Here’s the short answer…dig a trench, throw plant scraps in it, then cover it up.
It’s a shortcut to composting. Normally you would create a pile either in the backyard in a corner or in a compost bin. You mix green and brown materials together, water, turn and wait several weeks for the material to decompose before using it as fertilizer.
Traditional composting takes more time and has extra steps in it. I like the directness of trench composting. You bury the plant material (future compost) directly under the soil you’re going to plant vegetables in. It’s straight forward with the same results.
Here’s one of my trench composting sites in my backyard next to one of my vegetable gardens. I threw some pieces of carrots in this trench. I’ll mix it with more plant material before covering it up.
The depth of the trench doesn’t matter too much but it should be at least 4 – 5 inches deep and 9-12 inches is even better. It needs to be deep enough to prevent it from drying out. You want it to be moist so that bacteria, microbes and worms will be attracted to it. Bacteria and insects help decompose plant matter. I water my trench composts daily. In about 3 months they will be totally decomposed. This makes fantastic fertilizer for plants.
You can start planting on top of a trench compost anytime but I usually wait about 30 – 60 days and then cover the top with 2-3 inches of mulch. Then I plants seeds. The mulch keeps the soil moist and cooler. Seeds will germinate in 7-10 days every time.
Trench composting not only enriches the soil but also keeps the soil from getting hard and rock-like. It allows water and air to get into the soil. Your plants will love it.
No Till Vegetable Gardening: The Easy Way to Organic Gardening
So what is no-till gardening?
That’s easy. You don’t dig up or turn the soil to incorporate organic material and/or to aerate/loosen the soil. You just spread mulch on top, plant the seeds under the mulch and water regularly. Nice and simple.
…and it really does work. I dug up some soil in my no till garden one day and to my surprise, the soil was soft and easy to dig up. Amazing!
…it was full of worms too.
I always thought you had to plow or turn over the soil before planting to loosen and aerate the soil. Apparently this is not necessary at all. And it’s actually detrimental to the soil.
I used to spend hours and many sweaty days digging in my backyard in order to prepare it for gardening. I hated how tired I got from digging in the soil. I live in Arizona where the soil gets rock hard because of the clay content. This makes it even harder to dig up.I had to use a claw hammer to break the soil up.
I wish I had of known about “No Till” gardening.
Why Digging/Turning Soil is Bad
Anytime you disturb the soil, you also disturb beneficial insects like worms. I remember every time I would dig in my garden I would see lots of worms. I didn’t think about what I just did.I not only disturbed the worms but may have cut a few in half with the shovel. Yikes!
When you attract worms to the soil, they will loosen the soil, break down plant material and leave behind the richest fertilizer known to man…worm castings. Worms will do everything needed to make the soil super rich and nourishing for plants.
You also disturb the microbial systems in the soil. These help break down plant materiel and fertilize the soil. They are best left alone to flourish.
So, no till gardening is simple….just add compost and/or mulch on top of the soil, water and then plant seeds. A 2-3 inch layer of compost or mulch works fantastic. Keep the soil moist so worms and other beneficial insects are attracted.
So what kind of compost or mulch for No Till gardening?
You can use something as basic as grass clippings or a compost product like Kellogg’s N’RICH soil enhancer. It all works really well. I have used grass clipping with great success. Let the grass dry out and then spread it over the soil. Now water regularly. You can make your own compost or buy it at a Nursery or Home Improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot.
What about weeds and grass?
If you are wanting to start a new garden but the ground is covered with grass or lots of weeds, you have some options.
The easiest option is to trim the weeds and/or grass as short as your can with a weed wacker or lawn mower. Water liberally. Then cover the area with thick paper or cardboard and add 3-4 inches of compost on top. The cardboard will stop weeds and grass from growing and will eventually kill and decompose them. Eventually the cardboard will decompose into the soil and enrichen it. I would recommend waiting 2-3 months before planting seeds to give it time to decompose and condition the soil.
Another option is to pull the weeds up and/or the grass. Then dump a 3-4 inch top layer of compost on top of the soil. Water regularly to stimulate decomposition and attract worms. Now you can plant your seeds.
