Coffee grinds to heat cold frames in winter

Hi all,

I’ve been pondering for some time now how to grow vegetables on rooftops over the winter. I know that I don’t want to make a DIY Passive Solar Water Heater and I really know that I don’t want to use my fresnel lens solar concentrator, since this would have the unfortunate side effect of burning down the building.

So I am looking at heating the self irrigated planters using compost. I first came across this, which is basically making a compost heater out of a wheelie bin and some tubing. I suspect there is more to it than that, but it looked promising.

Here’s the link..

I then came across an article which stated several things..

Firstly, that coffee grinds are not acidic. Apparently all the acidity went into the espresso.

Secondly, germination tests on lettuce for coffee grounds ploughed directly into the soil in quantity showed stunted growth for lettuce.

And thirdly, and most importantly, when coffee grounds made up about a quarter of a compost pile, the compost pile stayed at between 135 to 155 degrees for two weeks, a sustained heat period longer than when manure was used. The piece essentially says that you can use coffee grinds in place of manure. This is wonderful news since manure is a problem in cities. Why? Well generally because the only large animals in cities tend to be humans and most people have a problem with people using the compost heap as a toilet. However, without the manure component you cannot get the heat loving (heat producing would be more like it) bacteria and without the heat loving bacteria there is no heating up plants in winter.

Here is the link..

So what I intend to do is heat my self irrigated planters with the wheelie bin compost heater using coffee grinds obtained from the local coffee shops. Should there be any smell associated with this I mean to use biochar to keep it down, since charcoal is apparently great at removing noxious smells from the air in confined spaces. And since I will be making my own biochar from coffee grounds.. ūüôā


Something else with used coffee grinds..

Hi Guys

Took a long break from the blog to work on some things, which nevertheless did not work out. You’ll appreciate how difficult it is to get something planet friendly off the ground.

Anyway, should be getting a frame from my 37 inch by 27 inch fresnel lens this weekend. Then I will be making biochar by toasting it.

Here’s how it works..

Take a glass jar, punch a single hole in the lid.

Take coffee grinds and place them in the jar. Doesn’t matter if they are wet.

Attach magnets to jar using wire.

Get a basin

Attach magnets to bottom of basin, so that magnetism working through the basin will hold the jar submerged beneath the water.

Fill basin with water so that the jar is completely submerged.

Use the giant fresnel lens to concentrate solar energy on the submerged jar.

Watch as black coffee absorbs concentrated heat and chars in the absence of oxygen. Glass does not break as it is cooled by the water. The water does not heat up much as the energy mostly passes through it and the energy beam is unfocussed in the water.

Various gases will be ejected from the jar via the single hole in the cap. The temperature inside the jar should rise too about 800 degrees.

After about half an hour it should all be done. Cover lens. Wait for water to cool jar down to ambient temperature.

Remove charcoal. Dip charcoal in various Korean Natural Farming Solutions so that the absorbent char does not suck the water out of your soil. Add biochar to soil.

Warning: A giant fresnel lens is like an arc welder. The focus point can melt metals, incinerate wood etc. I bought my Fresnel lens with safety goggles. I will be wearing protective clothing when doing this as well. Oh and dont do this around kids.

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.

Recent events..

Hi All,

Well here in Korea we have taken several steps towards getting a rooftop ecology up and running. Mostly I have been expanding my network. As you can imagine being a foreigner with little facility in Korean, getting something started here is difficult without friends and allies. Well I now have those friends and allies..

I have made friends with a senior civil servant at the Korean Department of Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries. Indeed, we are having dinner tonight.

Last night, I gave a presentation at Seoul National University (basically Korea’s Harvard) at the School of Architecture. Students from Kyung-Hee’s Landscape Architecture Department also came, so it turned into a bit of a conference. It went on for several hours and¬†when eventually we had to break it up, I had students asking me for more information as I walked out the door to catch my bus. I should explain that I am an ecocity advocate so I don’t own a car and I don’t drive.

