Spring is finally here!

Trench Composting

Here’s the low down…

(Link to the Academy)


  • Any time of year – whenever you have scraps.


  • If you don’t have the time, space, endurance, permission, or inclination to build a compost pile, trench composting may be for you.
  • It’s easier than building a compost pile because you can do it whenever you have a pail of scraps (with a compost pile, you generally need to accumulate most of your materials before you build it), and because while a compost pile needs occasional maintenance and eventual spreading, trench composting involves only one “touch”.
  • You can also compost pet waste (but don’t do that in a food garden because of pathogens).
  • This method conserves more nutrients, especially nitrogen and sulfur, much of which is volatilized into the air in a regular compost pile.

Why not?

  • One of the main benefits of a compost pile is that you’re growing a huge diversity and number of beneficial microorganisms, which can dramatically improve your soil. That effect is less when it comes to trench composting.
  • If you’re doing no-dig/no-till, you obviously don’t want to dig into your soil (in that case, though, you could lay the food scraps on the soil surface and then build a big sheet mulch on top of it).


  • Dig a trench (or any shape, for that matter) 12-24” deep (some say it’s best to have at least 12” of soil on top of your scraps to prevent rodents from digging them up. I’ve always been okay with 6” in my garden, but you may want to go deeper).
  • Spread your food scraps along the bottom up to 6” deep.
  • Personally, I like to incorporate some carbon-rich materials in there, too, like leaves or straw, to balance out the carbon to nitrogen ratio (as you would in a compost pile). Not everyone does this, but if you don’t, be sure not to make the food scraps too deep and compressed, as it could become anaerobic, creating less-than-ideal soil conditions.
  • I also like to spray it with effective microorganisms, which you certainly don’t have to do, but it will improve the composting process.
  • Cover with the soil you dug up, and mulch if you have it. Alternatively, leave the soil where it is – sort of a raised bed – and fill in the trench with only mulch.

Then what?

  • Depending on the quality of your soil food web, as well as the temperature of your soil, it might take just a couple of months to break down or it could take a year.
  • Some people plant into it not too long after they’ve done it, but what I prefer to do is plant beside it rather than right on top of it, especially heavy feeders like corn and squash. I’ll actually do that right away.
  • Be sure to take note of where you’ve done it so you don’t do it again in that area until next year. You may do this every weekend – just find a different spot.


  1. Richard nassa on April 5, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    Extending the season in salad greens

    • Ron on April 5, 2019 at 8:01 pm

      Hi, i try to practice organic gardening but sometimes my plants need a bit of help and i give a shot of fertiliser. My question is does synthetic nitrogen like ammonium sulfate destroy the soil food web and kill the microbes

      • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 9:54 am

        Ammonium sulfate is an example of a synthetic that is actually really good when used appropriately, generally just 2-4 pounds per thousand square feet when you’re low on ammonium and sulfur. Sodium nitrate is good, too (when you need sodium and nitrate), and ammonium nitrate can be good too (when you need ammonium and nitrate). The main detrimental form of nitrogen is urea, which is in many of the common synthetic fertilizer blends.

        That said, it is possible to grow without them when you get your soil food web working and your organic matter up. In the long run, there mostly shouldn’t be a need for outside sources of nitrogen.

        • Ken Bourne on April 14, 2019 at 11:31 pm

          Don’t synthetic fertilizers actually kill some beneficial microbes?

          • Phil on April 17, 2019 at 2:14 pm

            Good question, Ken. Some do and some don’t – it depends entirely on the type of fertilizer. Although it’s easy to assume organic is always better, as I did when I first got into organics, there are a few really helpful synthetic fertilizers and a few detrimental organic fertilizers. The main chemicals (such as urea, triple superphosphate, and potassium chloride) traditionally used in the common fertilizers can be very detrimental, but there are some good ones out there. I’ll write more about this sometime.

    • Meka on April 6, 2019 at 7:57 am

      Beat spring prep to avoid weeds during season

      • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 10:08 am

        Hi Meka, thanks, I’ll put this on my list. But I’ll share briefly here…

        First of all, always plant a cover crop in the winter – cover crops will outcompete most weeds. Use something different each year.

        Then, when it comes to preparing the soil, this is where you have to balance creating a perfect seedbed vs. promoting new weeds, because every time you till or disturb the soil, you’re bringing up dormant weed seeds that have been waiting for the right conditions. This is one benefit of no-till. But if you do want to till, the main things to remember are 1) delay tillage to give animals time to eat seeds on the soil surface, and 2) Don’t till too deep, as that just brings up more weed seeds.

