Sunday, January 22, 2012

Frugal Gardener: Free Coffee-Shop Garden Kits

Free garden kits begin at your favorite coffee shop

Hey, Frugal Gardeners, when you next shell out a buck or two for a morning coffee at your favorite coffee shop, drink your coffee but save the cup, the top, the cardboard insulator, and the wooden stirrer to help start your Garden 2012.

The coffee, of course, will cost you something.  But after you’ve enjoyed the hot java recycle make a coffee-shop garden kit out of your “trash.”  Here’s how this Frugal Gardener recycles these throwaways, but you may be even more creative:

Cup: Punch two holes in the bottom with a Phillips screwdriver and use as a starter cup for vegetable, herb, or flower seeds.  I prefer cardboard cups because they decompose over time—in a landfill after I’ve used them to start plants.  I prefer standard 12-ounce cups to the Starbucks “tall” cup—which is taller by comparison but narrower too—because I think the slightly shorter but wider cups accommodate multiple plants better.

Recycle your "trash"
Top:  I cut a pie-slice wedge out of a plastic top and use it as a divider to make two starter cells as I add sterile starting soil to a cup.  When it’s time to transplant into the garden, the plastic wedges make it easy for me to gently pull the two plants apart with minimal root damage.  Sometimes I make the wedges from plastic clamshell containers supermarket berries come in.

Stirrer:  I mark an abbreviation on a stirrer and use it in a cup to indicate the seed variety in the cup.  For example, CELE means Celebrity tomato and RS means Red Sails lettuce.  I could use stirrers to mark the ends of rows in the garden if I didn’t use branches cut from our forsythia bushes.

Insulator:  Most cardboard insulators have a row of perforations that make it easy to divide each insulator into two equal pieces.  I wrap each piece around the stem of a tomato transplant, with half the insulator above ground, half below, to keep cutworms from chainsawing the young plants just above soil level.

Those four “gardening kit” parts come with your order at most coffee shops, but one shop has a policy of doing more.  That shop is Starbucks, which requires its baristas to prepare bags of free coffee grounds for gardeners to use to amend their soil.

Look for the brown barrel
with the silver packages
The baristas at the Starbucks in our local Giant Foods store said bagging grounds is part of their job description—and they do it when their other work assignments permit.  If there’s a line of customers, for example, grounds don’t get bagged.  That Starbucks kiosk has a short, brown “barrel” near the pick-up counter where the baristas put the silver-colored bags labeled, “Grounds for Your Garden.”  The heavy-gauge plastic bags of grounds each originally held five pounds of beans.

I’d had gardeners mention they’ve never been able to get a bag of Starbucks grounds.  The baristas advised that a disappointed gardener should stop and ask about the best time to find bags available.  They also said sometimes a gardener takes every available bag.  Yes, sometimes I find the barrel empty.

One barista gave me a valuable tip: Take a bag that seems full but relatively light.  The grounds in that bag probably are from the espresso machine and are “dry” compared to the “wet” ones from the regular brewing machines, so the bag contains more grounds, less moisture.  And I’ve noticed that sometimes the bags are only a quarter full, which may indicate that perhaps some baristas aren’t exactly excited about bagging grounds.

Even though your local coffee shop doesn’t have a comprehensive recycling program like Starbuck’s, perhaps staffers there would save you a bucket of grounds.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so smile and inquire about possibilities.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been saving parts of  coffee shop “garden kits” for springtime use—and I’ve added a dozen bags or more of Starbucks “Grounds for Your Garden” to our garden soil—all for free—well, free if you don’t count the cost of the coffee you’ve enjoyed.

Please post a Comment telling how you recycle everyday throwaways by using them in your garden.


  1. I use the black plastic round containers with clear lids from the chinese take out for many uses. starting seeds with lid on. using lids as pot saucers. growing moss gardens; holes in dish and lid underneath. Also for flower arrangement containers.

  2. Yes, Anonymous! Two thumbs up! Recycle containers and save a few $$$. You're an official Frugal Gardener! Bob

  3. Its been a while since Starbucks started to used this kind of routine.