opabinia51
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Trench Composting

We organic gardeners are always looking for ways to improve our soil. Generally speaking, soil improvements are done in the fall. But, what can we do in the summer to help out our soil (and therefore our plants)?
Well, here is an idea. All those spaces between our plants, not much use accept for growing weeds right? Wrong, you can dig up either trenches or holes that go down about a foot or two and start layering your compost; I start with a layer of manure then a layer of scrounged leaves, a layer of cofee grounds followed by a dusting of soil. Then, I start all over again until I fill the entire trench. I finish off with a the rest of soil from the trench and now, it just sits there until the fall when I will do my lasagna compost.
Next year, I will plant seeds in on the trench tops and dig new trenches where the plants used to be.

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Excellent idea!

opabinia51
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Thanks Scott, I had the idea of burying leaves with a bit of manure since last year and I just read a book on making great soil. There was a whole chapter on Trench composting and it really took form in my head.

I dug two trenches in the two unplanted areas in my garden on Saturday. And on sunday I raked up all the leaves in the yard, collected five bags of coffee grinds and used some of the stockpiled manure and some of the foliage from my daikons.

jennymisek
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Okay I am excited to try the trench composting. I am going to be adding some new plants to already established beds in the front yard in the next two weeks. While I still have the open areas I will get busy with the composting.

Once the bed is filled in, what are things I can do to help the soil along. It will be filled with perennials so I won't be able to dig it up a lot. It has bark on it, which I am planning on pulling back and working some peat into the clay soil...

Any tips?

Thanks as always! Jenny

opabinia51
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I would personally recommend not using peat. First of all peat contains very few nutrients for plants and second, it takes a lot for peat to absorb moisture. Even the top of layed out peat looks moist the center will still be dry. Also, the extraction of peat from peat bogs is very detrimental to the environment.

I would recommend working any of the above listed browns as well as some greens such as grass clippings to the clay soil. That will improve the tillage of your soil and break up the clay as well as provide nutrients for the soil. Add some manure as a green as well. And coffee grinds are free from coffee shops.

Once you have done your trench composting. There's not much you can do to help the soil along. Just rely on all the organisms in your soil.

In the fall you can use the lasagna method of gardening. Just put layers and browns and greens.

jennymisek
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By browns you mean manure, and coffee grinds? And by greens you mean leaves and grass clippings? Are there others that I am missing?

Also you said I could do the lasagna method of soil prep in the fall on my perennial beds, is that method done to the soil surface or do I dig down? If I dig down how do I avoid hurting the plants?

opabinia51
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Actually, coffee ground and manure are considered GREENS (compostables that are high in Nitrogen). Grass clippings, any prunings from your yard, kitchen scraps are all considered greens.

Browns are compostables that are high in Carbon like brown leaves, dry grass clippings, hay, paper (don't use paper with coloured ink on it. Black and White Newspaper works great if you are short on browns right now. Just cut it up first), pea pods, bean pods and so on.

I also throw all my eggshells into the compost and they would be great in a trench compost. Crush them first. I also go to the Cafeteria at my Unversity to collect all the eggshells left over from breakfast. (FREE)

The Lasagna technique is done at the soil surface. Just be sure to pull any weeds before adding your layers. Browns, then greens, browns, then greens. Each layer should ideally be no more than one to two inches thick. And I always top the layers off with manure. This will compact any mulched leaves down to the 1 inch thickness so, don't worry if they pile to the sky at first.

A quick note on leaves; before I discovered the mowing technique for mulching leaves, I used to just use a pair of pruners to painstakingly chop up the leaves before laying them down. They were about a foot high and after placing manure and seaweed on them, the height decreased to an inch or two.

You can look at the "LEAVES AND NUTRIENTS" thread that I have to find the nutrient values of various types of leaves. Apple leaves seem to be very high in nutrients.

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Marge
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I've used the trench composting method - mainly because I have such a small garden and no room for a composter (despite my best efforts past attempts at normal composting results in a smelly mess :oops: ).

I find the trench method is quite effective and really helps plants (especially hostas), to flourish.
Reine de la cocina

opabinia51
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I am a huge fan of HOSTAS! :P Just love them. I've read that you can eat the flowers and the tender young leaves. Never actually tried them though. I told my landlord about being able to eat them and he immediately wanted to try all the hostas in the yard. Ha ha!!

Anyway yes, I did a minature version of trench composting in my raised beds last year when I build them and this spring. Wow! Lovely, humusy, spongey soil. I have a cover crop of peas in the beds now and boy, are the peas doeing great!!!

In about two weeks I'm going to plant my Asparagus plants (that I started from seed) in one of the beds and Collards in the other one.

jennymisek
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Okay you guys have given me great ideas for what to add to the compost pile. Now what about the pile itself.

Is it best to build one, or what about the ones that you can purchase at home improvement stores?

The other big question I have is when is the compost done? If I continue to add stuff to the pile, mixing it in as I go, how do I ever get finished compost? Is there a time where I stop adding and just let the pile go cook?

Another quick item, where should the pile be placed? Sunny, shady?