    • Carol on April 6, 2019 at 6:10 pm

      I have built above ground gardens in my limited sunny space in my tree filled back yard. But I find my garden space gets root bound and vegetables don’t grow to well. How can I prevent tree roots from invading my garden space?

      • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 10:18 am

        As many people have learned using landscaping fabric under the bed doesn’t stop roots. The main 2 methods I know are:

        1. Build the raised bed with a solid bottom, so it’s more like container gardening.

        2. Dig a mote around the raised bed to stop roots from growing into it. Some people then use sheets of aluminum in the mote to stop roots. But in many cases this isn’t appropriate because you would be cutting through too many tree roots during the digging. So we’re back to option 1.

        Does anyone else have any ideas?

      • Sylvia on April 9, 2019 at 12:50 pm

        You need to build your garden beds deeper so the roots will have more room to go down. Add another plank or row to the top of your planters. That will give them more space and keep them from being rootbound so quickly. What I do when using a very large planter for flowers or one tomato plant is to add some empty water bottles with the tops attached to the bottom of the planters. This adds drainage and airflow for the roots plus keeps my planters lighter without using more soil than I need. This method should transfer to your big planters as well. Good luck with your garden.

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 9:48 am

      Thanks Richard, I’ll put that on my list.

    • Joe Dirt on April 7, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      In the Winter, frozen ground caused me to put vegetable waste on top of soil, over which, I would put bale of straw …… Rinse and repeat week after week …..

      Being a No Till Mulch kinda guy I incorporated straw bale into summer – dig shallow hole, dump scrap, kick some leaves and a little dirt and roll straw bale back over the soon to be gold ….. straw bale eventually breaks down and that is new mulch for garden as another bale is ready to take their place ….. Rotating mini mulch pile.

    • Maria on April 7, 2019 at 8:35 pm

      I am very grateful for all i have learnt from you – which has been a lot! but i am gardening in a tropical area with extremely poor soil and i have had no success in terms of crops ever in 30 years of trying…. i am also too old now for hard digging… So this is just to give you a feedback and say “thank you” before I retire. Oh, how I wish i they invented a hard soil digging robot!!!
      Best wishes to you and alike!

      • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 2:36 pm

        I imagine a soil-digging robot will come soon. In the meantime, there’s always the humble pig 🙂

  2. Everett Lacerda on April 5, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    I would like more information on successfully saving and starting seeds indoors for next season.

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 10:19 am

      That’s a good one for my list this year – thanks Everett!

  3. Arthur on April 5, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    Compost tea is always a very interesting subject. What makes for a great compost tea?

    • Susan and Terry on April 6, 2019 at 10:49 pm

      We are most excited that it’s time to grow!! Our question would be what are the best soil amendments for raised bed community garden plots when you have limited options to rotate your crops. Thank you!!

      • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 10:23 am

        Yes, it’s time! By amendments, do you mean things to improve soil fertility? Or types of growing media?

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 10:21 am

      Thanks Arthur, I’ll see what I can come up with for that this year. In the meantime, here’s my instructions for making compost tea: https://www.smilinggardener.com/soil-food-web/compost-tea-recipe/

  4. Shawn on April 5, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    1. I am most excited this year about seeing results from constantly ensuring my soil is covered by something. Over the late fall/winter I planted a mix of cereal rye, clovers, buckwheat, I believe annual rye was in there also. What I have learned is that we need to maintain the soil food web in the soil to keep and maintain living soil. The soil should never be bare. The only issue I have with this concept is what to do when it comes time to plant. I am practicing ‘No Till’. So I believe I should just cut the cover (of which only the winter/cereal rye and some clover are left) to the ground. I have transplants and also will be direct seeding…the latter is the option I am most concerned about. If I cut the cover crop and it starts regrowing before my direct seeds start to grow/mature…Or, do I cut it down, cover with mulch, direct seed through the mulch and just leave the holes in the mulch so that I know where I planted….

    2. It would be nice to learn from you the answers for questions in #1…and more importantly, are adding nutrients back to the soil really necessary when you practice no-till and cover cropping to try to keep life alive in the soil throughout the year? From what I have learned it all boils down to having a living root in the soil….

