Trench Composting – The lazy mans composting method

Trench composting fits perfectly into my crazy gardening life. It’s much simpler than trying to constantly have a pile of cooking compost.

Trench Composting

As much as I love gardening there is one aspect that I have always struggled with. And that is composting.

Yes I know I should be doing it! I should be returning as much into my soil every year as I have taken out right!

I also know that composting keeps a bunch of green material out of my local land fill! Again this is great for the environment and something I feel strongly about!

The problem is, I just never seem to get around to it. I’ve had nice compost bins at all of our other places (this is our 3rd home) but I just haven’t been able to settle on a spot here at our new house. And even when we had a compost bin I just never seemed to get it right, how much green material, how much brown, when to turn it, do I need to water the pile, it is “hot” enough. Urrghh!!

Now don’t get me wrong, I know the value of a compost pile. I know I should be doing one and I’m sure I will get back to it someday soon. But right now building a new compost bin is just not on the radar!!

So what do I do with all the excess, lawn clippings, leaves and food scraps coming out of our garden? I simply take care of them by trench composting.

What is Trench Composting?

Trench Composting is a simple and quick method to return all the excess organic material in your yard and garden, back into the garden! And it REALLY is simple!

Just dig a trench (hence the name trench composting) in and open spot in your garden. The trench needs to be about 10 to 12 inches deep. You fill the bottom 4 to 6 inches of the trench with your organic material and then fill the trench back in! Over the next few months all that organic material you put in the trench will slowly decompose and leave a nice layer of organic material in the perfect spot (right in the root zone) of your garden beds. The roots of your growing plants will stretch down to that zone and find all kinds of yummy goodness to snack on!!

If you don’t have a spot big enough for a trench, then just dig a hole! Fill it with compost-able materials cover it up and away you go!!

What sort of things can I put in my Trench Composting?

Vegetable Scraps

This method is a perfect way to get rid of vegetable scraps that are coming from your kitchen or from your canning and food preservation efforts. You will be surprised to see how quickly you can fill up a trench if you are eating a lot of fruits and veggies.

Trench Composting 2

This year in only 45 days (during August & September) we filled 2 trenches like you see above that were 25 feet long in this garden bed.

Coffee grounds and eggshells are also perfect additions to your trench composting.

Grass Clippings

If you have a small grass lawn this can also be a way to get rid of many if not all of your grass clippings. That is a bit harder to do in the middle of the summer when your garden is in full swing and you really don’t have beds to put the grass clippings in, but any time I have open space in the garden I try to dig a trench and fill it with grass and other organics.

Fall Leaves

Fall leaves can also go in your trench compost system, but be cautious. Leaves are considered a “brown” when composting and if not balanced with a lot of greens (like grass clippings) you can damage your soil fertility in the short term as all the nitrogen in your soil will be taken up by the soil bacteria to help decompose those leaves. You can add some leaves to your trench composting in the fall but be sure to cover those leaves with other high nitrogen items like grass clippings and food scraps.

Trench Composting 3

Fall is a perfect time to practice trench composting. After your garden has been mostly pulled up for the year it can be easy to dig trenches, holes or even large pits and fill them with your leaves, veggie scraps and grass clippings. Just be sure you are finished and have your trenches filled in before the ground freezes. Then all that organic material you left in the ground will have all winter and early spring to decompose and improve the soil.

A few things to watch out for when Trench Composting

As with any composting there are a few things you shouldn’t be including in your trench composting efforts.

Animal Products

Meat (cooked or uncooked), bones, and feces from meat eating animals (cats, dogs, people) should be avoided.

Diseased Plant Material

You should also avoid any plant material that you suspect has any type of disease. Putting disease plant material back into your soil will just spread the problem.  With trench composting there is very little heat (unlike pile composting) to destroy pathogens.

Weeds with Seeds

I also try to avoid any weeds that have gone to seed (no sense putting weeds back in the garden) or any weeds that can grow back from the root or stems.

Veggie Seeds

Another thing I try to avoid are seeds! I’m not perfect with this, but I try not to include any seeds from my veggie scraps. I’m particularly careful with tomato scraps. I don’t want those seeds working their way back to the surface and sprouting for the next few years.


Anything wooden should not be added to your trench composting. Sticks, branches and wood chips all take way too long to decompose (years in fact). And while those wooden items are decomposing they will rob your soil of nitrogen.

I also try to avoid really heavy thick stemmed plants like corn stalks and sunflowers. Again these will take some time to decompose and will rob nitrogen from the soil in the mean time.

Well there you have it! My lazy man’s way of composting. I hope you think about ways you can incorporate trench composting into your garden.

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  1. Mollie Culpepper November 21, 2016 8:34 am Reply

    I really want to try this..once we move to the of the first things on my to do list! 🙂

  2. Nicola November 28, 2016 4:57 am Reply

    can i try putting just an inch or so in a 5 gallon bucket now (autumn) and then filling with dirt to plant in spring?

    • Mr. Stoney November 28, 2016 12:48 pm Reply

      No, the idea is to get it out in the garden where the worms and native bacteria and other critters can go to work on it. I’m afraid it would just turn into a smelly mess in a bucket all winter.

  3. Margy December 31, 2016 1:44 pm Reply

    I compost in a wire “barrel” from about February on. The material on the bottom is almost decomposed by September when I remove the bulk of my fresh garden clippings when I put my garden to bed. I dig a big round hole in my potato patch after I dig my spuds. I put the fresh garden clippings on the bottom with some compost accelerator and a layer of soil followed by a good watering. Then the partially composted material from the barrel goes on top with more accelerator and a cap of soil. More watering then I leave it uncovered to get the fall rains. In October I cover the pit with black garbage bags held down with long boards. With the accelerator by early April the decomposition is complete enough to plant my potatoes in the same spot. I have limited gardening space so this method helps me compost and use the area for growing the very next season. – Margy

  4. Marilyn Greer March 15, 2017 9:23 am Reply

    All these ideas are very helpful. Can’t wait for the snow to melt to get started on the trench.

  5. Mb May 12, 2017 2:11 pm Reply

    Why don’t you want tomatoes to sprout? Isn’t that an added benefit? Or do you expect to dig that site again. May be a dumb quedtion, but I’m new to composting and my attempts have not been successfull so far

    • Mr. Stoney May 12, 2017 7:44 pm Reply

      I don’t want the tomatoes sprouting any where in my garden except where I intentionally planted them. Having volunteer seeds come up in random spots just means they are weeds. I only want plants coming up where I intended them.

  6. Steve September 9, 2017 10:18 am Reply

    I really agree with your view on composting. With so much going on in the garden, finding ways to minimize work for sake of it is important to me too.

    I use trench composting a lot, but still try to run a hot compost pile once a year.

    I’m just about to start playing with the Bokashi composting method, have you tried it? Seems like a good way to compost more, scraps that a normal system wouldn’t allow.

    I wrote a lot about composting on my own blog, might be interesting to some of your readers?

    All the best


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