Trench Gardening in Houston

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Do you try to save water in your garden? One method called trench gardening may help you lower your water bill by going down into the ground.

My ears perk up when I hear about gardening or farming methods which can reduce the amount of water that I use. Currently, I have created beds to catch the rain water that is leaving my property by the use of swales to stop water and trenches to catch the water. My trenches have a perforated drain pipe which is covered by lava rocks. In one raise bed, I have placed a tarp to catch the water below, so the bed becomes like a closed pot. This is a deep bed, so the roots at the surface do not become water logged. I have used a method of placing organic matter in a layer in my beds to hold water. This method is almost like composting. The same material for a compost bin goes in a layer about a foot to two feet down in my garden bed. This is covered by the soil for planting. I have adopted planting methods to reduce water too. Plants that need the same amount of watering are clustered together. Light watering is done for seeds, but I do not deeply wet the ground until needed. That is a brief overview of my attempts, but I had not tried trench gardening, which honestly I had never encountered.

    In a way, I guess that I could say that I have practiced trench gardening. I have a heavy mulch on each side of my pepper plants, so water is caught in the well between the two mulch rows. Eventually, the mulch will be moved around the plant, once it has grown taller. This is a trench, but it is not trench gardening. The idea that I want to explore is digging down for your planting. You create a trench, and the plants go into the trench. In Houston, you will notice that the majority of garden beds are above the level of the surrounding grade. We have a heavy expansive clay soil in much of our area. This is not a great growing medium for our vegetables or other plants, so we create an edging, and we create a soil that is better for our plants.  As I was digging a hole in my backyard, I began paying attention to the layers of the soil.  The first level was the basic compacted soil that could be good for growing if it was not compacted. This was about a foot to a foot and a half deep. Below this level, I find sand, about six inches, which the builder used for leveling the grade before building the homes in my area. Two feet down is where I find the real hard clay. This led me to believe that a trench garden may not be a bad idea.
    Have you been to the deMenil collection? Have you looked at the sculptural work that is recessed into the ground by the front entrance? I often joke with my wife that I want that in our yard. I mention this because she believes that I want to undertake this project just to obtain my desire. If I dig down about a foot, I can replace six inches of this trench with soil that has been mixed with humus. Plants or seeds will go into the trench. This leaves the bed six inches underground. Water from rain or my hose will be caught in the trench much more rapidly than the surrounding beds. Maybe I can mulch in the trench. If I did decide to define the side walls, like the aforementioned sculpture, I can dress up the trench. The drawbacks to me would be that the trench can become a trip hazard. Over watering is possible ( I know that we are in a drought as of this writing, but a heavy rain can water log my plants), so I need plants that want heavy watering, like peas.
    I am interested in trying out this idea. We seem to be suffering more from droughts in Houston. I am not sure that trench gardening is going to become the new fad. We will stick to our raise beds I am sure, but would a trench add an unusual landscaping feature to your yard? I think that it might.

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This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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