The Vermicomposting Trench

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for quite some time now. As I mentioned in the post about my restaurant vermicomposting project, the trench idea started as somewhat desperate attempt to deal with the large quantities of food waste I’ve been receiving each week. Since that time, it has become much more than that – I like to think of it as a long-term, slow-release, natural fertilizer factory (or LTSRNFF for short – haha).

I situated my first trench directly in front of my tomato bed, thinking that it might help them grow somewhat better. Unlike last year, I decided not to add slow-release fertilizer sticks so that I could see the full potential of the natural method (or all of the negative repercussions if it didn’t work). One thing I was somewhat concerned about was the fact that I didn’t set up the trench well before the planting of the tomatoes – in fact, the trench ended up going in a week after the tomatoes were planted!

My concern revolved around the fact that I was adding lots of stinky, anaerobic waste (from other food waste composting attempts gone wrong) and materials that were not very well stabilized (decomposed) in general. It is known that various phytotoxic compounds can be produced via anaerobic processes, so I worried that I would end up stunting the growth. The ideal situation would involve setting up your trench months before you plant anything, so that by the time they go in, there is a rich supply of composted materials to start tapping for nutrients.

As I have discovered however, a trench can really go in at any time! I’ve seen no indication that the plants have been suffering as a result of their close proximity to the trench – and I think that right there is the key – the “close proxity”. You are not, after all, planting your crop directly in anaerobic sludge. You are basically giving them the option of spreading their roots in that direction. The interesting thing is that they do in fact seem to send roots into the material (composted or not) quite quickly.

One thing that likely helped my tomatoes right off the bat was the fact that I added a scoop of Worm Power worm castings into each hole. As I’ve discovered this year, worm castings are a fantastic material for helping any plant get started, whether it be a seedling or a transplant.

Time to move on to the actual creation of a vermicomposting trench. The set of photos I’ve included below actually feature the third trench I installed this year – basically a continuation of the tomato bed trench. I recently wrote about my lack of gardening skills over at, and this was a prime example. I planted this bed (which contains zucchinis and several different legumes) way later than I should have, and again dug the trench even later still. Yet again, the composting worms have come to my rescue – I added quite a bit of worm compost (harvested from my outdoor worm bin) into each hole, and more was added as a top dressing as well.

The first thing I (obviously) had to do was dig the actual trench – certainly the most labour-intensive and tedious part of the job. The depth and width of the trench is definitely up to you. I chose not to go down quite as far with this trench as I did with the one in front of the tomato bed. Keep in mind, the deeper you make it the more anaerobic it will be down below. This may or may not be an issue – just something to consider. Deeper (and wider) trenches have the advantage of being able to hold more material.

Next, I added a lot of coarsely shredded corrugated cardboard. This creates a bit of a ‘false bottom’, helping to absorb excess moisture from the rotting waste materials, as helping to balance the C:N ratio of the mix (I like to err on the side of higher C when vermicomposting).

It may look like straw, but this is actually partially decomposed material from my backyard composters. As you may recall, I had zero luck when I initially tried using my backyard composter (only one was active at the time) to compost food waste, but once I had a lot of straw available I was able to start using the composters again – with much greater success, I might add.

This pre-composted material should create a good ‘habitat’ for the composting worms added later. You don’t really need to add this (I didn’t add any to my first trench) – I just happened to have it on-hand, and knew it would work well in the trench. This is important to keep in mind when building a composting trench – don’t focus so much on exact instructions as you do on the principles involved, and the materials you happen to have on-hand. If I installed 5 trenches, I can pretty well guarantee that they would all be different – BUT, they would all be constructed with the principles of vermicomposting in mind.

Here is another layer of shredded cardboard. This time it was shredded egg flats (from the restaurant) – in my opinion, the best kind of cardboard to use for vermicomposting. As you can probably tell, the vermicomposting trench is set up in a ‘lasagna composting’ manner, with alternating layers of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ (again, with more emphasis on browns, since it is a worm system).

Next, I added a lot of chopped up food waste – apple peels and cores, carrot peels, turnip peels, lettuce, broccoli stalks, egg shells etc. It was added in fairly shallow layers, but given the length of the trench, it was actually quite a lot of material.