    • Tiffany on April 6, 2019 at 11:16 am

      Hi Phil!

      I just first wanted to say thank you for everything you share with us! Stumbling upon your blog last year is what helped me decide I wanted to dive into organic gardening/farming.

      What I am most excited about this year is being able to farm full-time for the summer. I have big plans for slowly turning my 27 acres into a lush Eden that I can enjoy spiritually, feed my family with and share my abundance with the community.

      My most important question is about starting new garden plots. I live in northern Ontario so we have yet to get rid of half of our snow haha so I have time to plan still. I have been reading about lasagna gardening as a good way to transform a grassy field into good gardening soil using compost, wood, leaf and grass layers. What do you think about this practice and do you have any suggestions?

      Thank you so much for your time!

      • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 12:57 pm

        I’m a fan of lasagna gardening (as you can see https://www.smilinggardener.com/organic-soil-management/sheet-mulching/ ). It’s really hard to get enough materials for a big garden, but you may be able to get someone locally to bring you wood chips, like a tree company. Still, even doing 1000 square feet properly (at least a few inches deep) is a big job, but it’s a great method.

    • Damla on April 6, 2019 at 4:00 pm

      Similar question as Shawn!

      1- I started to prepare compost to be able to improve the soil…

      2- And one more question; I am doing Bokashi compost at home, and later I am digging it to a corner in my small garden… and later, when it forms the compost, I will use it for vegetables.
      My question; is this compost enough for vegetables or I should prepare another type of compost?

      • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 12:59 pm

        Hi Damla, I’m not sure how much you’re making and how many vegetables you have, but in general, you really only need a tiny amount of compost to get big benefits, so you may very well have enough. Even 1/10″ is often plenty.

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 10:56 am

      Good questions, Shawn…

      1. It depends on how big the cover crop is and what the crop is. Sometimes, my covers don’t get too big, so I can just scratch them off at the surface with a hoe and they don’t grow back. Other times, I plant them early and they have a good winter, so they get more established, which is when I might need to cut them down with pruning shears/scythe/mower/weed wacker and then hoe or dig a little more deeply to get out the root system. It really is a “see what works for you” situation. Sometimes tilling is the best solution, but obviously, that’s not on your list of options. When doing no-till, I like to use annual crops that winter kill, as well as perennials that don’t get too established.

      Unless you’re planning to move the cover crop into a compost pile, it will become your mulch. It sometimes doesn’t work well to seed through the mulch, even if you leave a row or holes where you do the seeding, because the mulch ends up moving back over the seeds, mainly due to wind. But if the mulch isn’t too thick, or if you can somehow keep the mulch off of the seeds, it can work nicely.

      2. There are different opinions on this. Some people are very biology focused, meaning they think a great soil food web solves everything. Others are very chemistry focused, so they think balancing soil nutrients solves everything. I like to do both – improve my soil biology and chemistry each year. An example for your situation: if your soil is especially low in even 1 mineral, that may be the limiting factor in garden success regardless of how good your soil biology is. And since most soils are low in multiple minerals, it is an issue. I’ve read the argument from Elaine Ingham that all soils already have enough nutrients. I don’t see much agreement about that, but it does help convince me that good biology can get you a lot of the way there.

  5. Charlene Price on April 5, 2019 at 5:52 pm

    I recently bought your gardening book and I am enjoying learning. Thank you!

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks Charlene!

  6. Annette Untiet on April 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    How to transplant Roses . I’m most excited about starting a raised planter garden.

  7. Anna M. Enriquez on April 5, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    The weather here hasn’t heated yet. I live in Ft Lauderdale, Fl.

  8. Elaine Farace on April 5, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Should tomato and squash plant be pruned? If yes, how much?

    • Elaine D Dooley on April 6, 2019 at 1:04 pm

      I trim my tomatoes and squash regularly, mostly for convenience when I’m in the garden so that the plants aren’t a hazard. I plant my tomatoes in 6′ cages made from construction rebar, so, while they are not lying on the ground, they will grow outside the cage and often make moving between plants difficult; this also makes finding the ripened tomatoes easier. I trim squash to eliminate tripping hazards and maintain pathways, and also if they have grown outside of my garden perimeters. W/squash ~ and all viney plants ~ I trim sparingly (about 12″) unless the vines have become a safety hazard, and ditto tomatoes, although all pruning will encourage the plants to expend their energy towards producing fruits rather than foliage. The goal of the plant is to produce a mature seed. I may have to trim these plants several times during the growing season. W/cantaloupe, especially, I will selectively trim the blooms so that the vines produce less fruit, but they are larger in size.

