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Trench Composting

Many of you like to compost. Perhaps you have a large bin composter that turns your kitchen scraps into black gold for the garden, or you have designated compost piles. But if you don’t have the room or don’t want the sight of it, dig a trench and bury your compost pile underground. Earthworms and micro-organisms in the soil convert the organic matter into nutritious plant food.

Brad Bergefurd is a horticulture Extension educator at Ohio State University. He says there is more than one way to do trench composting.

“You can do one long trench throughout the entire garden. It takes up a lot of space, but that’s one method,” he says. “Another method is where you just do spot trench composting. That’s where you use a posthole digger and dig down 18 to 24 inches in a round circle, usually between the plants in the garden. That’s also where you’d do your trench composting so it doesn’t take up a large part of the garden.”

You can toss in a lot of items that can’t go in an above-ground compost pile, such as pet waste, citrus peels, and things that wildlife and critters would otherwise get into. 

“You can bury those different waste products 18 to 24 inches deep. The soil that you’ve taken out of the trench can be piled back on top,” says Bergefurd. “You can add a layer of straw to speed up the composting process, but within a couple of months, you can usually go ahead and plant right back into that trench you’ve composted in.”

Plants get the nutrition right where they need it – at the root zone. The root system also becomes stronger because it reaches down deep to find the nourishing material.

It’s important, however, to wait those two to three months before planting anything directly over the trench. That’s because the composting process produces heat, and you would risk injuring the plant roots, Bergefurd says.

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