If you do not like the idea of having a compost pile or composting equipment in your yard then direct composting (or trench composting) might be for you. Some localities and gated communities do not allow compost piles, but you can use direct composting as an alternative and still supply your garden with rich compost. Direct composting can serve two purposes - add valuable nutrients to your garden soil, and create an alternative method of eliminating kitchen scraps without them going to waste in a landfill.

What Is Direct Composting?

Direct composting in your garden is very simple - you are basically burying your organic wastes underneath the garden soil where it will decompose into rich compost.

Direct composting is not a new concept. American Indians used a form of direct composting when planting their crops. Some tribes would place fish heads, or whole fish, to the bottom of planting holes while sowing seeds.

The planting holes were dug deeper than needed, then the fish parts were placed at the bottom of the hole. They were then covered by a small layer of soil, and the seeds were planted. The fish parts would decompose, feeding the crop as it grew.

Direct composting can give your soil a very quick pop of nutrients just before planting, or throughout the growing season. This method of composting can also attract beneficial earthworms to your garden. Earthworms help to aerate the soil, and provide nutrients through their casings (droppings).

What Materials Can Be Used With Direct Composting?

The same materials that can be used in a compost pile can be used when direct composting. Organic kitchen scraps, such as fruits and vegetables (cooked or raw), are the best materials to use with direct composting because they break down very quickly.

Grass clippings, leaves, wood chips, newspaper, and organic yard debris can be used as well, but should be shredded or chopped up as finely as possible to quicken the decomposition rate.
Note: Never use meats, diary products, or dog and cat feces for composting.
How Do I Direct Compost In My Garden?

There are many different ways to trench compost in your garden, but the easiest way is to bury the organic materials where you plan to plant your crops. Here is how I used direct composting for an area that I'm am going to plant pole beans.

I begin by clearing out the area that I want to direct compost. I had cucumbers planted here, but they had a short life. I have removed the old vines from the trellis, and raked all the mulch out of the way.

Prepare The Area For Trench Composting

Now the area is ready to dig the holes for the organic materials. Remember, you want to dig the holes at least 12 to 14 inches deep. I am digging a trench for my pole beans that is about 28 inches long and 14 inches deep.

Dig The Trench

Putting In The Good Stuff

With the hole, or trench dug out, it is time to place about 4 inches of organic material in the hole. Here is a list of what I put into my direct composting holes:
  • tomato peels and ends
  • potato peels
  • radish tops
  • cucumber peels
  • beet tops
  • dead leaves
  • a little grass clippings
  • a handful of old cypress mulch
  • yellow squash & zucchini ends
  • used coffee grounds
  • lettuce that was left over from a salad (no salad dressing)
  • carrot peels

REMEMBER! Never use meat, dairy products, or cat and dog feces in compost.
This is what I used in my direct compost hole, you can use these or any other combination of organic materials.

Add Composting Materials To The Trench

Now that the trench is filled three to four inches with organic materials, take your foot and lightly compact the items in the hole. Fill the hole up with six to eight inches with the soil you dug up, and gently tamp it with your foot.

Cover The Trench With Soil
Cover The Trench Completely

That is all there is to direct composting! I'll wait a couple weeks before I plant my pole bean seeds ( I had to order them so it will probably take 7 - 10 days for them to get here any way). Once I am ready to plant, I will use a garden fork to gently break the soil, and aerate the compost underneath where I'm planting.

You can direct compost during winter months (if the garden area isn't covered with snow), but the decomposition will not begin until the soil warms in spring. The microorganisms that break down organic matter are not active during winter months.

Start Composting Today