I have an architect who will help with the building work, ensuring safe roof loads and the like. He is a professor at SNU. His name is Dr. Peter Ferretto.

I have a landscape architect who has business connections and can arrange access to roofs all over Seoul. She is a professor at Kyung Hee University. Her name is Dr. Han Saehi.

I also have OECD links in Korea now, thanks to Dr. Kim Chang-Gil, one of the leading architects of¬†Korea’s Green Growth policy and a senior researcher at the Korean Rural Economics Institute. He has been of invaluable assistance in getting agricultural research institute assistance.

Supporters outside of Korea include..

Peter Toensmeier, award winning perennial plant and forest garden author, Dr. Bruno Glazer, a soil chemist and terra preta expert at the University of Bayreuth..

In short, it looks like I need to start getting this system up and running so that I can plant my first rooftop ecology in the Spring.



Examine a sanitation system that takes fresh drinking water, drops humanure and urine into it and them pumps it over large distances in fragile pipes, all the while mixing it with water collected from drains and industrial processes. The input is a toxic stew that due to its complexity defies easy processing, and so much of it is not processed. How can such a system deal with a sudden downpour? It cant. The output of this system, the sludge at the bottom of the pools, is dried and sold as compost, despite the fact that it is laden with hydrocarbons, heavy metals and roundworm eggs.

Compare this with one in which humanure and urine are processed on site, in isolation from other forms of waste without the need for pumping and piping. You don’t pay for the fresh water pumping. You don’t pay for the polluted water pumping. You don’t pay for the dams, or the outflow pipes. You don’t pay in non-monetary terms in healthcare bills due to a polluted environment. You don’t pay for fish caught more expensively well beyond the toxic reach of the outflow pipe. You don’t pay for a swimming pool. The pond in the stream suffices. You don’t pay. You don’t pay. You don’t pay.

Examine a food production system that mines soil, turning rivers brown, while simultaneously poisoning it with agrochemicals. The food produced in this vile system is then mixed with the cheapest possible ingredients, transported over huge distances for extended lengths of time and then sold packaged in plastic, (often as fresh) at the highest possible price for the enrichment of a few.

Compare this with a rooftop farm which uses no agrochemicals, creates soil, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The food produced in this system is unadulterated, transported over several floors in a zero hydrocarbon, non refrigerated basket with no plastic anywhere in sight. You don’t pay for the transport. You don’t pay for the refrigeration. You don’t pay for the plastic. It IS fresh and provides for the enrichment, both monetarily and in quality of life of those who are fortunate enough to be able to eat it.

Examine a water system that pushes water in straight lines promoting the growth of bacteria and the movement of sediment, in pipes that you paid for using pumps that you paid for and electricity that you paid for. The water comes from a dam that you paid for, holding water on land that you paid to flood all the while destroying the watershed and separating fish from the spawning grounds necessary for their survival on the river.

Compare this with natural water flows with its bacteria destroying, sediment removing vortices which uses nothing but rainfall and gravity, both of which are natural services provided for free. The pipe becomes a river, sparkling and disinfected in sunlight. Use a filter and take the water directly from your roof or from a body of water. You pay for the filter and a short pipe. You don’t pay. You don’t pay. You don’t pay.

Apparent progress..

Well lads and lassies,

There’s been some progress.

I’ve been working with the Korea Rural Economics Institute for the last couple of years. This got me a seat at the KREI hosted OECD/FAO expert meeting on agriculture and the green economy. Being there got me on the list of researchers/innovators at the British Embassy. So anyway, last Thursday I went to a networking event at the British Embassy and met some other academic types. Could be something will come of that. I’m pretty¬†inured¬†to folk muttering green sounding platitudes and doing nothing, ¬†so I won’t be holding my breath.

I am hoping to add an architect to the team, so actually I am holding my breath a little.

