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.