Harness the Power of Earthworms for Better Crop Yields & Healthier Plants!
SUMMARY – Composting worms are well-known for their ability to convert organic wastes into a rich, all-natural “fertilizer” (worm castings), but in most locations, climate extremes can make outdoor vermicomposting at lot more challenging (or virtually impossible) for a good chunk of the year. Vermicomposting trenches and other in-ground systems are highly effective for moderating these extremes, and – when integrated with plant-growing systems – for boosting the growth of edible/useful plant biomass. My accidental “discovery” of this approach more than a decade ago resulted in a total transformation of my yard, and completely changed the way I look at outdoor composting and gardening!
I’m now very excited to have the opportunity to share this approach with others via the “Trench Vermicomposting” online course!
In Early Summer of 2008 I had a Problem. A Really BIG Problem.
I had recently started up a food waste “composting” project with one of the most popular restaurants in my region. This involved hauling many 100’s of lb of kitchen wastes (fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells etc) back to my suburban property, every single week, then basically trying to figure out what I was going to do with the stuff.
First, I added it to my existing worm bins and backyard composters. (Yes!!)
Next, I started digging holes all over my property and buried the wastes. (Acccck!)
Lastly…I started freaking out. Big time. (Oh fudge.)
Within a very short time I had realized I was in way over my head. The wastes were starting to accumulate in my plastic holding bins – pretty much baking and rotting in the summer heat. Even just stepping out into my backyard, I was hit with the sort of stench I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
“I love the smell of rotten broccoli in the morning!”~ No Person. Ever.
“What on earth must my neighbors be thinking?!”
“What on earth am I going to do?!”
Even stopping the project completely wasn’t going to help me out of this predicament. I needed some way to deal with all this rotting, stinking sludge. And FAST!
And then it hit me. What if, instead of all these (fairly shallow) little holes I had been digging, I dug a big trench?!
And just chucked all that sludge in there. Buried it up real good. Cancelled the project. Moved on with my life. End of story.
Yes! It sounded like a fantastic idea – and I got to work…
…but somewhere along the way I (thankfully) had a change of heart. I had heaps of cardboard and paper (along with other helpful materials) on hand – so I figured I should at least try to make an actual composting system out of it.
I started with a thick layer of bedding materials down in the bottom, and then just alternated layers of sludge with bedding all the way up to the top (where I made sure to add plenty of cover materials).
Even with the huge amount of cardboard and paper I added, I was still easily able to get ALL those bins of rotten, nasty food waste emptied in as well.
And amazingly enough there was absolutely NO smell once the system was set-up!
Suddenly I was feeling optimistic again. It was such a relief to have my “problem” solved, and seeing how much waste a single trench could handle, I started thinking that maybe – just maybe – I could make the project work!
So I extended the trench all the way down the fence-line in front of a veggie garden I had started earlier in the season.
The waste-processing “power” of the system was unlike anything I’d seen before, and the population of composting worms exploded…
…but it was the effect the trench had on my crop plants that season that completely blew my mind!
No Garden I’d Grown in the Past Even Came Close!
Don’t get me wrong – I had done OK with veggie gardening up to that point. But this felt like something out of Jurassic Park.
And not just lush vegetation either – I ended up with loads of veggies that season as well!
Needless to say, I was hooked!
I did end up shutting down the restaurant food was composting project that fall, but vermicomposting trenches (and related systems) have been a major part of my vermicomposting/gardening efforts ever since!
Just In Case You Don’t Know Me From a Hole in the Ground…
My name is Bentley “Compost Guy” Christie, and I’ve been a crazy-passionate (some might say “obsessed”) vermicomposter for nearly 20 years. Since 2007 I’ve been sharing my passion for this quirky field of endeavor with the world via my website, Red Worm Composting – and as a result have helped many, many people get excited about the topic, and involved in the process.
Education is by far and away my first love, but I do also have a small “real world” vermicomposting business up here in Canada to help “fund” my educational efforts. Vermicomposting trenches (and related systems) have played a critically-important role in its success.
What’s So Special About Worm Composting?
I realize a lot of people who reach this page will be fairly new to vermicomposting (aka “worm composting”), and some may wonder why I’m bothering to use worms in outdoor composting systems at all (and recommending others do the same).
Why not just toss the wastes in a hole (or even a heap) and just let nature take over? Right?
This is certainly a viable option – and you can still see positive results – but it’s important to make it clear that vermicomposting is a completely different kettle of fish (“can of worms”? lol).