It’s amazing how little mulch you actually need to condition the soil and reduce water evaporation. I had a small area in my backyard that I spread a thin layer of grass clipping over. I think it was less than 1/4 inch thick yet it prevented the soil from drying out 24 hours after watering… in the hot/dry Arizona climate. The daytime temperatures were in the 90’s.
Mulch is like insulation. It reflects the Sun’s heat and locks in moisture.
Fertilizing an organic vegetable garden can be the easiest thing in the world. Lots of people think it’s complicated and that you have to buy 5 or 6 different fertilizers to have a successful garden. This is not true. It can be very simple and you can grow the most beautiful and tastiest vegetables without spending a lot of money or time.
When considering fertilizing, think about how nature works. How does nature produce rich and fertile soils?
….fertile soils are created in nature from decomposing organic materiel such as tree leaves, dead grass, broken branches, fallen fruits, flowers, etc. These organic materials fall to the ground and slowly decompose with the help of moisture, bacteria and insects. Decomposing plants material releases nitrogen into the soil which is food for plants but it also does a hundred other beneficial things to the soil. It is very hard to provide the same benefits with artificial or synthetic fertilizers.
So, now let’s talk about Organic Fertilizers.
Homemade Organic Fertilizers
The most popular and easiest obtainable organic fertilizer is compost made from dead leaves and grass clippings. If you have trees and grass, you are set for free organic fertilizer. Tree leaves and grass clippings are great to create a rich compost fertilizer for vegetable gardens, flower beds, trees and grass. You can pile the leaves and grass in a corner of your yard or put it in a compost bin to help decomposition. The leaves and grass will slowly decompose with the help of moisture and aeration. Compost is ready to spread when it is a dark brown color. It doesn’t take long. Keep turning it and adding water every couple of days.
Here’s a little twist on composting that is easier and very effective. Save all plant scraps like potato skins, left over carrots, cucumber ends, old lettuce, etc. and put it in a plastic bucket in the kitchen. Instead of throwing these scraps in a compost pile, just dig a hole where you want to fertilize and bury the scraps. I usually dig a 6″ – 8″ deep hole and dump the scraps in it and then cover it over. It will decompose and turn into compost in the soil. It works great. It will also keep the soil loose and soft instead of hard and dry.
You can also use the dead leaves and grass clippings as a mulch to cover the soil in a vegetable garden and around other plants too.
Secret Tip: My backyard used to be full of weeds and so I would spend a lot of time pulling them and then throwing them in the garbage….until recently.
Now I make mulch out of them by either mowing them down with my electric lawnmower or I pull them up and then mulch them with the lawnmower. It makes great mulch for my garden and it’s free. I let the weeds grow when there is a lot of rain and then mow them down. I sometimes get 3 lawnmower bags full of clippings. I then throw it in the garden and spread it around. I use my lawnmower as a wood chipper, sort of. It will mulch even bush limbs if they’re not too thick. Easy Mulch!
So what does Mulch do and why use it?
Mulch is an organic “blanket” of organic material. In other words, it’s a 1″- 2″ layer of dead grass or leaves on top of the soil. This “blanket” of organic material does wonders for the soil. Let’s look at the benefits of Mulch.
Slows down evaporation of water – plants will be able to get more water and you’ll need to water less often. The soil will also remain soft and easy to dig and aerate.
Insulates soil from the Sun’s heat – soil will stay cooler on hot days which will aid in water conservation. Dry soils tend to get rock hard or turn to sand, neither of which is ideal for plant growth.
Natural Fertilizer – mulch will slowly decompose and release nitrogen and nutrients into the soil.
Attract beneficial insects – mulch will attract lots of beneficial insects like worms. Worms are “Gold” in the garden. They feed on the dead organic materiel and then leave behind nutrient rich worm casting or better known as “poop”. Worm casting is THE BEST fertilizer known to man. Worms also loosen and aerate the soil when they burrow through it. If you want a productive and beautiful garden, GET WORMS in the soil.
Reduce Weeds – Mulch will reduce the number of weeds in any area where it is used. It smothers weeds, reduces seed germination and enriches the soil. Weeds do not like rich, organic soils. Weeds prefer dry, desolate areas where there is little competition for growth.
Reduce Soil Erosion – mulch will slow down and even stop soil erosion caused by hard rain or water sprinklers.
