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How to Trench Compost in a Raised Bed

Author Photo
By Nebraska Dave | Apr 20, 2020

 

 Unsplash/Anaya Katlego

Composting envisions a mound of debris that contains brown and green material. There’s aeration, watering, and turning or tumbling. When do you need to water? How much water should be used? How often should the pile be turned? What if I told you there’s a better way to do this. It’s called trench composting, and I’ve been doing it for years. It eliminates all those decision making processes down into one simple process. It does take a little more work up front but once it’s done, that’s it for the rest of the year. All the things that you would put in a normal compost pile are used. 

The first thing is to choose the bed to prepared. This bed was covered with the compost debris about a foot thick in the fall to start the process of composting over the winter. As the rain, snow, freezing, and thawing process happens over the winter months, the material compresses down to about three inches thick. This bed was given a healthy layer of grass clippings and covered with leaf yard debris. It was then just left uncovered over the winter to naturally begin the process. This process can be done in basically any garden and is not just for raised beds. It’s a really good way to cut down on the fall clean-up chores. There’s no waiting for months or perhaps even a year before the compost can be used. It will break down as the spring turns into summer and fall. The aeration of digging and the moisture of the soil along with the worm activity break the material down and feed the plants.

The first thing that must be done is to dig out a trench and put the dirt temporarily in a wheel barrow. This dirt will be used for the last trench of the bed. The trench is about 8 to 10 inches deep and mine is just the width of the spade that I’m using. The width can be less or more but the depth must be deep enough to cover the debris with about four or five inches of soil. 

Now all the debris on top of where the next trench will be is raked down into the currently dug trench. Don’t be concerned about putting too much compost material in the trench as it will settle as the elements, soil micro-organisms and worms work their magic. By the next spring, all this material will be virtually turned into soil. That’s basically the process. Continue down the bed with digging and burying the debris until the end is reached. As the years go by and this procedure is continued the soil becomes easy to turn over. It’s light and holds the water extremely well even in dry times of the year. My spade sinks into the black rich soil with out even using any foot work.

The dirt and debris in the wheelbarrow from the first trench is now used to fill the last trench in the bed. A rake over to smooth the bed down and this bed is ready to plant. A generous cover of mulch to keep the soil from drying out and weeds from growing will be added as a final touch. Now the work is done for the rest of the season.

So as you can see the process is simple, straight forward, and once completed almost no maintenance required. Give it a try, I think you will like it.

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