For starters, I need to establish that it’s not just any type of “earthworms” I’m talking about here. Regular soil worms provide a lot of benefit in our gardens (and yards in general), but they are NOT specialized in the same way as the earthworms I’m referring to as “composting worms”.
These special composting wigglers are adapted for life in rich organic matter – often transient habitats, where tolerance of higher temperatures and crowded conditions are a great deal more important. These worms can process waste materials more quickly/effectively than their soil-based cousins, and they reproduce much more rapidly – so the activities of these worms in a composting system tend to be a lot more obvious and helpful.
Getting back to what can make worm composting superior to regular composting…
You can think of your composting worm population as an army of hard-working little helpers. With a typical composting system (no worms), some sort of human assistance is typically needed for best results. First, you need to select your materials carefully, and then build up your heap/bin with a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) and the right moisture level. You also need to achieve a certain “critical mass” of material in order to kick-start an actual proper (microbial) heating process. Next, you need to make sure to keep conditions oxygenated during the composting process. With a legitimate hot composting heap, this is likely going to require periodic mixing of the materials – something that can be very labor-intensive, or even require machinery.
It’s important to note that we are talking about “real” composting here – not the sort of “backyard composting” methods most people use, which tend to be even slower and less effective.
When employing a “herd” of composting worms, yes there is a different sort of care and attention required – since we are working with a living animal – but once the worms are established and protected (in-ground systems can be very helpful for providing this protection) you don’t need to worry all that much about perfect C:N etc.
The worms do a lot of the grunt work for you!
- Fragment waste materials, greatly increasing surface area for microbial colonization (hugely important for breakdown process).
- Mix materials – helping with microbial dispersal and moisture balance
- Aerate your waste mixes – just the activity of the worms, alone, can help to keep things more oxygenated (thereby effective)
And the passage of wastes through an earthworm digestive system results in a humus-rich end product – “worm castings” – with distinctly different (beneficial) properties than your run-of-the-mill compost.
Extensive scientific research has found castings to contain various unique plant-growth-promoting hormones/regulators, and it has been shown to be highly effective even when very small amounts are used.
In-Ground Systems + Composting Worms = The Perfect Marriage
Tossing a lot of waste materials down into trenches and pits probably isn’t the best strategy for a typical hot composting approach, since there will be less air flow – and the needed mixing/aerating work would be incredibly challenging (if done manually)!
But with composting worms involved, it will be MUCH more effective, since the worms (including local soil worms) will take care of a lot of the aeration & mixing for us. And the added bonus is that worms will be much better protected from all the climate extremes Mother Nature can send our way.
- When it’s HOT, in-ground systems will tend to stay a lot cooler.
- When it’s COLD, in-ground systems tend to stay a lot warmer.
- When it’s DRY, in-ground systems tend to have higher moisture.
And the fact that a lot of the beneficial worm composting action is taking place below ground level means all that “good stuff” (including water released from wastes during the break-down process) will be right where the roots of nearby plants can take advantage of it!
Turning “Garbage” into “Gold” – It’s Modern Alchemy!
I’ve always been in awe of the ability of composting worms to convert kitchen scraps into rich worm castings – but this truly takes it to the next level! You are taking what a lot of people think of as burdensome “wastes”, even “garbage”, and turning them into…
Edible/Useful Plant Biomass
Waste materials are broken down and converted into plant-available nutrients, rich humus, and various plant-growth-promoting compounds. These along with slow-release moisture help your plants to thrive all season long!
Earthworms – especially composting worms – are a very valuable form of “livestock” that can be used for other vermicomposting projects, sold/traded/given to others, and used as a highly-nutritious live food for chickens and other animals. Trenches/pits are one of the best ways to raise worms outdoors!
You might not think of a trench or pit as a great way to produce compost, but it’s amazing how much rich material you can end up with – literally cu yards worth with a decent sized trench. This can be excavated and used elsewhere or left in place as a sort of “fertility strip”.
And this abundance will likely spill-over into other parts of your property and local ecosystems as well!
The transformation of my own yard has been incredible.
Before vermicomposting trenches…
- The soil was hard, heavy clay.
- The lawn looked terrible, and was mostly overrun by prickly weeds.
- In the spring, there was a lot of standing water in the lower end of the yard.
After vermicomposting trenches…
- The soil improved a lot (and not just in close to where the trenches were).
- Grass became a lot more vigorous and lush.
- No longer any standing water in spring.