I’ve actually left out a couple more alternating layers (I’ll include everything in the video I’m going to make), but I think you get the general idea. One of the important steps not shown was the addition of composting worms. I basically just harvested a LOT of partially mature vermicompost (containing lots and lots of worms) from my outdoor worm bin and added it as a layer over some moistened coconut coir. I have continued to add more worms since then as well. If you want to get your system working for you very quickly, the best bet is to add a lot of worms at once – you may however want to get yourself a compost thermometer before doing so. Since these trenches can hold a lot of material, they can also heat up quite a bit – the last thing you want to kill your worms or cause them to leave the area.

The final step involved adding a nice thick layer of straw. This helps to keep moisture and bad odour in, and hot sunlight and worm predators (like Robins) out.

That’s pretty much it! So far, I’ve been blown away by how well these trenches are working for me. My tomato plants are literally bigger than any tomatoes I’ve ever grown before – and we’re only part way through the season! I think the limitless water-supply (released from rotting waste) and readily available nutrients, combined with the seemingly-magical growth stimulating properties of worm castings has created the ultimate environment for ‘growing stuff’. I’m not 100% sure I would see the same results with trees, shrubs and perrenials – but I’ll certainly be interested to find out!

Needless to say, I’ll be providing more updates as the growing season progresses. As mentioned, I will also be putting together a video all about making a vermicomposting trench.

Stay tuned!

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    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • July 22, 2008

    Bentley, thank you for posting this detailed setting up of your trench method of vermicomposting. I’ve been thinking of doing this outdoors to deal with pet waste, and I think I could easily set this up in an area of yard that doesn’t seem to grow anything at this point.

    I have one question though….you have this trench in a sunny location, good for the tomato plants, but not bad for the worms??? Will they be able to stay cool? And do you need to water this trench on a regular basis as well? The location I’m considering is mostly shade, which is why veggies won’t grow there, but if I could do this anywhere, I’d like to have that option.

    • Bentley
    • July 22, 2008

    Hi Kim,
    That’s a good question.
    While a system like this may be somewhat hot when you first set it up – because you are adding a lot of waste materials at once – over time it should become relatively cool down below. The thick layer of straw etc up top helps block sunlight. Also, if your plants grow quite large they can provide shade as well. My zucchini plants are HUGE and now overhang the trench, so that section is likely somewhat cooler than the other (sunny) areas. I am finding lots of worms active up near the surface in my tomato trench, so it doesn’t seem to be creating any issues.

    I have a much wider trench in a raised bed and I’ve been somewhat cautious with it thus far because it holds a lot of material and has been quite hot. I did add some worms, but I’ll likely add many more once it has cooled down somewhat – whenever I find worms in it now, they tend to be along the edges where it is cooler.

    If conditions are really dry, you may want to add water, but if you are adding a lot of water-rich materials and/or it is raining once in awhile you may be ok. I haven’t had to add much myself.

    A shaded trench should do VERY well!

    • Clark
    • July 22, 2008

    So the summer sun’s not a problem. What about in the winter?

  1. very cool.. I think I’d like to try this next summer 🙂

    • Karen
    • July 23, 2008

    I love this idea. I am currently worm composting in a box and want to branch out into having a vegetable garden…if I can only figure out a way to keep the dog from eating the compost and the veggies (he’s large and it’ll take a pretty strong fence to keep him out). Are you continuously adding more stuff to this trench or are you going to just let the worms break everything down before redoing the whole thing?

    • Bentley
    • July 24, 2008

    Clark – the effect of summer sun and heat on a system like this will certainly depend on your location, and the prevailing weather conditions for a given year. We’ve actually had a pretty wet summer this year so that’s certainly helped. Another advantage of this approach is that it will indeed help to protect your worms over the winter. While you won’t likely be able to keep it actively composting (unless you add lots and lots of waste to maintain warmth), you should at least be able to keep most of your worm population from freezing (if you add a nice thick layer of mulch over top) during the winter.

    Karen – I am definitely continuing to add stuff. This is a necessity, given the fact that I’m receiving so much waste from the restaurant. I am going to write a follow up post, providing some additional details that I forgot to write about.