What causes them to stink? that doesn't sound or smell like a very good thing!

opabinia51
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Well, you have several options. You can just have a pile somewhere in your yard and call that your compost pile (in the truest meaning of the phrase). You can build the cadillac of compost systems; the three bin system. And yes, you can buy a compost system from store but, be very careful what you buy because you need something with good aeration such that the compost has access to air and such that you can turn the compost to aerate it.

Once you are turning the compost and it starts to look nice and crumbly and like well... soil. Stop adding stuff to the pile and start another one up (or if you have a three bin system; move the crumbly stuff over and start the new pile in the empty bin). And leave the old pile (while, continuing to turn it over at least every 8-10 days. I turn mine at least every seven days).


Well, it doesn't really matter. Two of my compost piles are in full sun and they work just fine but, I should think that shade would be best.


What causes them to stink? Yes, a very important question. Compost piles stink because they go Anaerobic or Anoxic. This means that the bacteria in the pile either stop using oxygen to respire or that Anaerobic bacteria start to thrive in the pile and the aerobic bacteria die off. Anyway, the way to prevent this is to turn your compost with a pitch fork as described above.

jennymisek
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Ah so the very best thing would be a three bunker system so that I can continue to have piles going on.

So I just toss the stuff in daily and stir it weekly. Doing this until it looks like soil, for the most part. Then stop adding stuff and use the compost or does it need to "age" some more?

As it starts to look like soil when I do the mixing should I gradually drop off adding stuff?

We have a property line that is shared by a wet land, so shade will not be a problem. However what about the wildlife? Racoons, bunnies, birds, mice, some kind of fox like creature, wild cats, mice etc....

opabinia51
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Yes, the three bin system is considered the cadillac of composting systems.

And yes, you shuld continue to turn your compost for about another month once you stop adding to it.

And yes, you can gradually start adding less material to your compost as it starts to resemble soil. Keep turning it though! Don't want an Anaerobic compost pile. They really smell. :cry: Smell so bad they bring tears to your eyes.

Well, you may find the odd animal in your pile. Be sure to not add cooked kitchen scraps to it because that will attract animals to your pile. For cooked scraps, you can do an indoor worm bin. If your interested, I'll start a thread on that later.

So, you live next to a wetland? I'm currently reading a book on Ecological garden design and these two brothers allowed a marsh to reclaim some farmland and wow, did they have the greatest garden and wildlife or what!?! The brothers would eat the cattails and had nut trees, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, really great.
Last edited by opabinia51 on Fri Jul 08, 2005 8:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

SquashNUt
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the trench composting is the best way to build up a population of earth worms. i find they like my kitchen scraps a lot more than they do compost or mamnure. They also like newspaper,
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opabinia51
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And they love used coffee grinds. 8)

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Me too!

(Just a pinch between the chhek and gums... :P )

HG

SquashNUt
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I was wondering if you found you had more volunteers with trench composting. I put some squash and pumpkin seeds in holes and I don't think they will ever qit sprouting. I have started microwaving them for a few minutes to kill them before they go out now.
North Idaho
Zone 5/6

jennymisek
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If you put vegetable seeds or grass clippings won't that just make those items grow there? Grass clippings have seeds in them, and I am curious how that won't just turn into a lovely clump of very rich grass!

jennymisek
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To prepare my future flower garden, my current plan is to till up the existing grass. Can put it into the soil for decomposing? Or are the seeds that are on the grass bad for the future bed?

Then I will bring in some top soil (we have nice red clay here) and mix it with some compost (purchased commercially as I don't have a pile yet).

Till the top soil, compost (is mushroom compost good?) and top soil all together.

Then plant the lasagna bed. (I have read that this method may attract critters, any ways to prevent this?) Also, is there anything I need to put on top of the lasagna? I have seen some talking about burlap...

Being in WI with freezing weather ahead, when is the best time to do all this work, and get the lasagna bed going? Also, as I prepare for the lasagna, what do I do with all the ingredients? Just keep them in a big bucket or something so they won't stink?

Thanks for the continued help!
Jenny

SquashNUt
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I think if you cut the grass after it goes to seed you may have problems but not if you mow often.
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jennymisek
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So as long as the grass is an active lawn just till it under?

opabinia51
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I actually don't recommend tilling to anyone because it breaks down soil structure and kills beneficial soil organisms. Just turn it under with a shovel. Less destructive.

SquashNUt
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i usr a tiller in the spring and in the fall. The rest of the time I use a pitch fork to work my soil. I am starting to find that it only times a few minutes to work a 100 foot square bed now in my 3 year old garden. It is accully easier than running a tiller on my back and shoulders.
I may work the top of my beds a bit more this fall to get some of those stray weed seedxs to sprout.
Some one tryed to talk me into solarizing my beds but, I feel like I would be destroying all that compost and manure I hauled in.
I would like to find a way to get rid of the pig weed in my garden though. Grows pretty darn fast.
North Idaho
Zone 5/6

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Squashnut, stop chewing up your soil!

One time and once only; that's the first time I do a new bed. I borrow or rent a tiller and turf out the space in question beforehand (anyone suggesting that you just till turf under has never tried it).