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Good question, Elaine. There’s definitely not one right answer for this, but here are a couple of points, which you may already know (and Elaine has already left some good notes):

      -Some people prune the lower leaves to prevent diseases that splash up with the soil during rain/irrigation. My preference is just to mulch the soil to prevent that, but if you can’t do that, it may make sense to prune.

      -As for the more common question of pruning leaves and/or removing suckers to get a better harvest (whether more fruit or bigger fruit), it depends on a couple of things. In a perfect situation, you have enough energy/fertility in your soil to support growth and fruiting throughout the whole season, and you have enough spacing between your plants so the sun can reach all of the leaves. In that case, pruning may be unnecessary. What you still may need to do, though, is do some fertilizing to promote fruiting, which I’ll explain in another comment down below because Mark has also asked about this. But if your soil is less than ideal, your plants may need all the help they can get, which means pruning to force the plant to focus more on fruiting.

      In the end, though, it depends on a number of factors, including plant variety/cultivar and climate, so my advice is to prune some of them, don’t prune others, and see what happens for you. This is a simple, fun experiment to let you see with your own eyes which is best for your garden.

  9. Glenn A Roberts on April 5, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    Dear Phil,
    I’m interested to know, when you say “Organic”, is that a simple preparation that declares it organic to get that nutrition into the soil?
    I guess I’m wanting to know, do we have to become purists, in order to grow our greens?

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 1:41 pm

      Great question, Glenn. I often use the word “organic” because that’s what my education was and that’s what people understand, but what I really should say is probably “biological” or something like that, because it’s not important to me whether something is technically “organic”, but rather that it’s not harmful to living organisms when used correctly and that it’s good for the garden. Most of the things I use are indeed organic, but there are a couple of them that are synthetic, and there are certainly a number of organic things that are harmful for living organisms.

      Indeed, the soil labs I recommend may ask if you want “organic” recommendations or “biological” recommendations, and they would often rather see you use the latter. So yes, you may end up using a couple of synthetics in your garden in order to grow the most nutrient-dense food, and as long as those things aren’t harmful, they may be the best choice.

  10. Steven on April 5, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    Hey Phil. I’m looking to grow Walnut trees (specifically Black Walnut) in the near future.

    Have you had any experience in growing Walnut? I read that they release a toxic compound into the soil that prohibit the growth of other plant species.

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Steven, we have other walnuts on the property, and yes, their juglone does cause problems for many other plants. Black walnut is a useful plant on its own, but not near a food garden, so I would only plant them if I had space to keep them away from my food.

  11. June on April 5, 2019 at 9:02 pm

    How to transplant young fruit trees is my problem right now. When I planted them they were twigs, practically. Now they are taller than me.
    I am looking forward to the greening of the neighborhood.

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Hi June, it sounds like they’re still small enough to transplant, but you’ll definitely lose a lot of roots during the process (as is always the case). Will you be digging them up with a shovel?

  12. Mark L. on April 5, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    Dear Phil,
    Last year I planted tomatoes and most of the plants grow very tall with few fruits. What I did wrong? I

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 1:35 pm

      Plants use more of some nutrients for “growth” and other nutrients for “fruiting” so what works very often is the following:

      Whenever you start to see fruit buds in the summer, spray 3 tablespoons liquid calcium, 2-4 teaspoons borax, 1/3 cup liquid fish hydrolysate, 1 Tbsp liquid kelp and 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in at least a gallon of water per 1,000 square feet (you could leave the kelp out of this if you don’t have it, but the others are more important, and yes, the liquid calcium can be hard to find, but you can get it online or do a little research on making your own). Repeat the application several more times through the remainder of the season.

      Or here’s another recipe that I learned from Dan Skow: 2 tablespoons of ammonia and 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 2 quarts of water per 1,000 square feet. Ammonia can be difficult to find, and it’s not organic, but I’ve found it at a hardware store. It’s also helpful for promoting fruiting.

  13. Anne on April 5, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    I’m most excited about seeing my paw paw trees and arctic kiwi vines spring up more after I planted them last spring. I would like to understand better how to prune my black currant bush. I don’t know how to distinguish 2 from 3-year old wood, and I don’t understand why I should prune off 3+ year old wood if lots of new branches are growing from them.