    • Dwayne Clark
    • July 25, 2008

    Wow Bentley…when do you find time to sleep?

    • Bentley
    • July 25, 2008

    “Sleep”? What’s that?

    (I have a 10 month old – nuff said)

    • Tariku M.
    • August 20, 2008

    I love the idea. Now I have started to study vermicomposting.

    • Mary
    • August 31, 2008

    This is what I want to do and didn’t even know it! I just didn’t know that I should dig the trench part, I just heap it all in a pile toward the edge of my garden.
    Most of my questions have to do with weather.
    Question #1
    I live in Wisconsin – Do I need to take any extra precautions that you can think of so that the worms don’t freeze/bake?
    Question #2
    We had record setting rains in June, is that just the risk I take if I decide to do trench composting?
    Question #3 If I can’t get to the compost trench for about 2-3 months during the winter to feed them (due to snow), is that a problem?
    Karen – I’ve been dealing with the dog problem too! I have 2 dogs that absolutely love when they see me heading out to the compost pile. They know that they’ll eventually get a “lovely” (or as humans would say “gruesome”) snack. Does anybody have any thoughts (other than laying a chicken-wire fence over it) to prevent dogs from getting into the trench?
    I can’t wait to finally order my worms and get started!
    Thanks for having this site for us!

    • Bentley
    • September 1, 2008

    Ahah – so you did indeed find the trench post, Mary! I’m glad. (recently responded to your other comment).
    I live in a pretty cold region myself, but am pretty confident that I won’t completely kill off my worms this winter. Extra precautions would include adding food materials and then LOTS of bedding over top before the snow starts to fly – materials like straw, fall leaves etc. The snow itself will add an extra layer of insulation as well. The cold will cause the metabolism of your worms to slow down drastically – so don’t worry about feeding them. Worse case scenario (a REALLY cold winter), you’ll be left with cocoons that will hatch in the spring and give you a new worm population (assuming you have Eisenia fetida worms).

    In the summer, just make sure to keep the trench from drying out, especially if you are not adding wet food waste regularly. The plants will suck your trench dry pretty quickly during droughts. Like winter, it will really help to have a thick layer of mulch over top for (cooling) insulation and to slow down the drying process.

    Red Worms love wet conditions – as long as you don’t have a sealed system (ie one that doesn’t allow drainage) you should be fine. I find that lots of rain slows things down, but unless your garden turns into a lake, I don’t think you need to worry too much (never hurts to keep a small indoor worm bin for insurance though).

    Not sure about dogs. Hmmm…hopefully someone else will chime in on that one.

    Hope this helps


    • Mary
    • September 1, 2008

    Thanks so much for getting back to me so fast!!
    I’m so excited about getting started this a.m. I’m going out (with my 16 year old son :)) to start digging. I have plenty of boxes to start cutting up, and of coarse newspaper to shred. I don’t have the straw yet, but that is just down the street.
    I have plenty of compost already started, but I added dirt to it just 2 weeks ago, not knowing that that is a no-no. So I’ll have to separate it a bit (yuck). My worms will be shipped tomorrow, so I’m expecting them toward the end of the week.
    A few more questions for you.
    #1 How fast do I need to get the worms into the compost after receiving them?
    #2 Is a 12-14″ deep trench deep enough for them to survive the winter?
    (I think not, but just in case the ground is too hard to dig into from the clay)
    #3 Can I use boxes/newspaper with a glossy, color print on it – or just stick with the plain brown boxes and non-advertising sections of the newspaper?
    I’m sorry if you’ve answered these questions somewhere before. I’ve tried to read as much as possible, but I didn’t realize just how expansive your site is. My eyes are starting to glaze :).
    Kim – if you’re reading this, I’ve notice you’re from Milwaukee, I’m from New Berlin, just a hop,skip and jump away! How did your dog-doo project go?
    Thanks again Bentley.

    • Bentley
    • September 5, 2008

    Hi Mary,
    Sorry for the delay getting back to you.