- Yard buzzing with life
2018 – My 10th Anniversary of Vermicomposting Trenches
There’s no doubt that trenches and other in-ground systems have remained a very important part of my outdoor vermicomposting activities over the years, but in all honesty, the few seasons leading up to 2018 had been pretty quiet. I hadn’t been thinking or writing much about them – and hadn’t started up any major new trench projects.
The 2018 season marked the 10th anniversary of my stumbling onto this approach, so it seems only fitting that trenches burst back onto the scene in a big way.
Jumbo (“Volunteer”) Pumpkin Trench
In the spring – needing a new outdoor worm bed for my business – I decided to excavate the huge trench and pit I had created for my Hay Bale Gardening trench project in 2015. Apart from having a valuable new worm-growing bed, this also provided me with a huge quantity of rich compost, and (later in the season) 3 of the biggest pumpkins I’ve ever grown – and from a “volunteer” plant, no less!
The Walking Windrow Project
In July of 2018, thanks to a lucky coincidence, I connected with the owner of a 100 acre property not far from where I live. It just so happens that we share an interest in vermicomposting, and – long story short – he ended up inviting me to start up some projects on his land.
This led to what is easily my largest, most ambitious (and most exciting) vermicomposting project to date – the “Walking Windrow Project”. I needed to come up with a system that could produce loads of Red Worms (for my business), loads of quality vermicompost (for the property owner), and that would be able to handle our cold Canadian winters (and the hot, often-dry weather of summer).
My solution – a “walking windrow”, set in a trench!
I’m not gonna lie – there was a lot of time and grueling labor involved in this one, but the results so far have been nothing short of amazing! It was the very first outdoor vermicomposting system I’ve been able to keep fully active all winter long (during some of the coldest weather we’ve had in recent years), and things are definitely on track for some serious worm/castings production in the 2019 season!
“Trench Vermicomposting” at the Homegrown Food Summit
Almost as though part of some weird “twist of fate”, in November of 2018 I received a late invitation to submit a talk for Marjory Wildcraft’s Homegrown Food Summit. My topic…vermicomposting trenches, of course! There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved in getting the presentation put together in time – but I am SO glad I did!
When the summit finally aired in March 2019, the reception for the talk was amazing – and it was such an honor being featured among the likes of Joel Salatin, Paul Wheaton and Justin Rhodes (among many others)!
Lots of people gave it a very high rating and the feedback was very positive as well. Here are just a handful of the comments shared…
“Wow, I really loved this presentation! It is so informative and I think your work is really valuable in so many ways. I see your research and methods being applicable to community garden and urban revitalization as well as individual yards and gardens – what a great thing you are doing here! …aaand I’m starting to get the urge to try vermicomposting again!”Melissa
“You did a wonderful presentation, Bentley. I just finished watching your presention twice.”Andrew L.
“VERY informative and presented efficiently. Fascinating. Not a wasted moment. Many thanks!”Kathy
“Excellent presentation, Bentley – lots of good information and entertaining, as your posts usually are. I hope to start a vermicomposting trench in a large raised bed garden after this growing season – I live in zone 8 and am getting ready to set out tomatoes and peppers in a week or two. Also, I’m looking forward to the results of your walking trench!”Mary
The topic of vermicomposting trenches has always been quite popular among readers of the Red Worm Composting blog over the years, but it was the summit experience that truly reminded me of how important it was to get this information into the hands of a lot more people!
Naturally, the next stage of my vermicomposting trench journey has involved the launch of…
** Trench Vermicomposting – The Course **
Something really clicked for me last summer, and I was inspired to start putting together lessons related to the topic of vermicomposting trenches. At the time, I still wasn’t 100% sure how or when this information would be shared – but it just felt like something I needed to do. As it turned out, the Walking Windrow Project became my main focus, and this project was put on the back burner – but I knew it wouldn’t be long before its time would come.
Full disclosure – this is a course that’s not quite as “finished” as I would like it to be, but the good news is that I’m rewarding those who join early with a heavily discounted price (nearly 50% off).
Here’s What You Get (So Far):
1) Six In-Depth Vermicomposting Trench Lessons – Phase I of the course has involved putting together what I feel is the most important “WHAT, WHY, WHEN and HOW” information related to getting started with vermicomposting trenches. Each lesson has multiple sub-topics and is currently presented in written (with images) format. I will be aiming to add other formats (audio/video) over time.
2) Helpful Supplemental Resource Guides – I knew people would be coming to the course with widely varying levels of vermicomposting experience and knowledge, so I wanted to make sure I provided some additional resources that offered more of an in-depth education in certain key topic areas.