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      Great question, Anne. Personally, I’m a minimalist pruner. I don’t think fruit plants necessarily need pruning – you may get more yield, but often at the expense of plant health and longevity. If your yields start to decrease and it seems to be due to plant density, you can do some pruning. I also don’t distinguish between 2 and 3-year old wood – I just prune the branches that seem to be helping the least, the older ones that aren’t producing anymore, for example. If they’re still producing well, it doesn’t matter to me how old they are.

      • anne_studley on April 9, 2019 at 7:44 pm

        Thanks a lot, Phil. That’s how I ended up pruning this year and then couldn’t figure out what to do next. Hopefully the flowers will yield berries this year, as last year they didn’t for some unknown reason.

  14. Stephanie Newman on April 5, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    Hello, hello!

    1. Two years ago I set up my patio garden and used your suggestions on how to mix and enrich the soil. Had a major accident and now ready to prep and plant a garden this season. Do I need to start completely over? How best to prep the soil two years after starting.?

    Thank you!

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      I would just use it as is, Stephanie. It should still be fine, maybe even better than before because it’s had time to settle.

  15. David Assayag on April 5, 2019 at 11:38 pm

    Avant tout, félicitations pour vos messages et votre volonté de communiquer le savoir.
    J’aimerais avoir les informations utiles relatives à la technique culturale de stevia. Merci

  16. Joe Dirt on April 6, 2019 at 11:14 am

    Excited About: My improving soil – Old homeowner sprayed for weeds and used Scott’s on lawn so I’m rebuilding the soil and excited to see how crops preform

    Wanna Know More – About life under the soil, our living soil and how different mulches and amendments help build our soil …. what can I add more of in an urban setting

    Thanks Smiling Phil – Your Gardening Skills are only surpassed by the Worm!

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks for the nice note, Joe!

  17. Doug Powell, zone 5b on April 6, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    1) Most excited about a third year garden I’ve been working on from hard clay. I’ve poured so much compost in I’m hopeful I can get a thriving garden.

    2) I would like to know one or two unusual or novelty plants to try each year. For example, this year I’m thinking about loofah and wondered what to watch out for.


    • Elaine D Dooley on April 6, 2019 at 5:57 pm

      Doug ~ I thought it was interesting that you wanted to try “something new” in your garden this yr. I have made it a point to plant something new every yr, but I’ve been gardening so long that I’m running out of “new” plants that we would actually eat!! The kids looks forward to my revelation ea spring, though.

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 1:47 pm

      That’s a great goal, Doug! Loofah is definitely outside of my USDA zone 🙂 The ‘Plants for a Future’ database is a great place to find interesting plants: https://pfaf.org/

  18. Shelly on April 7, 2019 at 12:46 am

    My neighbors Pine tree roots have invaded my yard (and raised beds). I would love to know how to deal with them – they are so thick I cannot dig a hole in my beds.

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      There’s nothing I know of that can be done at that point, other than rebuilding the raised beds. I’ll share what I wrote up above for someone else in a similar situation:

      As many people have learned, using landscaping fabric under the bed doesn’t stop roots. The main 2 methods I know are:

      1. Build the raised bed with a solid bottom, so it’s more like container gardening.

      2. Dig a mote around the raised bed to stop roots from growing into it. Some people then use sheets of aluminum in the mote to stop roots. But in many cases this isn’t appropriate because you would be cutting through too many tree roots during the digging. So we’re back to option 1.

      Does anyone else have any ideas?

  19. Cynthia Hamilton on April 7, 2019 at 1:17 am

    OK, so I have taught myself how to do organic gardening, in raised beds and in containers, In Spokane Wa, an area in zone 6B. I am most excited about this year not having to do any new building, and to start really reaping the benes of Perennial plants, like Asparagus, Fruit trees, Grapes, Raspberries, etc… And This year, I think I have found the magic in leaving some plants over winter, even though they are supposed to be annuals, like Spinach, Turnips, Mustard greens, Onions, Carrots, Chard. They all survived, WITHOUT cover! So Since I practice crop rotation, I will leave them in place as I prepare the beds for spring plantings and When I need to plant in thier beds, I will transplant them into the current year home bed! I’m just experimenting, but I like what I’m seeing!

