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Trench Composting In The Winter – How To Compost Without A Pile!

One of the easiest ways to still compost in the winter is by using a method called trench composting – even if you don’t have a compost pile or bin!

Trench composting is one of the oldest tried and true ways of enriching and giving power back to the soil. In fact, it has been used by nearly every civilization dating back thousands of years. And the funny thing is, it still works wonders today. Especially for folks struggling to find a way to compost in the winter.

Trench composting is the practice of burying compostable materials directly into the soil. Instead of creating a compost pile and adding and mixing ingredients, the scraps and other compostable materials are buried right into the soil of a garden or flowerbed.

trench composting
Trench composting is the process of burying compostable materials directly into the soil. It is an excellent way for those who don’t have a compost pile to still re-energize their soil.

Once in the soil, the materials break down over time and then give their nutrients back. Ancient civilizations used this method to help provide energy to their crops.

They would bury everything from seaweed to old fruits, vegetables and even fish remnants into the soil. Not only did it enrich the dirt for future crops, it also eliminated any smell or odors from the decaying materials.

Winter Composting – How To Use The Trench Method

Today, most avid gardeners use a dedicated compost pile instead of the trench method for composting. It allows materials to break down completely over time, giving them access to pure, rich finished compost to add to planting holes, potting soil and more.

But even those who do have a compost pile can still benefit from trench composting. Especially as the cold and freezing temperatures of winter settle in. The fact is, many folks who compost struggle to keep their pile going through winter.

As the frigid temperatures settle in, decomposition slow downs or even stops in some cases. Piles can also become frozen, covered with snow, or overloaded due to materials not breaking down. They can even begin to smell if materials don’t break down and the temperature warms.

coffee grounds - trench composting
Coffee grounds are one of the best materials of all for trench composting. And don’t forget to compost the filter too! Most coffee filters are 100% compostable.

Unfortunately, when this happens, many gardeners stop composting all together. Instead of using all of those valuable vegetable peels, scraps, coffee grounds and more, they simply throw them out.

But luckily, this is exactly where employing trench composting saves the day! All it takes is a little effort and all of those valuable materials can help power up your soil with ease.

A Few Ways To Practice Trench Composting

So how does trench composting work in the winter? Well, it all depends on how severe your winters are, and how often and how long your ground stays frozen. But make no mistake, no matter where you live, trench composting can work for you!

Trench Composting In Warmer Winter Climates

If you live in an area with warm or moderate winters, digging through unfrozen soil is fairly easy. Although cooler winter temperatures might be chilly enough to slow a regular compost pile, it won’t affect trench composting at all. And by burying the materials, there is no worry of smell or odor!

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Start by selecting an area of your garden or flowerbeds and dig a hole about 10 to 12 inches deep. Next, place your scraps directly in the hole, allowing enough room at the top for at least 4 inches of soil to cover the hole.

By burying to that depth, the soil stays warmer and helps to break down the materials faster. But even more importantly, it is also deep enough that rodents and other animals won’t dig it back up.

If you do this within a foot or two of perennials or bushes in your flowerbeds, it will provide nutrients slowly as the materials break down. You can also create holes or a trench in your garden that will break down to help next year’s soil and plants.

Cold Weather Trench Composting

So what if the ground freezes in your area often, or for months at a time? No worries! There are actually two different ways to still trench compost.

Dig down 10 to 12 inches into the soil to create a hole and then fill with your scraps. As they break down, the nutrients will leach to nearby plants and provide them with power.

One of the easiest ways to trench compost over the winter months in colder areas is to keep a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid nearby outdoors. Fill the bucket with kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and more as they become available.

The good news is that when outside temperatures get that cold, the compost materials won’t cause any issues with smell or rot in the bucket.

They can simply be held until it warms enough to break through the soil and bury. It is far better than throwing on top of a cold compost pile and having animals rummaging through them. Or even worse, the pile starting to rot and smell.

If you happen to live in a climate with absolutely frigid temperatures, you can create your hole or several holes in the fall while the soil is still workable. Cover the holes with a board, and then lift and drop materials in as needed, and replace the cover.

As soon as it warms enough to cover with a bit of soil, fill the hole and your trench compost pile will begin to break down. Again, a far better method than simply throwing all of those valuable kitchen scraps away!

Trench Composting During The Spring, Summer & Fall Growing Season

Whether or not you have a compost pile, you can also use the power of trench composting during the growing season. In fact, it is a great way to side dress your plants to help power them with slow release nutrients and minerals.

Trench composting vegetable scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds is a great way to power plants in the summer too.

Egg shells, coffee grounds, and vegetable scraps are all perfect for trench composting using the side dress trenching method. Start by digging four to six inches away from the edge of the roots of vegetable or flower plants.

Because the soil is warm, you don’t need to dig as deeply as in the winter. Once the materials are in the trench, simply cover up with soil and let the magic happen. As the materials break down, they provide extra nutrients to the plants slowly and naturally.

Trench Composting All Stars For Side Dressing…

Coffee grounds provide trace amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil and the plants growing near it. In addition, they help to retain moisture, and increase overall soil structure as they break down.

Another great side dressing ingredient is crushed egg shells. They are wonderful for trench composting around tomato and pepper plants. As the shells break down, they enrich the soil with calcium, a key mineral in stopping blossom end rot for both tomatoes and pepper. (See: How To Stop Blossom End Rot)

Vegetable scraps such as potato and carrot peels are another great choice. They break down quickly in the soil to provide extra nutrient, and help add organic matter to the soil. Here is to the value of trench composting, in the winter, or any time for that matter!

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