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Trench Composting in the Vegetable Garden

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

A good way to amend the soil in the vegetable garden is to use trench composting.  This method of composting is an easy method of cold composting.  It is simple to do and has many benefits.  You can use any idle section of the vegetable garden and improve it while it is idle.  Instead of sending your compostable material off to the local landfill, use it to improve the quality of your garden soil.

Many people fear composting because they are worried about a bad smell and/or rodents.  Neither of those is a problem with this composting system.  You can hide away your garden clippings, kitchen waste, and other seasonal debris.  Even though I am using smell and rodents as a reason to trench compost, most hot compost piles do not stink if properly cared for. 

All that is required in creating a trench compost … well pile is probably not the right term, is a shovel and a bare patch of ground.  You simply dig a hole of any diameter or shape and put your compostable materials in it, cover with the soil that you excavated, and wait.  The main thing is that you do not want to dig the trench so deep that the nice finished compost is deeper than the root zone of your plants.  12 to 16 inches is deep enough for your trench.  That is about all that my back can handle, so I am glad that is all the deeper I have to dig.

You should dig the whole where plants will be the following season.  You do not want to wait more than one season to plant otherwise; you could miss some of the nutrients that the compost holds.  If you put some woody, stuff that may not compost in a season in the trench it is no big deal.  You will not be planting that deep anyway.  I am actually thinking of burying a lot of woody stuff that I do not know what else to do with.  I'll see what happens when I do so.  I really hope it does not cause any problems but I doubt if it will.

The vegetable garden is not the only place that you can compost underground.  You can do it in your perennial beds, under trees, and any other place you can dig without killing what you have planted.  Trench composting is the dig method of no dig gardening.  You compost in the area that you are planting to plant in order to enrich the soil the season before.

You will notice that you will end up with a mound when you fill your trench with the excavated soil.  You should not worry about that it will settle through the year and should be flat by the following season.  If you are composting things that decompose fast, such as, grass clippings or shredded leaves, they will have completely composted in a year.  You can till the soil, mix the compost in or simply plant, and let the roots wander down to get the nutrients.  Either way will work for a vegetable garden.

If you continuously fill and make new trenches, your soil will become great in a short amount of time.  Very few people have such good soil that adding some organic material will not improve it.  A good time to dig a new trench is after you have harvested a particular crop.  If you have a traditional row garden, you may not be into succession planting and you can use that area as the next trench.  Just keep moving through the garden as you harvest your crops.

If you have never done any composting before the best, time to begin is in the fall.  One on the big problems many people have when they start composting is a shortage of organic material to put into a bin, pile, or trench.  Everyone knows that fall is the time for fall leaves, and this will give you a good foundation for your first attempt at composting.  Fill your trench will leaves in the fall and then as you accumulate additional organic material just add them to your trench.  You might get so many leaves that you can do a large area at one time.  Just go ahead, begin a new trench for spring and summer stuff, if that is the case.  You do not have to worry about the ratio of greens and browns with this composting method.  Unlike hot composting, you can fill an entire trench with grass clippings and let them do their stinky slimy grass clippings thing and you will never know it is happening.

This is my preferred method of composting.  I have a regular compost pile.  I shred leaves and use them as mulch.  For my money, however, the bury it and forget about it method words the best.  By the time I get around to doing anything with that spot of ground, everything has decomposed and the soil is in great condition.  The worms have come in and tilled the soil for me.  Those little guys do the heavy tilling for me and leave me with the fun of digging.  I am a great digger but a poor mixer.  I figure that if I am going to leave clumps un-mixed, I might as well just do it up right by just putting a whole bunch of organic material in one spot.

The benefits of trench compost are many and varied.  There are some cons as well.  The digging is off-putting for some people, but for me the digging is a big plus.  I am a little odd in the way that I like to dig.  It keeps the neighbors entertained when I go out for hours digging in the same spot.  At least with this method of creating compost I actually accomplish something.  It is hard to tell what they think I am burying but the police have not shown up at my door yet.  If you have a strong back and poor soil, you might just want to give it a shot in your own vegetable garden.



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