    If you are receiving worms through the mail (sounds like you are), it is not a bad idea to get them into their system as fast as possible, or bare minimum at least get them into a shallow tub with some moist shredded newspaper to at least let them spread out a bit and get more oxygen.

    I would think that 12-14″ would be fine, BUT you will really need to heap on the bedding up above the soil surface.

    I generally stay away from anything glossy – there can be heavy metals etc in the inks used for these.

    Hope this helps


    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • September 5, 2008

    Hi Mary!!! Wow, we’re neighbors! It’s actually a cat doo project, and what I’m attempting to do currently is let the doodoos ‘rest’ for about a month on the compost pile before adding them to the worm bins. I think I’m going to set up an outdoor system specifically for the doodoo, like a trench system, and hope that the worms can go deep enough into the ground to survive our winter. If not, I can just go to my neighborhood tackle shop and purchase a new batch in the spring!

    Mary, you can email me at kim at nsbar dot org if you want to. Sounds like you’re off and running with your new wormie venture! Congrats!

    • Mary
    • September 6, 2008

    Hi Bentley,
    I’ve ordered 2 lbs of worms that should be here this coming Wednesday. I thought they would be here last week, so I wouldn’t have been totally prepared, but everything is all set in my 6′ long, 18″ deep, 16″ wide trench.
    I’ve had kitchen waste, cardboard and shredded newspaper in the trench since this past Monday. I’ve divided the trench lengthwise and will let one side work, then when it gets full start on the other side. Do I need to wait until the first side is totally “done” before I start on the second side? I assume that once I start adding material to the second side the worms will start to migrate over on their own and I’ll be left with worm castings on the first side?
    I don’t know if this is your area of expertise – but regarding Kim’s post on animal waste – do I use red-wiggler worms for that also. Seems odd to me that the same worms can take care of vegi/fruit mix, and also waste from carnivores. (Omnivore’s!) I assume I would have to keep the animal waste worm castings out of the vegi garden and use it for lawn, shrub or flower fertilization?
    Thanks for the sharing of your knowledge.

    • Bentley
    • September 7, 2008

    Hi Mary,
    I did something similar with my long trench (feeding on one half, lengthwise and then the other). I didn’t wait for one side to be processed before adding to the other, but I DID try to wait until one or the other sides were fairly well processed before adding any more. The point of the vermi-trench from my standpoint is that it will be an in situ fertilizer system – ie you don’t need to be removing castings – simply put your plants in a garden beside the trench. If you are doing this slowly over time and letting each side sit for awhile then yeah you could probably use the compost elsewhere, but I suspect there will still be plenty of worms in it.

    Red Wigglers are excellent for processing pretty well any type of organic waste – if any worm can do it, Red Worms can. They have been used very successfully in composting toilets (processing human waste). Remember, it’s not so much the waste itself that the worms feed on – their main requirement is that there be a diversity of microorganisms colonized on the waste materials – all manures are incredibly rich in microbes and are excellent for growing worms. Some need to be handled differently due to salt/ammonia/pathogen content, but basically you can vermicompost all of them.

    I would keep pet/human waste systems completely separate from any other systems and wouldn’t use the compost for food crops – on ornamentals etc for sure (once stabilized).

    • Mary
    • September 29, 2008

    Just thought I’d update you on how things are going.
    I ordered 2 lbs of Eisenia fetida worms. When the package arrived, I weighed it, and it was only 1.2 lbs. I was about ready to call and complain to the company I ordered it from, but fortunately read your site first and found out it was probably from dehydration. I gave them water right away.
    It’s been 2 1/2 weeks now, and I can absolutely see that they are doing their work. The pile is going down and I can see the material is being eaten up (or whatever is happening.)
    Every couple of days I take a pitch fork and tenderly poke it into the trench to lift the material up to see if I see any worms. I always see 10 – 15 worms smiling up at me.

    • Bentley
    • September 29, 2008

    Thats great, Mary – thanks for the update!

