Vermicomposting Trenches – 2009

2009 vermicomposting trench
My main vermicomposting trench – expanded into a mini windrow

Last year I discovered the power of the ‘vermicomposting trench‘. As most of my loyal readers will know, it all started with somewhat naive attempt on my part to compost all of the usable food waste from a very popular local restaurant (see ‘Restaurant Food Waste Vermicomposting‘). In a desperate attempt to dispose of (in a neighbor-friendly manner) large quantities of rotting, stinking organic waste, I decided that burial was probably my best bet. The rest, of course, is history.

I’ve never been a particularly skilled gardener (although I’m working to change that this year), but it didn’t seem to matter much last year since Red Worms and a bunch of ‘waste’ came together to create the ultimate all-natural fertilizer factory. By the end of the summer I was basically begging friends and family to take produce home with them when they came to visit. The results were astounding – far better than expected, and far better than previous years when regular off-the-shelf fertilizers were used.

It certainly was a LOT of work dealing with all that waste and creating my trench (and pit) systems, but there was never a doubt in my mind that I would be using this approach again this year. The big difference of course, is that I’m no longer receiving hundreds of pounds of food waste each week. Not only did this excite me from a labor-reduction standpoint, but this also meant that I’d be back in the same boat as most of the people reading these articles. I knew it would take a bit of extra effort to ensure that I ended up with enough ‘food’ to sustain the worms and plants, but at least the project is going to be a lot more relevant for the average backyard composter/gardener.

Despite the fact that my waste supply has been greatly reduced, I decided that I wanted to expand my systems – widening my main trench so as to basically convert it into a mini windrow, and digging new trenches in other locations. A major motivator was simply the fact that by increasing the vermicomposting area, I’d be greatly boosting my Red Worm population as well – never a bad thing when you are in the ‘worm biz’!

My main foodstock of choice this year is aged livestock manure. I live in a rich farming region so there is plenty of this material available, and as I’ve written before, it is pretty well the ‘ultimate’ food for composting worms. Add to this the fact that it also has fantastic fertilizer value and it’s a no-brainer.
Apart from manure, I am still adding some food waste as well. We produce quite a bit ourselves, so I have been burying it in various locations along the length of my trench/windrow system as it accumulates.

Not too long ago I wrote about vermicomposting with grass clippings. Well, I’m happy to report that I have been adding a lot of mulched grass clippings to the windrows as well. Apart from the potential food value this will offer, the material serves as an excellent mulch (keeping moisture in) as well.

The ‘sandbox self-fertilizing garden‘ (links to article on Compost Guy website) is back in action with its own manure trench as well. As you may recall, I added a lot of manure and leaves to this bed to help prepare it for winter. After expanding my main (fence-line) trench, much of this material – along with loads of worms – was transferred over to help flatten out and clean up the sandbox bed for the growing season.
This year, instead of giant pumpkins and potatoes I will be growing corn and pole beans. I’ll write more about the sandbox system in future blog posts, but I will say this – so far so good!!

There is plenty more to write about in general, but I would rather break everything up into a series of posts rather than creating a monster article now – this will help me to get this stuff to you in a more timely manner.

Below you will see a few photos showing how my main trench was expanded, then mounded up with manure/compost, along with my most recent shot of the fence-line trench.

vermicomposting trench early in spring
After adding some straw in the spring

vermicomposting trench being expanded
Trench expansion – additional width with little extra depth/volume

vermicomposting trench heaped up with manure and compost
The trench after mounding manure and compost

Recent shot of vermicomposting trench
Latest view of my main trench – more manure + straw over top

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  1. Bentley,
    I was reading your blog (I have been an avid follower for a while now) and my husband decided to lean over and give me a big hug. He glanced at my computer screen and saw…

    “My main foodstock of choice this year is aged livestock manure.”

    He started busting up laughing and said, “I thought he was going to say tomatoes, or something — just food — you know, HIS main foodstock.”