Via AFEK, a networking site for F visa (ie. married to a Korean or has residence in Korea) holders, I got connected with Joe, an English teacher from Carlisle in England.  It could be that our little project has a roof at last.  Joe has sole access to his roof and his mother in law is a florist, so plenty of vegetation getting putting in compost bins.

Could be the limitations of my own situation will be overcome in the near future.


Korean Natural Farming – Bacteria Mineral Water

10. Bacteria Mineral Water (BMW)

(1.) What is BMW?

It is not an overstatement to say that one farms with water. Water is not merely moisture, for there are also various minerals in water which affect the life of the crops. To obtain sources for clean and good water is a basic necessity in farming. In some countries, including Japan, they are actually selling specially processed water for agriculture or stockbreeding. This signifies the importance of water. Even the harvest yield and its quality depend on the water.

Manufacturers have complicated ways of explaining their products, however the the basic principles of making good water are simple; make the water particles smaller for better absorption and to condition with minerals and microorganisms. This can be made by you!

The minerals and IMO’s in the rocks will dissolve into the water and you will get treated water for agricultural use that is rich in minerals, microorganisms and oxygen.

(2.) How to make BMW

1.  Dig a pond  of 120cm depth.

2.  Cover with plastic sheet to hold water.

3.  Make waterfall equipment above the pond.

4.  Prepare variety of rocks (elvan must be included); break them with a hammer so they have sharp edges.

5.  Put the rocks in a steel sack.

6.  Put the IMO3 in a cotton cloth sack.

7. Secure both sacks so that they are just below the surface. The appropriate location of IMO would be where the water goes through the sacks and creates a whirlpool.

8. Let the waterfall smash down on the rocks.

9. At first, the IMO sack will drown. But after a while, the sack will float. This is when the material inside should be changed.

(3) How to use BMW

BMW can be used for many purposes. You can give directly to crops or animals. This will cure chicken or pig diarrhea caused by drinking water. Adding seawater (1/30) will improve the water quality because it is rich in salt and various minerals. When there is a drought, this water can be used for irrigation. It makes the crops endure drought better and makes them healthier. If there is an odor in livestock housing or when the fermentation of their feces is slow, the BMW may be used as a drink or sprayed on the floor. The odor will disappear and the floor will become clean.

Koreans called water coming out from between rocks “medicine water” and the water that ran through the humus of valleys “ginseng water”. This is because that water had special effects. BMW was developed in order to make this artificially and utilize it.




Well, it’s not Tokyo. The food pales in comparison and the beer doesn’t measure up either. You can say a lot about the Japanese.. the fact that they have a word for the concept of working oneself to death at one’s desk, says a fair bit, but leaving that aside, if you’re not dead, they do know how to eat and drink well.

Seoul, is.. Well, it’s different. It’s much less polite and much more in your face, but it has an energy that Tokyo doesn’t have for all its movement and neon. You stand and look lost in Tokyo, you’ll find yourself under a rugby scrum of people wanting to assist a foreigner. Stand and look lost in Seoul, you’ll watch the sun go down alone.

And yet, Seoul has an energy. I feel like I’m in a country that’s on the way up. It’s brash and when the Korean men drag their morning phlegm up from their toes, uncouth. Japan never struck me that way. It was to me sophisticated in the way that seemed decadent.

You won’t find decay in Seoul. You’ll find lively, bubbling putrescence. It’s much more creative!

Korean Natural Farming Handbook – Nutritive Cycle Theory

The Nutritive Cycle Theory

Many think that the more nutrients the better the crops growth. But the growth of crops is not determined by the amount of nutrients. The growth of crops is determined by the Nutritive Cycle; not by the amount of fertilizer input applied. Optimum growth is achieved by giving the soil the optimum amount of the correct kind of nutrients at the correct time. The correct kind of nutrient varies according to the stage of the plant’s life cycle. Consider that you cannot grow to three meters tall, even if you are forced to double your food intake. Over-fertilizing, like overfeeding, is no good.

