By now I’m pretty sure we’re all on board with the idea of reducing our waste, especially when it comes it food scraps. I mean, composting is so easy and provides such a better alternative to adding to the landfill it’s kind of a no-brainer, right? But finished compost takes a while and your garden wants it’s macronutrients now! So how can we shortcut the line between the nutrients in our food waste and the garden where it’s needed? Turns out, it’s pretty easy. So finish that banana and grab some coffee grounds and eggshells and let’s discuss the best ways to be using food scraps in the garden.
Using Food Scraps in the Garden
I always have a ton of egg shells around, it’s kind of crazy. I eat several eggs just about every day with my breakfast, then there’s homemade mayo, pasta, Caesar dressing and the occasional bunch of Deviled Eggs. There is no shortage of egg shells here (why don’t I have my own chickens yet?). Often enough, I simply clean and dry the shells and then toss them into my compost pile where they’ll eventually be used in the garden with my finished compost. But there are several ways to use eggshells directly in the garden.
The easiest thing to do is simply toss your eggshells into an unused plot over the winter and till them into the soil when prepping for the new season of planting. Some people don’t like to leave the eggshells laying about, so you can also save them in a dry place and crumble them into the soil during your prep. If you’re planting new starts, you can also place ground or crushed eggshells directly into the hole before you lay in the plant. This will put the Calcium and other nutrients right where the roots can grab it as the shells break down in the soil.
Eggshells are an excellent source of Calcium. While Calcium is considered a secondary nutrient for plants, your garden will certainly appreciate the added minerals, especially if you grow tomatoes or peppers. It can take a while for the Calcium to break down and become available to the plants so it’s recommended to treat the soil the season before. To make the nutrients more readily available for quicker uptake, it’s also possible to make a fertilizer tea by soaking the egg shells for a few days in a solution of water and vinegar.
If you have problems with slugs and snails in your garden, try sprinkling coarsely-crumbled eggshells around the plants where these slimy little pests like to dine. The shells’ sharp edges deter snails and slugs by abrading the sensitive foot of any land mollusc that attempts to cross the barrier similar to using Diatomaceous Earth (DE).
Bananas are not something we eat a lot of around my house. In fact, I’ll usually only buy and eat bananas when I need the potassium or the garden does. Potassium is one of the three primary macronutrients plants need to be healthy and banana peels offer a great, natural supply of potassium that is easily incorporated into the soil. Bananas also contain good amounts of Calcium and Phosphorus, both of which play key roles in plant growth and development.
Taking advantage of the nutrients in banana peels could not be more simple. Either whole, or chopped to pieces, simply add the banana peel to your soil. Easy. If you need a big punch of Potassium you can add the whole banana by burying it under your new starts (again chopped or whole). The banana will decompose faster if it’s chopped into smaller pieces that are easier for microorganisms to consume.
Another way to take advantage of the nutrients in banana peels is to make “banana water” by soaking peels in water for a day or two and then using the water in your garden. Some of the nutrients will have leached into the water and are made available to the plants. You can still add the remaining peel to the soil or compost. If you have a Vermiculture Farm, banana peels make great food for your worms as well.
Potassium promotes strong plant health, disease and pest resistance, is necessary in promoting fruiting and a handful of enzyme functions. Phosphorus also strongly influences fruiting and flowers and, along with calcium, can promote strong root development.
If there’s one thing we have plenty of around here, it’s coffee grounds. With all the coffee shops on every corner there’s plenty for everyone and if you want some for your compost or garden, most shops will be happy to give you theirs. But are coffee grounds really good for your garden? That question comes up a lot.
The problem is one of acidity. Coffee grounds bring a lot of benefits to the garden: improving soil structure and bringing a supply of nutrients like Nitrogen, Magnesium and Phosphorus. On the other hand, the grounds are also basically sterile (having been boiled for coffee) so they don’t introduce any living, organic matter and most coffee grounds will be slightly acidic which can throw off your garden’s pH.
Using coffee grounds is easy enough, simply add to your compost (usually no more than 10% of your compost should be coffee grounds) or add directly to the garden. But, as with all soil amendments, you should check the current state of your soil first. Test the soil pH, then test your coffee grounds. If your garden is on the alkaline side and could use a little pH adjustment then maybe coffee is exactly what you garden needs. Out west, native soils do run on the alkaline side and coffee grounds can work wonders. In the eastern US, soils often run a little acidic naturally so adding coffee can be disastrous.
If coffee grounds are in high supply (as they are here) and you really want to use them in your garden or compost, It is recommended to mix a cup of lime or woodash to every 10 pounds of grounds BEFORE you add them to your garden or compost. This should be enough to neutralize the pH and make the grounds safe and usable.