    • yoders
    • December 10, 2008

    i really like your worm trench idea. it’s just what i’ve been looking for. i have been composting in piles for a few years (loving it), and have been aching to try vermicomposting. i haven’t gotten around to it yet mainly because i haven’t built a box yet (one would be needed as there’s a dog here that “schnarfs” in easily-accessible materials), and i haven’t found any really thoroughly explanatory information from anyone who seems to actually have composted this way. if it’s anything like pile composting, i know that it is learned predominantly by feel and changes with the circumstances (materials, location, …). i just didn’t want to spend $15 on a cup of worms only to kill them all instantly with some simple mistake. and i have these piles i can just “throw” stuff into…
    i’m making excuses… what i was getting at is that this trench is the clutch key to all my compost dreams. dog won’t get it, it seems even easier to throw stuff into than a pile, and you don’t even have to MOVE it to apply it to the garden! plus it’s even slow-release, as you mentioned, so it will feed plants continually without the need for re-application.
    what i plan to do is make one of these trench-rows, modeled after your wonderfully comprehensive photos, fill it with kitchen scraps from my home plus these sweet-ass cooked grains i may be able to get (hoping hoping) from the local brewery (they put out six or seven 25-gal cans with garbage bags full of this 4 or 5 days a week) (someone i talked to called this “mash”? beer-mash?) along with all the carbon i can possibly muster. carbon is always the limiting factor… we need a “carbon resource” website or something with listings in each town.. or sign people up to donate theirs…
    bla bla.. anyway, i envision back-to-back trenches covering acreage, filled to the brim with writhing red wrigglers. with huge abundances of fresh produce geysering out from in between each, of course. AYIIIIIII!!!! paradise.
    thank you for your dedication and your enthusiasm and your splendid articulation.
    the only other thing i could ask of you is that you make short-but-sweet instructional/descriptive/informative lists to summarize each of your concepts, so that slow readers like me, or just impatient people like everyone ELSE, would have one less excuse not to process any organic materials.
    rocking site. i’m stoked to find it, and stoked for you.
    alright sorry for taking up so much of your time.

    • Bentley
    • December 11, 2008

    Wow, Yoders – thanks for the great comment! I’m really glad my article helped you have an ‘Ahah!’ moment. I appreciate the kind words about the site in general.
    You are absolutely right about presenting some of my key projects etc in a more accessible manner – perhaps I can start to put together PDFs with summaries of each that people can download. I definitely DO plan to put together a video about my trench systems, so hopefully that will be a good start.
    Thanks again


    • yoders
    • December 11, 2008

    awesome. oh and i thought of one more question for you (well, for everyone) — what would happen if one used WOOD CHIPS in these trenches?
    see, coarse wood chips from big chippers are easy to have dropped off in the driveway. but i’ve almost strictly used them as a mulch material for the paths, as they break down so slowly in the compost. i was just thinking about how much easier it would be to mix chips with food scraps than doing all that work with the cardboard. plus there’s gotta be some funky glues and crap in the cardboard (maybe not, i dunno.)
    well, if nobody knows, i will have to do a side-by-side comparison next spring…

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • December 11, 2008

    Great question Yoders! I’m wondering myself, since I’ve started using wood shavings for my kitty litter (the bedding kind for gerbils). I throw it onto my compost pile, hoping it’ll break down before I can give it to my worms, but if that’s not necessary……Bentley?

    • Bentley
    • December 11, 2008

    Hi guys!
    As you’ve pointed out, Yoders – wood chips can take a loooooong time to break down. Add to that the fact that they can’t absorb moisture, and you’ve got yourself a potentially frustrating situation. You definitely want something that will provide habitat (and long-term food) for the worms and help to balance the C:N ratio in the trench. Fall leaves (although not really absorbent initially) are an excellent material when you can get them. Perhaps you could get a local farmer to drop off a load of manure for your trench – pretty much the ‘perfect’ material – just make sure not to add the worms until it is well-aged (and smells earthy).

    Cardboard certainly doesn’t need to be shredded into tiny bits in order to work well in a system like this. It actually didn’t take all that long to prepare the paper/cardboard that went into my trench systems (at least not in comparison to prep times for smaller systems).

    Back to the wood chips idea – I should mention that not ALL wood chips are created equal. The garden path chips are more than likely NOT ideal, but the absorbent pellets/flakes used for bedding would certainly offer a lot more potential.