Store Bought Organic Fertilizers
Worm castings are by far the ideal fertilizer for just about any plant whether it’s a tomato plant, grass lawn, lemon tree or your favorite flower. Not only does it contain the most balanced nutrition but it’s also a “no brainer” to apply. You can apply as much worm castings as you like. It will never harm any plant. You can sprinkle a little around your plants or cover the soil with a 3″ layer. It’s doesn’t matter. It’s 100% SAFE.
Worm castings contain organic matter plus bacteria and digestive enzymes that are dynamite for plant growth and health. There is nothing else like it. It’s the most complete fertilizer and soil enhancer.
There are 3 ways you can get worm castings.
Attract worms into your garden or yard naturally by composting, mulching and watering regularly.
Worm Farm – you can start a worm farm easily with some plastic containers or buy a Worm Farm Kit
Buy Worms Castings – you can buy 1- 5 lb bags of worm castings locally or online.
Composted Steer Manure
Composted Steer Manure is available at your local Home Improvement store or nursery in 20 lb bags. It’s very cheap and highly effective. I bought several bags at Lowes for about $3 – $4/bag. I used some on a small Oak tree in my front yard and it made a huge difference in a short period of time. The Oak tree looked like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree when I first bought it. It had very few leaves and they weren’t bright green. After 2 years of watering frequently with little change, I decided to fertilize it with Steer Manure. I applied about 3″ of composted steer manure around the root line of the tree. I only water it on weekends and it is full of bright free leaves. It has also grown over a foot in the last year. Amazing!!!
Raised Box Garden Soil/Compost
Raised Box Garden Soil is mostly compost and great for the garden or flower bed. I bought several bags when I started my raised box garden in my backyard. It is a mixture of fine and somewhat course composted material. You can use it as a fertilizer, compost, soil enhancer/conditioner or mulch. I have to tell you…it attract worms like crazy! Keep it moist and you’ll have hundreds of worms whenever you dig.
I’ve been using this product as mulch in my garden. It’s dark almost black and works really well as mulch. I cover the soil with about 1″ of this product. It keeps the soil moist in between waterings. Here in Arizona the summer temperatures have been above 110 degrees for over a week and the soil stays moist 24 hours after watering. That’s amazing!
I’ve used it as a garden soil and as a mulch. It’s perfect for both. I bought it at Lowes for about $7.00/bag. I think I bought Kellogg’s and GardenTime.
Blood meal is dried animal blood, plain and simple. It is effective for adding Nitrogen to the soil quickly but it can be harmful if too much is used. You need to be careful when using Blood Meal as a fertilizer/soil conditioner. Mix a small amount with your garden soil…like 1-2 cups in a 4×4 garden or 1 tablespoon per square foot of soil.
Bone meal is ground up or powdered animal bones. It’s purpose is to add phosphorus to the soil. Phosphorus is essential for plants in order to produce flowers and fruit. You should have your soil tested before using Bone Meal as it can be harmful or do nothing for plants in certain conditions.
Bat guano is basically bat poop but not just from any bats. Bat Guano is only taken from fruit and insect eating bats. It is very high in Nitrogen and produces green plants with a high rate of growth. It is very effective but care must be taken with its application. Too much may do harm. Use it sparingly, like mixing a cup or 2 with your soil in a 4×4 garden.
Fish emulsion is a thick liquid made from fish scraps. Fish emulsion is a concentrate that you mix with water ( 1/2 oz to 1 gallon of water) and then apply to your lawn or garden twice per week. It is high in Nitrogen. It can produce bright green plants and increase the growth rate but care must be taken to not use too much as it can “burn” plants.
Kelp Meal is a powder made from Kelp seaweed. Kelp is a brown algae that grows off of the coast of California. It is huge and grows at an astonishing rate, sometimes 3 feet per day. It is harvested, dried and powdered. It is a great mineral fertilizer with over 70 vitamins and minerals. Kelp meal is 100% natural and organic and will not harm plants. It is however low in NPK or Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.
Which fertilizers do you use in an organic vegetable garden?
Composted Manure like Steer and Cow
Plant scraps buried in soil
What is an organic fertilizer?
An organic fertilizer is any biological material that naturally occurs in Nature and provides nutrition for plant life..