    I had to share that little bit of humor with you. That’s exactly what people get when they read over your shoulder- Out of Context!

    Love your blog.
    PS. My husband helped me sort my worms and castings today!

    • David from England
    • June 16, 2009

    Great blog – got me started!
    Very interested in your new trenches cum windrows. You say your main feedstock will be aged manure and I was just wondering whether it will be horse, cattle, pig or A.N. Other.
    Keep up the good work.

    • June 16, 2009

    Very good article as usual. I have not tryed trench composting yet but Im getting ready for outdoor composting this winter up here in Maine. Im going to try it your way. Wish me luck.


    • Ray
    • June 16, 2009

    how about underground varments,moles that love worms,do you have them up there,Ray from Califorina

    • Bentley
    • June 18, 2009

    FOREST – that is hilarious. You can tell your husband that I will indeed be growing LOADS of tomatoes, along with plenty of other produce – thanks to these trenches.
    DAVID – Good question. I have been using manure from multiple sources. Most of it has been bedded horse manure (which the worms go gaga over), but there has also been some cattle and even goat manure. Pig manure could certainly work as well, but I’d suggest mixing it with bedding and letting it age/compost first. Same goes for avian manure – but you may need to leave it in an outdoor pile for a fair bit longer. It needs to be well moistened, composted and containing much lower levels of salts and ammonia than the fresh material has.
    HOWARD – keep me posted, Howard. I enjoy hearing about others’ experiences with these methods.
    RAY – another good question. I don’t have to worry about them, although I’m convinced there was some sort of shrew feeding on worms in my trench last year. Luckily a neighborhood cat decided to protect my property – I found a dead rodent in the bed, and saw it carrying another one away (on another occasion). There are also various ways you can potentially repel these critters.

  2. Bentley,

    You could try to order or if you find up there “Castor Beans” they are the ultimate mole killer down here. We use human hair around our garden to keep the deer and other wildlife out of it for the smell. We would use it in our worms too BUT it comes not seperated when we pick it up so it has bleached or tints and stuff in it so I did not want to risk those chemicals in my bins even if only a miniscule amount.

    The castor beans look like a small chestnut shell. They are prickly on the outside but more in the shape and size relevant to a one garlic clove but the moles love these. They then take down with them and it kills them but doesnt kill any other animal like a dog or cat form what we have heard about them. I do not know much more about them. An old guy from the mountain top here told me about them in a flea market. They also go by the name around here anyways “mole beans”. Just a note for you to look at. Nothing more as I am no scientist LOL

    • Woody
    • July 10, 2009

    What about water flooding, ie. heavy rain? It looks like the trenches would fill up with water quite well with a good rain storm.

    • Kirsti
    • February 24, 2020

    I am using straw as insulation on top of my composting trench. It gets kind of messy for access (covering and uncovering), esp since it’s in the garden… Straw everywhere. Any ideas or tricks? Do you keep using same straw or eventually mix it in and use new straw after a while? Thanks!

    I do find it gets really wet at the bottom. Soil around the trenches has a lot of clay πŸ™

    • Bentley
    • March 3, 2020

    Woody (missed this one) – with heavy clay soils in regions that receive LOTS of rain, or are just more prone to flooding in general, yes I would say this might be a risk. That said – I have clay soil here and have yet to deal with a flooded trench. Many factors help prevent this (especially once you have crop plants growing near by).

    Kirsti – Interesting! That’s been my experience with leaves, but I actually love straw/hay because it really seems to stay in place so nicely. Maybe you are in a really windy location? A suggestion might be to soak down the bales – maybe even with water that molasses has been added to. Moist straw, with additional microbial growth should stay in place better.

    • Kirsti
    • March 3, 2020

    Yes, our yard is in a wind tunnel. I am thinking of fencing in the straw now.

    Also suffering from poor water drainage in clay soil, especially this week with melting snow and rain. So disappointing but I don’t have many plants yet. So maybe better next season.

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