    Ok – nuff said

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • December 11, 2008

    Thanks B-man!

    • yoders
    • December 11, 2008

    woot. i know a lady that’ll drop off horse manure with some straw bedding mixed in — 10 yards at a time… i’ve tried composting her stuff mixed with those grains i mentioned, and it was a stinky mess; had to mix in more carbon. i’ve heard horse manure by itself is just about the correct c:n ratio… bedding would add a little c, but i imagine the urine would add back some nitrogen…
    i could just fill trenches with some cardboard and some food scraps and a lot of horse manure. but i really want to mess with those grains. maybe i’ll try to put a pile of cardboard through our chipper/shredder, and see what kind of C volume i can muster that way.
    how heavy can you lay the nitrogen on those worms? i mean, i know they need some carbon, but how little could they withstand? i know you need a pile at least a few feet high to get any serious heat action going. will the worms still thrive in a slightly-anaerobic environment? like, have you ever thrown them in your pit-composting pits?
    sorry to bug you so much. i just want to do it right is all.
    alright i’m going out to build a small worm box. i’ll use it for my backup worm supply as i experiment with trenching.

    • Bentley
    • December 15, 2008

    Hi again,
    I’ve tried working with spent grains from a brewery and, while it is supposed to be an ideal vermicomposting food according to Dr. Clive Edwards (renowned vermi researcher), I’ve found it to be terrible stuff – very difficult to keep it aerobic and appealing for the worms. I can only imagine what sort of mess you would have when it’s combined with manure!
    Sounds like you have a great connection there! Ten yards is a LOT of manure – you should easily be able to get some trenches up and running. It may take a bit before the manure is ready for the worms (depends how much urine is mixed in with the manure), but shouldn’t be too long with horse manure. Manure and straw is pretty well the ultimate combo for worms – they like a habitat with a C:N somewhat higher than ideal for composting – perhaps 30-40:1 – since it is also their home.
    You need to be careful with excess nitrogen for sure – you can easily kill them off if ammonia is being released (C:N 20:1 or lower) and there is also the dreaded “protein poisoning” that people talk about – which is more accurately nitrogen poisoning (since actual proteins are not necessary for this to occur).
    Heat action can occur well before you get a few feet high, but if the weather is still cool this shouldn’t be so much of a concern.
    Worms actually seem quite tolerant of anaerobic conditions – I think it is more the metabolites that can be produced via anaerobic processes that cause the issues. Time and time again I’ve seen them gravitate towards really wet, anaerobic zones in a bin as long as there isn’t anything else nasty going on there (like fermentation of sugar rich materials etc).
    Hope this helps!


    • Rick
    • April 27, 2009

    Well, I did it. I dug out a new flower bed at my home here in Mesa, AZ. Then I dug some more and made a trench in front of it. Currently a 3 foot by 8 foot by 18-inch deep hole, only the front 12 inches of the hole is an extra 8 or 10 inches deeper.
    I laid soil augmentation stuff like peat and composted manure on the pile of dirt as I dug the hole, and then will add some more when I fill it back in.
    For the wormies, I added some almost composted materials from my old not-so-compost heap, alternated with layers of cardboard and shredded newspaper. Also threw in a layer or two of kitchen veggie waste. You can sure use up a lot of material…there will be a slight delay while I replenish my scraps bucket.
    Soon I will order up some worms and make some worm boxes, put some of the wrigglers in the boxes and some in the vermiculture trench bed, and see what happens.
    Rick L.

    • JeanneLou Truitt
    • May 5, 2009

    For 30 years and more, we have been covering our septic line with plastic bags of fall leaves. In the spring they have been dragged into the woods and piled up. The same pile receives plant wastes from our daylily gardens and other flower beds. We have never used any of them.

    Please tell me; do i have a goldmine out in that pile? Or is it just another rubbish heap? Now, what do i do with it?
    Thanks, the LilyLady

    • yoj
    • May 28, 2009

    rjinga: i’ve read and heard that earthworms are different from redworms. though it is possible that you’ve got redworms in your soil… however, i don’t think redworms get as big as small snakes…
    redworms are known to eat compost before it has broken down to the point where earthworms can get it. i would recommend investing in some redworms. they’ll breed fast, if you don’t totally starve them of food, water, or shelter.
    my guess is that if you do a whole trench and put redworms in there, if you keep adding some compost to one end of your trench, say every week or two, you’ll always be able to find more redworms for your next trench, or for a friend.

