Trench composting fits perfectly into my crazy gardening life. It’s much simpler than trying to constantly have a pile of cooking compost.
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 outright!
I also know that composting keeps a bunch of green material out of my local landfill! 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. Urgh!!
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?
Here’s a video I filmed on this composting method:
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 an 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 compostable materials cover it up and away you go!!
What sort of things can I put in my Trench Composting?
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.
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.
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 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.
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 included in your trench composting efforts.
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 diseased 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.
Another thing I try to avoid is 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 meantime.
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.