3) Access to My (~ 50 minute) Homegrown Food Summit Presentation – Only those who signed up for the summit and purchased one of the presentation packages still have access to this video. This was one of my proudest achievements, and the perfect “cherry on top” bonus for my Trench Vermicomposting course package. It provides a solid overview of the topic of vermicomposting trenches – great as an introduction before diving in to the course lessons, or to help solidify what you’ve learned later on.
4) An Opportunity to Play an Important Role in the Future Development of the Course – One of the key reasons I wanted to release the course while it’s still a bit rough around the edges is so that I can get highly valuable feedback from the first wave of students. What topics are you most interested in (and would you like to see added or expanded)? What lesson format works best for you? etc
Here’s What’s Planned For The Next Wave of Updates:
1) Lesson Expansion/Completion – One of my first tasks will be to go back through the existing lessons to add more information (and likely images), and to put together a proper summary/wrap-up lesson as well.
2) Audio Lesson Summaries – People have responded positively to my audio/video content in the past, and it always adds a bit more “life” to something like a course, so (bare minimum) I at least want to have quick and dirty audio summaries people can listen to help solidify the key info shared in each lesson.
3) Q & A Sessions – IF there is a demand for this, I thought it might be helpful to put together one or two Q&A sessions to address some of the burning questions people have about vermicomposting trenches (and related systems).
Here’s What I’d to Love to Add Eventually:
1) Videos – I know from experience that a lot of people respond well to educational videos, and I think they would be very valuable for this course. The challenge is that they tend to take a lot longer to put together. If there is enough interest in the course, I will absolutely consider starting to supplement the lessons with videos as well.
2) Case Studies – I love learning about the projects that others are involved in, and feel there is a lot of benefit to featuring some these as part of the course. Every situation is different, so this can help to provide valuable perspective on the various ways you can make in-ground systems work for you!
3) Even More Helpful Resources & Bonuses – There are various additional (related) topics that could be explored, and/or expanded upon. One possibility that comes to mind is the use of trenches (and similar systems) to generate income – a topic I am certainly passionate about! Lots of possibilities – and early student feedback will play a very important role in helping me decide what areas to focus on.
“Vermicomposting Trenches Sure Seem Like a LOT of Work, Bentley!”
I get it. People see some of the crazy trench projects I’ve started, and even just some of the general guidelines I have for creating these systems, and they assume this needs to be an epic feat of manual labor.
Yep. There’s no doubt that creating a big trench – especially when soil conditions are challenging – can require some serious sweat equity!
But, there is absolutely NO reason you can’t get started on a smaller scale – and in fact, this is one of my major recommendations for anyone new to this approach!
And you don’t even need to create a trench at all, for that matter.
As I cover in the Trench Vermicomposting course, there are a variety of great in-ground strategies and hybrid systems that can offer similar benefits!
Ready to Get Started? Choose Your Package Below
Trench Vermicomposting Course
Full permanent access to the Trench Vermicomposting (Online) Course and e-mail list.
Bonus Content + Helpful Resources
You get access to my (~ 50 minute) 2019 Homegrown Food Summit presentation, and supplemental resource guides.
ALL Future Course Package Updates
I am planning to expand and enhance the Trench Vermicomposting course over time (and your input will play an important role in that). All current members will get full access to future versions of the course.
Because this is an early release of the course (and I am hoping for a lot of feedback) I have decided to offer nearly 50% off early on!
Option #2 – Trench Vermicomposting Upgrade Package
Full Trench Vermicomposting Course Package
Everything you see in “Option #1”
Full Walking Windrow (Follow-Along) Package
This case-study follows the progress of my Walking Windrow Follow-Along Project (large-scale “walking windrow” set in a trench). It is a perfect compliment to the Trench Vermicomposting course and also provides you with access to a private member discussion group where you can ask questions and get feedback.
"Trench Coach" - Assessment & Assistance Program
Great for those of you interested in a lot more hand-holding! Tell me more about your situation and what you are trying to do (starts with a program questionnaire), and I will provide you with my assessment, along with the opportunity for some one one one sessions to make sure you are on the right track.
Enjoy $30 Off During My Initial Launch Period!
I stand behind all my products 100%!
If, within 60 days you are not absolutely convinced that you’ve received far more value than you paid, simply send me an e-mail and I will promptly grant you a FULL refund.
You can even keep your access to Trench Vermicomposting (and other resources) as a gift. No harm, no foul – we can still be friends!
~ Bentley “Compost Guy” Christie