    • Anne
    • May 28, 2009

    Hello everyone — Love the trench idea!! My concern is re: dogs, rats and raccoons….esp the rats and raccoons. We have a huge population of both around here – we’re pretty rural. They get into plastic garbage cans, loose outdoor compost piles, etc. Any ideas/experience for R&R proofing/discouraging w/ a trench? I’m thinking it might not be a workable method in my area…drat….

    • Tom
    • July 8, 2009

    Could I add ashes from my burn barrel to a trench? I just burn boxes and paper waste and occasionally wood. I will be burning less once i get my trench started.


    • Bentley
    • July 9, 2009

    RICK – That’s great. I would love to hear how it’s turned out for you!
    JEANNELOU – I would say ‘goldmine’. Add some red worms to your pile and see what happens!
    ANNE – Good question. In a recent comment response I wrote about “marking your territory” (haha), but if you want to be a little more civilized perhaps some human hair (barber shops would likely be more than happy to give it away) or other repellents. Lots and lots of bedding material over top (along with some compost) should really help to eliminate odors
    TOM – Ashes can be an asset to a compost heap or garden in general since they are a good source of potassium, but I would be careful with adding them to a vermicomposting system, since potassium hydroxide (very caustic) can be created when water is added. Not really sure how much of a risk this is, but I wouldn’t personally take a chance with it.

    • Jesse
    • September 1, 2009

    HI, I am just starting my worm compost bin. does anyone know where I can get some red worms in MIlwaukee?

    • Mary
    • September 2, 2009

    Just wanted to say “hi” from your neighbor in New Berlin! I wish I could help you out with somewhere local to buy your worms, but I had to mail order them because I had a tough time trying to locate someone local too.

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • September 2, 2009

    Jesse, I bought mine from a bait shop in Bayview, off of Howell just south of Oklahoma. Email me if you need further help.

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • September 2, 2009

    Anne, I would try just starting out with a large trash can that you drill holes in as your compost bin. You can keep the lid on with bungie cords and that should keep out any critters.

    • Jesse
    • September 4, 2009

    Thanks, I got some at a bait shop in Riverwest!

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • September 4, 2009

    Excellent! It’s so much cheaper than online, and then you know they’re ‘fresh’ and healthy.

    • Bentley
    • September 4, 2009

    Hi guys – just thought I would jump in here. I think getting Red Worms and/or Euros from a bait dealer is a great idea (assuming they have the right worms), and while they certainly would be less money, it’s important to point out that you are getting far far fewer worms. Bait dealer usually sell by the worm, and if you translated their per worm price into a 1 lb equivalent, you’d probably be paying $50-$100 for a pound of worms!
    That being said, I still think this is a great way for people to get started, since you’ll likely get lots of really nice ‘breeder’ worms, and it shouldn’t take all that long to grow your own thriving colony!

    Just my 2 cents!

  2. Hi everyone/Bentley ,
    Love you trench Ideal, I was going to do a pit 24″ diaX 36″ deep this fall & put gourds,pumpkin in it( May of 2010) this coming spring.Now I willput in the redworms too.
    If you have eaten the red skined peanuts,when you finished you would have a little flakes from the roasted nuts left in the bag. Hope we are on the same page here, because coffeebeans have the same skins, called CHAFF. I have got about 6000.lbs of this chaff in the last 6monthThe chaff is really hot in the coffee roaster so to keep it fromm burnnig it is flooded with water after it leaves the coffee bean. So I get wet Chaff that is at least half water, but it has began to break down at this time. Do you think the red worms can handle it if I mix it 25% chaff/ 25% soil/ 25% sawdust, dry leaves, straw/ 25%tablestrapes,manure,white paper?