It is important to change your thinking. It is important to create an environment that helps crops take in what they need, when they need it, in the amount they need. Insufficiency and excess both bring disease. You should try to work with your crops not against them; try to understand their nature and so bring out their fullest potential.

1. Crops also have ‚Äúmorning sickness‚ÄĚ

Like humans, crops also have growth stages such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Likewise, suffering from morning sickness is not confined to women. Both animals and plants also experience a similar phenomenon when they are procreating. Like women favor sour foods and make unusual additions to their diet, so too do plants and animals require particular nutrients at this stage.

Likewise, do children have appropriate dishes and quantities of food. Disregarding what is necessary for crops in their childhood stages by feeding them food suitable for adult crops will certainly have a negative effect on their development.

Conventional farming pays no attention to this fact. For example, let us look at rice farming. First, more than half the total fertilizer is given as base manure. This is akin to making a man drunk from early in the morning.

When crops take root, root settling fertilizer is applied again after ten days. This is like feeding a drunk man already stuffed from an eating binge. Force feeding in the absence of appetite leads to stomach pain. It also induces diseases and other health complaints.

When an ear begins to take shape, that is 45 days before the ear is fully formed, this is the time of the plant’s morning sickness. At this time (for argument’s sake let’s call it lunchtime) crops need a lot of food, but because the crops have been overfed earlier (at breakfast) they cannot take in the nutrients at this important stage. What happens then? Well, the crops become hungry around 3-4 in the afternoon, so they have dinner early. As the ears have already grown to 2-3mm 25 days before the ears come out, the fertilizer grows the ears but cannot increase the number of grains.

In the meantime the leaves have grown huge due to overfeeding and cover the paddies completely. In due course the sun is shaded out, air does not circulate and sheathe blight and drying of the leaves become serious problems. Even though ‚Äúgrain manure‚ÄĚ, which is like a dinner meal, is given the crops will not absorb it because their stomachs are full and can absorb no more. However when night comes they will get hungry again, losing vitality. The result is a poor harvest.

Eating to the point of satisfaction instead of till fullness and eating the right foods at the right time is good for the stomach and the metabolism. Thus, when nutrients are supplied to rice based on the nutrient cycle, the rice plant’s digestion and the absorption power of its metabolism is strong. Under these circumstances plants are vigorous and healthy; they shrug off insects such that no pesticides are needed.

2. Different stages require different nutrients

Sometimes people hastily assume that Natural Farming is an unscientific ‚Äúreturn to the past‚ÄĚ form of farming that just uses more organic compost. But this is wrong. Natural farming is very scientific; it is based on strict theories and precise observation. Science is failing in its obligations to society when it clings to old theories and methods when better theory and methods have emerged with irrefutable evidence and results.

In Natural Farming, the growth stages of crops are precisely understood. At each stage of growth; vegetative growth, flowering, fruiting, coloring and maturity the correct diagnosis is made and the appropriate action taken. The principles of the growth cycle are understood and the cause of any abnormality searched for.

How to comprehend the growth stage

There is a visible and well defined pattern in the growth and development of plants. Plants undergo a number of qualitative changes in their life cycle; they grow, flower, fruit and die. Let us look at this pattern in more detail.

First, we can divide a plant’s growth into two stages; vegetative growth and reproductive growth. Vegetative growth is the stage from body formation to maturity while reproductive growth is from flowering to the ripening of fruit.

Second, the shift from vegetative growth to reproductive growth is gradual. The plant first gets ready for the period of reproductive growth by increasing the amount of carbohydrate in its body. This adjustment period between vegetative growth to reproductive growth is called the changeover period.

Third, from a physiological perspective, vegetative growth is a period of consumptive growth turning carbohydrate (C) to organic nitrogen (N) by inorganic nitrogen (n). Reproductive growth begins when the plant does not convert carbohydrate into inorganic nitrogen, but instead stores it in fruits and other storage organs (accumulative growth).