    The thing I want you to teach me is….How to prune my Grape vines so that I can have 2 t formations per Plant. Wish I could draw it, but think of it as an Upper (7ft Lateral) and a lower 3feet Lateral that both go both north and south along my fence line. The pruning videos all talk about cane and some other type of pruning, but they do it on only one T formation…and they go so fast and I cant see what they are talking about…

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Cynthia. I understand what you’re asking about the grapevine – I’ll keep my eyes out for one so I can make a video on this. Sounds like you have an exciting year coming up!

  20. Phil Sohati on April 7, 2019 at 9:16 am

    We have a drought in the area I live in my country. I want to learn how I can still grow vegetables with little water.

  21. Julie on April 7, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    How to garden in unfriendly conditions! My land is rather steeply sloping and mostly is very heavy clay soil with rocks 🙁 It is a backbreaking chore to eek out a small patch of vegetables and keep the crab grass from taking over!

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      I might have to go on a road trip to find some steep ground – would love to 🙂

  22. Gary on April 7, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    I got a copy of Humushpere by Herwig Pommeresche from AcresUSA this winter, he is a soil scientist in Germany and this book suggests exactly what you are doing with trenches and tells you why. I read it twice and my garden will better for it.

    • Phil on April 7, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      Thanks for letting me know, Gary. I was teaching off the top of my head today so I figured I may have missed a few points. I bet that book has those points in it.

  23. Fred on April 7, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    I’ve finally got my garden in great order and now we have decided move and build. We will be moving to south east Indiana to a farm field. What is the best/most important thing can I do to begin my new garden project ?

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 1:59 pm

      Good question. I’d like to make a little series on that. What comes up first is:
      -Test the soil with a lab and fertilize based on their recommendations.
      -Get a composting process started.
      -Start observing your land. Ideally, you’d take this first year to observe, observe, observe, and then design, to really figure out where things should go rather than rushing into it. You could still plant some vegetables in the meantime, but it’s nice to have some planning time for long-term success.

  24. Rob Legg on April 7, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    You may have addressed this at an earlier time. If so, I apologize. We cannot have a compost pile because it attracts noisy crows as well as a wide variety of land animals, including bears. If you have a link which tells how to create a compost pile that will not attract animals, we’d really appreciate it. Thank you!

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      Hi Rob, did you watch the trench composting video above? Would that work for you? You may have to dig deeper.

  25. Janina Simons on April 8, 2019 at 8:28 am

    THIS is great, it is what my parent did when I was young..

    Now that I have retired due to injury, I cannot dig… well I can if I am stupid.. because i end up feeling fantastic because I dug a hole, but stupid because I cant move for 2-3 days.. so being proud is a very silly idea….

    I have been doing my garden with layers of cardboard, green grass, leaves etc,,, and I used to have a layer of scraps on the bottom – which was fine as we dont have wild animals in town, and the neighbours cats take care of rodents.

    What I find I now do… is put my compost into pots… I use thicker/thiner logs as bottom layer, grass, leave, etc, then the weeks foodscraps which is not a lot, and then some crappy soil/dirt from back yard, and let the pot sit beside the fence as it breaks down. no smells etc…

    Also when lazy I just throw everything in a blender plus lots of water and use that liquid as fertilizer… Dont eat meat, often, and these scraps go to the puppy next door.

    Well I have babbled enough… But it is interesting to see the ANCIENT gardening being done again.

    • Phil on April 8, 2019 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks for sharing your process, Janina. Seems like a nice, simple way of doing it.

  26. Joyce Jackman on April 9, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    I am excited about expanding my perennial border in my community garden plot, and also starting a row of raspberry canes.

    What I most want to know is how to renourish my soil. My yield was very low last year. You have written TONS on this so now I need to start reading as well as picking the brains of the master gardeners who neighbour my garden.

  27. Jaki Greenhough on April 10, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Hi Phil,
    Oh I am so delighted that you are still continuing with the academy! It took me a while to find you here.

    I am trying to decide whether to invest time and money into rebuilding my three 2′ x16′ x 8″ boxed garden beds.
    After gardening for over 20 years, my soil still has quack grass, and I spent too much time getting rid of that. My knees and back are no longer able to do much ground work.
    I have recently brought the soil up in tall raised boxes, one 2’x3’x4′ another 4’x4’x4′. I was able to grow early greens, and carrots and beets in these. The disadvantage with this is replenishing the soil each spring. Last year i found your 2’x6’x12″ box design on the academy, and had some success growing tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers. I put bottoms on these boxes to keep the grass out but that means there are no worms either. Since I left the ground I am no longer building soil. I have to bring in soil to fill and or top dress my boxes each spring. I feel the disconnect to the earth.
    What would you suggest? Is there a better, easier way to go? That’s what I need to learn this year.

