In the Night Garden

As mentioned in my ‘Vermicomposting Trenches – 2009‘ post, this year I have expanded my network of trench systems. My main expansion was the creation of a new trench in front of my strawberry garden. Unlike crops such as tomatoes and zucchinis, shallow-rooting (and spreading) strawberries won’t likely benefit all that much from the system, but I certainly didn’t need much more incentive than the fact that I was going to have more habitat to grow my worms in. Aside from that, as you can see in the image above, I also went to the trouble of creating a ‘living mulch’ system (containing plenty of Red Worms and lots of habitat) over top of the bed, so the needs of the strawberries certainly weren’t ignored altogether.

In general, I’m really glad I decided to clean up this garden and install the trench because it was a total mess! Renegade Hollyhocks and Chinese Lantern plants were running wild, and its potential for producing any sort of decent strawberry crop seemed to be waning with each passing day.

Strawberry bed in need of an extreme makeover

I decided not to go to the extremes that I went to last year – ie. basically ‘digging to China’ in order to create the ultimate food waste disposal system. As mentioned, I’m working mainly with bedded livestock manure this year, with no pressure to dispose of it – so I was focused more on creating a nice summer bed for my worms. In other words, deep enough to offer a cool retreat down below, and enough volume to house a decent population of Red Worms.

My Dad plays ‘foreman’ while my daughter checks trench depth

As the title of this post (and the first picture) might suggest, I actually did a lot of the work on this system after the sun went down. My work was interrupted during the day and I really wanted to have it finished for the next day, when we were expecting rain. It was certainly an interesting experience gardening by flashlight.

Apart from the manure mix, I also added a ‘false-bottom’ of corrugated cardboard. This allowed me to get rid of some waste cardboard I had lying around, but it’s also just generally a good material to include in any trench system. It soaks up and holds excess moisture and provides good habitat for the worms. In fact, there is considerable evidence to suggest that paper products can even help to stimulate Red Worm reproduction (something I’ve witnessed myself).

Bottom of the trench lined in corrugated cardboard

Over the cardboard I added all the manure mixture I had on-hand, which basically filled up the trench to just shy of the ground level. Next I added several bags of food waste that had been sitting out in the sun for awhile (helps to speed up decomposition of the wastes and the biobag holding them).

Lots of food waste added to the trench

Lastly, I added a nice thick layer of material I refer to as ‘compost ecosystem’ – basically material that most of the worms have been harvested from (loads of young worms and cocoons though), which still has a lot of food and habitat value. The worms will continue to process this material and lots of good stuff washes down into the root zone of the plants every time I water (or it rains).

Strawberry patch looking not so shabby in the light of day!

Actually, the very last thing I did was add a decent layer of straw over top of everything (as I mentioned in my American Robin post). Aside from helping to keep the Robins off, the straw is great for keeping everything moist down below. This added layer of ‘protection’ comes with a price however, as I recently wrote about over on the Compost Guy blog (see ‘I’ve Got Slugs in My Beer‘).

I’ve also added some additional layers of manure since setting up the trench, and I’m happy to report that the worm population seems to be thriving! As for the strawberry crop…well, let’s just say it’s a work in progress.

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    • Cindy Anthony
    • June 29, 2009

    it won’t be long… maybe another 12 months and your entire back yard will be one big trench system. Too bad you can’t get a community garden benefiting from this methodology as well.

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • June 29, 2009

    What a beautiful strawberry patch! Great work!

    • Bentley
    • June 30, 2009

    CINDY – Haha – I love the trenches, I really do – but I’m not sure that they are the ‘ultimate’ approach for my yard. I will likely be shifting towards raised bed gardens as I expand my grow zones, and I’m not yet convinced that the value of a box trench makes up for the loss of valuable growing space. I’m currently trying out some other vermi-alternatives.

    KIM – thanks! It actually looks a lot nicer than that now as far as vegetation goes, but alas my strawberries seem to have fallen victim to slugs and birds for the most part

    • Annika
    • June 30, 2009

    I just finished ‘installing’ a vermicomposting trench in one of my raised garden beds that has a few scrawny zucchini plants in it. I live in the woods, so I am a little anxious that some forest critters will find my trenches a banquet table and make a nasty mess. Despite my concerns about the wildlife, it seems that the trench system may be just the thing for my composting needs! I’ll try to report back in a few weeks. Any advice would be appreciated!

  1. Hey Bentley,

    I can’t help notice the lawn area getting smaller and smaller. You sure this isn’t all a ploy to reduce the amount of time spent mowing? 😉

    Great work. Have you considered setting up a composting trench garden alongside(Just far enough away) from a trench filled only with dirt?

    I would guess the outcome would be like comparing tangerines to grapefruits!

    • Bentley
    • July 2, 2009

    ANNIKA – this may be a little taboo to mention, but have you ever considered ‘marking your territory’, if you know what I mean (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)? I’m a little embarrassed to admit this openly, but I actually tried this to try and keep rabbits from chomping my corn seedlings this year. Unfortunately we were getting a decent amount of rain at the time so I needed to be a little more creative. I devised a little ‘repellent’ tub – basically an empty cottage cheese tub with a saturated rag inside and holes punched in the sides. Worked like a charm – no more chomps since then, and not affected by the rain.
    JERRY – yes indeedy, I am on a mission to get rid of most of the lawn. It is all potential farm space the way I see it (well aside from having a nice little zone for kids to play in). If I had more space it WOULD be interesting to compare a soil trench to a vermicomposting trench, but even better if I had a bunch of different trenches (soil could be the control) to see how grass clippings compare to food waste, manure etc etc.

    • Annika
    • July 3, 2009

    Bentley, Thanks for the suggestion! So far, the trench has been undisturbed. 🙂 Though I may try your method for my crucifers. Someone has been a munchin’ 😉

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