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Compost trenches

DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 87,834
edited November 2022 in Tools and techniques
Does anyone else here use a compost trench technique?

We don’t have a large garden, so there’s not really enough room for the large three-bay composting set up that I’ve used in other larger gardens. We just have one dalek-type bin … but we make a compost trench where we grow our runner beans.  Then the following year I’ll move the bean trench along a bit and plant courgettes or squashed where the beans were in the previous year. 

We have very free-draining gritty soil here and this system works really well for thirsty plants like beans and squashes, as it really improves the soil structure and increases its moisture retention. 

This method paid dividends this year in the drought … we were picking the first beans at the beginning of July and they continued a steady production right through the hot dry weather. Our last meal was picked in mid October. 

It’s also a very useful system for me, being older and having had some injuries, turning compost isn’t as easy as it used to be. This way all we have to do is dig the trench (OH does that). Once it’s lined with cardboard, brown wrapping paper etc, I just have to take the kitchen peelings, tea leaves etc to the trench and tip them in. 

The trench is also very popular with our frogs, toads, newts and small birds such as robins, wrens and dunnocks because of all the insects and invertebrates who take up home there until it’s covered with soil at the end of  May. 

Does anyone else do this, or fancy giving it a try?

Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.



  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 8,329
    Do you know if the trench attracts mice or rats?

    I put veg trimmings in the lidded compost bin and one year a rat got in after the lid was blown open by very strong winds. He made short work of a brussel sprout stalk and semi-rotten carrot at the top of the bin. 
    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,752
    Did he have any turkey to go with it @Topbird? Sounds like a poor man's Christmas dinner  ;)
    I've never done it @Dovefromabove, but I don't grow veg in a border, or in the ground. Too bare over winter, so I'd need a cage/netting arrangement to cover it, and I'm too lazy to do that. 
    It's supposed to be a very good method, and many people certainly grow sweet peas that way because of their need for food/moisture to succeed.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • We’ve not had a problem with them at all @Topbird … that may be to do with our location … my farming experience is that if there are rats about they’ll get into anything if they want to … even concrete barns. 

    If I noticed a real problem I’d probably not put potato peelings in the trench. Rats will do anything to get at potatoes. 

    I suspect that while a rat might visit an open trench for a nibble, it’s not the sort of cozy place where it would consider nesting .., unlike a snug warm compost heap. 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • Pete.8Pete.8 Posts: 11,286
    I remember my dad doing just that all those years ago.
    Throughout winter, the Sunday papers were used to wrap up veg peelings during the week and dropped in the trench. Then the trench was topped with soil and beans sown.
    It happened every year.

    Billericay - Essex

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • UffUff Posts: 3,199
    My dad did that. I decided early in the summer when Dove mentioned her trench that I would do the same next year. I started my plan then.
    SW SCOTLAND but born in Derbyshire
  • PalustrisPalustris Posts: 4,297
    We used to do it in our first ever garden which was solid clay. Eventually it improved the soil to make it far easier to work.
    Do it here in the tiny bit of veg growing space.  Never had any trouble with vermin in it.
  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 10,415
    My old neighbour used to make a runner bean trench and put all the fruit and veg waste in it over the winter, then top with soil when it was time to plant the beans. I think it was in more-or-less the same place every year. New occupants have a shed on that spot now so I can't tell whether it's had any long-term effect on soil fertility. I haven't tried it because I don't have a veg plot or areas left bare over winter.
    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 8,329
    No turkey @Fairygirl but he could have had satsuma peelings for pudding 😬 It must have been Christmas time - it's the only time I buy sprouts on the stalk. 

    I know the trench is a relatively easy thing to do @Dovefromabove and very effective for things like sweet peas etc. I'm just a tad phobic about rats and vermin in general so I don't even feed the birds beyond leaving seed heads and having lots of fruit and berries in the garden.

    I probably wouldn't have one for that reason but you're right that an open trench doesn't provide the same warm and relatively dry conditions that a compost bin offers so a rat is unlikely to set up home in one. Interesting to hear that it served you so well through the drought.🙂
    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • PalustrisPalustris Posts: 4,297
    edited November 2022
    We tend now to keep the material which is going into the trench in a covered container until there is enough to fill the trench. Then I add lime and dig the next section over on to the material. That way it is never left open to tempt vermin.
  • Pete.8Pete.8 Posts: 11,286
    I still make a trench around March and put a couple of bags of manure in the bottom then recover with soil.
    I grow the runners in pots and plant out around early June

    Billericay - Essex

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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