    One more question, how do i get back onto the academy. I can’t find a place to login since the academy link doesn’t work. I assume my password will still work?
    Thanks Phil, I am so glad you are still here with your knowledge, inspiration and encouragement.
    Cheers, Jaki

    • Phil on April 11, 2019 at 3:01 pm

      It’s a good question, Jaki. Although growing in containers doesn’t have that direct connection with the earth, to me, it’s still great, and there’s still an opportunity to build good, living soil with compost and inoculants. Of course, I don’t know what’s best for you, but saving your knees and back and growing in boxes sounds like a lot of fun to me! You might also look into “grounding” the containers to give them that connection to the earth – something I don’t know much about but I’ve come across the concept here and there. (I emailed you about the Academy access.)

  28. Megan on April 21, 2019 at 6:54 am

    Hi Phil, I’ve just come across your site, and I’d like to thank you for making so much information available.
    I’m in Melbourne, Australia, so it’s currently Autumn. I have an Autumn green manure mix to plant, but also some seedlings to go in the same location (I really didn’t think that through!)
    After reading through some of your lessons, it seems that you advocate planting the manure mix as a cover crop alongside the crops (between the rows?) I would have thought that this would create competition for nutrients. Have I understood correctly? And if yes, are there some crops that it works better with than others? I have a range of brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts and kale, plus garlic, leeks, lettuces and carrots.
    Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Phil on April 22, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      Hi Megan, nice to have you here. There will be competition for nutrients and water, which you can address by having sufficient nutrients and water. This is where liquid fertilizers are especially helpful, such as kelp and sea minerals. The competition for light can be addressed by keeping the green manure cut down around your vegetables or by having enough space in between the rows.

  29. Colleen mccormick on May 3, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I live in Northern BC ( mile 132 Alaska Hwy) would it be beneficial to me to put plastic over the trench to make the compost work faster?

    • Phil on May 4, 2019 at 2:53 pm

      Probably, as long as it doesn’t get too hot. Some heat is good but too much kills soil life. And be sure water and air can still get in there.

  30. Antonia on June 27, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    Hi !! Where can I buy trichoderma ?

    • Phil on June 28, 2019 at 6:11 pm

      Sorry, not sure Antonia.

  31. Ken bourne on January 23, 2020 at 3:23 am

    Hi Phil,I want to use cover crops to break a hard-pan and also provide more organic matter to the soil- what are the best crops for this? ( I was thinking of using Daikon Radish and Rye-grass)

    • Phil on January 28, 2020 at 9:11 am

      Those are good choices and I would also add more to the mix. More and more, I’m hearing that combinations of 6 or even more species are better. You never know which ones are going to take for you, so if you sow a big mixture of different species, you’re more likely to get a good cover. So even though your focus is hardpan and organic matter, I would still include legumes. I would go with something like 4 grasses, 2 legumes, and the daikon.

  32. Ken Bourne on January 28, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Thank you Phil, I will do that! That is a good idea, I want to improve the soil and adding ways of fixing N will make it better.

  33. Kristin Browning-Mezel on April 26, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    I am going to be replacing my lawn this year- I’m starting with some of your soil improvement tips and products in hopes we can fix the soil and as you say, let the weeds have an extended vacation.
    We are also growing onions and kale for the first time this year!

  34. Martha Lasley on May 10, 2020 at 1:47 am

    How do you heal soil that has been destroyed by asian jumping worms? Where do you get tea seed meal (saponins) to deter these invasive worms? I’ve tried mustard seed drench, attracting possums and black plastic, but these worms have taken over most of New York state. Cornell extension says there is no cure and they are destroying forests like wildfire. Even chickens won’t eat these snake like worms. They say prevention is the only thing you can do, but it’s only a matter of time before they arrive. At this point, foliar feeding with compost tea is the best I can do, because the soil is completely devoid of life. I used to have beautiful soil filled with biochar and mycorrhizae. Any ideas?

    • Phil on May 13, 2020 at 11:46 am

      Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any fixes yet. You may have to move to container gardening with new soil.