The growth and development stages of crops have qualitative and physiological differences. The required nutrients and their amount differ at each stage. By applying Nutritive Cycle theory, Natural Farming understands the crops, what they need and how much they need, their condition and what kind of environmental conditions are conducive to their growth. Natural Farming is not the crude practice of randomly dumping organic compost for plant consumption. Defining the ‚Äėchangeover period‚Äô and concluding that plants will have special nutrient requirements during a period corresponding to morning sickness in humans is unprecedented. The results coming out of this approach seems convincing.

Look at the inner condition of crops

It is evident that the growth and development of crops depends partly on external conditions ie. climate, rain, topography, soil status, etc. Needless to say under optimum conditions you can expect optimum production.

However, we should keep in mind that external conditions are never constant. We never know when a favorable climate can turn harsh. This year’s rainfall can¬† change next year. Even the soil fertility is constantly changing.

Furthermore, the inner condition of the crops are also changing according to the growth stages. What the crop wants when it is an infant is different from when it is pregnant. The inner condition of the crop changes in flowering, fruiting, coloring, maturing and dormancy.

Prevailing agriculture methods tend to emphasize only the external  conditions, and underestimate the inner conditions of the plants. We cannot expect the best harvest when we only emphasize the external conditions that constantly change ever year.

3. The Four Nutrient Types

Natural Farming identifies four different nutrient conditions for plants. This classification was first introduced by American Scientist Guross Gureville.

Type         N                        C                                 H2O                            C/N Ratio

1.          High                       Low                          High                             Small

2.         Medium-High    Low-Medium        Medium-High          Small-Medium

3.         Medium                Medium-High      Medium                      Medium-Large

4 .        Low                         Large                      Low                              Large

N=Nitrogen                                      C=Carbohydrate                     H2O=Water

Type 1  has a lot of water and nitrogen. Carbohydrate is minimal. The plant has weak vegetative growth and there is no floral differentiation.

Type 2 has a relatively large amount of water and nitrogen. It also has enough C for active vegetative growth. However floral differentiation is so weak that even if it does flower there will be no fruit.

Type 3 has a relatively low amounts of water and nitrogen. Production of C decreases compared to type 2, but floral differentiation is strong and the fruit is good.

Type 4 has little water and nitrogen. No vegetative growth and no fruiting.

Perceiving the nutrient type of your crop and leading it to the right condition at the right stage is the crux of nutritive cycle theory. The nutritive cycle will be different for each crop and animal. Reading this precisely and acting accordingly may be the biggest secret of Natural Farming.

Interesting ideas

This is something I read about, but haven’t been able to find again.

Passive Solar heating is a black surface on your roof. It absorbs heat and transfers it to internal water pipes. They are on top of houses.

Roads are invariably black. They link houses together.

Having water pipes under the tarmac picking up heat could stop the tarmac melting in summer. It would also act as a heat sink so that in winter that same heat could be used to heat the buildings nearby. Connected to a methane cycle it could also provide refrigeration services all year round.  It would also allow for heated greenhouses and so vegetation growth all year round (though in practice if the daylight hours drop below 10 hours or your greenhouse is shaded by trees or tall buildings they stop growing due to a lack of sunlight). Alternatively, connected to a low pressure turbine as developed by the Israelis for solar ponds or a combined heat and power stirling engine boiler you could get some electricity out of it.

Not sure it’s a good idea in Japan. This is due to the fact that Japan gets hundreds of tremors a year.

Another problem is that roads are routinely dug up to get to something buried in the road. This has always struck me as dumb. Would it not be better to have a covered trench.  If the road has to remain black so as to use it for a heat sink then service channels should be placed under the sidewalk, with heat pipe access ducts allowing heat pipes to cross the service channels.

Wouldn’t it be better to invest in infrastructure that is easy to maintain?

Guess I am just tired of seeing the same road dug up again and again and again.

ZERI has a tarmac machine that picks up the road heats it, and the places it back down again. Good as new.

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