Used Coffee Beans..

The folk over at the Phillippines for Natural Farming Inc, have been telling me that they get used coffee beans from Starbucks, treat it with Indigenous Micro-Organism solution 2 and give it to worms to create compost. I suggested there might be a better way..

Step 1

Get used coffee beans from Starbucks. They have a grinds for gardens program where you just walk in and ask for their used coffee beans and they will give them to you. Most coffee shops will give them to you for free. Now fresh coffee grinds are really useful for a couple of reasons. First, they have no chemicals in them. Second, they’re pasteurized, which is to say heat treated, to get rid of microbes and fungal spores. So it’s clean in all senses of the word. 

Step 2. Combine with Oyster Mushroom spores and keep moist.

Since the coffee beans are already pasteurized there is a colonization window during which you can introduce your chosen fungi spores. They get a competition free start on the material before other microbes and fungi can get in there. Once your oyster fungi is established it is strong enough to keep most things out.

Step 3. Harvest mushrooms, probably (2x)

Providing you kept your mushroom bin moist but not over soggy you will be able to harvest the bin twice.

Step 4.  This is where it gets really interesting.

The used substrate (what the coffee beans turn into when fungi colonizes it) can be used as fodder for chickens, pigs and cows directly, no further processing needed. ZERO Emissions Research and Initiative (ZERI) projects do exactly this.

However, you can also take the substrate and following guidelines from Paul Stamets (basically for fungi cultivation what Dr. Cho is for plant cultivation) you can get two additional products.

If you soak it in cold water will make substance a little like the worm tea you get when you soak vermicompost. This tea is a nutritious fertilizer and a potent insecticide.

If however, you submerge the bulk substrate in hot water you will get a different tea, in this case a naturally potent herbicide.

The used substrate can be mixed with soil and will reduce the parastic nematode population in the soil. Basically the mushroom chemically stuns the nematode worm, spears it with a fungal filament and then sucks out everything inside.

If you add oyster mycelium to brassica crops, such as brussel sprouts and the like, the plant and the fungi form a symbiotic relationship which greatly increases crop production.

So there you have it..

Two inputs = free used coffee beans and purchased spores (you only need to purchase the once)

but with

But we have 7  outputs

1. Mushrooms

2. Animal fodder.

3. Organic Pesticide and Fertilizer.

4. Organic Herbicide.

5. A nematode control agent in soil gardens.

6. A brassica/mushroom symbiosis that produces bigger healthier plant plus.. 

7. Yet more mushrooms from the symbiosis.

Alternatively, you could dump the substrate into a worm bin and let the worms chomp on it. It might be better though to feed it to chickens in a shed over a worm bin and let the chicken poop become the worm food since this would yield eggs and protein faster.

And then since you have worms you could take them and use them in a fishpond, getting more protein. This is a little more involved though since you need to aerate the water to get good stocking densities, and since you’d be doing that you might as well invest some money in an aquaculture system.

So in some ways you can feed the worms better on vegetable scraps since the coffee beans are so ideal for mushroom production.



  1. October 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you Ian for the input. Here in the Philippines, specially in Mindanao we used banana leaf which is abundant from banana plantation. and after that we also decomposed and throw it into the compost bin for vermiculture. If we have enough vermi or worms we ferment it. we don’t give live worms to chicken because they go crazy and put lots of stress to the chicken and the caretaker. We used the juice for plant and the worms to feeds.

    • October 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm

      Hi Josephine,

      I’d like to know more about fermenting vermicompost. It’s the first time I’ve heard of such a thing.

  2. October 28, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    I would like to try this but would like a suggestion as to where to get the oyster mushroom spores (rather than just do the empiric internet search). Thanks for the help!


    • October 30, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      In North America, you could try Fungi Perfect, the company owned by the God of mushrooms – Paul Stamets. I’m in Korea so I had to find someone at an agricultural research station to get me a supplier’s telephone number. If you are in Korea as well, drop me a line and I will give it to you.

  3. Edward said,

    May 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    can be directly the coffee beans directly to soak a cold or hot water in order you make organic fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide or I have to make the mushroom first?

    • August 17, 2012 at 8:44 am

      The agroinputs are produced by the fungus in the coffee beans. So I don’t believe you would have to get mushrooms out of the coffee first, just have the substrate colonized by the fungi so that you see white threads everywhere.

      Hope that helps..


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