    • Bentley
    • September 10, 2009

    Hi Joel,
    That ‘chaff’ material sounds interesting – I have a feeling it would be a good worm composting food/bedding. My recommendation however is to skip the soil and sawdust – neither of these are good materials for a vermicomposting system. White paper also isn’t ideal, so you should probably using it in moderation – too much of it can potentially irritate or harm the worms (since chemicals are used to bleach it). Try substituting shredded cardboard if at all possible.

    • darcie hull
    • September 14, 2009

    I am intrigued with the trench vermicomposting idea & have been wanting to try it, but assumed you would need to line it somehow to keep out underground critters like moles/voles who might just love to lunch on well fed worms. they eat the underground parts of our potatoes & beets, I know they are well established in the garden.. have you ever had trouble with critters that want to eat your worms? Thanks, I really appreciate the how to do it info.

    • Bentley
    • September 14, 2009

    Hi Darcie,
    Good question. I don’t have moles around here (thank goodness), but there are definitely small rodents that live in my yard. I don’t THINK they are harmful to the worms but am not 100% sure. In your case (where you know there are moles in the area), setting up some sort of protective barrier would be very important since the trench would basically represent and all-you-can-eat buffet for moles. Several layers of tough landscape fabric MIGHT do it – not sure how strong/sharp their claws are. Maybe that combine with some sort of small-hole chicken wire.

    • joel
    • September 14, 2009

    HI Bentley/ Darcie,
    It is my understanding that moles are a pest when U have Junebug(jap. beetle or a fruit beetle, not the same beetle) larav in the soil. Remove the larav, you remove the moles.As for a barrier, if the landscape fabric does not work;try 2×8 frame before U dig your trench. Put the frame about 5″ deep, leaving 3″ out of the ground. When U dig the trench, throw the soil behind the frame,not on the frame. The frame, like a rased garden bed, should be at least 6″ back from trench wall. The frame will help you keep the trench straght & square.
    Please let us know how this truns out Darcie.
    Thank You for this site Bentley!

    • Darcie
    • September 15, 2009

    thanks for your suggestions, they give me some ideas to try.. Joel can you describe your frame a little more clearly for a non carpenter such as myself? do you build it out of plywood or 2×8 lumber? thanks

    • Joel
    • September 15, 2009

    Hi darcie,
    Sorry, I mean 2×8 lumber(1-1/2x 7-1/2 finished). U can nail it on the corner or use wood screws & a drill. Hardcore organic gardeners do not use treated wood, but I do not think it will hurt the worms. You could use hardie broads, but the price goes up. Lowie or Home Depot can help U with cost verses life of wood.
    Moles stay at ground level to get worms/ roots so you should be fine.
    If I can help or clear up my fumbling around, gave me a yell.
    Good luck!

    • yoder
    • September 17, 2009

    darcie, have you heard of those sound-emitting “gopher chasers”? they’re basically metal stakes filled with D batteries and equipped with sound-makers… they beep periodically, like every 25 seconds.
    it’s audible above ground to about 15 feet away, if i remember correctly. anyway, i’ve seen them work, and i’ve also seen them not work. worth a try, i’d say, if you’ve got underground rodents. i’d research a bit and see what the word is as to which brands are best, because there are many.
    i think i’ve read they’re supposed to work at a range of 1/4 or maybe even 1/2 acre, but i don’t believe they’re that effective. good for a few trenches, though, i imagine.
    i see they have solar ones too… good luck.

    • Jason
    • November 17, 2009

    I have access to as much free (uncomposted) horse manure as I want and am thinking about putting some in a vermicomposting trench. How bad does horse manure stink in these trenches? I live in the city and don’t want to offend my neighbors…

    • Bentley
    • November 20, 2009

    Hi Jason,
    Depends on just how fresh the stuff is. My favorite manure is the material that has been sitting outside for awhile. Not necessarily ‘composted’ – although I supposed it goes through partial composting when heaped up enough. I have had no real stink from the horse manure I’ve added (my food waste from the restaurant could get pretty ripe at times since there was so much of it to deal with!)

    • Matt
    • January 29, 2010


    Sorry for the blank post above. Do you worry that the worms could migrate over to the plants and try and eat them. Do the worms only eat dead matter or?

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