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How to Direct Compost (Trench Composting)

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If you’ve been hesitant to jump on the composting train, then I may have an easy solution for you. Direct composting (or trench composting) may be the answer you’re looking for.

Learning how to direct compost is easy, and it only requires a place to put your compost! Find out how to trench compost to improve your soil.

I was introduced to direct composting several years ago by a fellow blogger, Karen (you can check out her blog here).

I had been a fairly traditional tumbler-owning composter for a few years when my friend mentioned direct composting to me. While I do enjoy bin or pile composting, this more direct method did sound appealing. Less work and no pile? I was definitely interested in learning more!

What is Direct Composting?

Much like the name implies, direct composting involves putting your composting materials directly into the flower bed or garden area. Instead of having a separate pile where your brown and green matter breaks down, you allow it to compost in the actual bed.

This saves time, since you won’t have to transfer your compost from bin to garden. And it may also save your back from turning the pile and using the shovel and wheelbarrow!

The benefits of composting are many, including not sending kitchen scraps in the the trash, and having rich organic matter for your garden. Soil can easily be depleted after a heavy growing season, even raised beds, so why not use what you have on hand to create rich compost and beef up your soil?

Need a Composting 101 lesson? Check out my full post on How to Start Composting!

Compost Pile vs. Trench Composting

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve used a tumbler composter before, but now have a 3-bin composting system. So, direct composting was a new concept for me. In testing it out, here are a few points I discovered in using the direct method vs. a tumbler or compost pile:

  • Direct composting isn’t ideal for large amounts of organic matter. If you are making daily trips to the composter, then you may not want to use the direct method. (The exception is if you dig a good sized trench and gradually fill it up. But you’ll need to be careful for animals getting into your open trench.)
  • In flower beds, be careful not to dig too close to plants whose roots may be damaged by your shovel or spade.
  • It does seem faster and easier to have a pile or bin so you’re not having to dig holes each time you want to dump your compostables. But if you don’t have pets in the yard, then you could dig a trench and leave it open for a week or so until it’s full, then cover it. 

How to Trench Compost

  1. Collect the organic matter you would like to compost. (We use a pail like this.) This can be kitchen scraps (no meat or oil), dead leaves, grass clippings, etc. A have two posts on What to Compost and What Not to Compost to help you out.
  2. Dig a small trench in the flower bed or garden area you’ve chosen. Aim for at least six inches deep, especially if you have dogs, who like to dig for treasure!
  3. Dump your compostable materials in the trench and cover with dirt. Direct Compost
  4. Tamp down the dirt gently with your foot and voila! Your organic matter will break down under the surface and you’ll never have to think about it again. It’s really an easy way to compost especially if you’re just getting started. Direct Compost

Seasonal Direct Composting

I opted for using direct composting seasonally. For me, this means using this method in the late fall and winter, when my garden may not be actively used.

The reason for this is I can easily dig up a trench in a raised bed and fill it over a week or two. Our gardens are fenced in, so our dog can’t access the “goods”. (Here’s how we have our beds fenced in.)

Also, the late fall and winter is when our chickens get free range in the garden area, and since they leave their own compost behind, we work that into the dirt as well.

I love directly composting in the months our garden soil is at rest. The soil is taking a break from providing growing plants with nutrients, and it is being recharged at the same time.

As with lots of gardening techniques and ideas, try it out and see how it works for you. There are plenty of gardeners who use this method exclusively, and I’d love to hear if you enjoy direct composting!

Have a great week and happy gardening!

Composting Tips and Helps

Put kitchen scraps, leaves, cardboard, and other organic materials to work in your own backyard by learning how to compost. Whether you use a bin, a pile, or a fancy tumbler, anyone can compost at home!


Monday 12th of June 2023

I'm a no-till gardener so digging deep into my beds is not gonna happen and I never leave my beds bare. In the winter, I sow cover crops (oats and peas) which I then cut down in the spring after winter kill and leave it on the beds to serve as mulch for the following season. I treat my beds as earthworm bins which is very direct composting/sheet composting friendly. I throw a week's worth of scraps in a zip lock bag that I keep frozen, thaw it out for a couple of hours, and then mix it all in my blender. The pulp is then added down the center of the bed, under the mulch, and the earthworms do the work of eating it and breaking down. No digging, no smell, no mess.... and lots of castings worked into my beds. Digging three feet deep to drop composting will not do much good if you have red wigglers; they don't like to burrow more than a foot deep. And I'm not sure that food won't become anaerobic and create a new set of problems. Shallower is better. If you must dig, keep it at four inches or so.


Monday 12th of June 2023

Hi Wendy! I'm just now reading Charles Dowding's book No-Dig Gardening, and it is wonderful. I need to edit the article if it says to dig three feet for the direct compost ;). I love the idea of treating your beds as earthworm bins, and I too have started cover crops in the winter. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!


Saturday 4th of September 2021

Too many times I've dug my trench in advance, then after dumping my kitchen scraps I find the pile of soil I wanted to use to cover it is frozen solid! (Honestly scraps are more like slop by the time I take it out sometimes in winter so it's really gross.) Sometimes I'm smart and cover the soil pile with a fold up frost cloth weighed down with bricks to keep it unfrozen. I love Ian's idea! In my case, I would use stepping stones or maybe bricks to top the holes. Use what you have and return to it's rightful spot in the spring. I've also found that critters don't like coffee grounds. If I have a partially filled trench, I put a layer of soil to barely cover then coffee grounds. I don't bother with the little bit from my kitchen. Just call a Starbucks or other coffee serving spot in advance and ask them to save them for a day or a shift. Might take a couple calls to find the right person to do this favor, but it's worth it to get half a garbage bag full. (Put plastic or cardboard in your trunk to be safe from leaks.)


Monday 6th of September 2021

Great tips, Theresa! Thank you so much!

Diane Cheek

Saturday 28th of August 2021

Wow I love that “burying green waste scraps” has a name!! Direct composting. I have direct composted for years (with out knowing the name!) I bury the green waste I don’t put in my worm bins. I often have more green waste than my 2 worm bins can use…. So easy and within a week most of the buried waste has broken down!! Love-it!! Diane Cheek


Sunday 29th of August 2021

Yes! For years I didn't know it had a name either. I want to start using worm bins, but I'm a bit unsure about where to keep them. Are yours outside or in a garage? Thanks for stopping by!


Monday 31st of May 2021

If I dug a hole or several holes with a post hole digger in the fall before the ground freezes and threw kitchen waste in them all winter would that work for direct composting? Thinking that the holes could be 2-3’ deep and if I dug enough before the ground freezes they could hold a winters worth of kitchen waste. Then in the spring I could cover the holes with dirt and plant the garden. I could put a sheet of plywood over the holes to keep snow, pests, and people out of the holes.


Monday 31st of May 2021

Hi Ian! Such a great question. I like everything about your plan, but I am wondering if an entire winter's worth of kitchen waste would be a bit too much to be ready for spring planting. If you want to go this route, I'd dig the hole as you've mentioned, but also layer in "browns" like dried leaves to get that compost breaking down even faster before spring. And I definitely think the plywood idea is a good one, especially if you have pets. Let me know how it goes!

3 Steps to Winterize Your Garden-The Kitchen Garten

Saturday 14th of October 2017

[…] Optional: Add a layer of compost to feed the soil over the winter months. (Don’t know how to compost? Check out How to Start Composting and How to Direct Compost!) […]

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