Composting Directly In The Garden


Don’t throw those imperfect lettuce leaves, onion tops and strawberry tops in the trash. Instead, convert them to compost right in the garden.

Vermicomposting and heap composting are great ways to manage this waste. But if these methods don’t work for you, try trench composting. This centuries-old technique requires little effort and is effective. The process is basically invisible, eliminates the need to turn over a pile of plant debris, requires minimal space and does not smell.

Simply dig a trench 12 inches deep between rows of vegetables, in the driveway or any vacant spot in the garden. Be careful not to damage the roots of the plants. Add about four to six inches of kitchen scraps, mix with soil, and cover with at least eight inches of soil you removed from the hole. Covering with as much soil helps prevent animals from digging. Repeat until the trench is filled with plant debris and covered with soil.

Just like other composting methods, use only plant-based materials. Do not add meat, dairy products and fats which can attract animals and rodents. And it’s no place for perennial weeds like quackgrass, annual weeds that have gone to seed, or invasive plants that can survive composting and take over the garden.

You can also trench compost one hole at a time. Simply dig a hole in a vacant space in the garden, mix the materials, mix and cover with soil. I grew up with this method. After dinner or once we had a bowl full of kitchen scraps, we were sent out to the garden to dig a hole, empty and cover.

For those who want to rotate the plantings as well as the compost, you can try either of these two methods. Plant in wide rows and compost in a trench in the path. Next year move the garden to the location of the path and make last year’s garden the path. You will alternate your plantations while improving the soil.

Or designate separate adjacent areas for planting, paths and composting. Next year, rotate so that last year’s composting area becomes a garden, the garden becomes the path, and the path is the new section for trench composting. In three years, you will have rotated crops and improved the soil in the three zones.

Start by contacting your local municipality to make sure there are no restrictions on any type of composting. Then get out the shovel and dig your way to healthier soil and a more productive garden.

Melinda Myers has written over 20 books on gardening, including the recent Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2n/a Editing and gardening of small spaces. She animates Les Grands Parcours “How to Grow Anything” DVD Instant Video Series and the national union Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is


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