or to your garden bed. Some people say they are acidic, while others argue that most of the acidity gets washed out in the brewing process. If you are worried about this you can add coffee grinds with eggshells, which will help to neutralize the pH. Worms love coffee grinds, as do azaleas and tomatoes. You can ask your local coffee shop to save grinds for you, or you can use your grinds from home.

A History of Coffee in the Garden:



Add calcium to your garden, they also raise the pH, making them a good amendment for acidic soils, which are common in these parts. If you are adding them directly to your soil, grind them into a powder first, or you can keep them corse to try to deter slugs. Try asking your local bakery if they are able to save some eggshells for you.

Animal Manures

Fresh manure is a great addition to your compost pile, and well-rotted manure can be added directly to your garden bed. You can use 1/2 rotted manure in a sheet mulch in the fall (where you essentially build a compost pile on top of your garden or on top of sod), so that it will be ready to plant in the spring. Different animal manure contain different nutrients, with chicken, sheep and horse manure being higher in nitrogen. Check with a local stable, or look on kijiji for people looking to give away their manure.

Wood Ashes

A source of calcium and potassium. They also raise your pH level, helping to amend acidic soil. Use wood ash carefully, making sure not to alter your soil pH too much or too quickly.

There are also many store-bought amendments such as bloodmeal, bonemeal, fish emulsion, kelp meal, alfalfa, and organic fertilizers. These can be useful if you have a severe nutrient deficiency or are unable to access these other soil enrichers.

For More Information:




8 thoughts on “A Cup of Coffee for Me, A Cup of Coffee for the Garden…

  1. I’ve had a lot of success using seaweed to keep slugs out of the garden. I put seaweed around the perimeter of my leafy greens, and the slugs hate the saltiness when it’s fresh and the crispy, brittleness once the seaweed has dried. Also, you can solidify your reputation as a crazy old weirdo when people see you collecting garbage bags of seaweed on a sunny day at Crystal Crescent.

  2. Pingback: 10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden | Halifax Garden Network

  3. Pingback: Backyard Composting Basics | Halifax Garden Network

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