Repeated tilling just breaks your soil into dust and eventually the dust blows away or washes down (or away). This is how the Dustbowl happened (with the added effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides). Turning things over with a fork is easier than that bucking bronco and MUCH better for your soil. Probably won't bring up all that weed seed from lower in the soil profile, either...

Is it a little more work? Maybe (and I doubt it), but as Christopher Lloyd said "The most interesting gardens are high-maintenance gardens". The best gardens too, I might add...

HG

SquashNUt
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I tottally agree with you. i tilled some of my garden and hand dug some of it this year and the ones that i just used my pitch fork on have way less weeds in them. Next year will be the forth year on my oldest beds and they will not see a tiller.
I do plan to just rough up the top of the soil a few times to let weed seeds germinate and with any luck a few larve and eggs will get eaten from the pests in my garden.
I am trying to adopt a policy where the worms are the king, With sheet composting and no chemicals. i figure if the worms are happy so will be the microbs and benificial insects. I like the idea of a garden that can be ran with composted and fresh kichen waste. I am also lucky enough to have 4 people who drop off rheir grass clippings once a week. I have checked none of them put any thing on their lawn.
Being organic just gets easier every year.
North Idaho
Zone 5/6

opabinia51
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You are right Squashnut, organic gardening does getter easier each year. And your plants will show the benefits of organic gardening after just one year! Sheet and trench composting are definately the way to go. Let the worms to all the work. It's also good to have a compost pile in the corner of your yard as well. I also have a worm bin at my front door.

SquashNUt
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Too, cold here for worm bins. My garden has about 10 worms per shovel of soil so I just feed them out there. and they were free.
Do you remove all of your garden wastes in the fall or dig them In?
North Idaho
Zone 5/6

The Helpful Gardener
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There you go Squashnut. That's the ticket...

opabinia51
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Actually, the premise of a worm bin is such that you can have it indoors. They do not smell and take up very little space. So, should someone live in a cold climate, they can still put the bin inside. A friend of mine actually has her ten worm bins in her garage.

Yes, I simply turn all of my smaller weeds right back into the soil. The larger ones (that I have previously missed :oops: ) get thrown on top of the compost pile.

And weeds like Dandelions are chopped up and thrown on the pile as well. Just a small armount of root will develop into another plant

SquashNUt
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When I asked about removing plantds from your garden I was asking about your plants, not weeds. i know some people remove all veggie plants in the fall some turn them in where thwy stand and some leave them standing untill they plant again. What is your methos?
North Idaho
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Careful what you leave. Some like brussel sprouts, cabbages and their ilk (crucifers) will develop club root if grown in the same spot year after year and tilling them in would help perpetuate that fungus...

opabinia51
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Oh, I actually throw my Squash plants onto the compost pile and pretty much turn everything else right into the soil. Though, this year I am doing corn and I will be chopping up those plants and most likely adding them to the compost pile.

Hope this is what you are looking for. :idea:

opabinia51
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Yes, Scott's advice is sound. When turning vegetables into the soil it is important to still use crop rotation strategies. If you grow the same plant in the same place year after year, bacteria, fungi and insects that prey on that plant will accumulate in the soil and disease the plant or other plants that are in the same family.
But, simply turning them into the soil shouldn't really be a problem. When I turn something into the soil (especially some dense like a cabbage) I chop it up into smaller bits first. For that matter, I do that with my compost pile stuff as well. 8)

grandpasrose
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I'm a little slow joining this discussion - I never till anything. When building a new garden, we just build it right on top of the sod! We put thick layers of old black and white newspaper down, then soil, leaves, straw, grass clippings, compost, manure, etc. on for a year or so in the outline that we plan to garden. By the time the newspaper has decomposed, the sod underneath has decomposed as well and turned into it's own compost! We then plant, and continue year after year to add mulch of the above items, and have gorgeous lush gardens.
I began this way, because about ten years ago, the disks in my back began degenerating so badly that I could not do alot of digging. The things we discover when we have to rethink the way we do things! :wink:
VAL (Grandpa's Rose)
VAL (Grandpa's Rose)

opabinia51
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That's the way to do it Val. I personally don't use newspaper but, that's just a personal choice. And good on you for using the black and white newspaper. The colour articles contain dioxins that are bad for plants and humans.

opabinia51
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A great addition to trench composts is eggshells. Eggshells contain calcium but, also have a beneficial NPK value (refer to NPK Thread) that will also benefit plants. I personally get them by the bucket load from my university cafeteria. They even give me the bucket!

Anyway, be sure to crush the shells first.

opabinia51
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Yes, now would a be a great time to get those trench composts into the garden. I put my last one (for this year) into my vegetable garden last Saturday. Get them in now, then on October 1st (or round their abouts) you can start on your sheet mulch. (as I am planning to do).

Incidentally, what I did for greens (for my trench last weekend) was: I topped off all my 12 foot Jerusalem Artichokes and cut them up, and placed the cuttings in the trench atop some leaves. I have a total lack of weeds to put in my trenches now, because I densely planted Fall Rye in August.

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