Trench Compost





Introduction: Trench Compost

I like to garden, not 'to compost,' and I found TRENCH COMPOSTING to be the easiest way for us to deal with our kitchen and yard scraps to make nice (wonderful) dirt.
Compsting isn't stinky, hard, or time consuming; you shouldn't have to buy or make special bins or powders or barrels. It should be (and IS) the most natural thing on earth, so don't make it more complicated than it has to be! Read on...

Step 1: Find a Location

You'll want to find a good location; preferably a place where it is easy to get to from where you'll be producing the biodegradable material (often from your kitchen) and where you want the soil to be enriched (like a garden or future garden).

Step 2: Dig a Hole

Dig a hole big enough to put some biodegradable material into. You're going to want to make it deep enough so that at least 6 inches of dirt ends up on top of your matter so make it 10-20 inches deep.

It is very efficient to pre-dig and do a long trench.

Step 3: Set Displaced Dirt Aside

Be sure not to scatter the dirt that you're digging up. Set it aside in a pile for covering up your compost later.

Step 4: Save Scraps or Yard Waste

If you haven't done so already, save up veggie peels and other food scraps to put in the hole. You'll get lots of advice about what you can and can't put in compost, but we put almost everything in there.
From what I understand, it is dangerous to use feces of animals that are capable of eating meat (so not even feces of vegetarian dogs).
I know people who put used facial tissue or paper towels in there. I'd also stay away from newspaper and other printed papers; again, think about what goes into the material and make your own choices.

Step 5: Cover Up the Biodegradable Material With the Reserved Dirt

You can put dirt on the biodegradable material as you go, or do a bunch at once. You might want to keep a shovel by the trench.

Step 6: Let It Be!

Let the microbes and worms and insects do their job! Depending upon your soil type, how much water gets in there and the temperature, you should have beautiful earth in less than a year.
When we trench, I'll plant small seed flowers or a 'green manure' crop on top of it the first year and rototill it in the next spring. Read more about green manure crops; they're amazing.

Step 7: NOTE: When You Live in a Cold Climate

We trench compost in a climate where the ground freezes.
To do this, you'll need to do three things:
-make a trench before the ground freezes in the fall/winter
-put down an old blanket to keep snow out of the trench or shovel the snow out of the trench
-and if you want to cover the compost before spring, insulate the reserved dirt so that it doesn't freeze. I use 6-10 inches of fluffed straw. Fluffy leaves that don't compress or lots of grass clippings work. You won't need to cover up the biodegradable material until spring, but it is up to you.



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    26 Discussions

    A variation on this theme is to use holes instead of a trench. The holes can be dug between plants all season and extras dug in late fall and covered with a handful of straw. Use a trowel, augur or post-hole digger, depending on your circumstances.

    Superb! But since I am lazy, I will use this as well as my barrel. The barrel, I just go out, open lid, throw in. No digging til I am ready to garden. Hopefully next year will be gardening time.

    Since I have a very small backyard and an even smaller garden 3x4, I love trench composting. I have noticed that when I bury my scraps they are completely gone in a maximum of two weeks. Any remarks as to why the ground absorbs the scraps so quickly? This garden is less than 1 year old. I bought a pound of worms and they hung around for about a month and now are gone. I have lived in the AZ desert all my life but have never seen anything like this.

    3 replies

    The more bacteria, and enough water (but not too much!) does the trick. It sounds like you have the right ingredients for a very active compost pile, congrats!

    I was wondering that myself when I read your comment. My guess is they prefer to spread out a bit, but I really don’t know. If you create the right conditions (food, enough water, but not too much) they will repopulate the area.

    from what i understand, fishy scraps are no good for composting (shrimp shells, fish bones and skin, etc.)-- bad bacteria and stinky. is this true for trench composting too?

    2 replies

    I put just about everything in the trench, including some traditional compost "no no's" like meat, bones, cheese and bread. Fish isn't a problem as long as you bury it deep!

    The fish do make a good fertilizer but do smell. They are best used at the bottom of a hole covered with a good amount of dirt. The roots will find them and the animals usually won't bother with them if they are far down enough to cover the smell. We lived on a lake that depleted with oxygen every winter. The shores where lined with dead fish every Spring. We would dig deep trenches and pour fish in and cover them then plant the garden on top. The soil eventually became very rich, as the fish from the year before which had decayed and lost its smell, mixed with the soil while digging the next year.

    i agree with you! why bother with the expense, all that turning??? i just toss my table scraps under the bushes. i however avoid paper that has been bleached with chlorine. brown coffee filters ok, but i'd rather save them for biodegradable peat pots :)

    1 reply

     Thank you for bringing simplicity back!!! I also remember my grandma using this method, she was also raising goats, sheep and rabbits and was adding the manure to a separate pile that was left to mature in sections...

    Thank you so much for your instructable. I am very excited to start my own compost trench, and delighted to learn i don't have to buy , build or till any gadget to compost.

    most newspapers are ok the ink is soy most of the time

    hey Meddler- don't be so hard on the wifey!It was worth it! I've got one of those black tumblers, {$120} and their great! It also has a catch basin which I make compost tea with. I also have a 4 part pallet compost system,and plans to start another. This way there's always compost going, and I need alot. Even if you didn't have any compost at all, just mix some grass clippings from the mower- organic fertilizer in the garden, and I know you'll get produce. Then start incorporating the kitchen scraps into the garden as the season goes along. And remember you dont even have to dig to build a small garden if you don't want to just lay newspapers down- wet real good,secure with rocks if windy, and plant on top of tilling...

    this is a wonderful instructable! thank you. my grandmother never composted - she buried all the kitchen scraps in her garden. she had quite a large plot of beautiful vegetables and flowers, so i know this method works!

    i'm reduced to "composting" on a second floor balcony at the moment--So, into a large terracotta (in this case plastic) pot -I'm in the north, and don't want it to crack- I put all my good vegetable and fruit ends, after blending them to mush with a stick blender. I pour this onto a base of decent earth (in the pot) and work it in with my hands. It smells divine and fresh, and feels good, like really good soil. Next spring, it'll go into the ground. thanks for the nod to green manure crops. any specific suggested reading?

    IMHO that's too much work. I layer a few sheets of newspaper under a thick layer of grass clippings between my plants to prevent weeds from growing. Everyday I put the my compostables in a plastic container with a lid. It's normally a smaller amount, between 1-4 cups. Once a day I pick a spot under the grass clippings (a different spot each time) and shove the compostables under it. That's it. It starts to decompose immedietly giving the plants nutrients that year and the next year, when I barely till it, it's pretty much dissolved into the soil. Newspaper shreddings and some peels (canteloupe for example) take a while longer to decompose but not softer vegie parts (like tomato).

    1 reply

    Oops, forgot to say that I took the compostables out of the plastic container first. This plastic container is NOT compostable... unfortunately.

    If your going to use newspaper the black and white part is ok most printers now use soy based ink, you don;t want to use the color section that ink is still toxic.